Monday, April 25, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #651: "Big Time"

**** (four of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  “No harm in celebrating a little.”  “He can’t dear.  Tell him why.”  “Aunt May…”  “Say it again.  Just for me.”  “I can’t.  I’ve got work tomorrow.”  -- JJJ, Sr., Aunt May, and Pete, living out May’s best dream 

Summary
Hobby appears on the roof of the Fisk Building, demanding an audience with the Kingpin.  He tells the Kingpin about Spidey and the Black Cat’s plan to steal back the reverbium, telling him they’re already in the building.  The Hand attempts to stop Spidey and the Black Cat, but Spidey – fully clad in his invisible-and-sonic-proof costume – easily dismisses them.  Hobby soon comes after him, setting off the alarm.  The Cat uses the distraction to ditch Spidey and head to Fisk’s penthouse to help herself to some items.  Spidey fends off the Hand in the basement of the Fisk Building – where the reverbium is stored – but gets a pounding from the Hobgoblin’s now higher-pitched laugh (which gets around Spidey's sonic-proof safeguards).  Meanwhile, the Cat is caught mid-nab by the Kingpin.  Spidey switches to the all-sonic mode, meaning that he’s now visible but he’s protected from all sound, which also means that he can’t hear the Black Cat’s cries for help over their communications system.  Spidey uses an anti-metal Spider-Tracer to melt the Hobgoblin’s plasma sword, and Hobby ramps up the sonics.  (Not too bright, Phil.)  The noise sets off the reverbium; Hobby flees, and Spidey turns off his all-sonic mode to call for help from the tech guy.  The tech guy decides to flee, however, and Spidey now hears the Cat’s call for help, so he douses the reverbium with the anti-metal Spider-Tracers and makes his way upstairs as the building collapses.  He rescues the Cat and Hobby rescues the Kingpin (but not his right-hand man, Montana).  The Kingpin divests himself of any semblance of being legit (which the building had given him) and tells the Hobgoblin that he’s his.  Phil Urich sells his photos to the “Bugle” to pay the Tinker to fix some of his weapons (like the super-cool plasma sword).  The science behind Pete’s suit helped in developing noise-canceling headphones for Horizon Labs, and he moves all his Spidey stuff into his vault.  Finally, Pete buys his own apartment (!) and takes Carlie, JJJ, Sr., and Aunt May to dinner.

In the secondary feature, we see Mac Gargan awaken and being asked questions by the disembodied voice of Alistair Smythe.  Smythe has a drone fire on him, and Gargan -- now in his Scorpion uniform -- destroys the drone.  Smythe informs Gargan he now has a Scorpion-Sense and runs him through a series of tests.  Gargan threatens to kill Smythe for putting him back in the Scorpion suit, but Smythe informs him that the suit -- and accompanying cyborg upgrades -- are the only thing keeping him alive.  Smythe also informs Scorpion that he intends to kill everyone close to JJJ, Jr., so he can know the pain of losing loved ones.  Gargan deduces that it's Smythe behind the voice, and he thus appears in full costume, telling Scorpion that they'll finally have their vengeance on JJJ, Jr.  When Gargan expresses some doubt, Smythe opens a door to reveal his "Insect Army." 

The Review
Before we get into the good and bad here, I have to say that the new Hobgoblin is just about the best villain – actually, I’m going all the way here – IS the best villain I’ve seen since I resumed reading “Amazing Spider-Man” at issue #544.  Amazing.  He’s creepy, lethal, funny, and insane, all in one.  He’s possibly even better than Norman.  The fact that he’s basically the anti-Peter – taking photos of his exploits to sell to the “Bugle” to fund his super-villain toys – is just genius.

Slott skimps over some details here (see "The Bad"), but overall this Hobgoblin arc really has included the most fun Spidey issues I've read in ages.  Some of the more recent classics, like the Rhino and Lizard arcs, have been horribly sad.  Here, we saw a new, revamped classic villain (the m.o. of "The Gauntlet"), but we still had some fun along the way.  I know Slott isn't perfect, but the energy and enthusiasm evident in this book really made me forgive a lot of sins.  (See, I'm a much less cranky reviewer if the writer at least expresses the sense that he ENJOYS writing the comic.) 

The Good
1) I’m glad that Montana (the Kingpin’s consigliere, if you will) commented on the fact that the Hobgoblin probably tipped off Spidey and the Black Cat about the reverbium just to defeat them and get in the Kingpin’s good graces.  It’s that sort of grace note that makes Slott run so far so enjoyable.  Most writers would just have everyone not notice that some unknown super-villain suddenly has a network; it would just be presented as a fact and, truthfully, you suspend your disbelief so often in comics, I think we as readers probably would’ve just gone with it.  But, Slott goes the extra mile here, letting Montana put two-and-two together.  The most clever part about it is that it doesn’t change the ending:  the Kingpin isn’t the type to let that sort of, shall we say, initiative bother him.  So, Phil gets the job AND offs Montana.  Pretty good for a scheming lunatic.

2) So, Tiberius Stone is, if I’m guessing, the guy who “left” Horizon and created the space for Peter.  Ooo, I smell neo-Tinkerer arch-nemesis in the making!

3) I loved Felicia making the comment about the Tron costume.  As Peter said, “Cute.”  But, that costume is freaking awesome.  I hope we get a whole bunch of them in the future!

4) I also like how Slott has Felicia ditch Webs to go loot the Kingpin’s private apartment while he’s distracted.  A too-good Felicia would’ve been unbelievable.

5) The empty thought-balloons representing the fact that no one could hear Peter and vice versa when his suit was activated was a nice touch and really visually interesting.  It made a fairly de rigueur fight sequence pop.

6) The anti-metal Spider-Tracers were awesome.  Is Spidey going to get Spiderangs?  I’m all for that!

7) Peter Park owns an apartment.  Awesome!

8) I am very much looking forward to the “Return of the Spider-Slayers” arc! 

The Bad
1) I’m not sure how Phil knew to use a higher frequency against Spider-Man.  I mean, last I checked, Phil isn’t a scientific genius like Peter is, so how did he deduce that Spidey had a new sound-and-light-bending costume and know which frequency Spidey was using to communicate with Felicia?  Was it just a lucky guess?

2) Speaking of the sonics, although it's cute, would Peter Parker really forget that no one can hear him because his suit is still activated?  Really?

3) Also, does Peter really not have his Spider-Man costume at his apartment?  It's all at Horizon Labs?  If something happens, he's going to have to ask the villain to, you know, cool his jets, so he can hoof it to the lab, change costumes, and then hoof it back.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I love the Peter Parker vault as his own personal Batcave, but the Batcave is under Stately Wayne Manor for a reason.

