Monday, August 14, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The July 12 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dark Days:  The Casting:  Despite the cute naming system, this issue is really "Dark Days" #2, a direct sequel to "Dark Days:  Metal."

Bruce makes his way to Hephaestus' forge in the hopes of asking him about the metal, and he meets Diana there.  (He presumably arrived here through the portal he used in "Dark Days:  The Forge.")  Diana explains Hephaestus made each member of the Pantheon of Greek gods a weapon from the "eighth metal."  She says she came to the forge because she had a vision she would give Bruce Apollo's Sunblade.  She does so, explaining the gods have left Earth in advance of the coming war.

The Immortals tell Hawkman the metal came from a rift in reality that also produced a terrible devil intent on bringing darkness to the world.  It's the inspiration behind the Bat symbol representing the four tribes of humanity we saw in "Dark Days:  The Forge."  A member of the Hawk Tribe apparently betrayed humanity by siding with the Bat, and Hawkman and Hawkwoman were the ones to contain him, closing the door between his world and our world.  However, Hath-Set (or maybe Dr. Manhattan) made them forget.

Batman eventually trades the Sunblade to Talia al Ghul in exchange for the item she carries:  the dagger of Shazam (the wizard, not the teenager).  (After he left the forge, the Sunblade led him to the dagger.)  It turns out al Ghul was part of the group of Immortals who met with Hawkman in the early 20th century, and he spent decades trying to get his hands on the dagger.  She agrees to the trade only because he promises her the "ninth" metal if she gives him the eighth one.  (I know, I know.  After all, isn't his Sunblade made of the eighth metal?  Also, if Thundarr makes an appearance, I'll totally not complain about anything in this series again.)

In the Secretcave, Joker briefly gives Duke and Hal his side of the story of how he survived the fall at the end of "Death of the Family," explaining the dionesium not only healed his body but reattached his severed face.  (Well done on tying up that loose end, Snyder.)  Joker also explains Luke and his mother have the metal in their blood, possibly because they're descendants of the Bat Tribe.  (I'm assuming the devil also had the metal in his blood.)  Luke will serve as some sort of signal for Batman, and Joker wants to kill him (and destroy a machine Bruce has hidden in the Secretcave) so Bruce can focus on him.

Bruce returns to the cave, revealing to Duke and Hal he started investigating the metal when he used it to resurrect himself and saw visions of his future in that moment.  Bruce reveals he knows the frequency of the energy (presumably from the tower we saw in "Dark Days:  The Forge") and Shazam's dagger gives him the power to reveal the "truth."  (It's not clear why it does or why the Sunblade didn't.)  Duke's powers let him see how the machine Bruce was building should be finished, and he uses a copy of Hal's ring to finish it.  (Seriously, I know.  Just hang in there.)  Bruce activates the machine (maybe with the dagger), but only sees darkness.  Three-thousand feet below Gotham, a group of hooded figures says Bruce has broken the seal.  Apparently, he would've seen their army of dark knights had they not "prepared" him correctly.  These knights appear to be dark analogues to the DCnU heroes.

Overall, despite the deus ex machina (almost literally in several cases), Snyder picks up pretty much all the threads from "Dark Days:  The Forge."  (The only real exception is the identity of the creature or person Bruce released from imprisonment on the Mooncave, unless I'm missing something.)  It's clear Snyder has a vision for this story, so the nagging questions are acceptable, since he seems likely to resolve them.  But, we should probably have a clearer sense of what all these metals mean by the end of next issue.  At some point, even for someone used to suspending disbelief for the past 30 years, it gets hard not to roll your eyes, and Snyder probably doesn't want us doing that much longer.

Amazing Spider-Man #30:  Spider-Man has been suspiciously absent from "Secret Empire" so far, and Slott seems on the verge of explaining why.  He left his battle with Otto last issue to join the Battle of Washington, and this issue picks up the story shortly after "FCBD:  Secret Empire" #1.  After Cap lifts Thor's hammer, Peter realizes they're doomed, and he rallies the troops to escape.  He explains to Mockingbird he can't join the Resistance because he has to stop Otto -- and, by extension, HYDRA -- from gaining control of Parker Industries.  Mockingbird promises him that date if they save the world, and Immonen makes the moment cinematically perfect, the sun highlighting both of them as they kiss.  As Otto raids PI's San Francisco HQ, Peter rallies the troops in Shanghai.  Slott takes some shortcuts in getting Dr. Wu and Lien Tang to pledge their loyalty to Peter, Wu because Peter put the value of his cancer research above profit and Tang because Peter gave her a second chance after she betrayed him.  (I still have no idea why Peter gave her that second chance or would ever remotely trust her, but I at least buy Wu feeling some sort of inclination to help him.)  Otto confronts Peter and reveals he remains completely in control of PI, using the back door he built into its systems to turn Tang's Spider-Racers against Peter.  I've been dreading each issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" lately, but Slott is surprisingly on his game here.  You can see into the future after this arc pretty clearly:  Peter seems likely to lose PI and Mockingbird (if she really is Steve's mole in the Resistance).  We'll see how that goes when we get there.  For now, I'm just happy to be happy with an issue.

Uncanny Avengers #25:  Although Zub's characterization of Rogue still feels like it's coming from 2008, this issue is pretty damn awesome.  Rogue berates herself for abandoning the team while trying to stop Scorpia and Shocker from robbing a bank (something I admit I don't quite remember happening last issue).  But, she rallies the two of them into a make-shift team to fight off the demons pouring into Manhattan under the orders of the spirit who took over Voodoo's body.  She's reminded of the importance of teamwork, and we're treated to some pretty hilarious exchanges between Scorpia and Shocker as they grapple with their newfound hero-dom.  (At one point, Shocker explains to Scorpia his gloves don't shoot electricity but vibrate the air, leading to her starting to say he should've called himself the Vibrator.  He stops her before she can finish the word, and I think it's probably the funniest moment in comics.)  Meanwhile, the rest of the team is trying to free Voodoo from possession, and they succeed when Rogue answers Synapse's call for help and provides much-needed muscle.  As the demons disappear, the team shares a nice moment as it ponders this new reality.  For how many artists worked on this issue, it's a pretty great showing, and it helps make this issue one of the best "Secret Empire" tie-in issues I've read.  I really do love this title.

