Friday, November 17, 2017

Not-So-New Comics: The September 13 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dark Nights:  Metal #2:  Snyder takes us on a tour of Batman’s recent history, and he's largely successful in making connections between stories we haven't previously seen.  It's not perfect, but it's still impressive.

Barbatos first took notice of Bruce when Darkseid’s Omega Sanction sent him into the past (see "The Return of Bruce Wayne"), and Barbatos decided Bruce would be the perfect doorway to the Light Universe.  (I'm not sure why he thought that, since it seems sort of inevitable Bruce would fight against Barbatos using him that way.  But, let's just take it as a fact.)  The Court of Owls is revealed to be the Judas Tribe, or the Tribe that betrayed the Bird Tribe.  (Again, I'm not sure we learn why they betrayed the Bird Tribe, but I feel like it's pretty clear we're supposed to believe Barbatos himself corrupted them.)  As devoted Bat Tribe members, the Court helped Barbatos prepare Bruce for serving as the doorway by treating him with four of the five metals necessary to open the portal.  First, they exposed him to electrum in "Court of Owls" ("Batman" #5, I believe) and then dionesium in "Endgame" ("Batman" #40).  Then, Bruce exposed himself to promethium in "Batman" #49, when he returned his memories, and the Nth metal in "Dark Days:  The Casting" #1, when he activated the device Krona built to see into the Universe's origin.  (When Krona did so, he apparently saw a black hand reaching toward him.  Creepy.)  I’ll admit, I don’t really remember any mention of Bruce using promethium to bring back his memories, but I’m willing to let it go, given everything else here is pretty tight (and gets tighter).

As Bruce frantically relates to Superman when he and Wonder Woman finally locate him, he realized he only needed coating with one more metal before Barbatos could enter our world.  (Again, I'm not really sure how Bruce got all this information about the metals, but I'm assuming it has something to do with Carter's diary.)  To prevent this possibility, Bruce heads to the Temple of Khufu where he intends to use baby Darkseid (really) to Omega Sanction himself into the past and take on Barbatos with Hawkman’s mace, which defeated him once.  (I don't really remember us learning Hawkman defeated Barbatos, and I'm pretty sure he's trapped in the Dark Universe.  But, bygones.)  However, Bruce's plan goes awry when the Court reveals they knew Carter’s journal was in Wayne Manor (...though somehow don't know Bruce is Batman).  As such, the Court altered the text to show the location not of the Temple of Khufu, but the Temple of Hath Set.  Dun-dun-DUN!  Barbatos’ minions seize Bruce, and they coat him with the fifth metal:  Geri Powers' batmanium. (Like I said, the story got tighter.)  The doorway opens and dark versions of Batman pour into our Universe.

In other words, so far, so good.  Although Snyder might not connect all the dots for us, he leaves us enough dots for us to be able to draw our own conclusions.  Where he does connect them, the picture makes perfect sense.  Also, it's just sort of fun.  I don't know how he manages that, given how grim of a topic it is, but I think it's mostly due to the art, as Glapion infuses everything with enough cartoon color to encourage you not to take it all too seriously.  For a cross-over event, they're doing pretty well so far.

Secret Empire Omega #1:  SO.  MUCH.  TALKING.

I didn’t really clock that Captain Nazi was still alive at the end of “Secret Empire.”  It’s right there, but I had other things on my mind at the time.  Here, Steve makes his way to the hole where they’re keeping Captain Nazi to confront the man who damaged his reputation so.  If Spencer falters at all here, it’s in his portrayal of Captain Nazi as a more dedicated fascist than the one we saw over the course of the series.  Captain Nazi has always been portrayed as having doubts about his path, though the man we see here is unrepentant.  Maybe his failure and the death of Elisa have steeled his resolve and finally made him a firm believer in the darker side of the cause, but it's a notable shift in his attitude Spencer doesn't really explain.

At any rate, Steve half-heartedly calls Captain Nazi on his bullshit:  Captain Nazi asserts he didn’t do anything the U.S. government didn't authorize him to do as part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act, but Steve dismisses this legalistic argument as hardly acceptable given his destruction of Las Vegas and murder of Jack Flag and Rick Jones.  Captain Nazi more or less asks why Steve is there, and Steve tells the story of a young boy who hesitated in fear when Steve tried to help him from the rubble of Washington, DC.  But, it’s not really that compelling of a reason, and Captain Nazi concludes Steve’s simply fascinated with the path untaken.  Captain Nazi is at his most persuasive when he tells Steve he underestimates the millions of people who whole-heartedly embraced HYDRA.  Spencer is at his best here, reminding us we can’t dismiss torch-bearing racists as easily as we’d like. Spencer wraps up the issue with a guard whispering “Hail HYDRA” in Captain Nazi’s ear, a promise to the reader we’ll hear from him again.

The problem is I'm not sure I care.  This part of the story more or less mirrors "Captain America" #350, where the Red Skull embedded his consciousness in a cloned version of Steve’s body.  I wouldn't be surprised if we see some accident burning away Captain Nazi's face, turning him into the new Skull.  But, I hope Marvel doesn't go that route.  Captain Nazi isn't wrong when he says HYDRA has changed:  as he says, it will no longer see conquering the world as getting the chance to rule it, but regaining a rule HYDRA once had.  Marvel has the opportunity to stop using HYDRA as just another incompetent terrorist organization, but a legitimate threat to the established political order.  If Marvel does that, "Secret Empire" will have really changed the game, Captain Nazi's continued existence aside.  That story would be a lot scary if we didn't have a warmed-over Red Skull redux leading the charge, but instead a new character (preferably a Millennial)  who speaks to those people who embraced HYDRA.

Overall, is this issue necessary?  No, not really.  But, it does remind us Marvel has allowed "Secret Empire" to legitimately change the game (with the possibility of changing it even more).  It's a rare cross-over event that does that, so I'll let Marvel have its victory lap.

Amazing Spider-Man #32:  Every once in a while, Slott turns in an issue that reminds us what he can do when he focuses on the story in front of him and not whatever overarching drama he’s trying to sell us.  In this one-and-done issue, we tour Norman Osborn’s soul.  The nanites Peter injected into him are successfully preventing the Goblin Serum from bonding with Norman's DNA, and he’s desperate to solve that problem.  An acupuncturist sends him to the Temple of No Name, and, in his first test, he’s revealed to possess great potential for the mystic arts.  (His comment that he always tests well made me LOL.)  Slott is uncharacteristically good at the details here.  Rather than let the similarity to other characters’ journeys go unmentioned, Norman makes exactly this observation to one of his three masters.  The master in turn observes certain patterns repeat themselves, but the details are specific to the person:  Norman’s struggle might be similar to Dr. Strange’s or Baron Mordo’s, but how it manifests and resolves itself is uniquely his path.  In the end, Norma rejects his totem animal (a tiger) and chooses the goblin instead.  He summons Spider-Man and defeats him.  But, when he kills him, he reveals himself to be a monster, appalling the three masters.  It’s here where Slott unveils his cleverest trick:  this entire sequence has actually been that first test, one that Norman failed.  The masters expel him, noting they’ll warn all the other orders about him. But, Norman, in typical Norman fashion, is undeterred, since the test revealed the Goblin is still somewhere inside him.  As I said, the copious details and thoughtful storybuilding are rare for Slott:  no loose ends, no deus ex machina, no miracle save.  If only we saw this Dan Slott more often...