Amazing Spider-Man #650: "Big Time"

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  “Oh, the imagination you have, like I’m some made-to-order clichĂ©…” – Felicia to Pete, who expresses surprise she’s taking a bath, while she takes a bath…in milk…

Summary
Spidey is saved from the Goblin laugh when Bella, one of the other think tankers, uses her iPhone to play a song over the Horizon speaker system, blocking the laugh with a stronger signal.  Spidey asks his boss to evacuate everyone, using his name (and starting the wheels in his boss’ head turning, given that Spidey appeared so quickly AND knew his name).  The Hobgoblin is trying to steal the reverbium we saw last issue.  Spidey tries to stop him, but fails, and Hobby escapes.  Modell and the think tankers break into Peter’s lab since he hasn’t been seen since the attack...to discover him in his boxers listening to headphones, his “eccentricity.”  The Hobgoblin delivers the reverbium to the Kingpin (oh, that was Phil’s “interview” at Horizon!), who agrees to hire him, saying he never really liked Kingsley in the first place.  Pete calls the Cat, telling her they need to steal back the reverbium.  At the “Bugle” offices, Phil reveals that the little device that was following him recorded his whole fight with Spider-Man, giving the paper the scoop on the new Hobgoblin.  He gives the scoop to Norah, but he’s annoyed when she celebrates with Randy.  Carlie and MJ stop by Peter’s lab to congratulate him on his new job (in Carlie’s case) and make sure he was unhurt (in MJ’s case, who had heard about the fight with the Hobgoblin).  The fun is interrupted when the Cat calls, telling Pete that she “convinced” a Goblin gang-banger to reveal that it was the Kingpin who set up the raid on Horizon.  She goes to rendezvous with Spidey, and we learn that it was Phil who fed that information to the gang-banger…and who promptly kills him to keep it quiet.  Spidey meets Felicia on the top of a roof, giving her a pair of new goggles so she can see him in his nifty new light-and-sonic-bending uniform!  The two then go to find the Kingpin, unaware they’re being manipulated by Urich.

In the secondary feature, we see Mach-5 (formerly the Beetle) welcome a Professor Folsom to the Raft.  Folsom compliments Mach-5's rockets, noting that he used to build them with his father as a kid, which is what got him interested in science.  Mach-5 exposits that Folsom is a surgeon and one of the country's top geneticists and notes that building rockets is a long way from those fields.  Folsom further exposits that his father was a versatile scientist who constantly challenged his son in a game of "one-upmanship."  Mach-5 gets to the point, introducing Folsom to Mac Gargan, who's been de-symbioted and is dying as a result.  Folsom realizes that Gargan has actual scorpion DNA infused in his genetic structure, which he blames not on the scientists who experimented on him, but JJJ, Jr. who encouraged them.  The symbiote had staved off the negative effects of the tampering, and Folsom announces he's got to take Gargan to his lab.  When Mach-5 tries to stop him, Folsom reveals he's actually Alistair Smythe, the Spider-Slayer.  Smythe takes Gargan, vowing vengeance on JJJ, Jr., since the radioactive material that fueled the Spider-Slayer robots eventually killed Smythe's father, who invented them.

The Review
I know, I know.  Another five.  But, seriously, I can’t find anything wrong with these issues.  I mean, even when I have questions, like what Phil’s motivations are, they’re resolved in the next issue in a totally logical way.  Slott is totally, totally on his game here, and I’m having a blast reading these issues.

The Really Good
“Nothing suspicious or anything.  He helped Stark build some armor for Spidey.  Once.  That’s the perfectly logical reason we lived in Avengers Tower.”  Heh.  Slott gives a clever nod to the fact that no one knows that he, MJ, and Aunt May lived there because he was Spider-Man.  I often get annoyed when writers put in these clever nods to illogical plots in comics, since I’d rather them just not give us the illogical plots in the first place.  But, the mindwipe is water under the bridge at this point, so I actually enjoyed this clever nod.

The Good
1) I like how Peter is worried his job is too good to be true as well.  You have good company, Pete!

2)  Aha!  So, Phil Urich didn’t have an interview at Horizon labs.  He had the Hobgoblin’s dossier on the reverbium and stole it for his “interview” with the Kingpin.  That makes much more sense.

3) I’m thoroughly enjoying Phil’s full-on cray-cray.  Boy is nuttier than Mr. Peanut.  Also, Slott gives us a genius stroke here, turning Phil into a photographer, the bad guy analogue to Peter Parker.  It’s a nice touch.

4) “Peter Parker’s Private Lab.”  I cheered when I saw that.

5) Um, the new Spidey suit is awesome.  Seriously.  I loved the scene where he drops the box with the Cat’s special goggles, which reveal him to her.  It was really clever and another example of Pete getting a win, since the Cat is forced to note that he’s never been this good.  I’m just loving that Peter gets some wins, but still finds himself challenged by his enemies.  For a long time, sure, he was challenged by his enemies and overcame those challenges, but it was almost always at the expense of Peter.  Here, it’s becoming clear that he gets to overcome those challenges, and then use that knowledge for Peter’s gain at Horizon.  It’s perfect!  So, I’m probably wrong to hope it’ll last…

6) To quote Bree Three-Hands from “Dungeons and Dragons,” Phil is playing a “deep game” here.  He sold out the Kingpin so that Spidey and the Cat can get back the reverbium.  Why?  I’m sure we’ll find out next issue (which, again, is why I keep giving these issues fives, since I’m so excited to see what happens next every issue).

7) The art is amazing.  I love Ramos.  And not just because we got Peter in his boxer shorts this issue...

8) The MJ/Carlie bit was cute.  Pete “shush”ing MJ over Carlie’s shoulder when she almost mentions Spidey was funny, and the device of Carlie and Peter talking about science stuff MJ didn’t understand and MJ mentioning fashion stuff the two of them didn’t understand was great.  It’s actually that bit that, for the first time, made me glad Pete had Carlie.  We’re still Team MJ here, but Slott gives us arguably the most compelling case for Carlie Cooper that we’ve seen.  Yet more good work by Dan.

9) The Spider-Slayer.  Aha!  Now we know who the cyber-Spidey guy was.  I’m really intrigued what he’s doing to Mac Gargan…

Amazing Spider-Man #649: "Big Time"

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  “Stay out of my closet!”  “Oh, dear, it’s the pornography, isn’t it?”  “Yes!  It’s porn!  Mountains of porn!”  “I’ll be outside”  -- Peter and Aunt May, in possibly the funniest conversation I’ve ever seen in a Spider-Man comic

Summary
The issue begins with a prelude of Roderick Kingsley, the Hobgoblin, killing a drug lord somewhere in Latin America.  It’s revealed he’s working as a mercenary, and the guy who paid him for the job informs him that Osborn is no longer in the game so he can return to New York.  Kingsley does, and he’s given an “audition” for the Kingpin, being told to retrieve an item in order to become the Kingpin's henchman.  Kingsley goes to Osborn’s Goblin lair to raid some equipment, and discovers Phil Urich there, who’s trying to get stuff to impress Norah.  Urich uses his Joker laugh…I mean, his Goblin laugh…to disorient the Hobgoblin and then decapitates him.  (Yup.  Bye, Roderick.  We hardly knew ye.)  Meanwhile, Norah is trying to infiltrate a Goblin gang and, when things go bad, she’s saved by Spider-Man and the Black Cat, who’s teaming up with Spidey in an attempt to get in the Avengers.  Spidey ditches the Cat so he can go home and get some sleep at his new suite at the Waldorf (thanks to Horizon’s pay check).  Carlie drops by and Pete has to do some fast thinking to explain his Web-Fluid building apparatus on the coffee table and to distract her from his glove, which is showing under the closet door.  The next day, “Front Line,” now the “Daily Bugle,” goes live.  Phil (wearing a creepily familiar purple coat) tells his Uncle Ben that he’s got a lead on a job, revealing a Horizon Labs dossier.  Aunt May, proud as a peacock, makes sure Peter isn’t late for work by escorting him there.  Meanwhile, it’s noted that Mac Gargan is dying since he’s been de-symbioted.  Pete gets a tour of Horizon Labs, where he gets his own lab with a secret locker.  His first day is interrupted, though, by the appearance of the Hobgoblin, who uses his Goblin laugh to paralyze Spidey.