X-Men Gold #8:  This issue is notable for a few reasons.  First, it has Piotr admitting he was trying to impress Kitty when he leapt in front of the bullet the serial killer shot, meaning we're going in exactly the direction I'd hope we'd go.  (Guggenheim is an X-Man fan!)  Second, it has Kurt admitting to Logan and Storm he did, in fact, die when the mob attacked him ("mistaking" him for a devil), but he can't return to Heaven as a result of the loss of his soul.  I thought this issue might've been resolved in Kurt's solo series, but it looks like it wasn't.  I assume we'll be addressing that at some point.  Third, it has Kitty deliver one of the best rebuttals to a distraught family-member-turned-killer.  She admits the X-Men might be negligent when they ignore the consequences of solving the crisis at hand and move right onto the next one.  However, she points out this guy is a premeditated murderer, as sympathetic as we might be to his plight.  Guggenheim isn't really buying this guy's insistence he's committing justifiable homicide, particularly with Kitty showing she's fully aware of the compromises she has to make to keep saving the world.  Finally, we see the first hint of the post-"Secret Empire" era, as the bubble is lowered around New York and everything -- including the NYPD and Congress -- appears to be fine.  For all he crams in there, the issue really flows well.  This "Secret Empire" tie-in arc might not have been essential to the larger plot, but it was pretty enjoyable, always a good bar to clear in these events.

Generation X #4:  Strain does a solid job of showing the team coming together as they unexpectedly face an Emplate-possessed Monet in searching for the perpetrator of the attack on Face.  Benjamin and Trevor in particular take on the roles of the responsible adults, and it suits them well.  That said, Strain reverses some of the character development we saw in Quentin under Jason Aaron's "Wolverine and the X-Men," and the story is weaker for it:  Quentin is basically reduced to a caricature of the person we know he can be.  But, Strain does a great job when it comes to Roxy, showing her drive to be an X-Man coming from her panic that it's her only remaining option, since her physical mutation means she can never really fit into human society.  The moment she has with Chamber as she confesses these feelings is touching, and it reminds us these kids really are just kids, in need of the mentorship he and Jubilee can provide.  Strain also does well with Jubilee, as she realizes the kids have fled the Mansion because it's what she would've done.  All in all, it caps a solid start to this series.  Jubilee's pledge to go after Monet also incorporates the original team's dynamic into this series, and it helps convince me to hang in here to see where we go.

Spider-Men II #1:  I didn't read the original "Spider-Men" event in 2012, primarily because I wasn't reading Miles' book at the time and I felt like it probably involved too much knowledge of his character to enjoy.  But, I feel like I'm well versed in Miles' reality now, and I'm ready to take a deeper dive.  Bendis confirms something I don't think we've seen confirmed anywhere, that Miles remembers his old dimension.  This revelation raises all sorts of questions, not just about Miles' memories but also his family and friends' memories.  We know Molecule Man resurrected Miles' mother and moved his supporting cast into the combined Marvel Universe to thank him for giving him a cheeseburger (in "Secret Wars" #7).  But, if Miles remembers the Ultimate Universe, what does everyone else remember?  Did the Molecule Man give them false memories?  Otherwise, you'd assume Ganke and Miles' parents would wonder why the Marvel Universe's Peter Parker isn't a dead teenager.  Ganke and Jefferson should probably wonder why Miles' mother is alive.  Marvel avoided answering a lot of the questions "Secret Wars" raised, and we've mostly just continued as we were, realizing it wasn't as analogous to "Flashpoint" as it originally seemed.  But, Bendis has opened a can of worms here he's going to have to close at some point.  Moreover, we've got the matter of the original Marvel Universe's Miles Morales, who seems responsible for the inter-dimensional rupture that results in a robot's head crashing onto the grounds of Miles' school.  Bendis has a mixed track record when it comes to his performance in events, and I'm just hoping he can navigate these waters in a way that ties up some loose ends from "Secret Wars" and doesn't make matters worse.  It's a low bar, but I'm still not sure we're going to clear it.

Titans #13:  I'll admit I'm not sure why Abnett decided to so quickly launch into an arc that involves betrayal within the team.  We're just getting a sense of the bonds the team shares in the present, and already he's making us question said bonds.  Abnett seems to want us to believe Dick is the betrayer by throwing suspicion on Lilith.  But, we saw her premonition so we know it wasn't her (unless Psimon really did turn her and we saw thoughts he implanted in her mind).  Part of the difficulty in following this story is Abnett has the characters all acting somewhat oddly.  Garth is suddenly hopelessly devoted to Lilith after sharing a kiss, and Wally is committed to keeping secret his ability to freeze time even though we're not really told why he would.  I think it's because his friends are worried about his heart, but it actually seems like it might give some insight into how he can use his powers without hurting his heart.  I wouldn't be surprised in the end if we learn that they're all being manipulated psionically.

Youngblood #3:  OK, I have to say, this series just keeps getting better and better.  As Bowers says in the letters page, it's pretty clear the rules are different here, showing a willingness to permanently change a character's status quo. Badrock is actually working for Diehard, though it's unclear if Diehard wanted him to put together the team for good or for ill.  It could be just setting up Shaft.  After all, he decides to investigate the Byrne Twins after Badrock has the kids tell them about the disappearances of Man-Up and other heroes.  The new Sentinel (even if we're not calling him that) tells him he couldn't find any information about them when he was part of the Stream, and Shaft obviously isn't thrilled to learn he was part of the group that ruined his life.  Meanwhile, we learn Doc Rocket was only part of the team briefly, and Petra recruited her because she still has high favorability ratings, meaning she could help make sure the team has a real claim to the Youngblood name.  Finally, we have some business with an alien bounty hunter that I didn't quite follow, but Bowers pretty clearly has a plan for that.  All in all, it's another exciting issue that really raises the bar on this endeavor.

Also Read:  Detective Comics #960; Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #3; Star Wars:  Darth Vader #3; Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #9

Monday, August 7, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The July 5 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

X-Men Gold #7:  Guggenheim cleverly plays with the premise of "Secret Empire" by doing it one better.  The X-Men aren't just trapped, along with the rest of New York, in the Darkforce Dimension; they're also trapped in the Mansion with a serial killer.  Guggenheim lets us know from the start the killer is motivated by Magneto killing his wife and son years earlier, and it's hard to argue with his hatred of mutants as a result.  It also reminds us of the special treatment Magneto has gotten over the years, a seemingly never-ending series of second chances that fly in the face of the crimes he's committed.  I'm not sure if it was Guggenheim's intention to highlight that, but there it is.

