Monday, July 10, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 7 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #24:  Whoa.  I did not see that coming.  To be honest, I didn't really enjoy this issue.  As I mentioned in a previous review, we've never really gotten resolution when it came to Claire's story.  She's allegedly healed here, so we're left to assume Bruce's plan to use Psycho-Pirate to take away her fear worked.  But, she still  Her side of the conversation with Bruce doesn't sound the way an actual human would speak.  It's full of oddly timed emotional moments followed by robotic repetition of stilted phrases.  But, if you put aside the script, the point of the conversation is important:  Claire asks Bruce what he wants as he presses her to decide what she wants.  When he essentially admits he's scared of getting what he wants, she gives him permission to be scared.  It's an unexpectedly powerful moment.  He realizes he wants Selina, and the issue ends with him proposing to her with the diamond she stole when they first met.  I remember reading with awe "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne," the story that concludes the first volume of "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told."  (Google tells me it's actually "The Brave and the Bold" #197.)  In it, the Bruce and Selina of Earth-Two finally dedicate themselves to each other after facing their fears during a fight with the Scarecrow.  (When else would you face your fears?)  I'm not sure if King is intentionally paying homage to that story, but this one has the same feel.  "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" is still one my favorite Batman stories after all this time, because it shows him finally allowing himself to be a real boy.  I can't explain how excited I am of the possibility of seeing that story become the actual status quo in the main universe, even if the script that got us to this point was poor.  I'll take it.

Dark Knight III:  The Master Race #9:  I wasn't even going to bother to review this issue, but it felt wrong not to do so, like I was rewarding DC for the cynicism that brought this series into existence.  I try not to be the type of fan who expects too much from the companies that produce the comics we read.  I get it's a business, and I try not to make their money grabs into an issue except when they cross the line, like when they charge $9.99 for a regular issue with just a few pages of extra "stories."  (I'm looking at you, "Amazing Spider-Man" #25.)  After several years of reviewing comics, I also feel like I'm better about acknowledging that just because a comic doesn't work for me means that it's "bad."  In cases where I see obvious plot holes or terrible line work, I recognize someone else finds mystery in those plot holes and beauty in those jumbled lines.  (I admit in not always succeeding in this endeavor; I still feel bad for what I said about Matt Fraction during "Fear Itself.")  But, it feels like DC has gone beyond the pale with this one.  The story has been remarkably simple, even less complicated than the plot of "Man of Steel."  It's essentially a "Transformers" movie at this point:  an alien race -- the Kandorians -- invades, Lara betrays humanity and joins the Kandorians, Lara's love of her family turns her against the Kandorians, Clark lets loose like never before, and the alien race is defeated.  The End.  Everything else is essentially filler.  In fact, it's hard to see what role Bruce even played in this issue.  Nothing he does has any impact on the inevitable conclusion.  In the rare instances where Miller and Azzarello had the opportunity to give us some more emotional insight into a character, they didn't.  For example, Atom wordlessly saves the day here, but we have no chance for him to express the regret he feels for unleashing the Kandorians on Earth in the first place.  We just have to assume he feels relieved, if not vindicated.  Emotional insight is implied with long stares and nothing more.  Including "Dark Knight III:  The Last Crusade," this series of ten issues cost $59.90.  It's hard for me to accept that, that I spent that amount of money on this series.  To put that in perspective, you can buy the premium edition of "Batman:  Arkham Knight" and its hours of play time for $39.99.  DC obviously feels justified in charging $59.90 because of the legacy of a four-issue series published 32 years ago.  But, I have to wonder if anyone paused at the price.  Did the editor at any point remind the creative team we were paying $59.90 for their story?  Did they ever ask Kubert to maybe spend a little more time depicting the guy with the melted face so it doesn't just look like he has a poor handle on perspective?  Did anyone ask Azzarello to spend maybe just a little bit more time getting us to care about the characters rather than just assuming we did?  Did anyone think about us, the reader, at all?

Darth Vader #1:  I thought this series was going to take place in the same timeframe as the rest of the ongoing "Star Wars" series, making me wonder why they started with a #1 issue (yet again) instead of continuing the numbering from Gillen's series.  But, we're not in Kansas anymore.  Soule takes us to the moment Anakin becomes Vader, and it's as startling as expected.  The Emperor launches, Vader...right into his training, explaining that he has to steal a lightsaber from a Jedi and make the Kyber crystal "bleed" with his rage.  (The crystals are apparently alive, so the rage a Sith feeds into his stolen lightsaber is what turns the crystal red, giving the Sith's lightsabers their distinctive color.)  The Emperor then abandons Vader on a planet to accomplish his quest, an admittedly difficult one since the Emperor has already killed virtually all the Jedi.  I don't know where we're going, but I'm hoping Soule doesn't really give us classic Vader here.  Ideally, we'll see some of Anakin shine through Vader's demeanor, something we admittedly don't really see here as Vader slaughters a group of thieves.  Sure, Anakin killed all those younglings at the Jedi Temple, so it's not like he's an innocent.  But, Anakin's sudden embrace of slaughtering innocents was one of the most poorly explained parts of the prequel trilogy.  Soule has a chance to correct that here.  After all, we've seen plenty of bad-ass Vader.  Vulnerable Vader?  That would be a story worth reading.

Hawkeye #7:  Whoa.  Just...whoa.  I thought we were going to have to wait a while before Kate had time to delve into the mystery of her father.  But, Thompson gets right to it, as Madame Masque sends Kate the necklace her mother wore to signify her love for Kate and her sister.  Did I mention said necklace was covered in blood?  You think we're starting down the road of getting more information about Kate's dad as she makes her way through Madame Masque's penthouse.  But then she finds her dad sitting in Madame Masque's chair?  Apparently it's not as long of a road as we thought.  Meanwhile, Thompson continues to give Kate one of the strongest personalities in comics:  you can predict what she's going to say before she says it.  I can hear her voice so clearly in my head.  (Finger guns!)  Really, I'd read this series just to see Pizza Dog (yay!), but Thompson makes Kate so damn irresistible.  It's really becoming one of the best series on the stands.  What is it about Hawkeyes?

Iceman #1:  I admit I was nervous about reading this issue.  In fact, "trepidation" is probably the right word.  As a kid, Bobby was always my favorite X-Man because he seemed to be carrying the same indescribable weight as I was.  I know most authors weren't writing Bobby as gay then, but Bendis obviously picked up the same cues as many of the rest of us when he had young Bobby come out (or, at least, accept Jean outing him).  To see Bobby begin to enter the world as a gay man:  it's almost too much.  After reading this issue, I would say my main emotion is that it's mostly a relief to have it done.  It's uneven, particularly in terms of the art, and odd, but Grace has a very good read on what makes Bobby tick and, at the end of the day, that part is the most important.  Moreover, Grace makes the key decision to show not tell:  we get all the information about where Bobby is mentally through his interactions with his friends and family.  It's nice to see him have a relationship with his younger self, though Grace makes it clear how awkward it is.  Younger Bobby leans too heavily into teasing Bobby about being a dad, but it also is a pretty good description of their relationship.  Moreover, Grace's sense of history is impeccable.  Bobby starts the issue by writing his dating-website profile, where he says his friends are his family.  When his father has a health scare that sends Bobby running to his hospital room, we're reminded just how much his biological family isn't his family.  Grace doesn't let Bobby off the hook either:  although he's mad his parents moved without telling him, he also forgot his mother's birthday.  Their dysfunctional relationship is a two-way street, and the most poignant part is Bobby imaging conversations with the parents he wishes he had after leaving the hospital.  Every gay kid has had those conversations.  For me, it allowed me to relax, knowing Grace knew what he was doing here.  That said, it's not smooth sailing throughout the issue.  The art leaves a lot to be desired.  Vitti is a pretty established artist, so I just don't know if he didn't have a lot of time here or what.  But, his lines are hurried, making characters gain and lose 100 pounds between panels.  (Seriously.)  It's disappointing, to be sure.  Moreover, Grace himself makes some odd choices, like when the mutant Bobby saves randomly uses British English despite being a New Yorker.  Overall, it's probably a B-.  But, I really just needed it not to be a disaster, and Grace delivers that.

Nightwing #22:  This arc is essentially our first real story where Dick is firmly planted in Blüdhaven.  After all, "Nightwing Must Die!" had him trolling around France pretty quickly after he arrived in town.  But, now he and Shawn have settled into a solid routine and Dick is ready to get a job.  (Shawn has apparently gotten back her job at the center, something Seeley doesn't really explain here.  But, it never made sense to me that they fired her in the first place, so I'm just going to view it as correcting a wrong.)  However, Dick is distracted by his sense that something big is going to happen soon, and he's right:  he stumbles upon a Metropolis-based gang trying to clear out a local one, and we learn it's because they have a deal with Tiger Shark to give him some privacy to operate at the port.  (Yeah, I'm not sure why Tiger Shark didn't just make the deal with the local gang either.)  Tiger Shark is worried Dick is going to spoil his plan to smuggle into Blüdhaven whatever it is he's smuggling, so he hires Blockbuster to take out Dick.  However, Blockbuster makes things all the curiouser when he doesn't take out Nightwing, but offers him some sort of job.  It's an interesting twist, and I'm legitimately intrigued to see what Seeley has planned here.