The Review
This issue is just as amazing as the last one and is so packed full of stuff that I realized I’m going to have to start recapping/reviewing these issues one at a time!

The Good
1) My response to the first few pages of this issue?  Holy fucking shit.  Seriously.  First, I was mistaken in my last review when I said that Phil Urich was a Green Goblin gang member.  I actually didn’t realize he had been the good Green Goblin; he appeared during my, um, hiatus from Spider-Man so I was only vaguely aware that a good Green Goblin had existed.  But, I’d say Philly boy isn’t exactly walking on the good side anymore given that he DECAPITATES Roderick Kingsley.  I mean, let me just repeat, holy fucking shit.  I totally didn’t see that coming.  Slott totally pulls a bait-and-switch here, bringing back a guy like Roderick Kingsley and then throwing him over the boat so that the new guy can take the steering wheel.  (Do boats have steering wheels?)  As I think I’ve mentioned before, I like my Goblins ca-ray-zy, and Phil looks like he fits the bill!  I’m totally going to have to buy the old series and see how he got this way.

2) Still speaking of Phil, I also didn’t realize until now that he likes Norah; in the last issue, when I thought he was a gang member, I figured he viewed her as a threat.  This whole thing could get really, really interesting.

3) Screw the Spidey/Cat team-up.  I want the Norah/Cat team-up!  Fighting crime, dishing snark!  Make it happen, Marvel!

4) I teared up a bit at the scene with Aunt May, telling Uncle Ben that Peter did it, making it as a scientist.  Please, Marvel, don’t take this away.  The whole sequence of her making sure he wasn’t late for work and taking him to work was just great.  My parents actually took me to my first real job (long story) and seeing Aunt May take Peter was really humanizing.

5) The secret member of the think tank?  Nice, Slott.  Mystery!

6) Peter Parker gets a special black storage locker?  Again, just like giving Pete a job at a “work your own hours” think tank, why didn’t anyone else ever think of that?

The Unknown
1) So, did Phil really have a job interview at Horizon?  And, why did he have that file on Horizon?

2) I actually don’t think I was reading Spidey when it was revealed that Roderick Kingsley was the Hobgoblin and not Ned Leeds.  So, I’m not really sure what went down between him and Norman Osborn.  It appears that Hobby stole all Norman’s equipment, which makes sense, since Norman was “dead” at the time he first appeared.  So, I guess that’s how he knew where the Goblin lair was.  But, how did Phil know?  I’m really going to have to read this “Green Goblin” series.

3) I wonder where this Venom thing is going…

Amazing Spider-Man #648: "Big Time"

***** (five of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "He built a home-made version of Reed Richards' neutrino catcher.”  “Yes, for a high school science fair.”  -- Marla and May, talking about our man Pete 

Summary
Spidey leads the Avengers into battle (yay!) against Doc Ock’s Macro-Octopi robots, which are attacking New York.  Meanwhile, a weird cyber-Spidey-looking guy spies on JJJ, Jr., threatening “Soon, Jameson.  Very soon."  Steve Rogers replaces a soldier guarding “Hangar Nine” (which contains something called the Vertex Shuttle) at Andru Air Force Base, which at the time is scrambling jets to attack the Macro-Octupi.  Back in New York, the Fantastic Four and Black Cat join the battle against the Macro-Octupi.  It’s revealed that Doc Ock is not only behind the Macro-Octupi, but that the Sinister Six has reformed and the Chameleon had posed as Steve Rogers in order to plant some of Ock’s “toys” in the hangar.  Ock reveals that the Macro-Octopi had just been a distraction so the toys could be planted and sets the Macro-Octupi to detonate.  He assures Sandman that his daughter in New York will be fine since Spider-Man will figure out a way to defeat them, noting that he’ll never underestimate Spidey again now that he knows he’s a genius.  As predicted by Doc Ock, Spidey uses his brains to defeat the robots.  The next day, Peter is helping the “Front Line” staff as it prepares to go online.  JJJ, Jr. appears, announcing that he’s bought back the rights to the “Daily Bugle” from Dexter Bennett and is giving the name to “Front Line.”  Pete goes home to find that Michele Gonzalez is leaving now that Vin’s case is over, and Pete canvasses his friends to try to find someone with whom he can live.  Meanwhile, Marla Jameson escorts John Jameson to meet his grandfather, and has a talk with May, in which she learns that Peter is a genius.  Pete arrives, feeling as low as possible, to ask Aunt May if he can live with her (again), only to find that Marla has other plans.  (Meanwhile, at the Raft, Max Gargan is de-symbioted.)  Marla takes Peter to Horizon Labs, a super-hip research firm where he meets members of the Labs' seven-person think tank.  In one of the think tankers’ labs, he witnesses her experiment to try to create artificial vibranium, but, since her math is wrong, everyone almost dies.  Pete saves the day by using his strength to get to the control panel and fix the math.  This display impresses the head of Horizon Labs and he offers him the open position on the think-tank team.  Later that day, the Hobgoblin returns to New York, under the employ of the Kingpin. 

The Review
This issue is excellent.  It’s truly ground-breaking, with Slott discarding some badly-implemented plot elements (“The DB!,” Michele, Aunt May’s corruption) and putting us on a whole new path.  It’s tightly scripted, it’s well drawn, and it changes the status quo in a totally believable way.  It’s a good reminder that you don’t need, I don’t know, deals with the Devil to change up a character.  (You read that, Quesada?)  This issue, to be honest, actually feels like what “Brand New Day” was originally intended to be.  Peter Parker finally gets to be as successful as Spider-Man and Slott does it in a way that makes you wonder why it never happened before. 

The Really Good
1) Slott’s solution for Pete’s chronic unemployment is so eloquent – a think-tank researcher who gets to work his own hours – that I’m stunned no one thought of it before.  I know it’s a little deus ex machina-y, but, again, I’m giving Slott a pass, since he’s trying to move us to the next phase.  Plus, it’s such a brilliant match, I don’t care if it’s a little artificial in how it arose.  I loved the way Pete answered his “pop quiz” based on his experiences as Spider-Man.  We rarely get to see Pete and Spidey so well integrated, and it’s a real treat.  In fact, usually, when they’re integrated, it’s for negative reasons, like when Pete tries to get a job in the first issue of “Brand New Day” and can’t because he’s considered unreliable due to his frequent Spidey-related absences.  It’s a huge change, an entirely different path for the character, and I really hope it sticks for, like, ever.  Just like Aunt May, I find myself asking that we just really let Pete have this one.  I hope it’s not just some plot relating to a super-villain and we’ll see it disappear in a few issues.  Let our man Pete be sort of happy.  Just this once.  Please, Marvel.