Batman #26:  I don't really have much to say about this issue, because King doesn't really do all that much here.  We really only see confirmation, though their actions, that Joker and Riddler are at war, though it's still not clear what the stakes are, exactly.  I'm not sure it matters.  King spends most of this issue introducing us to Joker and Riddler.  If that sounds ridiculous, given how familiar even my mother is with those characters, King reminds us we need to know who they are in this particular moment.  Joker is morose and Riddler is angsty.  It's not their usual modi operandi, and it's why King takes time to stress it.  The only real development is Joker killing Carmine Falcone's mother after he fails to kill Riddler in an hour, as Joker requested.  King doesn't tell us why Joker wanted to use a surrogate to get rid of Riddler, but it seems to have been a bad call:  I doubt Falcone is going to sit out this war, given Joker's actions.  Janín uses a series of splash pages to remind us the War of Jokes and Riddles is at its heart a gang war and Bruce is just becoming aware of how deep into the Gotham underground it spreads.  It's a slow issue, but it was probably wise for King to take the time to make sure we understand the environment in which the story is occurring.  But, he should probably have Joker blow up Wayne Tower or something next issue.

Hawkeye #8:  OK, now we're getting somewhere.  We learn Kate's father has switched into a clone of his original body because he was "ill."  Moreover, this new body has taken a latent ability -- the power of suggestion -- and expanded it into an actionable power.  He explains to Kate Madame Masque's quest to obtain superpowers repeatedly fails because her DNA doesn't have any hint of such a latent ability.  Kate observes she may also have powers (given her share of her father's DNA), and her father agrees.  Kate surmises Aggregate was one of Madame Masque's clones, but she also notes his powers caused him to explode so she recommends her father plays his cards carefully.  Despite all this information, Thompson still doesn't answer all our questions.  First, we don't learn how Kate figured out Aggregate was a clone; I think she just assumes Aggregate's connection to her father meant he underwent a similar procedure.  But, it's possible Kate has information we don't have.  Second, Kate jumps to the conclusion her father was trying to use Aggregate to trash Venice to drive down property values, allowing him to obtain land cheaply.  Again, Kate may have information to which we're not yet privy, but, if she doesn't, it's a serious leap of logic for her to get from Point A to Point B.  Finally, Thompson implies Masque sent Kate on this wild-goose chase in order to overhear the conversation she ultimately has with her father about how he got his powers.  But, it seems a stretch Masque would have to go to all that trouble just to obtain this information.  She doesn't have any other sources?  I'm hoping Thompson fills in some of these gaps, so it doesn't feel as deus ex machina-y as it does now.  All that being said, she does a great job of showing the emotional toll Kate's confrontation with her father has on her.  Their conversation is remarkably tense, something Romero accomplishes even with the limited line work he employs.  Even in such a plot-heavy issue, the creative team helps amplify the characterization, and it's why this series is just so good right now.

Spider-Man #18:  Bendis does a really solid job here with Miles' mom.  She came to his room to apologize, and she's there as Fabio and Ganke return with his wounded self after his battle with Hammerhead.  She takes him to the hospital to get his broken ribs wrapped, and she tells him she's upset with him but still loves him.  But, Bendis distinguishes himself by not turning her into Aunt May or something.  Miles pushes her to forgive his father because they told the same lie, and she essentially tells him to mind his own business.  He presses, and she tells him it's a different relationship.  This nuance is often lost in comics, and I really take off my hat to Bendis for making that distinction.  Moreover, we get some great Goldballs action here, as Ganke encourages Fabio to revel in his powers and he's able to summon a larger ball than he's previously managed to take down Hammerhead.  When you add in Bombshell realizing she's in love with Miles, you've got an all-around solid story.

Star Wars #33:  They could use this issue in comic-writing school to show how to do a one-and-done issue.  Leia and Luke wind up crash-landing their disabled ship on an ocean-covered planet after they have to flee Imperial troops who interrupted their supply run.  With few options, they're forced to go full "Cast Away."  In putting them in this situation, Aaron achieves one of the main goals of this series:  showing us the bonds that developed between the characters off-screen.  This issue helps explain why Leia comments in "Return of the Jedi" that she always knew Luke was her brother.  It didn't make sense if you just saw their oft-discussed kiss in "Star Wars;" after all, they hardly spent any time together in "Empire Strikes Back."  But, it does when you realize they spent three weeks stranded on a desert island together.  They had time to get to know one another and to realize they weren't really interested in knowing each other *that* way.  (Blech.) Moreover, Aaron gives us great insight into Leia as we learn the week she hid in the woods as a nine-year-old (convinced her parents were going to marry her to a prince) was the best week of her life.  Aaron seems to plan on doing something similar for Lando and Sana next issue, and I can't wait for that.  These issues that focus on the characters in discrete moments have tended to be the best ones of this series, and I'd encourage Aaron (and soon Gillen) to keep his focus on them, at least for a while.  "Screaming Castle" was OK; this issue was better.

Also Read:  Bloodshots Day Off #1; Champions #10; Nightwing #24; Spider-Man:  Master Plan #1

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 28 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I had all sorts of thoughts about these issues.  Unfortunately, an attempt to cut-and-paste combined with the auto-save functions means I lost this post.  [Sigh.]

Read:  Amazing Spider-Man #29; Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #4; Detective Comics #959; Occupy Avengers #8; Pathfinder:  Runescars #2; Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #4; Secret Empire #5; Spider-Gwen #21; Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #8; X-Men Blue #6

Friday, August 4, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 21 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #18:  Some tie-in issues provide important off-panel insights to the event unfolding in the main series; if I remember correctly, a lot of important stuff happened in the tie-in issues related to "Avengers vs. X-Men."  However, the same isn't true of this issue.  Steve gives an uncharacteristically unhinged speech to the rump United Nations meeting in Brussels (as a result of their New York colleagues being trapped in the Darkforce Dimension), threatening governments that don't embrace HYDRA cells in their own countries.  T'Challa ruins the fun by hijacking the meeting via video link and daring Steve to come to Wakanda himself; it's not an idle threat, as he informs the meeting he's killed three previous groups Steve sent to infiltrate Wakanda.  This revelation undermines Steve's "stop spying on us" demand he made at the top of the speech, and he leaves in a huff.  Based on the cover, you'd be forgiven if you thought this issue was going to be about Namor (pet peeve #2), but Namor only sulks at the start and end of the issue.  In fact, I'm not sure why Spencer included him at all, since T'Challa's entry into the fray is a much more interesting development.  After all, we've already seen HYDRA defeat Namor in "Secret Empire" #5.  It makes for a confused narrative and a pretty easily skipable issue if you were only coming here because it's connected to "Secret Empire."