Nova #7:  I have to admit, I'm having a hard time with Marvel's new approach to series, where you get emotionally invested and then they end them after seven issues.  (At least "Moon Knight" made it to 14 issues, I guess.)  It's so clear Loveness and Pérez had other stories to tell, and it hurts my heart they won't be able to tell them.  Although long-time readers of this blog know I'm a huge Rich Rider fan, I became a fan of Sam -- a character I previously disliked -- because of this series.  Their relationship brought out the best in both of them, and Sam proves his hero chops here.  I loved Rich warning Sam he might've sacrificed his life to try to save him from the Cancerverse and Sam responding, "Yeah, well, I talked to some girls."  Marvel has promised some sort of relaunch in the fall that we fans of the classic stories will appreciate.  I worry that sounds a lot like stripping out the diversity they've infused in their line, and I hope it's not the case.  Rich and Sam together shows why we're better for this diversity.  It's not just because people see themselves in the stories in a way they didn't previously (though that's obviously important).  But, it's also opened up new stories for established characters.  Rich has always been a lonesome guy, and something about his partnership with Sam gave him a spring in his step and a smile on his face that we don't often see when it comes to him.  I hope we see both of these guys soon and that we see them together.  We can't go back, but only forward.  Novas gotta step up.

Reborn #6:  In the end, this story isn't all that complicated:  it's ultimately about Bonnie finding the courage to die.  As she and her dad confront Golgotha, she returns to "reality" when she somehow returns to life.  (Doctors don't seem to be performing CPR or anything, so it's a little unclear how she suddenly returned.)  However, she knows that she has to return to destroy Golgotha, not only to save her dad, Harry, and Roy-Boy, but also to save Earth itself.  After all, Golgotha plans to use her blood to fully energize the machine he's constructed to breach the wall between their realm and Earth.  Realizing she's needed more there than here, she returns, defeats Golgotha, and becomes queen.  I have to be honest and say I'm disappointed Millar makes it so easy.  After all, Golgotha has his minions allow Bonnie and her father to waltz into his castle.  We could have watched them fight their way into it over the course of several issues, giving us some sense of satisfaction when she finally confronts Golgotha.  Instead, she reminds us the prophecy says she'll defeat him, and she and everyone else essentially surrender to it.  You wonder why Golgotha didn't just shoot himself. It's like Fizban handing the Heroes of the Lance the Dragonlance in the Inn at Last Home and transporting them to Neraka to defeat the Dark Queen.  The only hiccup is when Bonnie returns to life, but she resolves that challenge fairly easily.  It takes a story that started with so much promise for complexity and nuance and reduces it to a Saturday morning cartoon.  But, that said, I also like Saturday morning cartoons.  I'm sad we didn't get "Mistborn,' but I can live with "The Pirates of Darkwater."  Millar teases a TV series and a standalone novel in his column after the issue concludes.  If that happens, this series may really just prove to be a quick introduction to a much more complicated world.  Millar himself says he has five volumes of the comic planned.  I would've happily taken a more immersive twelve-issues series in lieu of five volumes.  (Have we learned nothing from "The Mummy" and "King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword?")  But, I'm also happy to revisit this realm, whatever the circumstances.

Spider-Man #17:  I have to say, at some point here, I'm Team Hammerhead.  He's just minding his own business, shaking down the Vulture's brother for money he owes Black Cat, when Bombshell decides to stop him.  He tells her he doesn't hit girls or kids, she persists, and he beats her into a coma.  Then, the hospital texts Miles to tell him and he comes after Hammerhead at his own bar.  (Hammerhead was in the middle of lamenting to his cronies that the capes always make everything worse.)  Bendis almost makes you think he's got a point.  But, Bendis also uses Miles' unrestrained pummeling of Hammerhead to emphasize Miles' concern about his dark side.  After he pummeled an entire bar last issue, he's sensitive to it, and Hammerhead wondering aloud if Miles is on the right side is enough to distract him.  Don't get distracted with Hammerhead, Miles:  it usually doesn't end well.

Youngblood #2:  Bowers begins to flesh out how the team came together, and it all more or less makes sense.  (For a "Youngblood" issue, that's an accomplishment.)  The new Vogue approaches a guy named Durante Murray, who offers "hero how-to" videos on the Internet.  He idolized Sentinel back in the day, and his suit is based on a schematic Sentinel sent him after Durante wrote him a fan letter.  Vogue wants to re-form Youngblood in order to gain the world's attention and then use said attention to spread word about Man-Up.  (We learn that Man-Up himself didn't just physically disappear; every record of him everywhere has also disappeared.)  Durante agrees to help, but refuses to be called Sentinel, a sign of his disappointment over the revelations that broke Youngblood in the first place.  (We also learn he was the Bloodstream person who helped reveal all their crimes to the world.)  In the present, Jeff manages not to get himself killed as the kids still suffer from the hallucinogenic gas Crime Condor used on them.  He delivers the "cease and desist" letter from President Diehard and slinks into the night.  When he awakens in Badrock's bunker, Badrock reveals the truth:  he helped assemble the team in the first place.  All that said, Bowers still has some steps to show us in how we got here.  For example, Shaft knows the woman called Doc Rocket on the team, possibly because her father was on the original team with him.  But, we don't know anything about the white-haired woman who serves as the fourth member.  We also don't know how Badrock found all of them in the first place.  But, Bowers is clearly getting there.  In the meantime, he's telling an interesting story that DC or Marvel couldn't tell.  After all, this series takes place in a world where the public has no faith at all in government or heroes.  With DC and Marvel, they often pretend people feel that way after whatever the most recent event is that destroyed a major city, but everyone usually forgets about it after four or five issues.  Here, it's real.  Bowers really sells it, and the success of the series is going to depend on him maintaining that sentiment, that we're not just reading a DC or Marvel series about a superhero team.  As President Diehard himself says, the do-it yourself movement the Help?! app is spreading hearkens to a more innocent time, and it's going to be interesting to see these kids try to change the world's perceptions about what it means to be a hero.  Of course, we also learn the brothers who designed Help?! are trying to take over the United States.  Isn't it always the way?

Also Read:  Amazing Spider-Man #28, Champions #9; Deathstroke #20; X-Men Gold #5

Friday, June 23, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 31 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America:  Sam Wilson #22:  The best line in this issue is when Sam tells Scott Lang that there's no point trying to save America because America never wanted them in the first place.  Again, Spencer gets right to the heart of the current state of affairs in America politics.  From the pro-HYDRA guys in the diner telling Sam they're fine with HYDRA so long as they get manufacturing jobs to the mobs harassing Inhumans, Spencer paints a picture using colors we see every day in the newspapers.  It gives this issue an energy missing from the main series (and I think the main series is still pretty solid).  Sam's decision to avoid the other heroes' attempts to save the day and instead focus on the little people feels right.  He's still smarting from the lessons he learned as Captain America, but he can't turn his back on people in need.  Characterization is hard to do in an event this big, but you can tell Spencer's been with Sam a long time reading this issue.

Moon Knight #14:  The devastating part about this issue is the revelation it won't continue.  The creative team has provided a definitive take on Moon Knight, one that seems impossible to imagine another creative team changing.  But, it is possible.  We've seen Jason Aaron back off the amazing work Al Ewing did with Loki on "Loki:  Agent of Asgard," turning him again into the God of Lies instead of the God of Stories.  I hold out hope Aaron is only portraying other Asgardians' unchanged view of Loki, and the Loki Ewing delivered to us in "Loki:  Agent of Asgard" #13 will one day appear.  But, it's a reminder that a 14-issue series isn't enough to cement a changed narrative.  Lemire so brilliantly brings Mark to a conclusion here, as he embraces his other personalities, referring to himself in the royal "we" as he dismisses Khonshu and finds peace with his illness.  I was never a huge Moon Knight fan before this series, but now Marc Spector is pretty much my everything, a feeling I remember from the end of "Loki:  Agent of Asgard."  I worry anyone else will lead him astray, resurrecting previous incarnations for him because it fits with whatever event is currently destroying the Marvel Universe.  That apprehension and fear is the perfect sign of how amazing of a story the creative team told and how grateful I am that I got to experience it as it unfolded.