2) As becomes evident below, I actually felt all the characters were better integrated into the plot and the story than ever before.  I guess that’s the benefit of having one writer.  Previously, characters like Carlie, Norah, and Michele would appear and disappear, based on which writer liked which one more.  Here, everyone is part of the story, which is why I’m guessing that Slott got rid of Michele, since he had to prune the tree a bit.  In the end, we see Peter inhabiting a lot more polished and richer world than he has, possibly ever.  I can’t wait to see where Slott takes it all.

3) Peter in his Spider-Hammock reading the Horizon manual gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies.  Thanks, Dan! 

The Good
1) This issue starts huge!  We’ve got Spidey and the Avengers fighting Doc Ock’s Macro-Octopi, we add in the FF, the Black Cat makes an appearance, and, HURRAH!, we’ve got the return of the Sinister Six AND Hobgoblin!  It’s like all my favorites in one issue!

2) I really like the attention to Peter as a smart guy in this issue.  First, we see Johnny Storm, Aunt May, and Flash Thompson all talk about how smart he is, how much they’d like to see him live up to his potential as a genius.  We also get to see him twice save the day with his brains.  Awesome.

3) I enjoyed the return of Marla.  After all, two of the major developments of the last 100 issues or so – the sale of the “Daily Bugle” to Dexter Bennett and Peter getting a job – have to do with her, which is a pretty good track record for a character we only see every 20 or 30 issues. I’m glad she and JJJ, Jr. reconciled; without her, we would rarely see JJJ, Jr. as anything other than a tyrant.  But, also, I’m glad to see that her role as a scientist is what helps get Peter his new job.  She’s usually portrayed either as JJJ, Jr.’s wife or as Spider-Slayer-building genius, but rarely both.  Well done, Slott.

4) Slott, more so than possibly any writer before him, actually places Spidey in context of other events.  He mentions that he was in the time stream fighting Kang (a reference to Avengers #1-#6, though, to be fair, Spidey never actually entered the time stream), he refers to fighting Doc Ock just a week ago during “Origin of the Species,” etc.  It’s hard to do that, and it’s another example of Slott not taking the easy way out here.

5) Normally, as most of you know if you’ve been reading this blog a while, I get cranky when we get references to other Spidey issues/series, if only because I’ve been buying this book three times a month and the whole point of that was that I’d get the whole story.  But, that being said, the Phil-Urich-as-Green-Goblin-gang-member reveal is really well done.  I’ll probably buy the “Green Goblin” series, but I don’t actually have to do so, which I appreciate.

6) Flash and Betty!  Flash and Betty!

7) “You keep a scrapbook?”  “He’s my boy.”  I loved this interaction between Marla and May.  In fact, May was awesome in this issue.  We’re FINALLY past that weird Mr. Negative corruption sub-plot that went nowhere.  Instead, we see May hold Peter accountable for his numskull move in doctoring those photos but also hoping against hope that Peter gets the job at Horizon Labs.

8) We really see Pete at a low point here.  I really felt his pain as he stood outside Aunt May’s door, stressing over having to tell her yet again that he failed.   We see Pete so often have to pay the price of being Spider-Man, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone frame it so well in terms of Aunt May. 

The Unknown
I wonder who the weird cyber-Spidey guy is. 

The Bad
1) OK, I’m glad we’re rid of Michele Gonzalez.  As I’ve said before, she’s been criminally mishandled for a character who showed some real potential.  It does seem a little cold, though, to send her on her way with only four panels.  I’m not holding it against Slott, because, seriously, I applaud him for getting rid of her as one of his ways to transition us to a new status quo.  But, ouch.  Fare ye well, Michele.  You deserved better, and hopefully you’ll get it wherever you go.

2) Slott also discards Dexter Bennett and “The DB!” here, putting Ben Urich and Robbie Robertson back in charge of the "Daily Bugle.”  Again, I’m not holding this against Slott, but Dexter is pretty summarily dismissed here, particularly given the last time we saw the man he was paralyzed.  But, as I mentioned earlier, Slott is clearly cleaning house here, and “The DB!” and Dexter Bennett had to go.

A Programming Note

OK, so, I've just recently achieved my goal of getting current on "Amazing Spider-Man."  Woot!  It took around three months and over 100 issues, but I made it.  I realized, however, that, if I posted in chronological order, you'd get the posts about Slott's current run on "Amazing" sometime in, like, September.  As such, on Spidey Monday and Friday for the next two weeks, I'm going to post the posts I wrote about the current run.  "Big Time" starts today with the Hobgoblin arc, followed by "Revenge of the Spider-Slayers" on Friday, "No One Dies" next Monday, and the Human Torch memorial issue the following Friday.  Then, my Spidey review (which will continue to be stand-alone) will appear on Wednesdays with the other new comics.  Thank you for your attention.  May God bless America.

Friday, April 22, 2011

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

Dungeons and Dragons #5:  First, the good.  Honestly, I don’t think even the best issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” I’ve read in a while has banter anywhere near this good.  The plots are pretty straight-forward, and it’s always fun to see how Fell’s Five gets themselves into a worse situation by the end of the issue than the bad situation in which they found themselves at the start.  Now, the not-so-good.  Rogers drops the ball a little in this issue; he introduces a bunch of new characters and concepts that wind up distracting him from wrapping up some loose ends.  For example, why exactly were the creatures from the Fey Wild and the Shadow Fell conspiring to invade our plane?  We never really got an answer, just the assertion that they were.  How did they get the elven slaves?  The slaves just sort of appear this issue; I found myself wondering if I had missed a secondary feature in previous issues that explained their provenance.  Also, why were the changelings from issue #2 and #3 involved?  Were they hired by the extra-planar invaders, or are they part of them?  It appears we're unlikely to get answers to these questions since, at the end of the issue, we see our heroes catapulted into the void and into the next arc.  Despite my issues with this, um, issue, I’m still looking forward to the next one, since it’s still one of the more fun books I read every month, occasional dropped plots and all.

Nonplayer #1:  So, first, the obvious:  "Nonplayer” is beautiful.  I’m more of a plot guy than an art guy, but, seriously, this book is probably the most stunning of any I’ve ever read.  The two-page splash page at the end – where we see the full integration of this world’s technology in daily life – is amazing.  On top of that, the plot isn’t half bad either.  Simpson hints that more is happening in the fantasy campaign setting that Dana (the main character) plays than she knows.  If "Starborn" reminds me of “The Last Starfighter,” this series remind me of the old “Dungeons and Dragons” cartoon, which is high praise indeed. 

Starborn #4:  This series treads on familiar ground (as I said above, I’m reminded of “The Last Starfighter” reading it), but it adds some new twists that keep it interesting.  I like that Roberson establishes two points of view here, with both the humans and the non-humans viewing the other as evil.  I’m intrigued if we’re going to discover that Benjamin’s father really was some terrible despot or, if not, why the non-humans think he was.  After four issues, we don’t know much, and I admire Roberson’s restraint, since I think it would be tempting to rush the reveal.  The art is suitably grand, though the movements are occasionally unclear.  All in all, it’s a really solid story that keeps me looking forward to the next issue each time. 