Batman #25:  The "knock knock"/"who's there" exchange between Riddler and Joker is the best panel arrangement I've seen since Capullo's upside-down maze in "Batman" #5.  Something about the segue from Riddler on one side of the room on one page to Joker on the other side of the room in the next one is chilling.  Both characters command their respective page, making you viscerally aware they're at war for the same space.  The War of Jokes and Riddles, indeed.  King and Janín work so well together throughout this issue to convey this message, to a chilling effect.

To start, King's Riddler is completely unhinged, but in a sane way.  This dichotomy is most obvious in the way he escapes Arkham, methodically learning the names of the guards' daughters so they're too scared to stop him.  If he hadn't just stabbed a detective 26 times to get his escape started, it might've otherwise seemed like an empty threat.  When it comes to Joker, the art again supplements the script:  Janín's Joker appears similar to his "Killing Joke" incarnation, a reminder of how dangerous he is (as if you needed one).  In other words, before the two characters even meet, King and Janín make it clear we're dealing with the characters at their most lethal.

But, come together they do, as Riddler solves the puzzle Joker is leaving for Batman.  He tells Joker he knows he can't laugh anymore, because punchlines require a lack of predictability and Batman has made Gotham all predictability.  Similarly, Riddler doesn't enjoy his riddles anymore, because Batman is the riddle he can't solve.  Riddler suggests they kill Batman together, because it's the only way they'll know satisfaction; otherwise, they'll burn Gotham to the ground as they try to stop the other one from killing him first.  Joker agrees...and then shoots Riddler, hoping maybe it will make him laugh.  (It's a shocking moment and another reminder he's not a more patient incarnation of his character.)  Unfortunately, it doesn't make him laugh, and he leaves Riddler bleeding on the floor.

Batman arrive seconds later, and Riddler tells him Joker stole his bomb.  Bruce leaves Edward to chase down Joker because, given the wound, he assumes Riddle will die shortly.  He doesn't, for a reason King doesn't explain.  It perhaps has something to do with his riddle at that moment:  "The smartest man alive will always overlook one thing:  his own nose."  I'm not sure how it's connected to him surviving a point-blank gunshot, but it isn't just a random line:  Joker had been drawing the image of a clown nose on the map of Gotham with his crimes.

Speaking of unsolved riddles, the joke Joker used to lead Batman to the office building where Riddler finds him was:  "Why did six fear seven?  Because seven ate nine."  Joker is on the 78th floor, so I get that part.  But, we're not told how Joker brought this joke to Bruce's attention.  (Did it have something to do with the clown nose?)  Plus, I'm not sure how six and nine play into it.  I believe it has something to do with another riddle Riddler told:  the password to a club isn't half the number the bouncer gives (in other words, five if the number is ten) but the number of letters in the word (three if the number is ten).  I make note of these unsolved riddles (at least unsolved for me) because I feel like they might be relevant later.

As the story ends, we learn Bruce is telling this story to Selena as they lie in bed, confessing to her what he had to do during the War of Jokes and Riddles so that she'll truly know him before they get married.  He implies it'll explain him even better than Alfred, Gordon, and the boys understand him.  He tells her they misunderstand him as a guy with pain saving who he can; allegedly something about his behavior during the war shows this interpretation is wrong.

King is swinging for the fences here, and he makes you believe he can hit the home run.  Something about this arc already seems epic, a character-defining story you'd think we couldn't see anymore in Batman.  But, King has hinted throughout his run he's willing to do something no one else -- not Morrison, not Snyder -- has allowed Bruce to do:  he's going to let him become a real boy.  Bruce's confession about his past to Selena is part of his commitment to Selena, and it's what grounds this story.  I can't wait to see where we go.

Iceman #2:  Grace accomplishes what he intended to do here, using Kitty and her anger over learning from Fabio Bobby was gay to press him to actually connect with people.  She makes a solid point, stressing his family and friends want more from him than just jokes at inopportune moments.  Bobby defends himself accurately, noting he didn't have a say in his coming out:  he only did so because his younger self is running around town with a model boyfriend.  But, something feels rushed here, and I hope Grace slows down.  Grace only alludes to the fact Bobby's alone in the world, but I think it's worth exploring it more.  After all, Jean, Scott, and Warren (at least the Warren he knew) are all dead, and he's estranged from Hank.  He really doesn't have anyone in his corner except an ex-girlfriend.  Moreover, Kitty may raise Bobby's hopes too high here that his parents are going to be in his corner, though the preview of next issue's cover implies we'll find out one way or another.  But, at some point, Bobby needs someone, and it's probably hinting at the fact he could use a supporting case unique to this series.  Finally, the art has some decent moments here, though it's hard to tell what penciler/inker combination is responsible, given four sets of hands are at play here.  You get the feeling Marvel is doing this one on the cheap given the unsteady art situation, and it makes me unfortunately wonder how long this series has.

Mighty Thor #20:  It seems clear the War of the Realms is going to kick into high gear.  After all, at this point, we have three different Thors.  The story of Volstagg becoming War Thor is devastating, though I'll admit I don't exactly understand how he survived the Muspelhiem fire that killed the elven children he was trying to protect.  (Apparently fire-goblin blood is immune to the fire.  If I had to guess, those creatures that appeared with the maggot bombs were fire goblins, and Volstagg coated himself with their blood when he murdered them in a rage.  But, Aaron doesn't really make that part entirely clear.)  At any rate, Odinson is pissed at Jane for becoming Thor, Jane is dying so she might not be Thor that much longer (or she might stay Thor forever, giving up Jane), and Volstagg is ready to kill everyone.  It seems like something is going to happen, given that confluence of events.  But, it's the death of the children that gives this issue its emotional weight.  We obviously don't see that in comics often, but Aaron makes sure it's not gratuitous.  Volstagg is someone different than he's always been, and it ups the ante here, making you wonder what other unexpected developments are in store for us.

Peter Parker:  The Spectacular Spider-Man #1:  Teresa Parker!  I can't say this issue is perfect:  Peter recounting his origin story to Johnny Storm made absolutely no sense.  Moreover, we're in pet peeve #3 territory here, where Peter acknowledging it makes no sense doesn't make it better.  But, it's not the only problem.  It makes even less sense Peter would agree to go on a date as Spider-Man.  I get Zsardsky is going for an easy and fun vibe here, and, sure, hilarity may ensue.  But, seriously, disbelief can be suspended only so much.  But, I'm willing to put aside all that for the great art from Kubert (he can draw Johnny Storm whenever he wants) and the return of Teresa Parker from "Spider-Man:  Family Business."  Waid managed to make Teresa feel like an honest-to-goodness character (and not just a convenient plot device) in that graphic novel, and I've been waiting for her to return.  A light-hearted series about Spidey's downtime doesn't necessarily seem the right place, but we'll see where Zsardsky goes.