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #7:  I’m not usually a fan of cosmic interference in storylines, but David’s literal deus ex machina here really works.  Marlo is revealed to be Death, and she’s visiting Ben because he’s special:  he’s died the most times of anyone in the Universe, and his soul is blackened and cracked.  Death is interested in him since he seems to be on a path to redemption, and she’s intrigued by his journey to fix his soul.  She assures him he can, but it will take time.  (I really hope we get some sort of soul meter at the end of every issue.)  Ben tries to convince her to bring back Abigail and Kaine, but she wants him to pick one.  He chooses himself (to even the scales), but she refuses.  He attacks her, and it’s clear he only wants her to kill him because he just can’t live with himself anymore.  It’s an emotional moment, but it ends with Death laughing, something (as you can imagine) she had assured us she didn’t really do.  Refreshed after this interaction with a mortal, she grants Ben’s wish.  (It’s interesting to note here not even his seemingly altruistic push for Kaine to be resurrected is totally heroic:  after all, he’s also somewhat suicidal.  It’s a reminder that David may have put Ben on the path to repairing his soul, but the asshole he was as the Jackal is still in there somewhere.)  Death even does him one better:  his face is fully healed.  This part is probably the most controversial one.  In terms of the larger story David is telling, neither Abigail nor Kaine needed to die, so returning them to life doesn’t really affect it.  But, I think most of us probably expected the degenerative disease Ben had to be more of a focus, a sort of race against time as Ben tried to cure it.  But, whatever.  I’m on board with David taking it off the board.  It’s really the last hangover of “The Clone Conspiracy,” and I feel like we’re on secure footing now.  Ben is Ben (if still a little damaged), and he’s on a quest to save his soul, with Kaine nipping at his heels.  That’s a story I’m interested in reading.

Detective Comics #964:  This issue feels like Tynion was told he had to wrap up the story three issues early.  In fact, it’s even worse than that.  On several occasions, developments just happen for no apparent reason:  Batman suddenly (like, literally, he appears from nowhere) confronts Anarky, Anarky reveals he built his Utopia with the First Victim from the Victim’s Syndicate, Anarky kisses Spoiler, etc.  It all just doesn’t make any sense.  At one point, Spoiler complains Anarky is always mansplaining everything to her, but I’m pretty sure they’ve only known each other, like, an hour.  I mean, sure, I’m totally on board with her kicking his ass for being an asshole, but I don’t understand the sense of familiarity she allegedly feels for him.  Also, I don’t get why he’s such a threat to Batman.  OK, the First Victim was sort of a terrorist.  But, the only thing of which Anarky seems to be guilty is wanting his Utopia to conform with his vision.  Um, isn’t that kind of OK?  Like, yes, it makes him an egomaniac, but does it make him a terrorist?  Batman arrests him and incarcerates him here, but I have absolutely no idea what the charges are.  Monologuing?  It's all just weird.

Generations:  Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1:  Why do I keep falling for Marvel’s tricks and buying these issues when I know they won’t be good?  WHY?

The Realm #1:  Holy shit, I can't remember being more excited about a comic after a first issue in ages!  As one of the pull quotes says, it's like "Dungeons and Dragons" meeting "The Road."  But, it's more than that.  Peck and Haun manage to give us a raft of great characters, most notably Will Nolan, our protagonist.  But, we'll get to that.

Starting first with the setting, we're witness to two new realities on Earth:  some sort of apocalyptic event has largely destroyed it, and said event apparently involved dragons, orc, and sorcerers.  We're given a peek at those forces when we see a sorcerer in a floating citadel engage in human sacrifice to commune with his dark god.  But, it's a brief interlude.  Mostly, our focus is on Nolan, who guides people through dangerous territory in the broken United States.  Nolan's client, King, is killed by Sasha, the woman King hired Nolan to bring to him.  King told Nolan that Sasha was his daughter, but it turns out she was really someone King traded for antibiotics that proved to be fake.  It's unclear to me if Nolan knew Sasha was going to kill King or if she just took advantage of the situation when King had his men try to kill Nolan instead of paying him.  If it's the former, I'm intrigued, since it implies Nolan is more than just a guide.   In the end, Sasha says they're even, but I'm not sure if it's because she saved Nolan's life or if she paid off a debt to Nolan by killing King for him.  Either way, she tells him he'll have to pay the toll like everyone else the next time he crosses her domain, and you get a good sense of the sort of place the Realm is.

Nolan returns to what seems to be home, where he meets with Marcus, his agent, if you will.  They're close (maybe very close), and it's good to see.  Often, in these sort of stories, the protagonist is a hardened loaner, but Peck and Haun make Nolan an even more interesting character by avoiding that trope.  (On a side note, I can't wait to learn more about the toothbrushes that seem to be the Realm's currency.)  At any rate, Marcus sends Nolan to meet with Molly and her colleague:  they want to hire Nolan to escort them and two scientists to Kansas City.  Here, we're introduced to Rook, a gimp-looking spy Nolan uses to make sure his clients are on the up and up.  Finally, we're privy to a dream Nolan has, where the blackness that covers his arm starts spreading across his body, turning him into a demon.  He awakens, shaken.

In other words, damn, this issue has a lot happening.  But, it's all so well paced and scripted, it leaves you wanting more.  I can't remember a series more clearly creating such fully realized characters in just one issue, not even "Reborn."  Peck and Haun pay extra close attention to detail throughout the issue:  the uneven lines Haun uses to create panels conveys how chaotic this world is.  It conveys how carefully they've constructed this world and story, and I can't wait for the next issue.

Titans #15:  I'm just not sure where Abnett is going here.  Does he really think we're going to believe he's killing off Wally so soon after Wally returned?  He must, because he keeps putting him in situations where he appears to die.  But, since it's hard to believe it's going to stick, it doesn't have the impact he seems to want it to have.  (Plus, he keeps doing it over and over again.)  Then, you've got the fact that pretty much everyone on the team has been "the traitor" at one point.  The tagline for next issue is yet again, "The traitor revealed!"  It might as well add, "No, really, seriously, we mean it this time."  At this stage, I'm not even sure what the traitor is allegedly doing.  I mean, we have some sort of force taking control of Psimon, but it's apparently Lilith who'll ultimately be the threat?  Does that mean the "force" will eventually take over her?  Also, what does any of that have to do with H.I.V.E.?  I can't even remember why H.I.V.E. is holding Psimon prisoner.  Weren't they the ones who hired him?  I just feel like we're seriously spinning our wheels here.

Uncanny Avengers #27:  I don't know why Zub and Izaakse keep insisting on putting Johnny Storm in nothing but tight shorts, but I am not complaining.  Talk about an incentive to keep reading!  It helps that the story isn't half-bad either.  The Avengers engage in some honest-to-goodness teamwork here:  Voodoo provides Scarlet Witch an air elemental to help her survive in space, Rogue distracts Graviton so Wanda can return and wallop him, Rogue delivers the coup de grâce by stealing his powers, and Synapse helps her shake off the insanity that comes with said powers.  It's solid teamwork from start to finish and fun to read to boot.

Youngblood #5:  Man, Bowers is really just keeping up the heat.  My only real complaint with this series at this point is his extensive use of flashbacks.  I'm having problems remembering how the team came together, and I'm not sure if we would've lost anything in terms of suspense if Bowers had just assembled this story sequentially.  For example, Rachel is thrilled to discover Badrock in her apartment, as if she hadn't seen him before that moment.  I guess it could be true, but I was pretty sure she was with the team when it originally debuted and he and Shaft went after them.  Maybe?  Did this scene happen before they assembled the first time?  I don't think so, but my confusion over it reveals why it's a problem.  At any rate, I get the sense we'll be seeing less use of flashbacks as the story really kicks into gear here.  All sorts of crazy stuff is happening with the Byrne brothers.  They're not only revealed to be cyborgs, but cyborgs who can merge with one another to create a huge robot.  Moreover, one of the "brothers" seems more dominant than the other.  But, it's Diehard ripping off Shaft's arm that really reminds me why this series feels so fresh.  Whereas Abnett unbelievably keeps threatening to kill off Wally in "Titans," I'm pretty sure Shaft's arm isn't going to miraculously grow back next issue.  By giving us realistic stakes, the entire story feels more organic.