Spider-Gwen #20:  It's difficult to follow all the people coming after Harry and, by extension, Gwen in this issue.  Wolverine wants the bounty on his head, even though I'm not sure who put out the bounty.  S.H.I.E.L.D.?  Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. want Harry?  I thought he went rogue from Silk, not S.H.I.E.L.D.?  But, S.H.I.E.L.D. sent Shadowcat to capture Harry, so, if Logan is working off a S.H.I.E.L.D. bounty, why would they double up their agents?  Or, are they freelance bounty hunters?  That would make more sense.  It can't be the Hand, since Matt already had Gwen going after Harry.  Maybe we don't know yet?  In a way, this confusion helps sell Gwen's decision here to turn her back on Murdoch  and stand with Harry.  Too many people are asking her to trust them, so she sticks with the one person she can trust.  The only problem, as she herself reminds Harry, is that she and her father have a lot riding on that deal with Murdoch.  Latour hasn't portrayed Murdoch as someone easily outfoxed, which means I don't think this one is going to turn out well for Gwen.

Teen Titans Annual #1:  Time-travel stories are the worst under the best circumstances, but this one joins the mile-long list of ones that make no sense whatsoever.  The resolution of this story comes when the Teen Titans and the Titans travel into the past to try to stop Deathstroke from saving Grant.  (They're worried doing so will change the present, lest you think they're just mean.)  They unexpectedly find themselves face-to-face with the Teen Titans of that era.  Damian decides to kill past Wally (for reals), cutting off Deathstroke's connection to the Speed Force at the source.  That would make some sense, I guess, except for the fact it doesn't make any sense in the context of previous events.  After all, even if Deathstroke doesn't have Wally's access to the Speed Force, he still has Kid Flash's.  (Speaking of this conundrum, Wally somehow managed to keep his access to the Speed Force despite Deathstroke using it to charge his battery, but Kid Flash lost his access for the same reason.  Maybe the writing team explained that at some point, but I've got bigger fish to fry.)  At any rate, to make matters more confusing, Deathstroke apparently doesn't need their powers, because he's learned how to connect to the Speed Force on his own.  As such, I'm not sure why Damian's action does anything at all.  All it seems to do is restore Kid Flash's access to the Speed Force, though Priest never explains why it would do so.  At any rate, Kid Flash rushes into the Speed Force to save Deathstroke lest he get loss in there.  But, he doesn't know what he's doing, so Wally has to go save him from getting lost in the Speed Force.  (Yes, by the end of this issue, I was just desperately hoping no one said "Speed Force" again.)  Then, everyone hugs (for reals) to give Wally a connection to the present, and everyone lives happily ever after.  I mean, other than Wally, who apparently now has a pacemaker after Damian killed him in the past, and Deathstroke, who quits the mercenary business because he has all the sads.  Everyone else is totes happy.  The only real winner seems to be Dick, because no one ever learned about his Lazarus contract with Deathstroke, a contract that still doesn't make sense to me and seems completing incidental to the events of this arc.  In other words, this event might have started off well, but it quickly disintegrating into the usual nonsense we get from time-travel stories.

Also Read:  Generation X #2; Occupy Avengers #7; Secret Empire #3; Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #7

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 24 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #11:  Unfortunately, I'm officially done with this title now.  I love Babs, but she's had a rough run lately in terms of creators.  This tale eventually just spun completely beyond Larson's control, as she makes no attempt to explain how Ethan's data mining led to him being able to control people's thoughts over WiFi via something he calls "murmurations."  Instead, she explains how "murmurations" are also what you call flocks of starlings and the Danish word for starling is "black sun."  Coincidence!  Except it's...not.  It's fiction so I'm not really sure why Larson wants us to be impressed by these connections.  I'd rather she explain how exactly Ethan's power works. But, things go from bad to worse as Babs lectures Ethan rather than helping him as his suit overloads.  Larson can't pretend Babs doesn't realize it's happening, as she herself says she's not going to let him "fry."  But, she does exactly that, and he suffers burns over 90 percent of his body.  Barbara Gordon as the Punisher isn't really my bag of tea.  I'm outtie.

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #2:  Given how proud Ben is that he doesn't rip off Cassandra Mercury's arm when she opens fire on him, David seems to be implying the main struggle of these first few issues is going to be Ben learning how to overcome his baser instincts.  It's still unclear why Ben has said instincts, though I'm guessing we're going to blame all of his questionable behavior on the torture he suffered at the Jackal's hands and leave it at that.  In the meantime, the parameters of this series are starting to take shape.  When Mercury's daughter miraculously awakens after Ben touches her, Mercury is convinced he cured her and agrees to bankroll his research into her daughter's disease.  Ben knows he didn't do anything, but he's happy to take the cash.  With Kaine hot on Ben's trail, David seems to be taking inspiration from the '70s "Incredible Hulk" TV show:  Ben is going to solve someone's problems, probably for money, as Kaine tries to bring him to justice.  If that is David's plan, I'm down with it.  The only real question from this issue is how Ben managed to crush Mercury's gun without touching it.  He lies to her at one point in this issue, telling her he used telepathy to awaken her daughter.  But, maybe he at least has some form of telekinesis now?  (It was my first thought when he crushed the gun and thus I was surprised when he denied he had telepathy.)  I guess we'll see.

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #17:  This issue has some bright moments even though it largely covers ground we're already trod.  Spencer uses a journalist interviewing Steve on live TV to review the realities of HYDRA's America, from the concentration camps for Inhumans to the mutant nation on its border.  The only new information we get in this issue is insight into Steve's secret deal with the mutants.  As expected, he offered Magneto his own nation to get the mutants off the map, since he couldn't handle taking over America and fighting the mutants.  (Publicly, as agreed with Magneto, Steve claims the mutants illegally seized the land.)  We're not clear on why Steve insisted on making Xi'an the head of the country, but I'm pretty sure "Secret Empire:  United" will fill in those details.  Otherwise, the issue mostly involves Steve justifying his action by delivering far-right talking points about bringing economic and physical security to people who craved it.  He's admirably good at delivering said points.  The only problem is when the journalist mentions Las Vegas, something Dr. Faustus explicitly forbade her to do.  The TV feed is cut, and she's thrown into a prison cell for "endangering national security;" you get the sense she's lucky to be a prisoner and not dead.  Overall, Spencer uses this issue to remind us that a certain percentage of Americans -- a parallel to Donald Trump's oft-mentioned 38 percent -- will find a way to dismiss the destruction of Las Vegas as either a conspiracy theory or a justifiable act.  The closer these justifications come to real-life ones, the more depressing it gets.

Also Read:  Deathstroke #19; Detective Comics #957; Pathfinder:  Runescars #1; Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #3; X-Men Blue #4

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 17 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Flash #22:  Williamson does what he can here, given the editors' clear instructions to give us a peak behind the curtain without drawing it back entirely.  As expected, Thawne encounters Dr. Manhattan, who destroys him, likely because he doesn't want anyone to be able to identify him.  (I'm still not sure how Thawne recognized him, but I feel like that's a story for another time.)  As Barry and Bruce are left flailing in the timestream, Jay Garrick calls to Barry.  Barry says his name, allowing Jay to rescue them.  However, Barry doesn't recognize Jay the way he did Wally, causing Jay to seemingly disappear back into the timestream.  Williamson makes it clear both Barry and Bruce are shaken by this arc's events:  Bruce was unable to save his father and Barry was unable to save Jay.  The biggest unanswered question is why Dr. Manhattan would risk exposing himself by arranging this experience in the first place.  After all, Barry and Bruce are clearly committed to investigating the incident now.  But, it seems less an accidental oversight than an intentional mystery, presumably one to be answered later.  Meanwhile, in an ad after the issue concludes, we're told the "Doomsday Clock" event is coming in November as the blood on the smiley-face button morphs into Superman's shield.  I'm not sure if I'm excited, but, if I am, King and Williamson handling this cross-over event with such aplomb got me there.

Secret Empire #2:  Spencer avoids the "Age of Ultron" trap here by making the heroes' next steps pretty damn logical.  Tony eventually reviews the thumbdrive the new Patriot brought him, revealing a message from Rick detailing the truth behind Steve's betrayal.  (He hacked into Hydra's files to get the information.)  Hawkeye wants to lead a team to track down the pieces of the Cube, but, since Dr. Selvig was smart enough to hide them outside HYDRA territory, he and his team have to get smuggled past the (very secure) border to do so.  On the other hand, Natasha feels it's a fool's errand.  She recalls all the people they lost in previous attempts to prove Steve was a clone or a LMD and argues (pretty convincingly) Steve would want them to kill him if he knew how he was being used.  Miles doesn't necessarily agree with her, but he feels his destiny is to kill Steve (per "Inhumans vs. X-Men") so he and the Champions join her.  (Yes, I'll be getting "Secret Empire:  Uprising.")  Meanwhile, Clint and his team are on the border in a Mos Eisley sort of town.  Ant-Man leads them to Sam, who helped him smuggle Cassie across the border.  Let's just say Sam isn't too thrilled to see them.  In the Darkforce dimension, Dagger is killing herself to provide the only light the city gets while Kingpin is providing help to the population with the request that people remember his help when the sun "returns."  Throughout the issue, Spencer does an excellent job keeping up the pace while still taking us through all the steps necessary to make these developments feel organic.  But, it's the last page that brings an honest-to-goodness surprise.  Seriously, these sorts of developments are usually so telegraphed that it's rare to be surprised anymore.  However, a rugged-looking Steve Rogers saving a mysteriously glowing woman from members of the Serpent Society and asking her for help to get home?  Let's just say I don't think I'm as cocky about knowing what Spencer has in mind as I was.