The Traveler #4-#5:  As I think I mentioned before during the Kang storyline in "Avengers," I'm not a huge fan of time-travel stories.  Although this story is better done than most, I always question the events the person in the future is trying to manipulate, since s/he almost always has an easier option.  For example, why didn't the Traveler just detain Ron, rather than going through the rigmarole of trying to manipulate the near-sighted driver, the bus driver, and the young bowler into making him late.  At first, I thought it was because he couldn't touch Ron or something, but that wound up not being the case, as we saw in issue #4.  But, overall, I'm willing to look past this sort of conundrum because, again, this story was better done than almost any other time-travel one I've read.  Unfortunately, the storyline takes a bit of dive in issue #5.  Ron's friend goes beyond just "I'm a physics geek with bad social skills" when he basically starts screaming at Ron for turning a positive -- his powers -- into a negative...you know, despite the fact that his fiancĂ©e and future father-in-law were just killed and he's lost in a time loop.  The emotions of these sequences seemed really off-key to me, and it threw off the whole book.  Hopefully it was just a one-off problem, and we'll return to the pretty strong writing we've seen in the other issues.

Amazing Spider-Man #555-#557: "Brand New Day" (Mayan Deity story arc)

***** (five of five stars) 

Favorite Quote: "Is this how you commune with your gods?"  "Y-yes.  And they told me to tell you to stop hitting me."  -- Deity and Spidey converse, after Spidey called Harry to warn him about Carlie being in trouble, using a device called a "public phone booth" 

Summary
Peter stops by the New Avengers HQ for breakfast because Aunt May doesn't buy the fun cereal, only to be present when Dr. Strange has a vision that trouble is going to go down that day at 4:00 pm.  Spidey agrees to meet Wolverine (who was also present) at the site were the trouble was going to happen, and they wind up fighting some crazy Mayan warriors who are trying to kill a research scientist, Dr. Rabin.  Rabin dispatches Spidey to save his team, who are trapped in a van in the blizzard.  However, it turns out Rabin is a nutjob who left his team to die as a sacrifice to a Mayan deity he hopes will inhabit his body; the Mayan warriors that Spidey defeated (and Rabin subsequently killed) were trying to keep him from completing the necessary ceremony.  Spidey realizes this twist a little too late, particularly since he left Carlie at the station with Rabin.  Spidey saves the surviving team member (Rabin had already sacrificed the other one) and gets into a battle with the Mayan deity.  Rabin decides Carlie is going to replace the sacrifice that Spidey saved, but Spidey successfully delays the ceremony, preventing Rabin's union with the god and saving Carlie (with the help of some friendly neighborhood homeless guys). 

The Review
This story arc ROCKED!  Really.  It was such a return to form after the mediocre "Freak" story arc and it's my favorite of the "Brand New Day" stories.  It benefited from not having to introduce the "Brand New Day" concepts like the previous story arcs had to do.  Instead, it was just stone cold Spidey fun with quips, danger, and action. 

The Good
1) The Rabin twist:  who knew?  Oh, right, Vin.  But, Vin doesn't count, since he only suspected Rabin was a bad guy since he was near Spider-Man, who Vin thinks is a criminal.  I actually was surprised, so, well done, guys!

2) Spidey's time with Vern, the homeless guy, was a nice touch.  It could've been done in a really heavy-handed way, but it wasn't.  Peter giving Vern his jacket served as a reminder that Peter's a decent guy under the mask, just trying to make the world a better place.  At the end of the day, this fact is really kind of the whole point of "Brand New Day:"  fighting the good fight, whether it's defeating a Mayan deity or making sure a homeless guy is warm in a blizzard.

3) The art was amazing.  It has got to be really, really tough to draw characters in the snow given all that white.  I'm assuming it's probably why you don't see it more often.  But, Chris Bachalo (whose work I've always loved) just really hits it out of the park here.  You actually believed that Spidey was fighting a Mayan deity in the real downtown New York, not just the comics-rendered one.  Plus, it was genius when Spidey gets hit in the face by the deity from the panel above where he's actually hit in order to show that the Mayan deity is in all places at once.  Perfect.  It's that attention to detail that's really making "Brand New Day" raise the bar for comic books everywhere.

4) The "army" of homeless people was hilarious.  I love how it appears on the front-page version of "The DB!" they've been using to recap the stories.  I, of course, dismissed it as a conservative paper stirring up anti-homeless person hysteria or something when I first read it.  But, nope, Spidey's friend Vern actually does gather an army to help Spidey.

5) I actually groaned when I saw Wolverine on the cover.  I liked Wolverine for about a week in 1990 before he just became so spectacularly overexposed that I stopped caring.  I already have to suffer through him as a loyal Avengers and X-Men reader, so I was displeased to see him in this issue.  The thing is?  It totally works.  Spidey and Wolvie are buddy-buddy, but note their differences and, mercifully, Wolvie leaves after only one issue.  Perfect! 

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  Dr. Rabin's name is mentioned in the recap page in the second issue, but wasn't mentioned in the first issue.

2) Vin, dude:  you apparently have a crush on Carlie, so you imply she should take your extra room?  Really?  (I mean, I think the hijinks that will come from Peter living with Vin, a Spidey hater, will be fun.  But, he couldn't he have just casually mentioned that he needed a roommate, letting Carlie propose Peter?  The writers could even keep that he had a crush on Carlie to build a love triangle, since she (possibly) has a crush on our man, Pete.  But, instead, he asks her to move into his place.  Maybe it's just me, but, I don't know, you usually don't invite someone on whom you have a crush to live with you.  Again, maybe I'm just old-fashioned.  I mean, seriously, kids these days...)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #552-#554: "Brand New Day" (Freak story arc)

** (two of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "So, what's your story, sweet cheeks?  Is there an introductory super-villain promotion going on?  Because you're my third newbie this month."  -- Spider-Man to Freak, in a nod to readers

Summary
Peter helps Aunt May on her shift at the homeless shelter and attempts to chase down "Freak," the junkie we first saw in a back-up story in issue #546, who stole the donation box.  During the chase, Freak just happens to stumble upon Dr. Curt Connors' lab and injects himself with vials of animal stem-cells, thinking it's heroin.  He later forms a chrysalis around himself and emerges as a, well, freak.  A NYPD cop shoots him, only to have him enter another chrysalis, and emerge, now blaming Spider-Man for his (uglier) mutation.  He publicly challenges Spider-Man at the campaign event of mayoral candidate Crowne (who also happens to be the preferred candidate of the newly-christened "Daily Bugle," now known as "The DB!").  During the battle, Freak stumbles upon a meth lab, tries to take some meth (smart), but instead sets the lab on fire.  Instead of dying, he enters yet another chrysalis state, though Dr. Connors assures Spider-Man that the upcoming cold weather means that the amphibian stem cells Freak injected will keep him in stasis for a while. 

Review
This story arc is OK.  It's not great and, if you spend too much time with it, you start to kind of realize some of it doesn't make much sense.  But, it keeps the momentum of "Brand New Day" moving, with Peter struggling to make ends meet and Spidey trying to bolster his flagging reputation. 