Also Read:  Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #5; Star Wars #36; Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #12; X-Men Blue #11

Friday, November 3, 2017

Not-So-New Comics: The September 6 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #30:  I’ve complained in previous reviews that I feel like King has bitten off more than he can chew with the War of Jokes and Riddles.  Previous issues have focused either too narrowly on fringe stories or too broadly with excessive narration.  We’ve rarely seen the actual War.  We still have that problem in this issue, but I'm happy to say it's not as bad as it's been.  King uses Kite Man as the reader's surrogate, showing us the changing dynamic of the War now that Batman has thrown in his lot with the Riddler in the attempt to bring it to an end.  We work through a series of vignettes showing Kite Man with one or another of Joker's captains -- the Tweedles, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze -- and I realized King should've been using Kite Man this way from the start.  If he had, I think we’d have a much better sense of the story he’s been trying to tell.  But, it is what it is:  we at least get that insight here.  In the end, Riddler reveals he and Batman kept Kite Man as the last of Joker’s men on the field because they knew he was the weakest:  he’d cave and tell them where Joker was hiding.  Along the way to this moment, King shows us a flashback conversation Kite Man had with his deceased son, who tells Kite Man his mother described Kite Man as a joke.  Riddler and Batman feel the same way, obviously.  Before Kite Man speaks with them, though, Janín delivers the best single page of this story, showing a handcuffed Kite Man moving from crying to weeping as he waits for Riddler and Batman to interrogate him.  Janín just spectacularly conveys Kite Man's devastation over the loss of his son, and I admit I’m 100% rooting for him to stick it to Riddler and Batman.  I don’t know if King wanted that, but it’s where I am.

Darth Vader #5:  As I hoped, Soule shows us a glimpse of Darth Vader before he fully became Vader as we know him.  The Emperor sends him to the location of his greatest defeat, Mustafar, to corrupt the kyber crystal.  However, Anakin -- not Vader -- struggles to do so.  The crystal gives him a vision of a world where he turns to the light side of the Force, slaying the Emperor and returning to Obi-Wan.  But, Soule has Vader reject this vision, declaring his only choice is the path before him.  Soule captures the petulance we saw in Anakin in the prequel trilogy, as he chooses the easier path that limits his vulnerability (even if it damns him).  Camuncoli, Smith, and Curiel then do a spectacular job of showing the operatic nature of Vader corrupting the crystal.  By the time he presents his fully red lightsaber to the Emperor, it's clear all hope for Anakin to return to the light side is dead.  As I said when this series started, I think we needed to see that story unfold, to gain insight into how Anakin fully became Vader (something we didn't get from the movies).  Soule clearly agreed, and Vader's origin story is now complete.

Generation X #6:  Exterminatrix!  The Fenris Twins!  Kade Kilgore!  Bi-curious Quentin!  I have to say, I really enjoyed this issue.  Benjamin, Nathaniel, and Quentin make for a great trio, as Benjamin mediates between the two more dominant personalities and said personalities might actually learn a little something about each other and themselves along the way.  But, it's the tour down memory lane that I most appreciated, as Strain reminds us where this story fits in the larger continuity of these characters.  Nathaniel is really a great addition to the cast, as he challenges Quentin in a way no one else does.  Also, does he maybe have a crush on Benji?  Bobby should ask him for advice.

Hawkeye #10:  Aha!  Madame Masque used a Kate Bishop LMD to try to see if it developed powers like Derek Bishop's LMD did!  That makes sense.  How did she get her hands on a Kate Bishop LMD, though?  It presumably has Kate's DNA if it's possible for it to develop powers.  Did Kate's dad give her Kate's DNA?  I'm sure we'll see.

Iceman #5:  Grace delivers in this issue, as we see the fallout from Bobby revealing he’s gay to his parents.  Thankfully, it doesn’t go well.  I say “thankfully,” because it wouldn’t have felt right if Bobby’s parents suddenly shrugged at the idea their son is gay.  His parents have always been portrayed as conservative Long Island Catholics, and their response feels authentic.  In particular, I thought Grace did a great job in having Bobby’s father saying Bobby was dead to him because he couldn’t give him grandchildren and Bobby’s mother expressing relief when Bobby tells her he’s never had sex with a man.  It reminds us how disruptive the coming-out process is to parents' narratives about their children, from their hopes for the future to their view of us as adults engaged in sex.  Bobby’s dad goes one further when Bobby says he’s always felt like something was wrong when he was with women and comments he shouldn’t feel that way if he’s in love; Bobby’s father demands he not talk about loving men.  Here, Grace shows us how difficult of a road Bobby has in front of him.  His parents aren't just upset at the loss of possibility when it comes to grandchildren or dealing with him having sex with men:  they reject even the idea that he is capable of love.  Bobby’s father can’t imagine a man loving a man, and Bobby’s mother is just obsessed with the idea of Bobby touching a man sexually.  (His mother is also obsessed with pinning blame on his father, something I kept anticipating as the story progressed.)  Again, it feels like you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation and not just reading a comic book.  The most poignant moment is when Kitty gives Bobby’s parents the letter he was writing them; she comments no one has really cared what Bobby thought about being gay because he’s been too worried about everyone else’s reaction.  I remember that feeling all too well.  I almost didn’t believe the ending, where Bobby’s father stays behind to tell Bobby he loves him.  But, I remembered the story from "Uncanny X-Men" #340 where his father is almost beaten to death by anti-mutant extremists for defending him, and it rang truer.  Similarly, I didn't think the metaphor of Bobby turning himself into vapor was necessary (and his use of wings made almost no sense from a physics standpoint).  But, it does allow Bobby to express a feeling we've all had, the desire just to disappear.  In other words, I don't remember a comic feeling as close to my own coming-out story, and I really salute Grace for that.  Looking ahead, Bobby’s story is just beginning, and I hope we get to see him excited about that at some point.

Nightwing #28:  This issue works for a number of reasons.  First, Seeley gives us “Grayson” readers some closure, revealing Mr. Minos was nothing more than a program Project Cadmus and Checkmate's joint venture ("Business Solutions”) created, presumably to ferret out the identities of superheroes.  It’s really quite brilliant and so much of “Grayson” retroactively makes sense now.  Second, Seeley hits some great character notes here.  After stopping Mouse from almost killing Blockbuster as revenge for killing Giz, Shawn realizes she made a mistake in acting from a place of anger with Dick.  However, she’s too late:  Helena told Dick she was only comfortable with him, and we see them in bed together here.  Shawn seems (somewhat unjustifiably) furious, and Seeley implies it’ll finally push her over the edge into bad-guy territory.  (Stopping Mouse postponed that dive, much to Pigeon’s chagrin.)  Seeley returned Dick to Blüdhaven 18 issues ago, and it continues to be clear it was an excellent decision.  Dick has spent most of the DCnU bouncing from one modus operandi to another, and Seeley’s decision to ground him in Blüdhaven has made for better stories, deepening our emotional investment as his cast of characters finally stays stable.  I’m excited to see where we’re going from here, since this issue definitely felt like it was drawing a line under some previous stories.

Spider-Man #20:  This issue is...odd.  I can't quite put my finger on it exactly, but it is.  Bendis has Miles decide to take a break, using his Spider-Powers to hitch rides (including hanging on the outside of an airplane) to Tokyo, somewhere he always wanted to go.  He saves two girls from a mugging by goons who look like they're in the Goblin Gang.  But, they seem to work for someone named Tomoe instead.  However, she shoots one of them to save Miles, so I'm not really sure.  She takes an interest in Miles and invites him to visit her club.  Then, someone, possibly Miles' father, uses the "Alternet" to direct him to a drop-point with a tuxedo and a gun for him to bring to the club.  In other words, instead of going to Tokyo to take a break from superhero-ing, Miles finds himself smack dab in the middle of international espionage.  As I said, it's just...odd.  It doesn't help that Bendis uses a frequent flashbacks to tell this story, where a linear approach would've worked much better.  I don't know.  It all just leaves me scratching my head.

X-Men Gold #11:  MARC GUGGENHEIM, KITTY PRYDE ABSOLUTELY SPEAKS RUSSIAN.  I'm not sure I can get past this oversight.  He claims in every letters page he's a long time fan, but, OMFG, how do you not know Kitty Pryde ABSOLUTELY SPEAKS RUSSIAN.  [Sigh.]  It doesn't help that the script and the pencils are extremely rushed.  Instead of capitalizing on the return of Omega Red, Guggenheim treats him like just another henchman for all the challenge he poses to the team.  Logan defeats him without even breaking a sweat.  Similarly, Peter regains his ability to turn into steel just in time to save Illyana from the mysterious magic-wielding mobster.  I not only sort of forgot Peter had lost his powers, but it also doesn't help we never really get insight into the mobster.  He was apparently using her to keep Omega Red alive so he could conquer Russia.  Um, Russia is pretty big, dude.  You really think you could take over the whole place with Omega Red?  Also, if you're such a kick-ass magic-user, why do you need Illyana?  On a side note, is Storm even in this issue?  I think I briefly saw a flash of her, but I have no idea what she does here.  I mean, how do you make Storm forgettable?  [Sigh, again.]  I really, really want to like this series, but Guggenheim isn't making it easy.  (Did I mention Kitty speaks Russian?)

