Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Comics!: The Age of X Edition #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Age of X:  Alpha #1:  Mike Carey explains in a note at the end of this book that the Age of X was meant to be an in media res exercise, with the reader being dropped immediately into the story with little in the way of explanation of how we got there.  This issue is meant to be, as Carey says, an overture to the symphony that follows, establishing the back stories of some of the major characters and dropping some hints about the different past of this new world.  It's a different approach from the Age of Apocalypse cross-over event (upon which this event is clearly modeled), since that event had a specific catalyst (the assassination, in the past, of Professor X).  But, Carey creates a lot of really compelling characters here (or, to put it more specifically, re-creates a lot of really compelling characters).  The story of Cyclops -- now known as Basilisk -- is compellingly sad.  It's interesting to see him in a follower role, with Cannonball serving as the field general.  In "New Mutants" #10, we saw Cyclops implying Cannonball might not be the leader of the future that he's always been more or less groomed to be, so it's interesting, in this world, that it's Cannonball and not Cyclops running the show.  I also applaud Carey (if it sticks) for taking out Wolverine so early.  As I've mentioned in this blog, I'm SO over Wolverine, and I'm actually even more looking forward to this event now that I know it won't just give us yet another iteration of the Cyclops/Phoenix/Wolverine love triangle! 

X-Men Legacy #245 (Age of X:  Chapter 1):  OK, as Carey promised, we're in the thick of things immediately.  As we saw in "Age of X Alpha," Magneto ("the General") is leading the last group of mutants at a refuge called "Fortress X," and they've apparently been fighting off the human armies for the last three years.  We see a number of familiar faces here, but what happened in the past to create their new selves and this new world is still unclear.  The person who appears to be Hellion is still missing his hands, so it's unclear whether a version of the events from "Second Coming" happened.  We've seen Phoenix in both the last issue and this one, but we haven't really been told who she is.  (My guess is Hope, not Jean, since we also have heard that the Phoenix destroyed Albany at some point.)  We've heard mention of someone called "X" who appears to be a computer and who I'm guessing in some version of Professor X.  Speaking of Professor X, Legion is sane (or at least appears to be) and Moira (who someone calls Legion's stepmother) is alive.  Wolverine appears to have survived the events of "Age of X Alpha" (I'm glad to see his role is at least muted), though we learn other mutants (Madrox, Nightcrawler) are dead.  We've also seen a number of intriguing couples (Basilisk and Frenzy, Betsy Braddock and Iceman, Storm and Namor).  However, Carey has succeeded in making the book not just about noting the difference between the two worlds.  We get some intrigue here, learning that Magneto is keeping certain mutants under house arrest, when Kitty Pryde is discovered to have escaped the barrier that surrounds Fortress X.  Rogue retrieves the camera Kitty hid and what she sees on the camera appears to make her question Magneto and his leadership. 

New Mutants #22 (Age of X:  Chapter 2):  After spending the first issue mostly establishing who's who, Carey focuses on advancing the plot here, with Rogue (now known as Legacy) looking into the camera that Kitty Pryde brought into Fortress X.  She heads into the brig, where she encounters Blindfold (who we last saw having visions of this world in "X-Men Legacy" #244).  Blindfold directs Legacy to Professor X, who is indeed locked in the brig.  (Is "X" Cable, then?)  Legacy goes rogue (heh) after getting busted by Danger for talking to Kitty.  I have to say, I'm intrigued where this storyline goes.  I thought I recognized Magik and the Stepford Cuckoos in the brig when we saw it in the last issue, and I think that makes sense, since Magneto seems to be keeping hostage the people who can reveal the truth about the old world.  If so, this twist would be significantly different from the Age of Apocalypse, where Magneto was nothing but a full-on hero. 

X-Men Legacy #246 (Age of X:  Chapter 3):  OK, things get interesting real quick here.  First, we learn that the prisoners are segregated at the order of X, not Magneto, implying that Magneto may not be the one trying to prevent the truth from being revealed.  Along those lines, based on a conversation between Wolverine and Legacy, it appears that telepaths have been entirely removed from the equation in this world (possibly by X).  We see Gambit join Legacy in her escape; I don't buy that Magneto actually killed them.  But, even if he did, Legacy's efforts won't be for naught; we see Wolverine share what she told him to Basilisk, who agrees to help him dig.  Also of note, Moira refers to herself as one of Magneto's kind here, more or less implying she's a mutant.  All in all, this plot is just getting more and more intriguing.  Seeing Gambit & Rogue and Wolverine & Cyclops working together, I'm reminded of the halcyon days of the 200s of "Uncanny X-Men."  The X-books are so filled with characters right now that you don't often get that sense of intimacy that you used to get reading these books; Carey has really tapped into that by putting some old-school favorites front and center.  Also, I have to mention Clay Mann's art.  The characters and the setting really jump off the page; he's doing amazing work.  I can't say I was a super fan of his work on "X-Men Legacy" before (because it wasn't until I Googled him that I realized he's been on the book for a while), but these Age of X issues have been great.