The Good
The Spidey Brain Trust is doing a really great job keeping certain plots consistent.  In each issue, regardless of the author, Peter is struggling to get photos so he can make some cash in order to get an apartment in the city or buy more supplies.  (Web-Fluid is expensive, yo!) 

The Unsure
1) I'm not sure where they're going with Peter liking Lily.  It's been a theme since the very first issue, where he expresses jealousy over the fact that Harry always gets the pretty girls.  He seemed to be flirting with Carlie before they were mugged in issue #546 but now he seems to be oblivious to the fact that she has some interest in him.  Instead, he's trying not to appear cheap in front of Lily, worrying that his boss' instructions to make her dad look bad in his photos will anger her, and reading into her treating him nicely as something more than friendly.  It's pretty standard dude behavior, actually.  I can't really hold it against him, I guess.  But, I don't have to like it.

2) Peter seems more obsessed with his public image in this arc than I remember him being.  He hopes that recovering the money Freak stole will earn him some trust with the public, though some of the cops think he's the one who stole it.  He mentions to the mayoral candidate Crowne that he hopes saving his life will earn his support (which he also did with mayoral candidate Parfrey in the Menace story arc...you know, before she died), though Crowne just notes that he wouldn't need saving if Freak hadn't chosen his event as the venue for challenging Spider-Man.  I've said before that I've enjoyed the "Batman: Year One" vibe of the book and I still do.  But, they're walking a fine line between Peter struggling not to appear as a villain and Peter wanting to be heralded as the savior of New York.  Spidey's never been modest, exactly, but he's also not usually an ego-maniac.

The Bad
1) OK, I have to be honest.  Nothing is worse than old people trying to sound young, amirite?  Well, the frequent use of drug lingo in the arc was actually distracting.  Freak always referring to heroin as "china white," the guy making meth calling cops cars "screamers:"  it started feeling like Gale was trying to write an episode of "The Wire," not Spider-Man.  Plus, heroin isn't the same as meth.  I know pretty much nothing about drugs, but I know that without even having to resort to Wikipedia.  So, Freak wants china white (I prefer my china a little more exotic; maybe a nice Iittala pattern...) but gets excited when he crashes Raymond's meth lab.  I mean, OK, a drug addict is a drug addict, but it just felt discombobulated, the whole drug angle.  Also, Freak really decides to pause in his battle with Spider-Man to take a hit?  Really?

2) It wasn't entirely clear to me why Freak blames Spidey for his transformation.  I mean, yes, Spidey was chasing him at the time, but it's not like he threw him into a vat of chemicals or something.  I mean, I understand we're dealing with an addled drug addict, so logic isn't going to be one of his strong suits, but it was a little weird how his immediate reaction regarding his transformation was "I'm going to kill Spider-Man!" and not, you know, his transformation itself.

3) Dexter Bennett, the new editor of the paper, seems to have a pretty seismic personality shift in this story arc.  He was all sorts of cuddly in the Menace story arc, praising Peter for the quality of his photos and talking about honor.  In this arc, though, he's making up stories about Spider-Man just to sell papers.  It's a pretty drastic change, and I wonder which one is the real Dexter.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #549-#551: "Brand New Day" (Menace story arc)

*** (three of five stars) 

Favorite Quote"Are we having a team-up?" "Not now, Sara." -- Jackpot-Spidey exchange 

Summary
Dexter Bennett introduces himself as the new owner of the "Daily Bugle," now renamed "The DB!"  Spidey meets Jackpot, the registered hero for New York City (who was introduced in a back-up story in issue #546).  The Blue Shield (whoa, flashback!) arrives to arrest Spidey (due to his unregistered status) and Jackpot halfheartedly helps.  Spidey escapes when Menace (essentially, as Jackpot said, a Gray Goblin) arrives on the scene.  Menace ditches Spidey and says he doesn't want to make him into an enemy like the other Goblins did.  Spidey contacts a police detective about reports that a Spider-Tracer was found in the mouth of a dead body.  In a clandestine meeting with the detective, he discovers that five such dead bodies have contained Spider-Tracers and he's now the prime suspect in the "Tracer Killings."  Menace crashes a campaign rally of mayoral candidate councilwoman Parfrey, who is killed by Menace's glider after Jackpot tackles him.  Spidey decides to visit Jackpot in her secret identity to console her, only to discover she gave him a real name, but the name of someone who isn't her. 

The Review
This storyline was solid in terms of the art and the plot, though it’s a bit on the boring side.  As I mention below, both Jackpot and Menace don’t really seem that compelling of characters to me, so the whole storyline is bit...dull. 

The Good
1) The “Tracer Killings” is proving to be more of an interesting plot than the Jackpot/Menace plot(s).  When the body with the Tracer was first pulled from the river in the last arc, I figured that it was the Tracer from Karnelli (the dim mafia scion) and assumed that Mr. Negative did something with it to frame Spidey.  The fact that it’s an older model and that five bodies have been found with Tracers in them makes it a much more interesting story.  I really enjoyed Spidey’s sarcasm in reminding the cops accusing him of being a serial killer that a) he’d be unlikely to “go off his nut” and suddenly become a serial killer and b) if he did, he probably wouldn’t leave behind Spider-Tracers to, you know, advertise it.  I always enjoy those moments, when the writers anticipate when the readers are going to think, “Wait, a minute, you want me to believe...?” with a “No, no, we know, we just want you to know that some people believe...” so that we can be all, “Oh, OK, that’s cool then...”  The pace of the story arc reminds me of the Hobgoblin mystery arc from way back in the 200s, which spent some time on a slow burn before exploding. 

2) Grace note:  “You’re not a captain, are you?”  “Sergeant.”  “That’s good.  I’m bad luck for captains.”  Awesome.  I mean, sad, because he’s talking about the deceased Captain Stacy and Captain DeWolff, but it’s a nice nod to Spidey's history.  Clearly, the Spidey Brain Trust is trying to emphasize here that it didn't obliterate it, just tweaked it. 

3) I like the “Batman: Year One” vibe of Spidey’s relationship with the police.  He’s not registered, so he’s forced into the shadows.  Plus, now, they think he might be a serial killer.  Spidey’s always had a difficult relationship with the public, so his failure to register gives the writers the opportunity to re-explore that challenge. 

4) Spidey constantly being out of Web-Fluid is great.  It’s been a theme of the last few issues and it does really remind me of the old days. 

5) The weekly format is surprisingly effective.  It gives a flow to the books that they didn’t have back when you had to read "Amazing/Spectacular/Web of/Spider-Man" just to know what was happening in any one plot. 

The Bad
I should probably put something in here about the Jackpot/Spidey banter (I included my favorite exchange above) and the Menace character.  Meh.  I can’t really get too enthused about either character.  Menace seems to be too...sane to be wearing a Goblin mask.  I mean, why dress someone like a Goblin if he’s not going to be a lunatic?  Jackpot is clearly supposed to be MJ and, in all likelihood, will just as clearly not be MJ for that reason, which makes it difficult to care as much as the writers want me to care.  (I did enjoy Spidey and Jackpot’s constant reference, though, to the “team-up.”  Yet another grace note.  Thanks, guys!)