Also Read:  Astonishing X-Men #3; Champions #12; Journey to Star Wars:  The Last Jedi - Captain Phasma #1

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Not-So-New Comics: The August 30 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Secret Empire #10:  This series ends more or less how I expected.  As I mentioned in my review of issue #9, some of the excitement has been missing in the last few issues since Spencer had done such a solid job of setting up the denouement.  But, Spencer still does his best to throw some surprises our way.  Bucky has Sam give Captain Nazi the last Cube fragment, figuring (correctly) that unifying the Cube would unify Kobik.  Under the guidance of Dream Steve, Kobik finds the courage to stand against Captain Nazi, erasing the history he and HYDRA created.  Spencer also answers some long-standing questions:  for example, we learn Elisa used a fragment of the Cosmic Cube to rewrite Mjolnir's rules, rewarding the strongest not the worthiest.  It explains why Captain Nazi could wield the hammer in "Secret Empire" #0, though I'm not quite sure we ever learn how Elise got her hands on the shard in the first place.  That said, I still have questions.  We never really resolve the implication in "Secret Empire" #1 that Steve had embraced HYDRA before Kobik rewrote history, and I'm still not sure we learned who the new Kraken is.  (I'm still pulling for it to be Ian.)  Spencer also does the unthinkable and doesn't use Kobik to retcon everything:  Natasha and Rick stay dead, Sharon stays old, etc.  The issue ends with Barf, the young Inhuman who began the series, reuniting with his little brother and returning home to find his house graffiti-ed with HYDRA slogans.  (I admit I teared up a bit at their reunion, a surprising reminder of how emotionally engaged I was with this series.)  The next day, Barf awakens to discover the community helping clean up the house, epitomizing the message Spencer is sending:  Kobik left the scars to remind us what happens when we embrace the easy answer.  Once again, it's not hard to see the parallels to current events, but Spencer gets us there without sounding too preachy.  All in all, as I've previously said, this event has hands-down been the best Marvel has published since possibly "Siege."  Spencer adroitly sets up the "Generations" mini-series and larger "Legacy" relaunch this fall.  But, perhaps more importantly, he told a well constructed and emotionally engaging story about the fight between good versus evil.  Back to basics, indeed.

Generations:  Hawkeye and Hawkeye #1:  Man, as Katie herself says here, I miss these two.  Can we please get the band back together?

Spider-Gwen #23:  This issue might be the most perfect issue of a comic ever.  Mary Jane has to convince Glory to cover drums since Gwen is busy in Madripoor, and Blumenreich and Latour take us on an amazing tour of the girls' lives in the process.  Seriously, I would 100% read a Blumenreich-penned series just about the Mary Janes sans Gwen.  She really taps into what it feels like to be young in a way that reminds you how powerful of a medium comics can be.  We see the best and worst of Mary Jane here, from the self-centered whining Glory cites as the reason she originally left the band to her literal ass-kicking when she beats up the guy accosting Betsy because she wouldn't give him the time of day.  (I don't know how she did it, but Blumenreich immediately telegraphed this guy was bad news when he approached Betsy at the party.  When he accosts the girls on the street, it feels very much like the threat it is.)  The ending on the subway - with Mary Jane telling Glory she'd punch out all the guys for her and Glory not being able to stay mad at her - is just the magic of the friendships of our youth.  As Uatu says (seriously) at the start of this issue, this series used to be fun but it's gotten really dark.  Hurrah for a break from that, for Uatu and us.

Star Wars #35:  Aaron has really been on a roll lately.  After last issue’s great romp with Sana and Lando, I figured we’d be getting a multi-issue arc here.  Instead, we get another great one-and-done issue, as Han outmaneuvers Grakkus to trick him into revealing where his safe house (and all its weapons) is located.  Aaron has Han’s voice down so completely you can hear Harrison Ford speaking the dialogue in your mind.  Moreover, the art is great:  Delgado’s colors are downright cinematic as a result of his amazing use of lighting.  (After only a few pages I flipped back to the title page to see who the colorist was.)  Issues like this one remind me what a golden age of Star Wars it is.

Uncanny Avengers #26:  After all this time, I continue to believe this series is the real Avengers title.  Zub just gets it.  The sexual tension between Johnny and Rogue and Voodoo and Wanda reminds me of the good ol’ days, when everyone was sleeping with each other and it caused problems on and off the battlefield.  Johnny and Rogue are particularly charming here as a couple:  they both start with bravado but fade to honest-to-goodness feelings.  (Johnny Storm!  Talking about feelings!)  Izaakse is a great find, a less highly defined version of McNiven who works well for this title.  (Johnny in his little shorts is particularly a revelation.)  Moreover, Zub puts us squarely in that most Avengers of all moments:  after a great battle where they’re divided and exhausted, they have to find a way to keep on going.  Even the battle itself mirrors their situation:  they’re squatting in Avengers Mansion after the previous occupants abandoned it during “Secret Empire,” and Graviton turns everything upside down in his attempt to prove life is meaningless and random.  They’re literally fighting for meaning here, and it’s a great ride.  I would say I'd like Zub to do a little more with Janet here, as I feel like she's often portrayed as more inexperienced than she is.  I get Rogue is also experienced, but, I mean, Janet is Janet.

X-Men Blue #10:  From Hank’s dark-magic use to Bobby’s more serious mien, Bunn is reminding us we’ve gone beyond the point where these kids are the kids we knew.  They’re their own characters, and their new personalities are on full display.  Moreover, we get another amazing group of enemies here, as the Goblin Queen manipulates Hank into bringing her “Hex-Men” into the present.  Adding even more intrigue, this series seems to be the one where Marvel is exploring the fallout of “Secret Wars,” as Jimmy and Warren explore his origins.  When you add in there the possibility of Magneto and Polaris fireworks, this series is really the best soap opera in town!  (Also, Romeo, Jesus, return Bobby's calls!)  

Also Read:  Dungeons & Dragons:  Frost Giant's Fury #5; Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #6

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Not-So-New Comics: The August 23 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Secret Empire #9:  Spencer does a solid job of keeping up the suspense here.  It's hard to get us on the edge of our seats the way he did in early issues, given it's pretty clear how the story is going to end:  the heroes will take on a Cube-powered Captain Nazi while Dream Steve convinces Kobik to restore him to reality.  But, the story unfolds well; I only had two nitpicks.  First, I would've loved some sort of chart showing which side possessed which shards.  I initially thought the heroes had two shards -- one from Ultron and one from the Savage Land -- but last issue they only seemed to have the Ultron one.  That said, I don't care that much; it's why a chart would've been helpful, since it would've been simple to understand the status quo.  (Instead, we get the weird "cast of characters" page that adds nothing to the story.)  Second, it's hard to believe Sam managed to free New York from the Darkforce Dimension and bring down the Shield with only one shard (assuming his use of the shard allowed those events to happen).  If true, you'd have to imagine Steve doesn't need some Cube-powered suit to take out the heroes.  He might not be able to rewrite history without the final shard, but it seems like he could easily just wish away his opponents.  At any rate, we are where we are.  Spencer includes some grace notes here, like Carol and Sam taking a moment to reflect on how fun it is to kick the HYDRA troops' asses.  But, for the most part, it's really about following the silver ball through the Rube Goldberg machine while we wait for Kobik to right her wrongs.

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #6:  I love Peter David, and I'm willing to ride this one until the end with him.  However, I'm surprised I don't really have a great read on Ben Reilly as a character after six issues.  (Conversely, Miguel O'Hara was a fully formed character after just the first three-issue arc of the original "Spider-Man 2099" series.)  David portrays Ben as desperate:  he's trying to save Diva's daughter simply because he doesn't have a lot of great options when it comes to employment.  But, honestly, it's sort of hard to believe.  He could pretty easily just use his Spider-Powers to rob enough banks to set himself up nicely and then decide what he wants to do.  Instead, he just seems to be hanging around Vegas in search of a larger plan.  In other words, after six issues, I still don't get the core conceit of this series.  He's not wandering the country like an outlaw like he used to do or serving as a city's reluctant hero like Kaine did in Houston.  He's just...there.