New Comics!: The Teens Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers:  The Children's Crusade - Young Avengers #1:  OK, I'm going to put aside the sheer bizarreness of this issue's existence and address the issue itself first.  The good news is that it's fun, with a lot of winks and nods to the original "Young Avengers" mini-series.  We get an insight into the first few days of the Young Avengers.  We don't see Iron Lad's initial approach to Hulkling, Patriot, and Wiccan, but we see them training together and finding themselves fighting Electro.  I see here why Marvel has made the decision to only allow Allan Heinberg to work on the Young Avengers, because he adds grace notes here -- such as the boys' fanboy banter -- that I'm not sure another writer would add.  Having them fight Electro was a really inspired choice, since, after all, what fanboy wouldn't chose a member of Spider-Man's rogues' gallery if he had to fight his first super-villain?  It was fun to see Iron Lad back in the fold (Eli actually has a friend...) and it makes me realize that I hope Heinberg finds a way to keep him in our time permanently (despite the fact that it's probably impossible to do so without some elaborate cheat that would wind up annoying me).  Also, I continue to take off my hat to Heinberg for creating a world where Billy and Teddy's teammates accept their relationship entirely.  I can't think of any other comic book or, really, TV show that does that, and I really applaud him for it.  Now, onto the negatives, unfortunately.  First, the art's off a bit in this issue.  It was occasionally hard to tell the difference between Billy and Nathaniel.  Davis was juggling a lot of stuff here (including creating looks for the adult versions of the Young Avengers), so I get why some details were a little loose.  But, the confusion it caused was still distracting at times.  Second, I honestly have lost track of Kang and who he is and whether he's supposed to be good or bad.  It's just all...so...headache-inducing.  Finally, and most importantly, why does this issue exist in the first place?  This mini-series has been dragging for the last few issues, essentially repeating the same plot over and over again.  Moreover, the bi-monthly format has exacerbated the sense that we're just spinning our wheels.  I would've preferred here an issue that actually advanced the plot as opposed to some other side show.  It's time to bring this mini-series to a close and for Marvel to decide what it's doing to the franchise.  We're talking about almost two years at this point for a (what was supposed to be) nine-issue mini-series.  Seriously, gentlemen, it's time. 

Generation Hope #5:  I'm really starting to like this series.  I'd actually put it up there with "New Mutants" as one of the better X-books.  It's certainly better than the core X-books.  This issue sees Hope flex her muscles a bit.  Gillen does a great job reminding us that Hope actually has two futures in play, one as a Messiah, but also one as a destroyer.  Her interaction with Emma Frost was fun, mostly because I actually found myself feeling bad for, and agreeing with, Emma, which doesn't often happen. 

Superboy #5:  In this issue, Superboy and Kid Flash race...[yawn]...and the Phantom Stranger [nod]...where am I?  Sorry, I fell asleep there.  Seriously, reviewing this issue is even more boring than reading it.  I love Superboy, but "Superboy" has been just dreadfully dull.  Lemire just keeps mining the same stories (the weird "Broken Silo" or whatever-it's-called attack on Smallville and Conner's troubled relationship with Lori Luthor) over and over again.   It's dull.  Sorry, it is.  Even the physical hint that Psionic Lad's arch-nemesis is who I think he is (see last review) wasn't enough to inject some energy into this book.  Plus, Conner continues to mope about Cassie, despite being the one who ended the relationship.  The whole series has felt wrong, and I'm surprised by the fact that I'm really thinking about dropping the comic that features the character that got me back into comics.  But, I think we're almost there.  I know it's hard to make Smallville exciting in a way that doesn't defy common sense (it's not going to have the same number of villains as Gotham, for example, and still be believable), but Lemire has to do something here and soon.

New Comics!: The Bat Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ok, we've got a lot of comics this week, so I split them into three different editions! 

Batman #708 ("Judgment on Gotham:"  Part 1):  This issue throws a lot at the reader at once, resulting in a dizzying story that has a lot of potential.  When Dick suffers from some sort of spell after getting hit in the chest by a mugger, I assumed it was the result of the poisonous gas to which he was exposed in "Detective Comics" #872.  However, instead, it's the result of a "wound" inflicted by Azrael.  (I subscribe to eight Batman comics and I don't remember him getting wounded by Azrael.  I'm assuming it happened in "Azrael," which annoys me not only because we don't get an editor's note telling us when/where it happened but also because apparently reading eight Batman books isn't enough.)  I'm intrigued by Dick's "Prodigy" dream, since the Prodigy looks like it could be Jason Todd (assuming Hine keeps his reversion to red hair), who's been quiet for a while.  The rest of the issue sets up the cross-over issues in "Red Robin" and "Gotham City Sirens" (another book I'm going to have to get just to stay with the cross-over).  I've never been a fan of Azrael stories, so I can't say I'm particularly enthused.  But, the appearance of Ra's al Ghul at the end gives me hope that the storyline will pick up a little.  At the very least, Guillem March's art is really spectacular in this issue and I can't wait to see what he does next. 