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

Detective Comics #875:  Snyder tells a great story here.  The only off-note is the exposition-y confession by Roy Blount at the end.  But, the best part is that, even with that confession, Snyder still leaves it unclear if James Gordon, Jr. is a killer or not.  Although we're presented reasonable alternative explanations for why Betsy went missing and why the birds in the aviary could've been freed, we're not actually sure at the end of the issue if those explanations are true.  Snyder may be in the process of creating the next Joker here, but, if James stays true to form, we may never know for sure. 

Fear Itself:  Book of the Skull #1:  OK, I'm intrigued.  You know you're dealing with a nut job when Baron Zemo thinks s/he's insane, as we see here in his reaction to Sin.  This issue serves as a prologue to the Fear Itself cross-over event.  After "Chaos War," I was a little skeptical that this event could be anything even remotely interesting, but Brubaker piques my interest here.  The issue has an Indiana Jones feel to it, with the flashbacks to the Red Skull trying to find a mystical device for the Nazis to use to defeat the Allies (and, natch, Bucky, Cap, and Namor trying to stop him).  The hammer-in-the-ice conceit is a little too similar to the hammer-in-the-desert conceit they're using for the Thor movie.  But, considering this project was invented explicitly to link Captain America and Thor before this summer's movies, I can't complain too much.  At the very least, this issue was fun to read, which is more than I can say for almost any of the "Chaos War" books! 

Fear Itself #1:  Fraction sets the stage here by showing us a riot in New York (seemingly between the two opposing sides of the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy), using it to show the tensions and divisions that exist in contemporary American society, clearly a theme of the series.  We see Sin become the avatar for Skadi (I'm not sure who that is), who then resurrects the Serpent (I'm also not sure who he is, though he calls himself the "All-Father").  The resurrections freak out Odin, who appears to be alive again (and totally ass-nut crazy).  Odin calls all the Norse gods to follow him to Asgard (which appears not to be the destroyed city sitting in a wheat field outside Broxon, Oklahoma, but an island floating in space), while the Serpent calls forth his "Worthy."  I'm willing to give Fraction some leeway here in setting up the parameters of the book, but this issue isn't really all that good on its own.  I mean, it's fine, but we certainly don't see a catalyzing event like the destruction of Stamford in "Civil War."  It's a pretty slow-paced book, with the most notable event being the departure of the Norse gods, which, frankly, felt kind of anti-climatic to me.  We'll see where it all goes. 

Fear Itself:  The Home Front #1:  The Speedball story in this issue is the best.  I found myself annoyed by the Twitter commentary at the start of the story, but then I realized it's exactly what Gage wanted.  Gage really captures that feeling you get when you read ignorant comments posted by angry people on websites, the type of comments that make you to realize that you're sitting at your computer with balled fists because some jackwad has hijacked a thread about the new "Green Lantern" movie to complain about fascists/communists. This sort of universal sense of anger and frustration seems to be at the core of the "Fear Itself" storyline and I feel like Gage actually captures it better here than Fraction did in "Fear Itself" #1.  Plus, just like "Uncanny X-Men" #534.1, I'm glad to see someone portraying the repercussions of one of those city-destroying events we so often see in the Marvel Universe.  The other stories, to be honest, are pretty disposable. 

Uncanny X-Men #534.1:  So far, I've been really impressed with these .1 issues.  Although a little gimmicky, both the "Captain America" issue and this one really accomplish the goal of introducing a new reader to new characters but also giving older readers a great story.  Magneto's interaction with Kate Kildare, the X-Men's public-relations specialist, is classic.  From her first appearance, I thought the idea of a public-relations person for the X-Men was clever, and Gillen really makes the concept meet its potential.  Kate proves a competent sparring partner for Magneto (which is saying a lot), so much so that I wonder if Gillen himself didn't work in public relations.  It's clear with this issue, Gillen's first without Fraction, that the improvement of "Uncanny X-Men" over the last few issues has been thanks to his addition to the title, so I'm excited to see what's in store over the next few months.  I also appreciate him mentioning Magneto's actions in New York.  As I mention above, so many cities in America have been wantonly destroyed and quickly forgotten over the years (Kang killing everyone in Washington, DC in "Avengers," Bucky annihilating part of Philadelphia in "Captain America") that I appreciate a writer who takes continuity seriously.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up, Mr. Gillen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

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

Avengers:  The Children's Crusade #5:  OK, now we're getting somewhere.  After the somewhat odd (and ridiculously-named) "Avengers:  The Children's Crusade - Young Avengers" one-shot, we see Iron Lad fully intervening in the timestream, not only by saving Wanda and Billy from Wolverine (as he did last issue) but by bringing the Young Avengers and the Scarlet Witch into the past, or, more precisely, the moment Jack of Hearts blew up Ant-Man at the start of "Avengers Disassembled."  I'm torn on how I feel about the events in this issue.  Focusing just on the issue itself, it's exactly what I was hoping we would get.  The action moves quickly, it has funny lines, and we at least get to see some progress in the plot.  I actually gasped at the last page, the reveal that the Scarlet Witch was back, so clearly Heinberg is doing something right.  Focusing on the larger story the series is telling, though, I'm worried.  I liked Ant-Man so, to be honest, I'd be excited to have him return.  If it ends there, I'm good.  But, this issue reads like a thinly-veiled attempt at ret-conning not only "Avengers Disassembled" but also "House of M."  I mean, on some level, it makes sense that Iron Lad would want to make Stature happy and help her to see her dad again.  I can see how Patriot would be unable to stop him from doing that, despite accurately predicting what would happen in that event.  But, the fact that Iron Lad swears his technology works and, surprise, it doesn't just strikes me as overly convenient.  The fact that it's such a deus ex machina makes me feel that the editors are more concerned with undoing Wanda's actions than making us believe the story.  If they go all the way here and undo the mutant genocide, I have to wonder what the whole point of "Second Coming" and Hope Summers was.  I mean, it won't have been that big of a deal that Hope activated five new mutants if, a few months later, the Scarlet Witch is just going to re-activate all the depowered mutants anyway.  The "House of M" event has brought something unique to the X-Men, giving the team a certain focus that it lacked in previous years, when it was just Magneto v. all.  The introduction of Hope (who herself veers toward deus ex machina status) was at least allowing it to be undone slowly and elegantly.  Having Wanda just wave her hands and undo it would be cheap, and it would make some of the interesting stories still left to be told in a post-"Second Coming" world moot.  I complained before that not enough was happening in this book, but, now, I wish I was more careful in my wishing, because I'm worried where we're going here.  If it ends with the resurrection of Ant-Man, cool.  If it goes further, I'm concerned. 