Detective Comics #963:  I've mentioned previously it's sometimes hard to remember what changed from the DCU to the DCnU, particularly when it comes to Batman's continuity.  For the most part, everything stayed the same, except for some outrageous changes that DC wisely promptly ignored (like Joker manipulating Jason's life essentially from birth to Tim not figuring out Batman's identity).  However, sometimes the change feels more abrupt, as is the case here with Anarky.  Anarky was playing a key role in Fabian Nicieza's run on "Red Robin" when the DCU came to an end, and I think that version of the character is fresh in most of our minds.  Moreover, Buccellato and Manapul introduced a completely different character using that moniker in their own run on this title.  As such, it's hard to tell what character we're getting here.  I acknowledge I don't get all the Bat-family titles.  Maybe he's already debuted in "Red Hood and the Outlaws" or "Teen Titans" (or "Batgirl" since I stopped reading it).  But, it's this uncertainty that detracts from the story Tynion is trying to tell here.  I get why Spoiler would be attracted to Anarky in the abstract.  But, since it's impossible to know what this Anarky feels, it's also hard not to feel at least partially confused.

Iceman #4:  I really, really, really wanted Bobby to make out with Daken.  [Fan sigh.]  That said, something still isn't clicking for me and this series.  At times in this issue, it was an effort to make my way through the dialogue, something I don't think I should've felt given the sexually charged banter the fight between Bobby and Daken brought to the table.  But, I'm hoping Sina finds his groove in the same way I hope Bobby does.  Each issue feels like an improvement, and I'm hoping we'll really be cooking with gas (or, I don't know, freezing the lake?) in a few issues if it keeps improving.

Nightwing:  The New Order #2:  To use the cliché, Higgins leaves us with more questions than answers here, but so far it's a good thing.  First and foremost, Higgins doesn't tell us why Dick decided to turn against the metahuman community.  All we know is he activated a device that stripped 90 percent of metahumans of their powers; the remaining metahumans either were forced to take inhibiting drugs or, if they didn't work, imprisoned until a "cure" could be found.  It's a pretty serious shift to the fascist, and Higgins certainly has to explain how it happened at some point.  It appears Dick had a child with Starfire, so my original guess -- that a metahuman killed Barbara -- might not wind up being true.  Moreover, Alfred himself opposes Dick's approach -- particularly the indefinite detention of metahumans who don't respond to treatment -- making it even more unclear why Dick himself would take this position.  But, we also have the larger question:  why give us this series now?  Did Higgins just decide to launch this miniseries because he had the idea, or will we see either the themes or the outcomes of this miniseries impact the "real world?"  I'm intrigued.

Also Read:  Generations:  The Unworthy Thor and the Mighty Thor #1; Pathfinder:  Runescars #4; Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #3; Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra Annual #1; X-Men Gold #10

Monday, October 16, 2017

Not-So-New Comics: The August 16 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

X-Men Blue #9:  This series just gets more and more confusing.  On the plus side, I buy the idea Magneto sent Briar (whoever the fuck she is), Danger, and Polaris to watch over the X-Men during their assault on Emma's mutant nation.  I also buy them acting as the X-Men's teachers now that they survived said assault.  (Is Briar qualified enough to be a teacher?)  But, other parts of this issue make no sense.  Alex is now fully “evil:”  Polaris declares he’s too far gone for her to save.  But, she also says she’s not giving up hope in saving him.  Which one is it?  Is he too far gone, or is he still savable?  Also, we learn the White Queen and Alex are working with Miss Sinister and Bastion on some sort of project called “Mothervine,” which just seems totally unbelievable.  The Goblin Queen?  Sure, I get Alex going down that (sexy, sexy) road again.  But, Miss Sinister and Bastion?  Not so much.  Also, do we have any idea who Xorn really is?  I feel like Bunn just continues to throw these  non sequiturs at us, from Briar to Mothervine to Xorn.  I just dont' get it.

Dark Nights:  Metal #1:  As far as I can piece together, Carter Hall and his Challengers of the Unknown realized the Nth metal (presumably the "ninth" metal) came from outside our Multiverse, specifically the Dark Multiverse.  However, Hall didn’t believe this universe was "evil" before he and the Challengers entered it via a portal.  Hawkwoman provides us this information after whisking the Justice League to her secret base (if I remember correctly).  She then reveals she later got a message from the Red Tornado (one of the Challengers) saying a great beast lies in the Dark Multiverse and she shouldn't open the portal to it.  She tells the League she believes this creature to be one mentioned in numerous tales of the metal:  Barbatos, literally "foreign metal."  The dark tribe (i.e., the Bat Tribe) worshiped him, and someone treated with the five divine metals could open the portal for him.  (Five divine metals?  I guess it explains the weird exchange between Bruce and Talia about the "eight" versus "ninth" metals in "Dark Days:  The Casting" #1.)  Hawkwoman reveals the name of the person who opens the portal is "Wayne."  Dun-dun-DUN!  The League covers Bruce's escape (because I think Hawkwoman wants to imprison him before he can open the portal fully), and he manages to flee with a piece of the Nth Metal Hawkwoman had at her base.  While he studies it at the Batcave, we learn Carter hid his journal in Wayne Manor for Bruce to find.  (Presumably Carter had the same information about a Wayne opening the portal as Hawkwoman; the presence of the Nth metal also presumably awakens the journal.)  We learn the Waynes used to be members of the Bat Tribe but switched to the Bird Tribe so now they’re trustworthy.  (Sure, whatever.)  Carter also reveals in his journal that he was wrong, presumably (again) about the evilness of the Dark Multiverse.  (This journal must be from the Dark Multiverse if Carter now knows he was wrong about it being evil.  However, how exactly did he hide it in Wayne Manor if he's on another plane of existence?)  As you can probably tell by all the "presumably-s," I wasn't thrilled with this issue.  We’re clearly supposed to be wowed by it, as if Snyder has been carefully building this plot over years and years and hiding Easter eggs along the way.  But, everything is only "amazing" because Snyder tells us it is.  It’s like putting an addition on the house in a different style and trying to pretend it was there all along.  Right now, at least for me, I can tell it's an addition.

Astonishing X-Men #2:  Soule is playing a long game here, so I'm definitely happy to give him time to tell his story.  But, I wold say I'm not buying the stakes of the "game" Professor X is playing with the Shadow King, where he gets to kill the X-Men if he wins (rather than the Shadow King getting to possess them).  Soule clearly has something up his sleeve but, at this point, it's hard not to roll your eyes at any plot that threatens the X-Men's death.

Batman #29:  I can’t tell if this issue is brilliant or terrible.  The last few issues have felt like retrospective issues of a story we haven’t yet read, with King focusing more on fringe developments in the War of Jokes and Riddles than on the war itself.  But, he finally engages in the war directly here as Bruce Wayne invites Joker and Riddler to dinner.  Janín is spectacular here, with the top panel of each page depicting the course Alfred is serving as part of a proper French nine-course meal.  Bruce reveals he’s offering a prize:  one billion dollars to the one who convinces him he’s most worthy of killing the Bat.  It makes a certain amount of sense:  Bruce wants to bring the war to conclusion, and he needs one of them to defeat the other soundly.  One billion dollars would obviously get them there.  (We'll put aside the legality of Bruce moving that amount of cash to one of them.)  But, once again, it's hard to buy Bruce's desperation bringing him to this point because we haven't really seen the violence allegedly tearing apart Gotham.  Proving that point, this issue only delivers such examples through grayed-out flashback panels.  Moreover, Bruce is...weird, even in his interaction with Alfred.  He fixates on the fact his mother would've disapproved of his "guests" leaving before the final coffee and sherry course.  Sure, Bruce:  Martha would've been most disappointed in the bad manners your guests exhibited rather than you offering one billion dollars to Gotham's most dangerous psychopath to help him kill the second most dangerous one.  I get the act for Joker and Riddler, but it doesn't make any sense with Alfred.  It’s almost like King wants us to believe Bruce has suffered some sort of psychotic break as a result of the war.  In other words, it’s par for the course of this story:  moments of brilliant inspiration lost in muddled narrative.