Batman and Robin #20-#21:  These issues are great.  (I seem to have neglected to review the first one.  Oops.)  This arc is really a return to form for the book, a welcome relief after we all had to suffer through the previous arc.  Tomasi builds the story well, revealing some clues in the second issue but also raising new questions at the same time.  The best part, though, was the opening sequence, seeing the family all together.  Tomasi really "gets" everyone here:  Dick and Tim's engaging in affectionate brotherly banter, Damian pretending to want to be somewhere else but still being there, Alfred getting to fuss over all them, Bruce actually relaxing.  The best part of "Batman and Robin" had been the Dick/Damian relationship, and Cornell (and a lot of the writers of the other Bat-books) ignored that in the last arc.  So, I take off my hat to Tomasi for returning to what makes this book special and taking the time to develop the characters a bit before diving into the mystery.  Speaking of the mystery, I really didn't see coming the connection between the victims of the White Knight and the inmates of Arkham Asylum.  Tomasi shows real skill in making that revelation not only feel organic (and not a stunt, which it could have easily felt like) but also making it call into question who the White Knight is and what his motivations are.  I can't wait to see where this story goes.  The art is also great.  The scenes of mostly white near the end of the second issue really leapt off the pages and underscored both the creepiness of the White Knight and also the mystery behind his identity. 

Batman Beyond #1-#3:  I just got a chance to read these issues and they're a great start to the series.  Beechen gives a lot of hints of where future storylines could go while giving us an engaging and fun read.  Batman v. the Justice League?  It's a pretty cool way to start a series.  As a guy who can get obsessed with continuity, I found myself wondering how closely the series will tie to the animated series and the various comic series.  I haven't seen all the animated series or read any of the other comics, so I was wondering if I should be buying up back issues or making my way through the TV show.  So, I was glad to see Chris Conroy himself address the issue in the letters column, suggesting that the book is going to combine the best of both the TV and comic series.  As such, I'm going to try not to be OCD about it and just enjoy how the series develops.  I know there are a lot of Bat-books out there now, but, if you've got an extra $3, I'd say this one is actually one of the ones worth your money. 

Red Robin #21:  This issue, in theory, continues from "Teen Titans" #92, but I was left feeling like I had missed an issue somewhere between the two.  At the end of "Teen Titans" #92, Red Robin had re-joined the team and it appeared they were going to go after the Calculator for ultimate control over the Unternet.  However, in "Red Robin" #21, we only see Tim, and he's fighting a group of four super-villains called "the Madmen," who are the living embodiment of the Unternet.  Um, OK.  Once you get over the sudden shifting of gears, though, the issue is fine.  It's just weird that Nicieza totally abandoned the Teen Titans and the Calculator.  At any rate, I'm glad we've put the Unternet to rest, because it was definitely getting old.  We've spent a lot of time on it, and I'm not really sure it was worth it.  Part of the answer to that question will be the extent to which anything that's happened in the last few issues will have repercussions in future issues.  The next issue is yet another cross-over -- this time with "Batman" and "Gotham City Sirens" -- so it'll probably be a while before we have an answer.  I'm looking forward to us getting back to basics and focusing more on Tim, particularly as he handles his transition to being a superhero in his own right and not just someone's sidekick.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On Spider-Man

I mentioned in my original post that I stopped reading comics in the late 1990s/early 2000s when the plots in the various Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men comics went off the rails.  Chuck Austen pretty much ruined the Avengers and the X-Men for me.  His run in the "Avengers" (covered in posts on this blog) featured bizarre plots and significant changes to the established personalities of existing characters.  (We will not, at any point, talk about the Hawkeye/Wasp affair.  We will not.)  His run on "Uncanny X-Men" was equally bizarre.  (To be fair, I am one of the few people who also wasn’t really thrilled with Grant Morrison’s run on "X-Men."  In retrospect, though, I think my dislike of Morrison’s run was a reflection of my intense dislike of Austen’s run.  They were both changing the X-Men mythos, and it was too much change at the same time for me to appreciate Morrison’s more nuanced stories vis-à-vis Austen’s active sledgehammer approach.) 

But, my exhaustion with both the Avengers and X-Men books can also be attributed to the fact that, a few years earlier, I had already abandoned Spider-Man.  Although I technically managed to survive the Clone Saga (I made it to the re-numbering, when I finally surrendered), I did so barely.  The ridiculousness of the late 300s/early 400s “Amazing Spider-Man” plots -- even the ones unrelated to the Clone Saga -- pushed me over the edge.  Peter’s parents are alive!  No, wait, they’re not really his parents!  Aunt May’s dead!  (Again.)  No, wait, Aunt May’s alive!  (Again.)  Mary Jane lost the baby!  No, wait, Mary Jane maybe didn’t lose the baby!  Oh, wait, no, she did, she did lose the baby!  It was just insanity.  Everything was dark and melodramatic, which is essentially the antithesis of what a good Spider-Man comic should be.  Plus, I had always been an “Amazing Spider-Man” reader, and, in that era, it was increasingly difficult “just” to subscribe to one of the Spider-Man comics.  Even when I did buy the other comics, the cross-overs generally weren’t that well done, with the various writers and artists having different takes on everything, making it difficult to engage in the story without getting distracted by the differences.  Later, after I had given up comics, when I heard about the deal with Mephisto, I felt justified in leaving.  I mean, Spider-Man makes a deal with the Devil to undo his marriage to save his elderly aunt so that her death isn’t his fault?  Um, yeah, we’re not really talking about the Peter Parker I knew.  So, I considered my decision a good one and continued not reading comics. 