Teen Titans #8:  Maybe it's because this cross-over arc has three writers, but this issue made little sense to me.  First, we have Kid Flash deciding to spend the day with some older guy with a cool car.  I get he misses his father and likes working on cars, but going for a joyride and then burgers with a stranger (with an eyepatch) you just met is a pretty clear no-no, teenage superhero or not.  Then we've got the weirdness of Dick's deal with Deathstroke, which drives the tension of this issue.  We don't know what it is yet, but I feel like we're not going to get a satisfying answer in the end.  Deathstroke seems to have kidnapped both Wally Wests to activate some sort of battery that will not only resurrect his son but make himself more powerful.  But, what would Dick have to do with that?  Is the deal completely unrelated and just so happens to come to light when Deathstroke is being all villain-y?  Seems unlikely.  Percy actually does a solid job in scripting the tired "good guys initially fight as a result of an obvious misunderstanding" bit; the rumble on the roof of Titans Tower actually sounds the way I think it would, all chaotic and jumbled.  But, for Percy to sell this issue, you still have to believe Kid Flash not only spent the day with Deathstroke but also then helped him with his time-travel plans even after he revealed himself.  I just don't believe even a rookie would be that naive, but there you go.

The Wild Storm #4:  Not a lot happens in this issue, but it's beautiful to behold:  Davis-Hunt and Buccellato are geniuses, truly.  After the Wild C.A.T.s escape Angie's bunker via Void (before one of the surviving members of Razors 3 detonates a grenade), the action stops and everyone gets a moment to breathe.  Miles recaps the last two issues for his husband over wine and leftovers, and we then get our first prolonged exposure to Henry Bendix.  We don't learn much, other than the fact he prefers spending his time in his enormous space station orbiting Earth (as opposed to Earth itself) and he engages in a whole lot of bluster with everyone other than his assistant, Ms. Pennington.  (I don't know if it was a conscious choice, but Pennington looks a lot like Carol/Cheryl from "Archer," which makes it all the more awesome.)  We conclude the issue with Mike telling Miles his brain tumor is inoperable and Miles asking him if he wants to keep working.  Meanwhile, Angie walks along a deserted highway (after initially crashing into the ocean when she fled the bunker at the start of the issue).  Ellis does a great job keeping us guessing mostly because his characters are all in the same situation:  no one really has any clue what's happening.  That said, Henry Bendis, Miles Craven, and Jacob Marlowe aren't exactly the types of guys who handle that well, so we'll see where we go.

X-Men Gold #4:  Guggenheim's telling a number of stories here, and they're all pretty great.  First, we've got the mundane.  Kitty, Kurt, and Rachel easily take out some members of the Serpent Society as they rob a bank.  Kitty is anxious to get the fight concluded so she can get to her meeting with the city about hooking up the Mansion to the sewer and water system, a clever reminder of the team's struggles to get itself established.  (I'm also intrigued how they're going to pay that rent bill the city presented them earlier.)  Plus, Guggenheim is reminding us Kitty wants to improve the X-Men's visibility not just by eliminating mutant threats, but regular ones, too.  Then, we're got the mysteries.  Dr. Reyes informs Colossus the alien-looking guy from the Brotherhood is actually an alien; in fact, he's an alien whose language is even unknown to the universal translator.  Meanwhile, Logan and Storm go all "X-Men:  SVU" when they convince a NYPD detective to tell them more about the  murder of a mutant.  (This entire sequence is great, in part because Guggenheim uses the pacing and phrasing of "Law and Order."  It makes me realize I would 100% read a comic where Logan and Ororo just went around town solving crimes.)  But everyone has to put their day on hold to help Remy.  You see, he swiped some nanites for Bolivar Trask's granddaughter.  (Before you worry, he didn't know who she was when he took the job; he took it explicitly to find out the buyer's identity.)  Trask planned on connecting the nanites to an artificial intelligence for military (and, allegedly, non-mutant killing) purposes, and Remy decides to stop her.  But, he sorta accidentally breaks the containment tube and the nanites fly into Trask's computer system.  Given the amount of anti-mutant AIs on your average Trask computer, the nanites bond with such an AI and become a nano-swarm Sentinel.  Ooopsie!  Remy obviously glides over his role in creating said Sentinel when he calls for help.  (It's all part of his charm.)  Seriously, it sounds like Guggenheim would've been rushed given how much happens here, but the pace is really fun, a sort of "day in the crazy life" approach.  It's a great start for this new arc.

Also Read:  Batman #23; Generation X #1; The Mighty Thor #19; Nightwing #21; Star Wars #31; U.S.Avengers #6

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 10 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #27:  I start every issue hoping Dan Slott has gotten a good night's sleep and woken up that next morning focused a little more on the story he's trying to tell.  Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have happened for this issue.  First, we have Sable's ridiculous explanation of how she survived the precarious scenario where we last saw her in "End of the Earth."  She apparently used her suit to turn invisible, which made Rhino think she vanished.  The problem with that explanation is Rhino had his hands around her neck at the time.  Rhino might not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but he's been around the block a few times:  he understands invisibility.  If Sable disappeared, but he still felt her, I find it unlikely he'd let go, scratch his head, and decide maybe he wasn't as suicidal as he appeared to be.  To make matters worse, everyone continues to take a leave of their senses in this issue.  Nick Fury tries to intimidate Harry and May to convince Peter not to invade Symkaria.  After all, Peter is obviously in the wrong for wanting to stop Norman Osborn from turning the country's population into slave labor for his war machine.  Sable is shocked - shocked! - that her people turned to the Countess during her "absence."  Who knew they'd actually believe her when she faked her on death?  The good news is the issue improves greatly when Slott puts behind the plot and focuses on the action.  Spidey is legitimately funny as he, Mockingbird, Sable, and the Wild Pack take on Norman's army of Goblins and machinery.  Slott even manages to give at least one of the Pack a personality!  He also makes clear Bobbi and Peter are getting closer and closer to a relationship, as Bobbi admits she left S.H.I.E.L.D. because she knows Pete always does the right thing.  (Of course, he ruins the moment by joking about her believing in him.)  Moreover, Slott continues his pattern of doing better with the grand sketches of a plot than the intimate details:  Norman's plan to turn everyone in Symkaria into a Goblin is legitimately scary.  However, Slott has demonstrated this trouble in sticking the landing, so we'll see how it goes next issue.  I feel like someone from editorial needs to step in here and help him do a better job connecting the dots.  You can't crank out the number of issues he has and not lose sight of the larger plot a bit.  Someone has to say, "Dan, that Sable explanation makes no sense," or, "At some point you have to show Nick understanding S.H.I.E.L.D. is being hypocritical."  The Zodiac arc is a great example of this problem.  Like this issue, we had a super-fun romp through the British Museum, but Slott dragged down that issue when he bumbled through explaining why Scorpio was there in the first place.  At this point, I'm trying to just enjoy the best art team this series has possibly ever had while hoping Dan takes a sabbatical at some point.

Detective Comics #956:  This issue wraps up the arc better than I thought it could, but Tynion still leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions (and not necessarily in a good way).  We learn Shiva left R'as al Ghul after she learned what his true intentions for the League of Shadows were, but we don't get told why it was necessary for the League of Shadows to exist separately from the League of Assassins in the first place.  We learn Bruce once walked a dark path of magic and he'll need to walk it again since it's what al Ghul used to make him forget about the League.  But, we still don't know why al Ghul wanted him to forget about the League.  Bruce also now realizes the Colony was more involved with the League than he thought, but we don't have any idea why.  Were they originally allies and the relationship went bad?  Does the Colony support al Ghul's original plans for the League?  As Bruce said, all we really do know is Shiva's defection from al Ghul forced him to reveal more than he intended.  This arc has felt like butter scraped over too much bread, as Tynion avoided giving us any answers to the mystery at the heart of it.  But, hopefully he can fill in the gaps now that Bruce is on the hunt.

Ms. Marvel #18:  Yup, I totally cried.  The cover implies we're going to see some sort of interaction between Bruno and Kamala (pet peeve #1), but Wilson actually focused solely on Bruno and his attempts to adjust to his new life in Wakanda.  Wilson grounds the story in reality in a way we don't usually see in comics:  Bruno isn't suddenly going to have a cybernetic hand and leg.  He doesn't get the deus ex machina superheroes get.  Bruno has to earn it, and he does, with the help of his classmates who he now realizes are his friends.  It's not hard to see a great lesson in perseverance in the face of obstacles here, the type of story we're often denied when the aforementioned deus ex machina magically makes a problem better.  (I'm looking at you, Cosmic Cube.)  Like the rest of us, Bruno will be facing the consequences of his actions for a long time.