Spider-Man 2099 #24:  Honestly, only Peter David comes close to telling a time-travel story that remotely makes sense.  Miguel, the other Spider-Man 2099 and Tempest manage to grab one of the members of the mob trying to attack them before fleeing somewhere safe to interrogate him.  The other Spider-Man 2099 is able to control "arachnonauts" that force the man to tell the truth:  his phone told him to attack them.  They learn Aisa was using a popular app to control people's minds, and Lyla eventually figures out Aisa is the Fate Atropos.  She's trying to kill off humanity because she's sick of humanity fucking up everything on its way to eventually annihilating itself.  Honestly?  It's a pretty solid motive.  Miguel tries to defeat her, but she decides to off him, even though she usually likes to give her opponent a sporting chance.  However, Miguel doesn't have a thread in this reality because...he's already dead.  Aisa escapes, and Tempest later confirms Miguel did die.  Miguel refuses to learn how he dies before May 15, 2019, because he's afraid that information will again screw up 2099.  After all, at this point, he's got the hope he's managed to restore the 2099 he knew (even if, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, it's not necessarily the one we knew).  Peter ends with the surprise that the mysterious Spider-Man 2099 is Gabriel...Miguel's son with Tempest.  Dun-dun-DUN!  It's hard to believe David wrapped up this story so well, but it is really solid.  Aisa's motivation makes sense, her plan would've realized said motivation, and the team stops her in a believable way.  All win!  At this point, we have two loose ends.  First, we have Miguel himself.  It seems to me Miguel doesn't really have to die to recreate his 2099 timeline:  he just has to leave the past timeline at exactly the point he would've died, returning to his present timeline at exactly the point he left.  In so doing, you wouldn't encounter any paradoxes:  he's where he's supposed to be at the time he's supposed to be.  Second, we have Gabriel.  Gabriel is a grown man here, something he wouldn't be on May 15, 2019.  As such, two things clearly happen:  1) Gabriel is raised outside our timeline, possibly by Miguel and Tempest in the future, and 2) Tempest at some point becomes a superhero, possibly after Miguel dies.  I have full faith Peter David will answer that question since, after all, it's Peter David.

Star Wars:  Darth Vader #2:  I've never been the biggest fan of Camuncoli's work (I know, I know), namely because his faces in "Amazing Spider-Man" always to me.  But, he's on fire here, capturing just how lethal Vader is, be it as a pilot or as a combatant.  Soule is no slouch either.  Vader invades an outpost cataloging Jedi effects to try to track down a living Jedi.  The only one he finds is a warrior who took the "Barash vow," a sort of penance requiring isolation (meaning he survived implementation of Order 66).  Soule reminds us this Vader isn't the Vader we know by allowing him to get winged by one of the Stormtroopers defending the outpost.  I hope it means we'll see the internal emotional conflict I mentioned in my review of last issue.  All told, we've got a good start here.

The Wild Storm #5:  Zealot investigates Angela's base, discovering the remains of the IO Razor 3 team.  She also encounters a "daemon" who looks like an extra from "Alien."  It claims to be acting in a Watcher-type role and encourages her not to get involved with the important events unfolding.  She doesn't believe it.  It asks how she can have lived so long and understand so little before it disappears.  (It seemingly puts her in the long-life club with Jacob Marlowe.)  Meanwhile, Michael accepts Craven's offer to track down Angela to distract himself from his brain tumor.  However, when he reads the hastily assembled file and watches the video recording of the Razor 3 team's engagement, he realizes she's a scared researcher in need of someone to listen.  He asks Craven to rescind the order, but Craven refuses.  Mike quits for fear he's suddenly discovered at the end of his life Craven has been playing him for years, and Craven essentially tells him he's not going to fund his treatment.  Meanwhile, Void gets to Angela first, explaining her story in the hope Angela will trust her.  She explains Skywatch controls everything that happens off Earth (as opposed to IO, which controls everything that happens on it) and tried to achieve interstellar travel by cutting into "underspace."  (They called it "the Bleed," as if they were cutting below the surface of skin, where they hoped different physics would be at play.)  All the crew died, including Adriana, but something that looks decidedly similar to a daemon saved her and returned her with her powers.  Meanwhile, Christine Trelane arrives at Mike's apartment and offers him a job with "Executive Protection Services" as Craven's men knock on his door announcing they have his "effects."

X-Men Gold #6:  OK, I'm not buying what Guggenheim is selling here when it comes to Rachel.  I can think of any number of instances from the past where Rachel used power on the scale she uses here.  I mean, she took on the Beyonder during "Secret Wars II," if I remember correctly.  It's not like what we've seen with other characters, where they evolve over time, like Bobby eventually coming to realize his full potential or Spider-Man learning "Spider-Fu" when he temporarily lost his Spider-Sense.  She suddenly just has a headache, talks to some folks in her mind, and then decides she's powerful enough to disable the A.I. Sentinel.  It's not just overly convenient, but it doesn't do justice to a 36-year-old character.  Guggenheim also includes smaller odd moments, like Ororo kissing Remy.  All told, it makes for a bizarre ending to this once promising arc.

Also Read:  Nightwing #23; Secret Empire:  Underground #1; U.S.Avengers #7

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

On Remaining Questions from Scott Snyder's Run on "Batman"

Based on Snyder's comments about the upcoming "Dark Days:  Metal" event, we're lead to believe many of the questions I (and other people) had about Snyder's run on "Batman" were actually Easter eggs he intentionally left for this event.  I'm not entirely sure I buy that, but I'm also happy to have some of them answered, even if it's retroactively.  One of the advantages of keeping a blog on comics is it helps you remember what you've read.  Given my obsessive need to remember questions from previous stories, I went through my reviews of Snyder's 50-issue run and included the major questions here.  I skipped some issue-specific questions (notably, the ones I had in issue #34), focusing mostly on the most obvious plot holes (and thus most likely to be retroactive Easter eggs).  Notably, I couldn't force myself to re-read my reviews of "Batman Eternal" or (with less hesitation) "Batman and Robin Eternal."  If Easter eggs are there, I'm just going to have to go without noticing them.