However, upon returning to comics in the last year or so, I started feeling bad that I had left Spider-Man, particularly given that I was seeing him in both "Avengers" and "New Avengers" every month.  It was like he was taunting me.  “What, you're too good for me, JW?  Look how cute and funny I am!"  I mean, "Amazing Spider-Man" was my gateway book.  Everything -- the boxes and boxes in my parents’ attic in Jersey and the boxes and boxes I have in my apartment here -- comes from the subscription to "Amazing Spider-Man" my parents got me (I'm sure to their never-ending regret) when I was six years old.  I started feeling like I was betraying Peter.

Finally, I bit the bullet, went to Mile High Comics’ website, and ordered every issue of Spider-Man starting with “One More Day” to present.  Yup.  It comes to 100+ issues.  (Thank you, recession, for making comics cheap again.  It was the only good thing you did.) 

So, here we go... 

(On a side note, if you're still bitter about the Clone Saga, like I am, I highly recommend this blog:  http://lifeofreillyarchives.blogspot.com/.  It tells the story of the Clone Saga with great insight into the behind-the-stage shenanigans courtesy of former Assistant Editor, Glenn Greenberg.  It confirms what we essentially all knew at that point:  Marvel was screwing with us in an attempt to keep the Clone Saga -- and the money -- continuing.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman Incorporated #3:  I can't believe we've waited, what, three months, for this issue and it is, without a doubt, one of the worst comics I've ever read.  I have absolutely no idea what's happening in about 90 percent of the issue.  (Also, I speak Spanish, so it wasn't just that some dialogue was in Spanish.)  I had to basically force myself through the first few pages and couldn't finish the book on my first try.  Morrison is clearly WAY too in love with himself here, thinking himself too clever by half.  Instead of the interesting narrative structure he thinks he's delivering, we instead get incoherent complicated nonsense.  The only remotely interesting part of this issue is the implication that the purpose of the entire Batman, Inc. scheme is to build an army to fight a specific fight.  Whatever.  It's ironic so far, to me, that the best new Batman, Inc. character to be developed is Nightrunner, and he's not Morrison's.  I'm subscribing to eight (!) different Batman books at this point.  Morrison had better remember he actually needs to be coherent, or I'm dropping this one. 

Dark Sun #3:  This series continues moving along nicely.  We're heading into the dungeons next issue, on the hunt for not only the treasures that might be in the Under-Tyr, but also for the turncoat, Mudrada.  In other words, it's a classic D&D tale.  I have two questions that I'm hoping to see answered soon.  First, why would Haskyr and Rubi be working (seemingly) against House Ianto when they are, in fact, part of it?  Second, how did Rubi come in possession of her half of the key and why didn't Haskyr make a move to get her half before she gave it to Grudvik?  I can't wait to see how all this gets resolved. 

Hawkeye:  Blindspot #2:  McCann keeps getting better and better.  The short-lived "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" series had some intriguing concepts and cool characters, though the plots were a little unfocused.  The "Widowmaker" series was better, but still a little loose in the plot department. You can really see McCann's evolution in this series, though.  "Hawkeye:  Blindspot" is full of action, but we also get insight into Clint, who's always been one of my favorite Avengers.  His tragic back story gives writers a great starting point, but most ignore that, using him instead only as comic relief.  McCann lets him be the witty, charming Clint we all know and love, but we also get a sense of the insecurities that drive him.  I didn't even mind his brother returning from the dead, because, wow, what a confrontation that promises to be.  I hope McCann's impressing the Marvel editors, because I'd be happy to see him get a chance to apply his continually-evolving skills to the W.C.A. and a renewed "Hawkeye & Mockingbird" series. 

inFAMOUS #1:  OK, if you loved the game upon which this series is based as much as I did, BUY THIS BOOK!  This six-issue mini-series is meant to serve as a bridge between the first and second games, and it does a pretty good job wrapping up some loose ends from the first game.  (If you didn't play the game and want to play it, don't read further.  BUY THE GAME!)  We see Moya here working with the First Sons as they experiment on the "person" who will become "the Beast," whose coming was foretold by Kessler.  If I'm not mistaken, Moya's motivations were left undefined after the game.  We only discovered that she lied about being married to John and him being a FBI agent; we never really discovered her true motivations.  We see her working with the First Sons (and still possibly for the government), which makes her efforts to track down the Ray Sphere through Cole in the game make a lot more sense.  Beyond wrapping up loose ends, the comic is alive with the energy of the game.  Cole is still reeling from the death of Trish (at his future-self's hands) and trying to reconcile his conflicting feelings about Zeke, who is trying to seek redemption after activating the Ray Sphere (to no effect) during the game.  All in all, it's a great book. 