Star Wars:  The Screaming Citadel #1:  OK, Gillen is definitely embracing the creepier side of the "Star Wars" Universe here.  (It's not a bad thing.)  In the wake of the opening arc of her own series, Aphra tracks down Luke (thanks to some assistance from Sana) and convinces him to help her unlock the core she swiped from the Ordu Aspectu.  Apparently it contains Rur's personality, so it's a win-win proposition:  Aphra gets an eyewitness to ancient history and Luke gets a Jedi Master to instruct him.  The only problem is she doesn't know how to open the core.  As such, they have to travel to the titular Screaming Citadel.  The ancient (and bored) queen of Ktath'atn holds a contest at the Citadel every year:  she swaps favors for the chance to meet "interesting people."  Not surprisingly, Aphra and Luke qualify after Luke uses his Jedi powers in front of the queen.  However, it appears the queen is a vampire:  her minions feed off the citizens' energy and then feed that energy to her.  Needless to say, she's...excited about the possibility of feeding off a Jedi, since she hasn't done so in a while.  Checchetto and Mossa do an amazing job of using "Alice in Wonderland" imagery when it comes to the queen, as she looks not dissimilar from a modern Queen of Hearts.  After the disappointing "Yoda's Secret War" arc in "Star Wars," I'm excited for this arc.  It reorients us around a cast of characters we recognize, but tells a story that we haven't seen before.  Gillen does a great job of reminding us how hungry Luke is for training in this period before he learns of Yoda's location, and filling in this sort of gap drives the excitement for this arc (something "Yoda's Secret War" lacked).  I'm not saying everything needs to advance the larger story we know from the movies, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Uncanny Avengers #23:  Honestly, this series is the best team book on the shelves.  Duggan does a great job of conveying honest-to-goodness emotions on almost every page, from Synapse learning Cable stayed with the team to be her mentor to Rogue wistfully looking at the photo of the team in happier days.  In fact, Rogue and Synapse have really been Duggan's signature characters, as much as you'd expect it to be Deadpool.  We learn Synapse eventually became the Shredded Man in the future Cable tried to prevent by returning to our time, and his words of encouragement to her -- about how that future is no longer possible and how she makes her own choices -- really shows how far she's come as a character.  Rogue's feelings about the team are also instructive.  She's lost a lot recently, as Duggan reminded us in the previous issue where she contemplates Xavier's death.  It's probably the first time we've seen Rogue committed to this team as a team and not just as the X-Men's plant on it.  It's a great moment, and it's made all the better when she, Johnny, and Synapse agree to travel with Brother Voodoo to New Orleans to take care of his brother and the Hand.  In so doing, Duggan shows how he's really made this series an integrated narrative, as past events aren't just conveniently forgotten when we move to the next arc.  I'm thrilled it's still going strong, if only because I'm hoping we get some sort of Deadpool and Wonder Man buddy-comedy arc as they try to get back Simon's money.  (Did I mention Deadpool lost all of it?  Apparently he had some cash flow problems and figured Simon was dead...)

Youngblood #1:  According to my comic-book database, I own issues #0-#4 of the original run of "Youngblood."  (I believe the only two Image comics I collected beyond ten issues were "Wild C.A.T.s" at 12 issues and then "Stormwatch," at ten issues exactly.)  Similar to my experience reading "The Wild Storm," I don't really remember much the original plot.  All I really remember is the ginger Hawkeye was hot.  (My recollection of "Wild C.A.T.s" similarly revoked around the hot ginger.)  Knowing Liefeld, I probably wasn't missing much.  The good news is Liefeld got someone else to write the story this time and, even better news, it's not too bad.  Bowers quickly establishes that Youngblood ended when a hacktivist group called the Bloodstream revealed the behind-the-scenes dirt about the team, "a litany of criminal activity, illicit sex scandals, assassinations, and government cover-ups."  In the present, superheroing appears to revolve entirely around an app called Help! operating like Task Rabbit, if you will.  However, one of its stars, Man-Up, has gone missing.  His friend, Gunner, is looking for him, but she doesn't know anything about the "real" him.  She eventually recognizes his photo on a missing poster and meets his aunt, learning his name is Horatio and he's a 19-year-old kid who got his powers after a chemical spill at work.  Gunner pledges to find him and comes to the attention of President Diehard and his wife, Vogue, when she (Gunner) starts using Vogue's look and name.  Diehard is in the process of negotiating a deal with Help!, essentially to replace Youngblood.  However, he decides to send Shaft and Badrock, both incarcerated, to arrest Gunner and her friends, because he disapproves of vigilantism (likely because the new Vogue and her friends are working outside Help!).  Bowers doesn't establish what motivates Gunner to leave Help! and become Vogue, but I'm sure we'll get there.  The challenge for Bowers is going to be not just wallowing in nostalgia.  Warren Ellis is doing amazing work in "The Wild Storm," and Bowers, whether he likes it or not, is competing with that.  The art is solid here, though, again, Jon Davis-Hunt is doing spectacular work over there.  (Also, is that supposed to be Shaft at the end?  He looks...12 years old.)  At any rate, it's a high bar for Bowers and Towe to clear, but it would be exciting if they did, to have life breathed into both these franchises.

Also Read:  Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #1; Titans #11; X-Men Blue #3

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 3 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Free Comic Book Day 2017 (Secret Empire) #1:  This issue doesn't really provide a lot of material to review.  At first I thought it was a preview of the heroes' final conflict with Captain Nazi and Hydra.  However, after reading "Secret Empire" #1, it's actually showing the heroes' initial conflict with them, setting up the establishment of the totalitarian state that we see fully formed in "Secret Empire" #1.  The most interesting part is Captain Nazi picking up Thor's hammer.  Spencer is clearly toying with us here, holding out the idea Steve is still Steve, as he's said all along.  I'll address that more directly in the next section, but it's staking out some pretty strong territory.

Secret Empire #1:  OK, here we go.

Before I read the issue, I thought about the task Spencer has before him.  Given the string of incredibly disappointing cross-over events Marvel has imposed upon us lately, I have to admit said task seems Herculean.  First, he can no longer avoid spelling out why Steve believes in Hydra.  So far, Steve has simply stated Hydra can make "us" stronger, but he hasn't ever explained why he thinks we're weak.  Is it because homosexuals and women have rights?  Is it because Black Lives Matter exists?  Does he think Mexicans are stealing our jobs?  After all, Spencer has to remember the public outrage over this heel turn comes because he's saying Steve has been Hydra all along.  If he was simply under the Cosmic Cube's influence, we could easily accept this cognitive dissidence.  But, Spencer has gone to pains to say he's always been a Hydra plant.  As such, Steve supported Hydra throwing in its lot with the Nazis, even though they were supporting a genocidal regime.  How can he still be worthy of lifting Thor's hammer?  Spencer has so far waved his hands in front of the blackboard on that point, but he really can no longer ignore it.  Second, Spencer has to improve upon recent history when it comes to cross-over events.  Even the likes of Matt Fraction and Jeff Lemire have been brought low by an event that spiraled beyond their control.  (Marvel invoking the memory of "Fear Itself" with Steve picking up Thor's hammer may not have been a great idea.)  We've already endured "Civil War II" and "Inhumans vs. X-Men" in the last year.  Both those events are good examples for Spencer on how not to run a cross-over event.  (To whit, if the central conflict could easily be resolved by a phone call, it's a problem.)  But, it's been so long since we had a good event that I can't even point to an example for how he should manage one.

The good news is Spencer starts strong, mirroring the excellent first issue of "Age of Ultron" by starting in media res.  Instead of Ultron destroying the world, Steve and Hydra taking over the United States is a fait accompli.  Steve's top priority is finding the Cosmic Cube to "correct" history, but, in the meantime, he uses his dictatorial powers to impose his version of history on the people.  Spencer starts the issue by showing us schoolchildren "learning" it was Arnim Zola, not Abraham Erskine, who created the Super-Soldier Serum; it's suitably chilling.  Spencer then goes a step further; when the teacher reminds the students to dime out anyone who could be a traitor, one of the students reports that another students' older brother is acting "weird."  It turns out the older brother is an Inhuman; Hydra forces storm his house almost immediately after the report, and he's sent to a detention center for Inhumans.

At this point, Spencer pulls back the camera and we get a better sense of the larger status quo.  The mutants have seemingly avoided the Inhumans' fate by creating a nation of their own in the Pacific Northwest; it's called New Tian and seems to be run by Zorn, of all people.  Meanwhile, Carol is still stuck outside the Shield trying to hold off the Chitauri, and Las Vegas has become the site of the resistance, led by Hawkeye and Black Widow.  Spencer does a solid job of conveying emotion despite this rushed tour of the situation, as Hawkeye starts to crack under the pressure of the war of attrition he's fighting with Hydra.  Our eyes and ears here is the new Patriot we saw in "Captain America:  Sam Wilson."  He has contacted the Champions with information Rick Jones somehow gave him (Spencer doesn't elaborate how).  He claims it can save Steve, but Iron Man (or, at least, A.I. Iron Man) is skeptical.  Tony exposits for us that they've tried many times to prove Steve was a clone or under Faustus' mind control or something.  After suffering many casualties in these efforts, they eventually had to accept reality:  Steve is Steve.  Meanwhile, the Hydra Council pushes Steve to be more evil than he wants to be, and Elisa puts her finger on the problem:  they'll think he's weak if he doesn't take a harder line on traitors, but they'll know he's weak if he does.  Ultimately, he does; he has Rick Jones executed, and he orders Hydra to destroy Las Vegas.