1) from "the Court of Owls" arc:  How did the Court of Owls elude Bruce's notice for all that time?  
In "Death of the Family," Joker claims the Court of Owls gave Bruce so much trouble because he was distracted by the Bat-family.  It's worth mentioning because Snyder is specifically acknowledging Bruce was off his game.  But, he never gives us an alternate explanation, so, at this point, I guess we have to believe he agrees with Joker.  Continuing on the theme, why did the Court emerge from the shadows for the Night of the Owls?  How did it successfully return to said shadows (if it did)?  Why did the Court turn against Lincoln March just as he was on the cusp of realizing the Court's investment in him by becoming Mayor?  Most pressingly, how did it turn crippled Thomas Wayne, Jr. into strapping Lincoln March?  (Dionesium definitely seems to play a role here, and I wouldn't be surprised if Owlman didn't appear in "Dark Days:  Metal.")  Why did the Court freeze former Talons, particularly since it didn't have the means of resurrecting them at the time?  Did the Court know Bruce's identity?

2) from "the Death of the Family" arc:  Why did Joker cut off his face?  Did Joker know the Bat-families' identities?  I don't want to rehash this argument too much, because it was already explored ad nauseum at the time.  But, as a reminder, the tie-in issues in "Death of the Family" made it pretty clear Joker knew their identities (particularly the back-up story in "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #0).  Joker kidnapped Barbara's mother, he destroyed Haly's circus, he knows what brand of soap Dick uses, he knew Jason's father was a deadbeat dad, etc.  But, Bruce insisted Joker didn't know, because he once revealed his identity to him and Joker refused to acknowledge it.  Snyder never has Bruce acknowledge the most plausible explanation for that:  Joker might've conveniently forgot that information at the time but "remembered" it now.  After all, at the start of the arc, Joker is shown as unhinged over the Bat-family dragging down Bruce.  It makes sense he'd allow himself to "remember" their identities if he was so upset.  (Issue #37 seems to confirm this point when Joker calls Batman "Bruce.")  Conversely, does Bruce really know Joker's identity, as implied at the end of issue #17?  Finally, what did Joker tell the members of the Bat-family when it came to what Bruce "really thought about them."  This part was particularly ridiculous, since Sndyer established Joker didn't find some sort of super-secret dossier on the Bat-family he could share with them.  But, in addition to the Bat-family's believing Joker did really know their identities, it's this information that helps drive the wedge between them and Bruce.  As such, it's obviously relevant. 

3) from the "Zero Year" arc:  In issue #21, Riddler had some sort of card arrangement with phrases that I predicted would return one day as significant.  Is that day now?  In issue #23, Bruce opens a gem his father willed him that turns rooms seemingly into caves.  It's so random, I have to assume it's one of the Easter eggs Snyder left on the way to "Dark Days."  How did Riddler meet Dr. Death?  Why was he using him to distract Batman?  So he could plan Zero Year?  In issue #29, Bruce tells Gordon he should've taken "the call" to avoid all the death that comes, but I wasn't sure what he meant; I didn't recall some call that could've avoided Riddler turning back the clock on Gotham or Dr. Death from doing whatever it was he was doing.  Also, it was never clear to me how Riddler got access to the Red Hood Gang's files; it's an important point, because he uses them to build the army that patrols Gotham.

4) from issue #35:  Bruce confronts the Justice League with a suit he built specifically for the occasion.  During his conflict with the Flash, Capullo very carefully shows us a lightning bolt striking a Batarang.  However, it doesn't have any impact on the battle; Batman wins by creating a frictionless surface to neutralize Barry.  But, given the events of "The Button" cross-over event in "Batman" and "The Flash," it seems retroactively significant.

5) from the "Endgame" arc:  We've never explicitly been told why Joker wanted to destroy the pool of dionesium under the Batcave.  At the time, I hypothesized it was because he wanted to be the only one with access to dionesium (given the amount of it in his spine), but Snyder never spells out that part explicitly.  Also, it's not entirely clear how Joker goes from battling Dick at the parade to arriving at the pool so quickly.  In terms of the final conflict, I noted at the time Bruce seemed to have plenty of other options beyond dying and taking Joker with him.  Snyder never really explained why he chose that route.  Moreover, Alfred's explanation of the note Bruce left for him after he died -- reading only "HA!" -- didn't really make sense.  He claims it was because Batman's story could've only ended in tragedy for people to believe in him (because he had to be mortal), but that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the word, "HA!"

6) from the "Superheavy" arc:  Snyder never states how the dionesium that seeped through Bruce's cracked cranium changed the pathways in his brain.  At the time, I just accepted it did.  But, given the importance of dionesium to "Dark Days," it's probably worth noting here.  Snyder also never explains how Peter Duggio survived the four gunshot wounds he received when the cop fired on him as he fled his burning bodega.  At the time, I figured whatever Mr. Bloom gave him to grow wings retroactively healed the wounds, but Snyder never actually said that.  After all, Peter went to his cousin Dylan before Dylan created Bloom, so I think we're supposed to believe Dylan also provided some sort of medical assistance.  It's also never really clear how Duke gets clued into Bloom's existence.  Gordon seems to learn of Bloom in issue #42 due to the Devil Pigs' connection to him, and Batman learns of him in issue #44 when he's investigating Peter's death.  Duke knows enough about him to bring the seed Gordon gave Bruce to Dylan to investigate, but we don't know how he recognizes seed as coming from Bloom.  Finally, almost everything about Geri Powers remains a mystery.  For example, it seemed like Geri Powers might've given the thief who confronted Gordon in issue #41 the technology he used to do so, but we never get that confirmed.  We also never learn why she was on her quest for an "island of stability" in the elements in the 200s.  What was the point of creating Batmanium?  Simply for science?  I'm also not entirely sure why she and the Powers That Be never wanted Gordon looking into the Bloom case.  After all, she never wound up having any connection to Bloom; in the end, he was just a homeless man who stole Dylan's seeds.  Wouldn't she want Gordon stopping the villain destroying the city she now functionally controls?  We're also not really sure what her plan was if Jim resigned as Batman as she wanted him to do, after he went rogue to investigate Bloom.  Moving to other questions, Julia uses the Bat-signal to save Gordon because the Bat-signal apparently "holds" Rookie with an "electro-magnet" and such a magnet could counter Bloom's seeds, which are also "electro-magnetic."  I never really understood why the robo suit was attached to the Bat-signal, but maybe Snyder had a reason.  Finally, is it meaningful we learn Julie Madison is covered with tattoos, including an owl one?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 14 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dark Days:  The Forge #1:  This issue reads mostly like a preview issue.  The plot is solid, but you're really aware you're only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Overall, Snyder has a lot happening in different places.  Batman is investigating a mysterious signal emanating from the Earth's core.  One of the Guardians of the Universe sends Green Lantern to investigate an odd energy signature coming from Wayne Manor.  A group called the Immortal Men discusses offering membership to Duke's mother years ago and implies Bruce is trying to get through her gas-induced insanity to obtain their secrets.  Hawkman is dictating his memoirs.  Again, it's a lot.  But, Snyder does a good job of making it clear, by the end of the issue, how all these threads fit together.