Dungeons and Dragons:  Frost Giant’s Fury #4:  This issue is legitimately exciting.  The team has to regroup and then track down the frost giants as their leader, Gryttmort, uses the Dragon Orb (I mean, “Orb of Dragonkind”) to start building an army of dragons and giants.  They discover Nilanthe’s eggs, but they’re going to have to get through a whole squadron of frost giants to escape with them.  Thankfully, one of the magicians back in town gave Minsc a potion that allows him to grow to the size of a giant, and I can’t wait to see that deployed.  Along the way, Zub gives us some really great moments of characterization, from the latest installment of Krydle’s ongoing crisis of motivation to Minsc’s attempt to make friends with a winter wolf because all animals love him.  If you’re a fantasy person, you should pick up this series.  I’d love to see Wizards of the Coast actually give us some novels based on this cast.  It’s not just the Dragon Orb that makes me feel like I was reading "Dragons of Winter Night."

Spider-Men II #2:  Man, this issue is terrible.  First, Bendis portrays Peter as some sort of brain-injury victim incapable of speaking without quipping.  You get used to a fair amount of inappropriately timed quipping when you read Spider-Man comics, but Bendis takes it too far here.  Second, we have all sorts of weird assertions about timing that make no sense.  At one point, Peter says he’s “sort of” three years older than Miles.  If you’re going to say, “But, Miles is in high school!,” Bendis apparently disagrees with you:  Peter makes fun of him for carrying a backpack because he’s too old to do so, and a girl he likes asks him if the person calling him is his wife, as if you normally ask high-school students that.  Notably, this later conversation happens on the Brooklyn Visions Academy campus, making it make even less sense.  I just don’t get it at all.  Bad script + unrealistic plot = terrible issue.

Also Read:  Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #4; Generation X #5; Mighty Thor #22; Nightwing #27; Star Wars #34; U.S.Avengers #9

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The August 9 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America #25 and Secret Empire #8:  OK, here we go.  In “Captain America” #25, Tony reveals he’s figured out each Cosmic Cube fragment has its own juice.  I’ll be honest I’m not quite sure I understand his explanation of the discovery.  He apparently realized Ulysses’ vision of Miles killing Cap didn’t come true because Cap was holding a Cosmic Cube fragment when Miles had a chance to kill him in "Secret Empire" #7.  In other words, Steve wished Miles didn’t kill him, and it worked.  This development results in the usual cascade of problems I've come to expect when confronted with prophecy-based stories, as you have to wonder why Ulysses’ prediction didn’t factor in the Cube fragment’s presence.  But, if I know anything after 30+ years of reading comics, it’s not to expect prophecy-based or time-travel stories to make sense.  In other words, fine:  the Cube changed the history Ulysses predicted because, I don't know, it exists outside reality.  Whatever.  At any rate, Tony's realization sets up the plan we see unfolding at the start of “Secret Empire” #8:  Sam and Tony use the fragment they have to free New York from the Darkforce Dimension and destroy the Shield, freeing the heroes trapped on the other side.  To be honest, this issue is the first one to feel like filler, even though a lot happens.  Spencer builds some suspense by showing the heroes fail yet again to deliver:  Sam gets shot in his attempt to triangulate himself between the Darkforce Dimension and the Shield, failing to give the heroes the juice they need to free themselves.  As such, Dr. Strange’s spell and Rocket’s bomb fail.  But, Spencer reminds us the Cube works in mysterious ways.  Instead, Hawkeye’s jail break allows Maria Hill to kill “Bob,” a.k.a. Blackout, and Quasar’s coma comes to an end.  With the heroes reunited, Namor reveals the ace up his sleeve we saw at the end of “Captain America” #25:  Bucky is alive.  As I said, though, this issue is missing something, given the conclusion seems more and more inevitable.  It's not like the first few issues where I legitimately had no idea where Spencer was going.  It seems pretty clear the team is going to somehow use the Cube to "save" Steve.  That said, it might not have been the most exciting installment of this event, but I also have to admit we do have some momentum carrying us into the finale.

Amazing Spider-Man #31:  Something about Doc Ock makes Dan Slott just completely lose the plot, and I use that expression almost literally here.  Peter orders everyone in Parker Industries to active worms that destroy everything the company has created; he does so to prevent Otto from breaking into PI's systems and using its technology to advance HYDRA.  I get that, but, as usual, Slott takes it too far.  At one point, Phillip Chang physically burns his written notes.  Really?  How exactly was Otto going to access them remotely when he hacked into Parker Industries?  Couldn't Phillip just have left the building with them?  Also, does he really remember nothing of his research?  He basically says he'll never be able to introduce his clean fuel.  It's like he's Drew Barrymore in "50 First Dates" and forgets what he did the previous day until he reads his notes.  It's just one  of several examples showing why this development makes no sense.  In addition, Peter seems to deny Otto’s (entirely accurate) claim he, not Peter, started Parker Industries.  WTF, Peter?  On some level, the story supports this bias, since Peter didn't bother to make sure to scrub Otto from the system.  But, does Peter really not believe Otto started PI?  If he does, wouldn’t scrubbing Otto from the system be the first thing you'd do after discovering Otto had been in charge of your body for months?  OK, first, I’d take a shower at the idea of the dirty things he did with my penis.  Then, I’d make sure I eliminated any back-door programs.  Peter's inability to do so -- and, by extension, inability to acknowledge Otto's role in the creation of PI -- really challenges my ability to suspend disbelief.  It's part of Slott's approach to Peter as a bumbling idiot that I've never bought and just supports my hope we'll one day be freed from his control.

Detective Comics #962:  I mostly like what Tynion did here, though I'll admit I'm still left a bit confused.  Luke successfully introduces the Batman A.I. into Azrael, allowing him to join the good fight against Ascalon.  The big development is Nomoz sacrificing his life to tell Jean-Paul Ascalon is his brother, though this part seemed odd to me.  After all, didn't we just learn Jean-Paul was grown in a lab?  OK, maybe Ascalon was grown from the same genetic material as Jean-Paul, but Tynion seems to be supposing an emotional connection there I'm not sure Jean-Paul would feel.  After all, Jean-Paul didn't even know if he had biological parents, as far as I can recall.  Is Tynion saying Jean-Paul Valley, Sr. is the biological father of Azrael and Ascalon?  Is Azrael going to go hunt for his biological mother?  This part remains unclear.  That said, the resolution of the story mostly works.  Ascalon has uploaded the personalities of all Gotham, giving him some sort of power I don't quite understand.  But, Zatanna uses the Gnosis Sphere to give him all the answers to all life's questions.  She knows human life is about the questions, not the answers; as a result, Ascalon comes to understand humanity and, inexplicably, summons his human form.  (This part seemingly supports the idea Jean-Paul and Ascalon are biologically, and not just genetically, brothers, but I still don't understand the mechanics of it, if you will.)  Jean-Paul is left paralyzed after Ascalon broke him over his knee, a parallel to the "Knightfall" story I guess now never happened.  But, the big development is a thankful Ascalon informing Bruce Tim is still alive (the reason Bruce was chasing the Gnosis Sphere in the first place).  Moreover, Ra's al Ghul is seemingly impressed by Jean-Paul Valley, Sr.'s manipulation of the events from behind the scenes and invites him to meet their mutual "benefactor."  Again, this issue could've been stronger.  You got the sense Tynion was rushing through the details to advance the larger plot on an expedited timeframe.  But, the plot still at least makes sense and I do feel like that larger plot is progressing nicely.
Generations:  Phoenix and Jean Grey #1:  If all "Generations" titles are as meaningless and poorly scripted as this one, I need to admit right now Marvel has yet again figured out a way to swindle me.