New Avengers #10:  OK, Bendis won me back a bit (actually, a lot) here.  I was worried after the last issue that Nick Fury was going to be putting together an Avengers squad that somehow tied into the original team, ret-conning Avengers history to fit with the upcoming movie.  But, I'm happy to say it's a hell of a lot more intriguing than that.  Fury's team of awesomeness (Ulysses Bloodstone, Dum Dum Dugan, Dominic Fortune, Kraven the Hunter, Namora, Sabretooth, and the original Silver Sable) has such potential that I can honestly see it becoming a franchise or, at the very least, a limited series.  I can't wait to see them take on the Red Skull.  The art on the Fury part of the book is a little...loose, but the plot is interesting enough that I really don't care.  The modern part is an entirely different kettle of fish.  The Mockingbird-has-been-shot sub-plot is still as annoying in this issue as it was in the last one.  I don't for a minute believe they'll kill her so soon after resurrecting her.  Its primary purpose seems to be setting up a realization on the part of Luke Cage of the burdens of leadership, yet another example of "Women in Refrigerators" syndrome.  Also, Superia whining about the Avengers discovering her plan was just bizarre.  But, the Nick Fury's Avengers part makes me not care so much about the modern part (despite, you know, the latter being the whole point of the book), so I consider this issue a return to form.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman:  Streets of Gotham #20:  For the love of Alfred, could something actually happen in this series?  Last issue, we got to hear all about how Judson Pierce's henchman had a run-in with the Joker as a kid.  The issue before that one, the "House of Hush" storyline was only a handful of pages long, with the bulk of the issue dedicated to the Ragman secondary feature.  In this issue, we get the weird back story on Dr. Death.  Seriously, it's been months since the "House of Hush" plot moved along at all.  Plus, for the second issue in a row, we don't get the Ragman feature.  The first few arcs of this series were really good, and helped moved along some smaller plot points (like Hush's time as Bruce Wayne) that the main books in the larger "Batman:  Reborn" storyline didn't have a chance to cover.  But, at this point, it seems like they're just stalling for time until the last issue, which I think is the next one.  Between the dangling plot points from this issue and the still-unresolved Ragman secondary feature, it'd have to be a damn good issue for me not to feel cheated at the end of a series that showed a lot of promise. 

Dark Sun #2:  I'm already finding myself wishing this series wasn't only going to be five issues long.  Alex Irvine's sparse dialogue occasionally makes it hard to follow the plot and the main characters aren't really all that well developed yet.  (For example, in the first issue, Aki is asking Grudvik about how far they are from Tyr and is taking advice from Grudvik on how to survive in the desert.  However, in this issue, he's the one who knows how to get to Tyr and is telling Grudvik how to survive in the desert.)  However, I'll forgive Irvine the inconsistencies here because this approach to the dialogue conveys an amazing sense of isolation that adds to both to the feel of the comic as well as the mystery of the characters.  Peter Bergting's pencils further this sense of desolation, as does even the rough paper on which the comic book is printed.  In just two issues, Irvine and Bergting have created a complicated world where danger lies around every corner and the motivations of the two major characters are intriguing (if still mostly hidden).  I find myself wishing I knew more about the Dark Sun campaign setting.  If you're reading (and enjoying) the "Dungeons and Dragons" title also published by IDW, I'd recommend picking up this series while it lasts. 

Dungeons and Dragons #4:  This issue continues letting the good times roll:  a talking skull with vocabulary problems, elaborate dwarven-crafted traps, multi-planar conspiracy revelations.  This issue has everything!  I'm really starting to love this group; as someone notes in the letters page, it reminds me of the first "Dragonlance" trilogy.  If you enjoy D&D and comics, you should absolutely be reading this series.  I can't wait to see how they wrap up this storyline next issue! 

X-Factor #216:  I'm concerned that Spidey's going the way of Wolverine.  After the announcement that he was going to be in the new "FF" series in addition to his appearances in "Avengers" and "New Avengers," I groaned inwardly.  I mean, isn't it bad enough the guy has to live down the musical?  But, this month, he's in both "X-Factor" and "X-Men" and we've clearly moved into "marketing is running the show" world.  (The last time that happened is the "Clone Saga" and, um, [shiver].)  Moreover, his appearance here is kind of weird.  He crashes the rooftop where Monet and Shatterstar are playing chess, because he happens to see JJJ, Jr.'s motorcade out front.  Um, OK, is he stalking Jonah now?  Also, Peter David, who's so good at so many characters, makes Spidey into a bumbling idiot, which, um, he's not.  Moreover, I don't buy the main story.  With all the resources he has at his disposal, I don't really believe JJJ, Jr. would go to X-Factor to track down his buddy's killer, particularly since he doesn't seem (from what we know) to know a mutant might be involved.  The back-up story, involving the woman who suddenly remembered who she was thanks to Monet from a few issues ago (and about whom I'd completely forgotten), is also a stretch.  This character is presented as if she were so memorable that I'd, um, remember her.  Maybe if this arc happened right after the arc in which she was introduced, I would.  Instead, I spent most of the comic having no idea why I should care about her.  If I cared more, I'd try to look up how many issues it's been since she appeared, but I don't.  Needless to say, I can't say I'm anxiously anticipating the next issue. 

X-Men #8:  Huh.  I don't know what to make of this issue.  Gischler comes close to making it an "After-School Special," with each X-Man narrating the story of a troubled teen.  He comes close, but he doesn't actually cross the line, and I have to applaud him for that.  As a kid who had his own share of problems with classmates who could sniff the dork on him, I felt for each of the kids here.  I liked how Gischler gets Spidey here, who, after all, spent years with Flash Thompson calling him "Puny Parker."  The "I don't know what to make of this issue" part comes more from the fact that I don't entirely get the Lizard connection.  Why exactly is the Lizard, who actually appears not to be Dr. Connors, preying on troubled teens?  Why not regular teens?  It seems to me it wouldn't be too hard to convince any teen to meet in a basement, be it with the offer of snacks for dorks or beer for jocks, if we're embracing stereotypes.  But, Gischler navigates the social minefield of high school well enough that I'm intrigued by what the next issue brings.  In terms of the art, it's pretty great.  You've got some moments, typical of Bachalo, where it's a little hard to follow the action.  But, the two-page spread of Emma enjoying the best hotel room that Warren Worthington III can afford is worth the confusion. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Avengers (Vol. 3) #500-#503: "Avengers Disassembled”

**** (four of five stars) 

Summary
(A lot goes down here so I'll do my best to keep the summary coherent and short.)