- Mr. Terrific returns from Earth-Two, where apparently the same signal Bruce discovered on Earth is present; moreover, both signals are getting louder.  Mr. Terrific suggests it's like a compass spinning wildly and only a cosmic entity could tune it.  This comment leads Bruce to a tower he's secretly hidden under the Fortress of Solitude.  (People reading DC Comics longer than I have probably recognize it, but I don't.)  He uses the tower to get a reading, I think, but I'm not entirely sure.

- Upon arriving in the Batcave, Hal discovers Bruce told Duke no one could enter; Hal does anyway and discovers a secret cave within the Batcave.  (Hal astutely comments only Bruce would have a secret cave.)  In Secretcave, a disembodied voice fills in Duke and Hal on what Bruce is investigating.  The voice tells them Bruce knew the electrum the Court of Owls used to resurrect their Talons shouldn't have worked in and of itself; when he investigated, he found a secret metal laced in it.  This metal produces an energy signature similar to the one found in some of the most powerful artifacts on Earth, e.g., Deathstroke's mask, Aquaman's trident, etc.  (These items are all inexplicably on display in the Secretcave.)

- In the past, Hawkman and Hawkwoman discover the ship that originally gave them eternal life, and we're left to assume the ship is made of this mysterious metal.  In his research, Hawkman stumbles across information about the four original tribes of humanity.  He originally says "three" tribes and then corrects himself as he places a stone with the image of a bat next to three stones with different animal images.

The issue concludes as Duke and Hal find the source of the voice:  a resurrected Joker.  The Joker seems to tell them dionesium was the mysterious metal.  The creative team did an amazing job with this sequence:  as Duke and Hal walk through the Secretcave, the text of the disembodied voice starts containing letters in the Joker's font.  It raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  Separately, Bruce decides to free the other prisoner he's been keeping, this time on his secret Batcave on the Moon.  (Mooncave!)  Is it Plastic Man?  I couldn't tell.  The person is apparently unstable, so it seems unlikely it's Plastic Man.

I haven't been a fan of Snyder's work on Batman, but he seems to hint here that the inconsistencies that drove me insane -- like the magic of dionesium from "Court of Owls" or the uncertainty of whether the Joker knew the Bat-family's identities in "Death of the Family" -- may have simply been bread crumbs to get us here.  If that's the case, I'm willing to revise my opinion of him.  In fact, it makes me want to read through all my old reviews and catalogue those inconsistencies, since it may provide clues to the upcoming event.  At any rate, Snyder definitely piques my interest with this issue.  He seems to promise a physical explanation to the extraordinary powers of the metahumans (as they're called in the DCnU), which also implies these powers could be eliminated if someone figures out a way to manipulate the dionesium.  It's still unclear how it connects to the larger "Rebirth" story about Dr. Manhattan (assuming it does), and Snyder seems to have a number of options for where he wants to go with that.  But, Snyder definitely has a vision, and I'm excited to see where we go with it.

Secret Empire #4:  Spencer handles the Avengers' fucked up family dynamics and history so well here I hope they hand him the reins of that book after this event ends.  I'll admit I can't quite remember where we left things with Hanktron after his arc in "Uncanny Avengers."  But, it seems totally reasonable to me that his response to the current situation is to hide in a city full of his clones in Alaska and wait for everyone to kill each other.

Spencer does a great job of slowly building to the conflict as Tony and his team and Steve and his team make their respective ways to Alaska and the Cosmic Cube shard.  When they unexpectedly encounter each other, we're all ready for a battle royale.  But, instead, Ultron captures everyone and makes them suffer through an awkward family dinner.  Just as I was wondering why Odinson, Scarlet Witch, and Vision were on Steve's side, Spencer uses the dinner as a vehicle to explain:  Thor wants back the Hammer Steve took in "FCBD:  Secret Empire #1," Wanda is possessed by Chthon, and the Vision has a virus.  But, everything goes to Hell in a handbasket why Tony antagonizes Hank, realizing his raging inferiority complex means he might actually be Hank.  Hank just wants everything to be like it was, but it can't be, Tony says, because no one ever forgave him for beating Jan.  I mean, talk about dropping a bomb of truth!

I love Spencer using the Avengers' history as the catalyst for the fight here.  It really heightens the sense I've had throughout this event that Marvel might actually make the developments stick (and not magically erase them with the Cosmic Cube.)  By the second or third issue of most cross-over events -- I'm thinking particularly of "Age of Ultron" and "Avengers vs. X-Men" -- it's pretty clear some device (metaphorical or physical) is going to be used to undo the developments occurring in the event.  But, you really get the sense this event is going to have consequences, as Spencer keeps it firmly rooted in the Marvel Universe's history.  For example, Hank stresses how everyone is tired of Steve's strategizing and Tony's plotting, reminding them how disastrous "Civil War" was.  In other words, everything we're seeing here has been a long time coming, not an artificially manufactured crisis to test our heroes.

In the end, it's Scott Lang who saves the day.  He tells Hank he's his idol because he, too, screwed up his life in one moment, but he kept on going.  Scott says he lives his life by asking what his daughter would do in difficult situations, and he asks Hank what Jan would want him to do.  Hank gives Scott the shard and sends everyone on his way.  But, Spencer has two aces up his sleeve.  First, the destruction of the Atlantean temple in issue #3 sends Namor to Washington to surrender his shard, disillusioning Hawkeye's team.  Mockingbird tries to rally them, reminding them they just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other one.  But, Cap reveals to Dr. Faustus he has a mole on the team.  It's hard to see how the heroes are going to win this one, and it's why this series so far is legitimately exciting.