Ms. Marvel #21:  I've always been impressed with Wilson's ability to convey complicated social themes in an emotional yet somehow still neutral way, and she really tops herself here.  The revelation Basic Becky's creepy henchman is Josh isn't all that surprising.  It's more surprising Wilson is able to handle him with such care, showing a broken young man who wanted to be seen as more than a dumb white jock.  These sorts of messages can get lost in everyone shouting at each other today ("Poor little white boy!") but Wilson really manages to sell it.  As Kamala says, at some point, it's just Josh and Kamala sitting on the floor of the mosque talking about their hurt.  We probably need a lot more of that.

Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #11 and Star Wars - Rogue One:  Cassian and K2SO Special #1:  I lumped these two issues together because they basically tell the same story:  both Aphra and Cassian have to deal with droids trying to kill them.  In so doing, the Story Group reminds us just how dangerous this far, far away galaxy is, as you not only have to contend with all sorts of humanoids trying to kill you but droids, too.  Triple-Zero is really the star of the show, though, as he not only manipulates Rur to get in the kills Aphra has denied him but also backs her into a corner as Vader boards the ship.  In so doing, Gillen is setting up a stark reminder about the limits of Aphra's occasional "good" impulses.  Would she allow Triple-Zero to kill more indiscriminately just to keep his talents on her side?  It feels like a safe bet to take.

Youngblood #4:  Other than the physics-defying moment when Bowers has Shaft fire his sword from his bow without the use of a string, this issue is pretty solid.  The Byrne brothers are revealed to be fulfilling their father’s mission by using Help! to identify methumans to traffic to interested buyers.  But, Help! seems to be simply a means to an end, raising funds for whatever their eventual plans are.  Dolante and Petra break into ByrneTec to get more information about Man-Up’s disappearance and stumble upon the truth just in time for the Byrne brothers to send the Chapel brothers (I think) after them.  Shaft almost gets eliminated as he goes after Cybernet himself, but he’s saved by the rest of the team, with Margot revealing Dolante and Petra went rogue.  (The woman who actually saves him is the white-haired woman with a “Y” on her t-shirt, and I’m not sure if she’s Supreme, who we see Dolante and Petra meeting a few days earlier.)  My several-weeks break in reading comics was most obvious here, as I couldn't remember how the team discovered Help! would know about Man-Up's disappearance or how they identified Cybernet as an enemy.  But, I'm back in the saddle, and I'm looking forward to learning more.

Also Read:  Titans #14

Friday, October 13, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The August 2 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Champions #11:  Waid does a great job here showing us why the Champions decide to join Black Widow in taking down Cap, as they come up empty in their attempt to find anyone alive after Steve's destruction of Las Vegas.  (They eventually find a newborn, and it gives them some hope for the future.)  It's hard to see what they see and not conclude they have to do something.

Batman #28:  Although I still think the story King is telling has potential, we've gotten to the point where the framing device -- Bruce recounting the War of Jokes and Riddles to Selina -- is starting to weigh down the story itself.  Moreover, King's focus on vignettes from the fringes of the war makes these issues read like they're from one of those cross-over event anthology series.  Last issue, it was the origin of Kite Man; this issue, it's the fight between Deadshot and Deathstroke. (The latter is definitely the more interesting one.)  But, the actual war between Joker and Riddler essentially happens off-panel.  They've already split up the Upper East and West Sides and assembled their armies when this issue starts, even though we haven't really seen how they convince each villain to join their side.  (I think we've only seen Riddler's pitch to Ivy.)  We're shown how Bruce and Gordon are at their wits' end, but we're not really told why they haven't been able to get a handle on the situation.  Gordon tells Batman Joker has wired the entire city with explosives and Riddler has guards hidden throughout the city to unleash terror, but isn't that basically any given Tuesday in Gotham?  I think it's probably time for King to do a little more showing and a little less telling.

Nightwing #26:  It turns out Giz is really dead, and I have to admit I'm impressed:  it's rare we actually kill off good guys anymore.  Dick feels guilty since Giz died looking into the Second Hand, the organization smuggling superhero-killing weapons into Blüdhaven.  Helena appears at Dick's apartment to tell him she and Barbara are worried about him and offers to help him track down someone named Draculi.  (Did I mention Dick is naked in the shower when she arrives?  Well timed, Helena.)  Dick realizes she's only offering to help because Draculi is connected to organized crime and it advances the anti-Mafia crusade she's adopted since leaving Spyral.  (The mob killed her family, and I'm pretty sure it means DC is more closely aligning Huntress with her original DCU incarnation.  I'm guessing it's all happening in "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.")  The duo track down a fixer in Rome who tells them Draculi has gotten erratic.  He sends them onto Draculi's home, but he's already dead.  However, he leaves a clue:  a flash drive explaining he's Agent 19 of Spyral and someone is messing with his mind.  Dick realizes the Second Hand is Spyral as we see Agent 1 with a group of other agents watching Dick and Helena from the rooftops; one of the agents remarks that they took the bait.  Although it's overall a solid issue, I don't get what we're supposed to believe when it comes to the clue.  It seems like Agent 1 wanted Dick and Helena to find it, but why would he want them to know Spyral was after them?  Isn't it better to surprise them?  Also, how orchestrated was it?  How did Agent 1 know Agent 19 would leave the flash drive connecting himself with Spyral?  Meanwhile, in Gotham, Shawn has decided to embrace Pigeon's war against capitalism.  Bad call, Shawn.  Bad call.

Spider-Man #19:  Bendis makes an admirable attempt to sell Ganke's argument Miles is off his rocker because he resents being a "Spider-Man cover band," but I'm not sure I really buy it.  It seems much more likely he's breaking under the pressure of juggling his secret identity while also dealing with the fact his parents are, at least for now, separated.  I get teenage boys aren't exactly in touch with their emotions, but I don't feel like you have to get inventive when it comes to pinning Miles' stress on a cause.  At the very least, you'd figure someone would mention it as a possibility.

X-Men Gold #9:  I've enjoyed Spencer's deft if obvious political and social commentary in "Captain America:  Sam Wilson," but Guggenheim forgets the "deft" part of that equation in this issue.  Kitty is called to Washington to testify before a Congressional sub-committee against a mutant-deportation bill.  If he had focused less on the soap-opera elements of this issue, Guggenheim could've delivered a clever metaphor for the current immigration debate instead of the anti-Trump screed we get here.  However, he's juggling too many balls to manage it; instead, he winds up dropping them all.  In terms of the soap opera, Logan convinces Kitty to take Peter to DC with her as her bodyguard.  Instead of slowly rekindling their romance over a few issues to the point where Kitty can't ignore her attraction to Peter anymore, Peter essentially proposes marriage and Kitty essentially accepts.  (No, really.)  Moreover, Rachel announces she wants to date Kurt because she discovered he was attracted to her when she read his mind a few issues ago and because it'll somehow ensure she doesn't become her mother.  (She's concerned about that because of these amped-up powers I don't really remember her getting.)  I thought Kurt had more self-respect than to dive into a relationship with someone who states the only thing she finds attractive about him is his attraction to her, but I guess Guggenheim doesn't.  When you throw in there the revelation Stevie Hunter is now a Congresswoman but somehow still wearing '90s era jumpsuits, well, it's just a mess from start to finish.

Also Read:  Archangel #5; Darth Vader #4; Hawkeye #9

Friday, October 6, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The July 26 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Secret Empire #7:  This issue is possibly the single best issue of an event -- possibly any comic -- ever.  I was holding my breath as we moved step by step to the end.  (I know I said that last issue, but who knew Spencer would top himself so quickly!)

Let's start at the beginning.  First, I would really love Spencer to write "Captain Marvel," because he gets her better than anyone since Kelly Sue.  Her monologue begging Quasar to awaken so she can redeem herself was a brilliant piece of characterization, as Carol realizes "Civil War II" put them on the path to this moment.  She realizes she's exactly like Tony, desperately seeking for someone to tell her she's the hero she hopes she is.  (It's clearly a bitter pill to swallow, and it really matches nicely what A.I. Tony said to Steve in issue #6).  Spencer's gift here is making everything seem like it's the logical conclusion of past events:  Carol's guilt from "Civil War II," Miles' destiny to kill Captain America from "IvX," Hank merging with Ultron in "Avengers:  Rage of Ultron."  They're important components of the tension Spencer builds throughout the issue.  In fact, Spencer has made it clear from the start the events of this series are not only grounded in the past but are unlikely to be simply ret-conned at the end.  It's really what has made it so enjoyable, to my mind.