Overall, the actually pretty solid.  First, when Tony is talking about the various assaults on Steve, McNiven makes the "casualties" indistinct.  As far as I can tell, we never see, like, Iceman with a beam through his skull.  One of the problems with "Age of Ultron" was that it was pretty clear from the start this reality was going to get rewritten (as cool as it would've been for that not to happen).  Here, Marvel seems to hold out the possibility we're playing for keeps.  Rick Jones dying isn't that big of a deal; after all, we killed off Bruce Banner and (more or less) Tony Stark in "Civil War 2."  Even if we know -- as Marvel has repeatedly told us -- that Steve will be the freedom-lovin' hunk he's always been at the end of the event, it's not to say other parts of the Marvel Universe won't be a smoking crater of woe.  The longer Marvel can convince us of that, the more exciting this event will be.

Batman #22:  King really dives to the heart of the matter here, as Barry and Bruce find themselves in the "Flashpoint" Batcave and face-to-face with Thomas Wayne.  While Bruce and Thomas try to find a way to make sense of the reality in front of them, Flash struggles to rebuild the Cosmic Treadmill.  Based on his reading of the vibrational energy (just go with it), Flash realizes this "Flashpoint" isn't an alternate reality but an alternate history.  Someone (*cough*Dr. Manhattan*cough*) has kept this history in existence, essentially like a ghost haunting our world.  However, this mysterious person (*cough*Dr. Manhattan*cough*) suddenly stops doing so.  Flash realizes this history is crumbling and scrambles to fix the Treadmill, which starts fixing itself (I think).  Bruce tries to convince Thomas to come with him, but he declines:  he tells Bruce to give up being Batman and be happy.  As the "Flashpoint" history dissolves behind them, Barry and Bruce are again racing through the timestream.  A distraught Bruce wonders why someone would set up this scenario, placing the Button in the Batcave to lead Bruce to his father just in time to lose him.  Barry reminds us Wally said someone (*cough...OK, you get it) stole time from the DCnU to hurt them; it's possible he sent the Button simply to hurt Bruce.  Before they can ponder why he'd do that, they encounter Thawne on his way to confront the mysterious person.  This scene takes place before Thawne is killed, and Flash wonders aloud why the timestream brought them to that moment.  (Again, I'm just going to ignore the physics of the timestream consciously sending Barry and Bruce to that moment.)  It seems like Barry and Bruce might get a glimpse of Dr. Manhattan in "Flash" #22, which raises all sorts of questions about where we go from here.

Champions #8:  I love, love, love that Mark Waid gives Nova a win here by making him the only member of the team not gazing at his navel.  Everyone else was acting, well, adolescent, fretting about the Freelancers copywriting their name.  Only Nova realized the answer was simply telling people not to buy the stuff.  Bam, problem solved!  It seemed so simple, but Waid did a really great job of showing us why it was so hard for the rest of the team to get there.

Hawkeye #6:  I love everything about this issue.  The plot is almost irrelevant.  (Dahlia is an Inhuman; she emerged from her cocoon looking amazing, but she's also a dragon.  Brad promised her a new body but couldn't deliver.  He's an asshat.  Kate is going to put her in touch with the Inhumans.)  Thompson has given Kate such a very clear voice, it's a joy to spend time with her.  Also, Pizza Dog is back!  Hurrah!  The only thing I didn't understand is how Kate knew about the LMD angle.  Thompson shows us Kate's conspiracy board, where the acronym LMDs appear near her father's name.  I think we don't yet know why she made that connection; Thompson had to show it to us simply so we knew the connection existed.  It's a reminder how deep of a story Thompson is telling, because Kate knows a lot that we don't yet know.  But, we all know Brad is an asshat.  That part is clear.  

Nightwing #20:  ALL THE FEELS.  I had no idea how Seeley was going to wrap up this arc in an issue, but he really did it.  The "Hell of Hells" is revealed to be a telepathic reality Hurt created for Dick where he has become Deathwing.  But, Damian appears as Nightwing and reminds Dick what he told Damian when they first started working together:  unlike Batman, tragedy doesn't define Robin.  Dick breaks from Hurt's influence and rushes to Damian's side.  (Damian calmly explaining that he used his abdominal muscles to move his liver so Hurt's blade didn't damage it is classic Damian.)  Before Hurt can get revenge, Deathwing himself attacks, inspired by a conversation he had with Shawn about righting wrongs.  The two stab each other repeatedly as the temple collapses around them and our team flees.  But, the bestest part is the epilogue.  Damian is forced to admit he returned to Blüdhaven because he missed Dick.  Even more interestingly, Dick tells Damian he considered keeping him when Bruce returned, since he knew he'd be a better influence, but he didn't think he was ready to be a dad.  Seeley really nails this conversation, as not only are the boys honest with each other but they can't bring themselves to say the key words, like "I miss you" and "son."  They also are relieved when a bank robbery happens, leading to the perfect ending:  they leap into the night with Damian saying, "We're still the greatest."  Truer words, Damian, truer words.

Nova #6:  Ho, boy.  Loveness and Pérez reveal the truth about Richard's escape from the Cancerverse.  After years of dying at the hands of the Revengers in battle after battle, Rich eventually pours the entirety of the Nova Force into the Cosmic Cube he used to seal off the Cancerverse from our Universe.  He uses the revived Cube to open a portal to our Universe, inadvertently leaving behind the Worldmind as he escaped.  The Worldmind has now adapted, seemingly taken over all "life" in the Cancerverse.  As expected, Sam arrives to save Rich, but the Worldmind has already absorbed him.  Rich is in trouble, y'all.

Spider-Gwen #19:  With the conclusion of the pretty awesome cross-over event with "Spider-Man," Latour returns to this series' ongoing concern, namely restoring Gwen's powers.  The path he lays out here is...complicated.  If I'm following correctly, Matt Murdoch secretly recruited one of Norman Osborn's scientists, the foreshadowingly named Dr. Elsa Brock, to examine the radioactive isotope Frank Castle gave Osborn several issues ago.  (Latour reminds us Frank agreed to sweep Harry's crimes under the rug in exchange for Osborn unlocking the secrets of the isotope.  But, as Murdoch notes, Castle is now a fugitive, so Harry is still out there dangling in the wind.)  Brock informs us that Cindy Moon's research into the alien "spider parasites" that infected Jesse Drew (as seen in the "Spider-Women" event) led Curt Connors to develop his Lizard Formula.  (I'm not sure if we really have enough information about how Connors developed the Formula to make this connection on our own.  Was that also in "Spider-Women?"  I guess I should just assume it was.)  Given this connection between the radioactive isotope and the Formula, Brock thought she could use the former as a cure for the latter.  It worked, but not how she expected.  Instead of burning out the Formula's regenerative powers, the mixture created "venom."  (DUN-dun-DUN!)  It absorbs and amplifies the isotope, but unfortunately kills the host through the radiation it emits.  However, Gwen's body is immune to the radiation:  if she injects herself with the venom, she'll get back her powers, since its side effect is powers similar to the ones she had.  (That makes sense, given her powers and the venom come from the same source.)  Murdoch wants to infect Harry with the isotope, use the interaction between the formula in his bloodstream and the isotope to create the venom, and then draw out the venom in the process.  At this point, they can then inject Gwen with the venom and everyone's problems are solved:  Gwen gets back her powers, the venom has a home, Harry is cured, and Norman is happy.  Gwen asks what Murdoch gets from it, but he doesn't answer.  At any rate, feeling she has no choice but to help Harry, she agrees and heads to Madripoor, where Matt's Hand has located Harry.  In previous series, I feel like it's exactly this sort of complicated plot that made me dislike Latour, because it was rare that I understood all the steps that got us to the conclusion.  But, here, I get it, and I'm admittedly excited about it.  Latour could go a lot of different directions, building some genuine suspense.  Also, Wolverine!