Several Avengers have their quiet breakfast at the Mansion interrupted by the arrival of a (seemingly undead) Jack of Hearts.  Ant-Man goes to investigate, only to be killed when Jack detonates, taking part of the Mansion with him.  Tony Stark, addressing the United Nations as U.S. Secretary of Defense, suddenly verbally assaults the Latverian delegate, telling the Scarlet Witch later that it felt like he had suddenly become intoxicated (despite not having had a drink).  The Vision arrives, crashing a Quinjet into the Mansion, informing the assembled Avengers he's no longer in control of his functions, and expelling five Ultron robots from his body.  She-Hulk flies into a rage over the death of Ant-Man and (inexplicably) rips apart the Vision.  She later seriously wounds the Wasp and Captain Britain.  She's stopped by Iron Man, who later abandons the Avengers when only Cap believes him that he wasn't drunk at the United Nations.  Seemingly every Avenger in history gathers in front of the Mansion to support the team in its darkest hour, despite Nick Fury telling them they're interfering with a crime scene.  The United Nations then breaks off its relationship with the Avengers just in time for the assembled superheroes to have to defend themselves from a sudden attack by the Kree.  A series of flashbacks reveals that the Scarlet Witch has been, at some point, reminded of the existence of her children.  The Avengers come to realize that the Scarlet Witch is, indeed, the culprit behind their misfortune.  They eventually confront her, and she is defeated by Dr. Strange, who shows her what she's done.  Her mindless body is collected by Magneto.

The Good
1) Wow, issues #500 and #501 were a rush.  Jesus.  You actually got the sense of what it must have been like to live through that succession of events.  Honestly, they're two of the best written and most exciting comics I've ever read. 

2) The two-page spread of different Wanda images was both awesome and heart-breaking.  The use of old images of Wanda was really satisfying to an old-school Avengers fan like me, particularly because so many comics of that era were ignoring the past and changing characters and their personalities willy-nilly. 

3) I thought the dawning realization by Captain America and Warbird that Wanda was behind the atrocities was really well done.  As I've previously mentioned, Warbird isn’t my favorite character.  I generally find that she’s been written with so many different personalities over the years that she’s become just a sort of “strong woman” archetype with little to make her into her own character.  But, Bendis does a nice job with her here (as Johns did during “Red Zone”) and she is really the emotional core of the story, along with Cap.  From her emotional reaction to Scott Lang’s death (whom I believe she was dating at the time) to her defending Wanda to Dr. Strange and, eventually, confronting Wanda, she’s really the frame of reference for the characters’ reactions to the dizzying events of the story arc.

4) I enjoyed Spider-Man’s comments about the Vision...because, really, he’s a robot.  I mean, it’s always been a little...weird.  I mean, seriously, I can’t be the only person to ever think about, I mean, you know, what they do...?  Anyway, it’s always been weird and I’m glad Spidey mentioned it. 

5) Thanks, David Finch, for the scantily-clad Clint by the pool.  A fitting good-bye! 

The Unsure
Bendis pretty clearly stays purposefully unclear about the exact details of the timeline of Wanda losing her mind.  In the scene by the pool with Jan, it’s unclear whether Jan’s worried she’s pregnant by Clint from their recent fling or if Bendis is implying the two had a fling at some point in the past.  Nick Fury noting that Agatha Harkness has been dead for “a long time” also muddies the waters, making it seem that, in fact, both scenes happened a significant time ago and that Wanda has actually been unstable for a while.  If it has been happening for a while, it does make the whole affair seem more tragic.  But, from a pure narrative standpoint, allowing for this sort of uncertainty interrupts the flow of the story, because the reader is constantly trying to place the events in some sort of continuum.  I’m still not sure if the good (conveying the tragedy of how long Wanda had been quietly falling apart) outweighs the bad (inspiring the confusion over how it happened), so I'm marking it "unsure." 

The Bad
1) Again with the Yellowjacket hitting Wasp comments?  Really?

2) Wait, Wasp has been making Yellowjacket’s life a living hell?  I mean, if we accept the fact that Jan did actually cheat on Hank with Hawkeye (which, lalalalalala, didn't happen, lalalalalala), I could see him making a comment about him being mad at her or something.  But, Bendis seems to ignore the fact that he just asked her to marry him a few issues ago and, despite her saying no, they were still together. 

3) Amidst all the action, the plot suffered.  It's still unclear to me why Wanda did what she did and why she did it when she did it.  We're not really presented with a trigger, particularly because, as mentioned above, it appears that she began losing her mind a while ago.  At no point are we given a reason why she snapped when she did and, when she did snap, why she held the Avengers responsible and attacked them.  I mean, I get the argument that a crazy person doesn't have to have a reason to engage in crazy behavior.  But, from a narrative standpoint, we probably needed an extra issue in this arc so that we could get some more information on why Wanda was doing what she was doing.  Based on the "conversation" had between the two disembodied lips, it actually seems like she had something specific in mind that Bendis never really explored.  Wanda has been in comics for, you know, DECADES.  She deserved more than she got here.  This absence of any sort of explanation is the only reason I didn't give this story arc a five. 