Spencer also addresses the generational issues at hand as well.  Natasha locks up Miles so he can't realize his destiny to kill Captain America:  it's like she's saying she wants one more chance for her generation to clean up the mess it's made before the innocent get blood on their hands.  But, she can't.  Punisher stops her before she can pull the trigger, giving Miles time to escape.  She defeats Frank (of course she does), and Sorrentino does an amazing job showing her panicked dash to the scene of the battle between Miles and Steve.  He's equally adept at showing her death, as she leaps between them and Steve's shield shatters her skull.  Natasha Romanova has always, always deserved to be the hero, and she gets to be here, at the cost of her life.  (Sure, she's probably going to return.  But, in the moment, I believed the story Spencer was telling here, unlike most times a character dies.)  An enraged Miles attacks Steve with new vigor, but, picking up the theme of generation change, Wasp gets to him before he strikes the final blow.  She tells him he's not a killer, and she begs him to respect Natasha's sacrifice:  she died because she knew he wasn't a killer.  Miles agrees, and the kids are arrested by HYDRA's security forces.

Later, Steve has his troops bring him to Sharon, where he laments the losses surrounding him.  He whines it wasn't supposed to go this way; he was going to save everyone, not send Bucky, Rick, Elisa, and now Natasha to their deaths.  Sharon then tries to kill him, and I cheered.  Sharon fucking Carter, man.  She never doesn't come to play.  But, he stops her, and it's the last straw:  totally alone, he promises war.  The remaining members of the Underground are broken as they watch Natasha die, and Giant Man asks if it's over.  A voice says it's not, and I teared up a bit as I saw Sam Wilson stand in that last panel wearing his Captain America costume and holding the shield.  White nationalists paraded through Charlottesville the day before I wrote this review, and damn if I didn't feel better seeing Sam Wilson tell me to believe in America still.

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #19 and Captain America:  Sam Wilson #24:  I'm reviewing these issues jointly because they're flipsides of the same coin, with Steve finally putting on his HYDRA Supreme Leader gear and Sam putting on the Captain America uniform (as seen at the end of "Secret Empire" #7).  Steve's issue doesn't have that much emotional impact; Spencer is really just drawing a line under the sense at the end of "Secret Empire" #7 that Steve is putting away childish things.  He's lost everyone -- Tony, Bucky, Rick, Elisa, Natasha, and Sharon -- and he seems to finally accept he doesn't get to be the hero anymore.  I'd recommend reading that issue first, because Sam's issue is much more inspiring.  Misty tries to convince him to put on his uniform, revealing she defied his request to return it to Steve.  (She's right about how she made the right call.)  In a fit of anger, Sam tells Misty he doesn't believe America deserves Captain America anymore, and it's Patriot who convinces him otherwise.  He asks if you really just give up a war because you're outgunned and outnumbered, reminding Sam that giving up the uniform just gave his enemies what they wanted and left the vulnerable without a champion.  It's hard work, Sam, but someone has to do it.

Detective Comics #961:  The novelty of the DCnU has generally waned after six years, but every once in a while someone surprises you.  Here, Tynion has Luke working to create a new suit to replace Azarel's Suit of Shadows.  He's been trying to figure out a way to replace the Order of St. Dumas' dogma as the artificial intelligence powering the suit.  After all, he can't just create a new moral code for the suit:  it would be like creating a new religion.  But, he realizes he actually has a moral code on hand when he realizes Ascalon wasn't able to take over Rookie like he was Luke's Batwing suits:  after all, it was programmed with Batman's moral code.  Enter the Batsuit Azrael wore when he took over the mantle of the Bat during "Knightfall."  Honestly, I got shivers.  Well played, James.  Moreover, Tynion does a stellar job with the characterization throughout the issue, from Kate's wry commentary as she and Cassandra take on Azrael to Zatanna's heartfelt recounting of her heartbreak when her teenage self realized Bruce would never stay with her.  It's a really stellar issue in a really stellar series.

Iceman #3:  I really, really want to like this series, but, OMG, the art is so bad.  It's hard to get past it.  Grace does a great job of showing Bobby trying to be real with his parents in anticipation of telling them he's gay.  He even gives us insight into why Bobby uses humor to deflect emotions, as his parents do the same thing during their ill-fated dinner.  Actually, it's less "humor" and more "bitchiness."  In that way, we get a good sense why Bobby is apprehensive about telling them the truth.  But, Grace opens a door here as his mother admits they're not giving him a fair shot.  In fact, I thought Grace does a great job of using mutants as a parallel for gays when he has Bobby's mother mention that society might be totally fine with mutants (gays) now, but it wasn't for a long time.  They're having a hard time making that switch, and, frankly, I am, too (but from the other side, obviously).  But, the art distracts from the story Grace is telling.  It's almost like Vitti has been possessed by Rob Liefeld, with random lines populating all his figures.  These sort of solo X-Men series don't typically last long, and I just hope they smooth out the art problems to give Grace some space to tell the story he wants to tell.

Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #5:  Wood gives John a happy ending I'm not entirely sure he deserves, but it's not an unrestricted one.  His mentor gets James Madison to agree to release John from prison (where he lost an arm to an infection while serving his sentence for mutiny), but it has a catch:  he can work in a shipyard building the Navy he loves, but he must be anonymous lest Madison be seen as supporting a mutineer.  His mentor correctly assumes John doesn't care about fame, so the arrangement will suit him well.  That part, I like.  But, Wood gives John his love interest here, the woman he met in New York while playing in the rigging years earlier.  She claims she didn't wait for him, but she was still unmarried at 40 years old so Wood isn't all that convincing.  It's pretty hard to believe she fell for taciturn John so hard after just one night she waited for him for two decades (I think).  But, it is what it is.  Wood is on firmer ground when he has John return to his childhood home.  Members of his mother's family are going to buy it, and he stands by his parents' graves with a real sense of loss.  He also shows uncharacteristic emotions when he refuses to enter the house, so it's left to his wife to say good-bye to it, finding some of his childhood etchings.  She tells him his parents would be proud of him, as he surpasses his father (an American yearning, Wood reminds us).  It's probably true, since Seth Abbot wasn't really one for formality; mutiny probably wouldn't have bothered him too much, and he'd indeed be proud if he learned John took command to save lives.  Wood also draws a parallel to today, as John leaves behind the woods his father so loved for the city.  It's a wistful ending to this story, and I'm excited to see what else Wood has planned.

Spider-Gwen #22:  After convincing Kitty to stop Logan from killing Harry, Gwen calls Reed to get a second opinion on whether the Lizard/Venom switcheroo will work.  But, she's really calling for moral support, and Reed does her a solid by not giving it to her.  She's convinced she's saving Harry, but Reed asks her what she really expects to happen here.  It's not like Harry can just live a normal life once he's divested of his Lizard persona; he's made mistakes for which he'll have to pay.  Moreover, he reminds Gwen she had numerous other options -- hiring a lawyer, calling in Captain America -- other than aligning aligning herself with the Kingpin.  Left unsaid, Reed is basically saying Gwen is doing what suits her interests, getting back her powers and freeing her father.  She's not really saving Harry for his sake; as we said, Harry is unlikely to walk into the sunset when he's cured.  But, Gwen does it anyway, essentially proving Reed's point.  I really have to give Latour credit here for allowing Gwen to be so morally ambiguous.  It's a difficult road to hoe, but he really nails the landing (to mix metaphors) here.

Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #10:  Gillen continues to remind us that somewhere under that tough exterior Aphra still seeks a certain level of approval.  We saw her disappointment when Luke made it clear at the end of the "Screaming Citadel" arc that he couldn't forgive her for using him to get answers about Rur, and here Aphra selects a lower offer for Rur because the Shadow University promises to keep evidence of her cheating buried (allowing her to keep her doctorate) and even allow her access to Rur.  Now she just has to survive Rur itself!

Also Read:  Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #5; Occupy Avengers #9; Pathfinder:  Runescars #3