Spider-Man 2009 #23:  David gets right to the point, as Miguel travels to May 15, 2019 to stop the disaster that sets the stage for the alternate future he's trying to prevent.  (That said, I still don't understand how it's connected to the actual future he's trying to resurrect, since someone clearly happened to turn New York into Nueva York.  But, I digress.)  He stumbles upon the cause:  a terminally ill Tyler Stone wants to release a virus that kills millions, though we're still not sure what his motivation is.  (I think it's just to be an asshole.)  Miguel tries to stop him, but the future Sinister Six get in his way.  However, Honey Bee -- i.e., Tempest in her insect form -- arrives and grabs the vial.  She's distracted when she sees Miguel, who she calls Spider-Man, and Tyler shoots her, regaining control over the vial.  However, seemingly the original version of Miguel -- in his original costume -- stabs him, and Tyler orders Aisa to release New York against the heroes.  It's now "our" Miguel, seemingly original Miguel, and Honey Bee against New York.  I'm not sure how the Fist got control over New Yorkers or where we go from here, but it seems like we're getting there soon.

X-Men Gold #3:  Guggenheim is really building momentum here.  First, Kitty is a bad-ass to the max, from coldly telling the students the rescue mission isn't a field trip (after Rockslide complains she only took him and Armor with the team) to using her powers to save Amara as the Brotherhood's HQ explodes.  But, she's at her best when she threatens Lydia Nance.  During their confrontation, Rachel gleaned from Mesmero's mind that  hired him to form the Brotherhood of "Evil" Mutants to further her own ends.  Professor X might've delivered some sort of speech about looking past their differences; Kitty threatens Nance and makes sure she knows she's being threatened.  We've got a new sheriff in town, folks.

Also Read:  Spider-Man #16

Monday, May 8, 2017

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

Batgirl #10:  [Sigh.]  We can never seem to get past issue #10 in a "Batgirl" series before the wheels come off the bus.  I feel like Larson just invents whatever event or tool she needs to get Babs from Point A to Point B.  For example, I've been a fan of Babs' new "hyperfocus" ability, where she essentially turns her eidetic memory into a computer.  But, Larson pushes us past the already fast-approaching point of believability here, as Babs is now suddenly able to see inside a woman's car before her auto-drive system crashes it.  Is the car recording her?  How is that even possible?  Similarly, Babs is in this situation because someone randomly took a photo of her and Dick together that made Ethan jealous.  Why did that guy take the photo?  No idea.  They're just a guy and a girl standing by a motorcycle at a gas station.  How did Ethan know the photo was taken?  Also no idea.  Moreover, Ethan becomes a full-on super-villain here.  He not only reveals his new costumed identity as the oddly named Blacksun, but he broke off his relationship with Babs by sending an intern to do the dirty work.  It makes even less sense when you consider he got jealous over Babs talking to Dick after he ended it.  I just don't know how much longer I can hang in here.

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #1:  This issue represents an enormous leap of faith for me.  After the character assassination Dan Slott committed on Ben Reilly, only the team of Peter David and Mark Bagley could convince me to give this series a try.  Thankfully, they go a long way to allay my fears.  First, David makes it much clearer than Slott did that Ben is actually insane.  I'm certainly not a fan of this development, but it's definitely the only way Ben is going to be able to find some form of redemption.  To drive home the point, David and Bagley give him his own shoulder angel and devil, the hoodied Scarlet Spider and the "Clone Saga" Jackal, respectively.  Ben insists he's not a bad guy.  He certainly has good guy impulses:  he saves a woman from getting mugged and prevents some guys from robbing a casino.  But, he's got some, shall we say, impulse problems.  He not only shoots the mugger in the leg, but shakes down his victim for money.  He asks for $100 and, when the woman only has $50 because she's unemployed, he tells her he'll find her if she doesn't honor her commitment for the remaining $50.  He's not exactly Mother Theresa.  Meanwhile, Kaine tricks Dr. Rita into confirming that Ben is alive and threatens her to get his location.  Just like the good ol' days!  I can't say I want to be reading this series; I'm still here from a sense of obligation.  But, if anyone can get Ben to a better place, it's this pair.

Detective Comics #955:  This issue is weirdly bad.  Tynion usually produces top-notch products, but this issue is well off the mark.  He employs a tedious and unnecessary narrator to move us through the issue.  To make it worse, the narrator is reading a children's story that mirrors every aspect of Cassandra's pretty unique life.  It inspires her to take on the League of Shadows by herself, and she miraculously manages to defeat all of them.  Yup.  It's important because her allies are indisposed:  Jean-Paul, Kate, and Luke are naked and chained in the same room as the nuclear bomb meant to detonate the fault line under Gotham City; Bruce is soon to join them, and Clayface's body is distributed over a dozen canisters.  But, suddenly, they're all free and in costumes in time to face Shiva with Cass.  Moreover, Tynion wastes a few pages on Ulysses' narrating to Jake his creation of new smart chemical weapons he wants to use on the League.  In other words, we just lurch from one poorly explained plot point to another.  As I said, it's a rare miss for Tynion, but a miss it is.

Flash #21:  We have a number of interesting developments here right at the start.  First, the Justice Society is somehow tied to this story; a 90-year-old Johnny Thunder appears at the start of the issue, and Flash talks about seeing Jay Garrick's Mercury Helmet in a vision.  Second, Barry discovers his own energy signature on Thawne's body, leading him to wonder if he kills Thawne.  He notably withholds this information from Bruce (who's now conscious).  Third, the Button is missing.  The plot gets rolling as Barry and Bruce use the Cosmic Treadmill to travel through time to identify Thawne's killer, using the radiation Barry found on the Button to calibrate their search.  Along the way, they see what they initially believe to be alternate universes showing the formation of various Justice Leagues, but then wonder if they're actually showing the period of time Dr. Manhattan stole.  But something goes wrong: they're struck by a bolt of lightning and find themselves in the "Flashpoint" Batcave, face-to-face with Thomas Wayne.  Williamson does a solid job of moving us through these numerous development without ignoring characterization.  Barry is struggling to come to grips with his emotions (or lack of them) as he realizes his mother's killer has come to justice, and Bruce obviously has all the feels when confronted with his father.  Maybe he'll even cry next issue!

Mighty Captain Marvel #4:  I've struggled with the last three issues of this series, and I have to say it's time to give up the ghost.  I legitimately have no idea what happens here. Someone named Dr. Eve has apparently used the Hala kids to...combine their HLA-12 energy...into some sort of hive mind?  I think?  The hive mind will then control Carol as a superweapon?  All this information is presented via leaded dialogue, with Dr. Eve all but twirling her mustache at one point.  Also, it turns out Mim is a robot.  (I think?)  I'm unfortunately going to have to put Carol in the same category as the Red Hood, someone whose series I'll get once the creative team changes.

Mighty Thor #18:  Perhaps the best sign of Jason Aaron's unique storytelling abilities is the fact he -- and possibly only he -- can make a Phoenix story feel organic.  Usually, we're supposed to believe various red-headed women on planet Earth summon this cosmic force of destruction essentially at will, without any real explanation for what the Phoenix gets in the deal.  Why limit itself to a human form when it could be eating teeming galaxies?  But, here, the arrival of the Phoenix actually flows from the story Aaron is telling:  K'ythri and Sharra call upon it in fury after losing their Challenge of the Gods to Thor.  They plan on burning down the Universe and making love in the ashes.  This act of insanity finally makes Gladiator snap, and he appeals to the Asgardians to put aside their difference to save the Universe.  Thankfully, Kid Gladiator knows a guy:  enter Quentin Quire!  Xavier School 4 Ever!

Occupy Avengers #6:  With Wheels becoming neurally bonded with the group's sentient van, I can tell Walker has clearly watched a lot of "A-Team" and "Knight Rider" episodes.  (I say that in whole-hearted approval.)  That vibe moves throughout this issue, as the Kree bounty hunters pin down the team and demand all the Skrulls in the town present themselves.  Except it turns out they're not Kree bounty hunters but Skrulls who believes the Skrulls in town are blasphemers.  As Hawkeye says, you have to wonder why the guy upstairs hates him.  Walker has struggled in previous issues with the pacing, setting up great stories only to speed through their resolutions.  But, he takes his time here, allowing us to feel sympathy for the Skrulls who just want to be left alone.  Look, Clint!  A wrong to right!

X-Men Blue #2:  I was sort of meh about this series after the first issue, but Bunn really sold me on it here.  It's a deeply emotional issue.  As I hoped, Bunn explores the pain everyone here has been feeling.  Beast appears lost in his quest to unlock the mysteries of magic, falling under the sway of an entity that clearly doesn't have his best interests at heart.  Bobby is struggling as Romeo has gone MIA.  In fact, perhaps the most touching moment of the issue is when Angel overhears Bobby leaving Romeo yet another voicemail; he was there to chastise Bobby for missing a Danger Room session, but instead leaves without saying a word.  (He appears to be giving him privacy, though I wonder if Bunn is implying something else.)  Jean acclimates quickly to her role as leader, but she's struggling to cope with the sadness she found in Magneto's mind when he allowed her to read it to prove his intentions.  It's all many sads.  When Scott and Warren seem to be the most emotionally grounded ones, you know it's difficult times indeed.  The kids are rightfully worried about Magneto's intentions, though his intentions are still unclear.  Bunn reveals he's building a time platform to send back the kids (and possibly himself, given the sixth spot) to their own time.  It's possible he's doing so for their benefit, but it's Magneto so it's not clear.  All this sturm und drang comes with beautiful imagery; Molina and Milla seem made to work together.