Uncanny Avengers #24:  This issue starts off oddly, since we ended last issue expecting the team to head to New Orleans to fight Brother Voodoo's brother.  But, Zub makes it clear the team is as surprised as we are to find themselves suddenly trapped in New York.  Spencer hasn't had a lot of time to focus on New York in the main "Secret Empire" title; we've only really seen Dagger lighting the city when she can and Kingpin planning for the post-bubble days.  As such, I'm intrigued to get this insight into New York as it struggles with the isolation imposed by Blackout.  The events in this issue happen right after "Secret Empire" #0, so the team is basically acting as first responders.  Presumably, if we fast-forwarded to where we are in "Secret Empire" #4, they're connected with all the other heroes.  But, right now, they're trying to save who they can.  The weirdest part is Jan and Rogue fighting.  Jan is trying to convince Rogue they need a strategy, and Rogue is just trying to punch stuff.  It's like Zub hasn't read a comic with Rogue in it since 2008.  But, hopefully it's just a weird blip, an attempt to illustrate how rattled they all are by the sudden turn of events.  We'll see.

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #3:  I can't say it doesn't feel forced, but David at least puts Ben in his original costume in this issue, so I feel like I have some hope for the future.

Ms. Marvel #19:  Willow doesn't pull any punches here, as HYDRA Chuck from the previous gentrification arc has somehow gotten himself made into Mayor Worthy and placed Basic Becky (a.k.a. Lockdown) in charge of the Gestapo.  (They're actually called Keepers of Integration, Normalization, and Deference, or KIND.)  Kamala puts two and two together pretty quickly when KIND "agents" accost her outside her house, revealing they're looking for someone with superpowers.  Like any good bureaucrat, Becky delegates the fight with Kamala to her henchman, Discord.  (I can't remember how Kamala connects KIND to Becky but she does.)  When Discord neutralized Kamala with electricity, she realizes he's spent a lot of time studying her, since he knows it's her weakness.  (We're obviously supposed to believe it's Bruno, but that seems too obvious.)  He eventually zaps her into unconsciousness.  Elsewhere, KIND winds up arresting Aamir, Kamala's brother, believing him to have the superpowers.  Moreover, all these events take place against the backdrop of Eid al-Fitr celebrations.  Although KIND takes in Aamir for allegedly possessing superpowers, it's not hard to see the larger point Willow is making.  (She also has Zoe panic when she hears about KIND, revealing she's an illegal immigrant:  she was born in France.)  Willow makes it even more complicated as Discord gets Kamala to admit to herself the crowds who rallied to Worthy side's in the gentrification arc didn't do so simply because they were mesmerized:  some people really believed what he was saying.  By returning to this issue, Willow shows she's telling an ongoing story about the struggle between freedom and fear.  She manages not to get preachy as she does it, keeping the story focused on the emotions people feel on both sides.  I'm intrigued to see where she goes in the next three issues in this arc.

Star Wars #32:  I have to admit, I'm really enjoying the Screaming Citadel arc.  Aaron cleverly uses a rebooted Rur to exposit not only the regret Aphra feels for abandoning Luke but the fact she doesn't normally feel this way about someone she betrays.  Rur correctly posits they understand each other because of their shared tragedies and all I have to say is I'm beyond excited if we're getting a buddy-comedy series featuring Aphra and Luke.  Aphra reminds us why she's a survivor when she not only returns to save Luke but also infects him with the symbiote.  I know it doesn't sound like doing Luke a solid, but it is:  Aphra correctly figures the Hive is run by the strongest will, setting up a conflict between Luke and the Queen.  Meanwhile, Triple-Zero (brilliantly called "Creepio" by Sana) essentially narrates their attempt to 

Titans #12:  Abnett has Omen shake down Psimon to get the location of where he sent Karen's engram, and it's super-fun to watch this match unfold.  Psimon feels he's got the upper hand as he plums Karen's mind for memories to use against her.  Given the drama happening behind the scenes at Titans Tower, he has ample ammunition.  Omen encourages Roy to share his feelings with Donna, but, before he can, he sees her kissing Wally.  (They kiss because they both feel adrift:  Donna has learned she's not human, and Wally not only faces the loss of his identity as the Flash after the "Lazarus Contract" but also reveals his constant badgering of Linda has driven her from him.)  Meanwhile, Mal rages at Dick for failing to find Karen's engram, and he mentions his deal with Deathstroke as a reason not to trust him.  This part makes no sense to me, because I was pretty sure no one learned about Dick's deal with Deathstroke.  In fact, I'm still not really sure what Dick's deal with Deathstroke was.  But, the less said about the "Lazarus Contract," the better.  Psimon tells Omen her codename is apt because she's the omen for a future event where a Titan will betray the team.  Omen is rattled by Psimon showing her the vision she herself couldn't admit she was having.  But, she also reveals she's been leading Psimon down this path.  These revelations were all to cultivate a false sense of security so he'd let down his defenses.  It works:  she not only gets the name of the place where Psimon sent the engram, but she also psychically kicks his ass, revealing she's much more powerful than he thought.  The issue ends with the team's assault on Alton Laboratories as Omen contemplates who's going to betray the team.  I'm happy to say this issue really rights the ship after the somewhat disastrous "Lazarus Contract."  We're returning to where we were going, testing the Titans' bonds to each other as a newly reformed team.  I'm much more excited about that story.

X-Men Blue #5:  First, I love Bunn adding Jimmy to the team as a way to make sure they always have some sort of Wolverine.  Clever.  Moreover, the fight sequence with the Marauders was really one of the best I've read in a while, exactly the sort of excellent match of opposing personalities and powers that makes for archenemies.  But, Bunn raises the stakes when he reveals the Marauders are all displaced from other realities, presumably ones destroyed as part of "Secret Wars."  They've had their memories wiped, and Miss Sinister reveals to Jean she's taken advantage of that situation to turn them into weapons.  She allows Jean to keep Jimmy since his resistance to telepathy is too strong to make him useful to her, and Jean is left wondering about her agenda.  Bunn doesn't stop the mystery there, though.  First, we have no idea how many of these reality-displaced mutants there are (and how many Miss Sinister controls).  Second, Jean, Magneto, and Miss Sinister all observe something "different' about these mutants:  they're not "just" mutants, but it's unclear what that means.  In other words, Bunn has given us enough questions to keep us interested for a good long while.  Along the way, he's doing a great job with the characterization as well:  Bobby and Quicksilver essentially compete in out-annoying the other one, and I could read that all day.

Also Read:  Captain America:  Sam Wilson #23; Detective Comics #958; Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #2; Dungeons and Dragons:  Frost Giant's Fury #3; Generation X #3; Secret Empire:  United #1

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