A Note on the Scarlet Witch
OK, my old back issues of "Avengers West Coast" are at my parents', where I won’t be for a few months.  It’s been a while since I’ve read them (and probably about 20 years since the issues were first published), but I don’t remember Agatha Harkness wiping Wanda’s memory clear of her children when the whole business of revealing her kids were fake went down.  Wikipedia says she does (AWC #51-#52), so I guess it’s true.  But, if so, then it does seem kind of weird that EVERYONE knew but her.  I'm with Dr. Strange on that one.  No one thought, "Golly, this woman can alter reality, we should probably make sure she's psychologically stable."  Also, when it's revealed that she has, in fact, gone insane, no one really expresses any remorse for not being there when she obviously needed them.  I feel like we needed a little something more here, other than everyone just conveniently blaming the whole affair on a distressed mother.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I think I only have "Dungeons and Dragons" left.  Otherwise, I think I'm current.  Whew.

Captain America #615:  I noted in my last post that I felt like Ed Brubaker was doing almost too good of a job getting me invested in the story.  Well, I think he's actually wound up pushing me too far.  I hadn't really noticed how odd the addition of Sin to the story of Bucky's trial had been, but, after reading someone's comment about it online, I do have to say that it does really break up the plot a little.  Sin not destroying the Statue of Liberty left me as confused as why Baron Zemo didn't kill Bucky, instead resorting to trying to ruin Bucky's new life because he didn't feel Bucky deserved it.  Just like Zemo, Sin's motivation here is unclear to me, making her actions ring false and, for the second arc in a row, making me question the entire story as it concludes.  I probably could've lived with that, but the surprise at the end of the issue -- that Russia was going to extradite Bucky for crimes against the state -- was just too much.  It gave the issue a soap opera feel that I think wasn't necessary.  How long is Bucky going to be on trial?  Are we going to go through this whole ordeal again, except in Russia?  I thought the point of this arc was to more or less definitively lay the Winter Soldier ordeal to rest, allowing Bucky to fully become Captain America.  It's time for that to happen, for the book to move to the next level, and I'm afraid that this new plot twist is going to leave us spinning our wheels.  That fear -- combined with the confusion over Sin's motivations -- left me feeling frustrated and annoyed after this issue, which sucks, since "Captain America" is one of my favorites.  Hopefully Brubaker regains his footing in the next issue and bring this whole state of affairs to a close. 

Detective Comics #874:  I've said it before and I'll (hopefully) say it again:  "Detective" is the best Bat-book out there right now.  Scott Snyder has taken the time to build the story here and it shows.  The first half -- Commissioner Gordon's conversation with his son, James, Jr. -- is honestly one of the creepiest comic stories I've ever read.  Because we've seen how scared people like Gordon and Barbara are of him (Barbara herself notes that they've seen a lot of terrible things in their lives), the actual arrival of James, Jr. on the scene is enough to be creepy in and of itself.  But, his "joke" that he's killed a waitress and hidden her body in the men's room and Snyder drawing our attention to the men's room by having some sort of liquid (blood?) leak steadily under the door is, honestly, one of the most artfully-done plot devices I've ever seen.  As an only infrequent reader of the Bat-books before "Batman R.I.P.," I'm not sure if I'm supposed to have a better sense of who James, Jr. is.  But, even without the background, Snyder makes him as sinisterly creepy as the Joker.  The final reveal -- that James, Jr. had flooded the taps so that water (and not blood from a dead waitress) leaked under the doors -- was amazing.  We clearly haven't seen the last of James, Jr.  Francesco Francavilla's art really adds to the sense of creepiness that Snyder develops here, though, to be honest, I think I would've preferred to have Jock work on the Batman/Red Robin sequence.  All in all, though, a stellar issue. 

Secret Avengers #10:  This issue was a pretty solid ending to a pretty solid story.  We don't really get any new insight into the Shadow Council here, but we see the Secret Avengers kick some ass, which is fun.  I enjoy this title, but I noticed in this issue that I can't really say the team feels like a team.  Maybe it's because the Avengers and New Avengers teams have some folks who are not only established characters but who've been working together for a long time, so, as a reader, you already come to the book with a sense of who they are and how they interact.  This team is still mostly second-tier characters who haven't worked together before.  It's only been ten issues, so Brubaker has time, but it would be nice to see some focus on their attempts at becoming a team soon. 

Uncanny X-Men #533:  This issue isn't quite as...zippy as the last one.  We're one step closer to a conclusion, but I can't say that much happened.  Even though we see the first face-to-face confrontation between the X-Men and Lobe in the arc, we don't really see the plot advance too much.  Emma is fighting Shaw, Angel's X-Men are fighting Lobe's minions, and the Utopia X-Men all still have the mutant flu; it's all the same as last issue.  I think it's time to wrap up this storyline and move us along.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Avengers (Vol. 3) #82-#85: “Once an Invader”

* (one of five stars) 

Summary
[This page left intentionally blank.] 