X-Men Gold #2:  Guggenheim spent the first issue winking and nodding to get us excited about the "back to basics" approach he's taking in this series.  It worked, but it means he has to kick the storytelling into overdrive to get us going.  The X-Men are facing two threats simultaneously.  First, they've got the direct threat of the reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  However, it's not as "direct" as Kitty would like.  Two of the members (Avalanche and Pyro) are supposedly dead and have different voices than they previously did, and Magma is a member of the Brotherhood for no clear reason.  They're also calling themselves the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants again, which Kitty notes is a little too on point.  Mesmero is revealed to be involved when he uses his mind-control powers to dismiss Kurt and kidnap Logan, leading Kitty to believe the Brotherhood (or, at least, Amara) is under his mental control.  However, he makes enough rookie mistakes here to call that into question.  (For example, he chains Logan to a wooden chair with adamantium chains, allowing Logan simply to destroy the chair to escape.  He also reveals himself to Kurt in capturing Logan, something you usually try to avoid if you're manipulating events from the shadows.)  The other threat is more existential.  Guggenheim is strongly implying someone other than Mesmero is manipulating events to provoke a race war, particularly as the Brotherhood kidnaps the Mayor of New York.  Plenty of humans are feeding into that war, including an Ann Coulter analogue named Lydia Nance who worked for the Heritage Initiative and calls for the deportation of all mutants.  (Guggenheim probably could've done a little better job hiding his politics here.)  We also see an armored figure execute a mutant running from him.  It helps underscore the anxiety Guggenheim shows spreading through the School as they watch Nance on TV.  With all these threats gathering at once, you understand why Captain Nazi wryly "congratulates" Kitty for taking over the X-Men.

Also Read:  Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #2

Friday, May 5, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The April 19 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #21:  Whoa, this issue is legitimately intense.  King and Fabok do an amazing job just grabbing you at the start and not letting go.  The issue begins with Bruce contemplating the Button, which he eventually places on a counter next to Psycho-Pirate's mask.  The two items unexpectedly interact, and Bruce momentarily comes face-to-face with the "Flashpoint" version of his father.  Bruce calls Flash and asks him to come discuss the phenomenon, and Flash promises to arrive in a minute, after he defeats the enemy he's fighting.  However, it seems the interaction of the two items has also revived Reverse-Flash, who attacks Bruce in the Cave.  Bruce tries to stall Reverse-Flash until Barry can arrive, but Barry takes longer than a minute and Reverse-Flash beats Bruce into unconsciousness.  He discovers the Button and disappears upon touching it, only to reappear seconds later missing the flesh on the left side of his body and muttering he met God.  Flash arrives shortly thereafter to discover both bodies.  By the time we get to this point, I'm pretty much holding my breath.  Fabok is as good as he's ever been in depicting the fight between Batman and Reverse-Flash; the countdown clock showing the minute passing was particularly clever.  He and King also brilliantly contrast it with a fight happening at a hockey match between Gotham and Metropolis, where one of the players beats another one to death.  It really adds to the atmosphere of this issue, as the violence escalates in both fights as we progress.  In terms of this series' ongoing story, the only disappointing part is we don't seem to have a clear resolution of Claire's story.  She appears in Arkham here, watching the aforementioned hockey match with other inmates.  She goes crazy at one point, prophesying the death of either the hockey player or Reverse-Flash.  Does that mean Psycho-Pirate didn't cure her?  It's a minor complaint at this point, given the focus on the cross-over story, but King is going to need to tie up that loose end at some point.  In the meantime, I feel like this event is actually the shot in the arm this title needs, after spending so much time on the extended Gotham/Gotham Girl/Bane story.  It even makes me want to re-read "Flashpoint," and, man, that's saying a lot!

Dark Knight III:  The Master Race #8:  If this series didn't have such celebrated talent on it, I wouldn't hesitate to say what I want to say:  that it stopped making sense several issues ago.  In fact, Azzarello doesn't even seem to be trying anymore, content simply to tell Kubert and Janson to go to town and call it a day.  This issue is basically just an extended war sequence as the Amazonians repel the Quarians, and I admit I can barely remember what the Quarians want with Jonathan.  Supes arrives after Diana has won the day, and he almost immediately flees somewhere else, where apparently Quar and his children have ingested nuclear bombs.  Yeah, I know, it sounds absurd.  It is absurd.  Rather than racing to the end of the $5.99 issue, as he does here, Azzarello could've spent some time reminding us why Lara has seemingly defected and who Bruno is (and why Commissioner Yindel would've dates a woman with Nazi tattoos on her breasts).  After all, it's been three months since the last issue.  Instead, we just get some pretty pictures and jump to the next nonsensical sequence of events.  I guess some part of me hopes the celebrated talent has some sort of plan.  But, after so much money spent on this story, I wonder if DC is just testing how much of a sucker I really am.

Ms. Marvel #17:  I've really enjoyed this arc, but I'm disappointed to say this ending isn't the strongest.  Based on where we were at the end of last issue, I expected Doc.X to force Kamala into revealing her secret identity (or, at least, show her willingness to do so) to defeat him.  However, that never really happens.  In fact, I have no idea how she beats him.  As expected, we start the issue with her getting her World of Battlecraft friends to help her make the Internet a nicer place, and it seems to be working, as Doc.X goes all Zen on Mike.  But, then, Kamala confronts him at a parade and...something happens.  Honestly, I have no idea; he's angry again and then he just sort of explodes.  I would still give this arc to any teenager or pre-teen I knew, with its message of rediscovering compassion for each other.  (The scene where everyone hugs Zoe after her love letters to Nakia are released is lovely.  Gabriel's reluctant feels also continue to make him my favorite.)  But, I feel like it would've been even more amazing if the ending had made sense.  At one point, Kamala comments on a parade being moved to the next day as said parade seemingly happens around her.  I don't know why it went down this way, but I'm disappointed it did.

Nightwing #19:  This issue really sets up the larger conflict between Dick and Dr. Hurt nicely.  Dick and Shawn track down Hurt to a temple in Egypt dedicated to Anubis, the God of Death.  Seeley portrays Hurt not as the Devil, but his prophet; he has been resurrected through a ceremony requiring blood, but we're not told who arranged the ceremony, who died to make it happen, or why someone wanted him to return.  The Devil sends the newly resurrected Hurt a vision of Nightwing, and Hurt believes it means he is to turn Dick into the Devil's new weapon.  To do so, he sacrifices Damian to run the ceremony in reverse:  rather than Hurt leaving the Hell of Hells, he sends Dick there.  Presumably, the goal is for Dick to fight his way through Hell to become this weapon, though it seems unlikely it's going to work the way Hurt wants.  This sort of story is a departure from the usual "Nightwing" story, but I have to say Seeley is giving us reason to have faith in him.  The story flows well, and I don't feel anywhere near as confused as I did by Morrison's Dr. Hurt.  We'll see where we go from here.

The Wild Storm #3:  Man, I love this series.  Ellis does an amazing job here of showing us the debut of the Wild C.A.T.s.  Cole, Kenesha, and Void arrive in Angie's bunker offering her sanctuary.  Angie reminds them she stole technology from International Operations (IO), the organization that runs "most of --- of everything."  She believes herself to be already dead and, on cue, the room explodes.  IO's Razors 3 team arrives to take Angie into custody.  Angie begins activating her flight suit as Cole and Kenesha activate their gear:  Cole puts on his Grifter mask, and Kenesha puts on a pair of sunglasses and pulls out a gun.  (Void is inactive with a shard of glass in her temple.)  Watching from a control room, Miles and someone I don't recognize realize Angie has also stolen micro-drones IO had created for search-and-rescue missions; her suit can apparently manufacture them, and she uses their flashlights to blind the Razors team.  Kenesha fires a bullet into one of the Razors that disintegrates him, taking even Cole by surprise.  Watching from the control room, Miles asks who these people are, and the person I don't recognize responds that it's an "unaffiliated covert action team," or "wild CAT," just as they always feared.  It's an awesome moment, really.  I don't remember the original series ever setting up the premise of the team so amazingly.  Meanwhile, Angie blows a hole through the ceiling and flees as Kenesha tries to revive Angie and Cole keeps on firing; Miles orders the remaining two Razors to demolish the room.  Beyond this amazing sequence, Ellis also adds a new character to the mix:  a woman who can walk through electronic devices (including fictional sequences).  As she moves through a comic book someone is reading on a tablet, she overhears someone in IO hypothesizing Skywatch is going to make Miles resign over the stolen technology.  She eventually returns home to add Angie to her map of secret organizations she's assembling.  I have no idea what it means, but it's all just remarkably awesome.

Also Read:  Moon Knight #13; Star Wars:  Poe Dameron #13