The Review
The most telling thing about this story arc is that, when I went to start reading it, I realized I had actually read it the previous week, but, it was so unmemorable, I forgot.  USAgent reforms the Invaders.  They get involved in the internal affairs of some Middle Eastern country.  Political intrigue ensues.  The only good thing about this series is the art and, frankly, it’s my blog and I’ve spent enough of my life already writing about Chuck Austen.  Moving onto Bendis!

Friday, March 4, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

People, I'm reading comics like it's my job.  This double shipment is killing me!  OK, onto the show... 

Avengers #10:  I'm digging the Infinity Gems storyline.  It occasionally gets a little confusing keeping track of the three different teams of Avengers involved in the pursuit of the gems, but Bendis does a reasonable job keeping everyone well defined.  It's fun to see characters who don't normally interact get to do so (Ant-Man and Iron Fist, etc.).  Although I normally enjoy JR JR, the art in this issue looks a little rushed, particularly the fight in the Danger Room.  Again, it's probably hard to draw that many characters in one book, but the sloppiness of the art did kind of detract from the plot, since it was occasionally hard determining who was doing what to whom.  At any rate, I'm looking forward to the Thor/Parker throw-down coming next issue! 

Captain America #614:  OK, it's kind of a ridiculous complaint, but I think Ed Brubaker is actually doing too good of a job here making me care about the characters and the story.  I'm fully invested in the Bucky Barnes story and, honestly, it's starting to get stressful to read.  I mean, we really haven't had a win in a while.  After the "Trial of Captain America" arc ends, I'm kind of hoping Bucky gets to go to Tahiti with Natasha to investigate, I don't know, a cult of evil bunny worshippers or something.  You know, face something a little less stressful than having to decide to let a super-villain spring him from jail, where he's cooling his jets while he's on trail for murdering thousands of people while under mind control, so that he can save his girlfriend and best friend from dying when the daughter of his arch-nemesis blows up the Statue of Liberty with them in it.  I mean, hell, having to fight Dr. Doom naked would probably be a vacation at this point.  But, stressfulness aside, this arc continues Brubaker's amazing work on this title.  Also, the Nomad back-up feature continues to be a great surprise.  I didn't think much of Nomad when her back-up feature started, but I'm definitely reading as much for her as I am for Bucky.  This book is one of the few that merits the $3.99 price tag. 

Detective Comics #873:  Scott Snyder continues to write Dick Grayson better than anyone out there, making "Detective Comics" far and away my favorite Bat-book (which, after all, is saying a lot, considering how many of them there are).  When Daniel and Morrison focus on characterization in "Batman" and "Batman and Robin," it's generally just on the Dick/Damian relationship.  "Detective Comics," however, is much more about Dick Grayson as Batman, and I really find that storyline the most compelling.  In terms of the plot, this arc wraps up really nicely.  It's the kind of straight-forward detective story done really well that you expect from the title.  We see the totality of Dick's world here (his interactions with Commissioner Gordon and Babs are both poignant and funny), and it's a difficult one, with glimmers of hope but still a lot of shadows as he struggles with becoming the Bat.  I loved the art (and not just because Dick was so often in his underwear).  Jock really conveys a gritty, unseemly Gotham City that is all its own and matches Snyder's vision of the city perfectly.  It's not just a dirtier New York City that I feel like most artists give us; it's its own monster.  Honestly, this arc is going to be considered a classic in a few years; it's the best Batman story I've read in a long, long time.  Well done all around, gentlemen! 

Red Robin #20/Teen Titans #92:  Yay, Teen Titans cross-over!  Nicieza has done a great job of keeping "Red Robin" moving forward an ongoing storyline, issue by issue.  Everything builds off the previous stories, and the first issue of this cross-over is no different, bringing us the repercussions of Tim's shenanigans in Moscow from the previous arc.  This issue sets up the plot of the cross-over, with Tim needing to track down the Calculator, who's trying to maintain his control over the Unternet.  I'm a little confused why the Calculator doesn't take the same approach to Mikalek, who appears to be controlling the Unternet now (which you'd figure would piss him off more than Tim's cyber-squatting).  But, at least it makes sense that he wouldn't be happy with said cyber-squatting regardless.  The second issue of the cross-over, "Teen Titans" #92, reminds us just how bad the Tim/Damian relationship has gotten.  I've got a soft spot for Damian, so it's tough to see him get rejected by the Titans and, implicitly, Tim.  But, the title is "Teen Titans," after all, and it's totally believable that a group of teenagers would have less patience for a kid like Damian than Dick would.  I'm glad to see Tim re-join the group, because I could only handle the Cassie/Conner drama for so long.  It'll be nice to have a new element to shake up the title a bit. 

Secret Avengers #9:  I keep forgetting Ed Brubaker is writing this title until I get to the end of an issue, realize how much I enjoyed it, and look to see who wrote it.  The first few issues had me whelmed, but I've enjoyed this arc.  As he does on "Captain America," Brubaker keeps adding layers of complexity to the plot without getting lost in the details.  (Most of the Bat-book writers could really learn a lesson from him.  I'm looking at you, Tony Daniel.)  Mike Deodato keeps giving us shirtless Steve Rogers, so I'd be remiss if I didn't thank him.  I'm excited to see what happens next issue, particularly if we get some more insight into the Shadow Council.