Batman Beyond #4:   So far, "Batman Beyond" stories have existed on two levels:  the plot itself, focusing on the near-future present in which the comic book is set, and the back story, revealing - slowly - where this universe fits in Batman continuity.  This issue incorporates two significant elements of the current Bat-books -- "Batman, Incorporated" and the Unternet -- into the Batman Beyond Universe.  After having his identity revealed publicly, Dick Grayson announces that he was, indeed, Nightwing, the first employee of "Batman, Incorporated," and ceased being the costumed hero due to a catastrophic accident (he's wearing an eye-patch, which I'm guessing was part of it).  The back-up story involving Batman's best friend, Max, mentions the Unternet, which has appeared frequently in "Red Robin."  The "Batman, Incorporated" angle is clever; we see here more of the idea, elaborated in the other Bat-books, that "Batman" could've been multiple different people, a clever dodge that, to be honest, I didn't initially anticipate when Bruce revealed himself as Batman's financial backer.  As always, the Bruce/Dick relationship is the core of the Bat-books, so it'll be interesting as more is revealed showing us why the two aren't speaking.  The plot itself isn't super strong independent of the back story, but Beechen is building a world here, so I'm happy to give him the time to do it. 

Teen Titans #93:  Meh.  I continue not being super-impressed with this series.  This story's OK in a totally formulaic way.  Red Robin narrates about how they're all trying to be more than sidekicks, someone gets zapped into another dimension and the other Titans have to go find her (because it's never a boy), Kid Flash acts impulsively, Ravager is a jerk, etc., etc.  Even the love triangles are pretty boring.  I miss Damian, whose all-too-brief stay was the only thing that seemed to move the characters outside their very well-established portrayals.  We saw a positive side of Rose (and a negative side of Cassie and Connor) that we hadn't seen before.  I'll stay for the conclusion of this arc, but, if it doesn't get better, I think I'm done, sadly.

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

I know I'm already late on my own just-announced timeline, but I got two shipments at once again, so we're breaking everything into groups. 

Avengers #11:  Ok, so, here's the thing.  In the summer of 1991, my fifteen-year-old self was totally and completely obsessed with the "Infinity Gauntlet" series.  I'm pretty sure I had every tie-in issue.  It was the first big "event" that I collected, and I found it totally engrossing.  The problem, 20 (gasp) years later, is that the illogical nature of the Infinity Gauntlet is a little hard to buy entirely, coming at it with an adult's perspective.  Essentially, by having three of the Infinity Gems, Parker Robbins could've wiped out the Avengers with a thought.  But, we need Uatu to tell us (and I'm now old enough to know that it's always bad when we have to rely on Uatu to tell us anything) that Parker Robbins, being human, is incapable of fully understanding the power he wields, which is why he doesn't wipe out Namor, the Red Hulk, and Thor.  I don't know if I buy that.  If Parker Robbins was smart enough to go find the Mind Gem because his fight with that trio isn't going well, he's probably smart enough to figure out a way to just wipe out said trio in the first place.  That disconnect between what the character can theoretically do and what the character actually does has always been the problem with any Infinity Gauntlet story and even the great Bendis can't find a way to escape that trap.  As such, I find myself just kind of waiting for this storyline to end, a feeling I had during Bendis' first arc, the Ultron time travel debacle story.  Speaking of that arc, Bendis also has to decide what he's doing with Hawkeye, Spider-Man, and Spider-Woman.  In the last arc and in this one, Hawkeye and Spidey have essentially just ran around the place saying the sky is falling.  Both these guys have seen a lot of action, but Bendis is essentially treating them like they're new members of the Young Avengers.  Moreover, he pretty much just totally ignores Spider-Woman completely.  I mean, I get that this arc isn't exactly focusing on character development, but, given that the last arc didn't either, I'm starting to wonder when these three characters are going to have anything more to do in this book than just watch the cosmic-level heroes go to town.  If so, I'd prefer he move them to "New Avengers," where I think they're a better fit.  All in all, Bendis needs to re-focus here, because I'm really starting to wonder why I'm getting this book at all, particularly since he's doing a much better job on "New Avengers." 

Captain America #616:  We get a super-sized issue here for Cap's 70th anniversary.  But, of course, our Cap isn't Steve Rogers; it's Bucky Barnes, who's now in a Russian gulag serving a sentence for a crime he supposedly committed against Russian citizens in the 80s as the Winter Soldier.  On the face of it, the first story in this super-sized issue is fine.  We finally start to see Bucky break here, after the Russians snatched away the new lease on life he thought he was getting after the U.S. judge sentenced him to time served.  Brubaker invented the modern Bucky and he portrays him as a complicated figure, one who's striving to do the right thing but also considering taking the easier path.  The problem with this story is that I feel like it's just another iteration of the U.S. trial, where we also saw Bucky stripped of his uniform and fighting the urge to wallow in despair.  This narrative has been ongoing for five or six issues now, and I wish we could see Bucky freed and bearing the shield one last time before Steve Rogers assumes the role of Captain America again.  I don't think they're going to kill Bucky (I mean, why kill him when you just resurrected him?), but I'm hoping Brubaker does something great with him and we can leave this dark series of issues behind us.  The second story -- the only other in-continuity story -- gives us Steve Rogers at his best:  not some boring Boy Scout spouting inspirational nonsense, but a conflicted hero who's tired of the burdens of leadership and just wants to serve without all the to-do that comes with being Captain America.  It's clearly setting up Rogers' eventual return as Cap, and, despite my reservations about what's going to happen to Bucky, I'm excited to see how the transition is realized, how Steve resolves his conflict about taking up the shield again.  The other stories are more or less disposable, except for the one with Union Jack, which I really enjoyed and makes me wonder why Marvel has yet to do a series based on Cap's adventures during the war with the Invaders.  I know we've seen some limited series to this effect, but, really, I think Cap is just ripe with opportunity when it comes to a re-telling of his adventures during the war. 

Secret Avengers #11:  "Secret Avengers" keeps on being a solid book, with frequent action and interesting plots.  I can't say it's the most griping book that I'm currently reading (I often have trouble remembering what happened in the previous issue), but it's always a good read.  John Steele's an interesting character, and I'm glad that Brubaker continues to keep the Shadow Council in the background of the book, letting the layers of the story unfurl slowly but steadily.  The art -- previously with Deodata and now with Conrad -- has been well done; both artists have a real knack at drawing action movements.  With the announcement by Marvel that Steve Rogers will once again take up the shield, I wonder about the future of this book.  I primarily read it since it's the only book that features Steve Rogers beyond a supporting role, and I'm pretty sure other people probably do, too.  If he returns to one of the mainstream Avengers teams, my guess is that this book is not long for this world.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Programming Note

I am within ten issues of finishing what I began a few months ago, reading all the "Brand New Day" issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" from the start.  I posted my review of the first arc in the series today.  I had initially intended on publishing about one a week, since I figured that'd give me blog material for a while.   But, looking at my unpublished posts, I realized I've got more than 40 of them dealing with "Amazing Spider-Man" alone.  So, rather than drag out the process for almost a year, I'm going to up the time frame to twice a week:  once on Monday and once on Friday.  I'm going to shoot to have the new comic reviews posted on Wednesdays, but my comics don't come in a reliably-consistent fashion, so that date might slip.  But, it's definitely Spidey Mondays and Fridays here at "(Un)Timely Comics."  Thanks all four of you for reading!  Now, we return to our regularly-scheduled programming.

Amazing Spider-Man #546-#548: "Brand New Day" (Mr. Negative story arc)

**** (four of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  “It’s like you left your camera on a ledge and walked away or something."  -- fashion magazine guy to Peter, after flipping through his portfolio 

Summary
In the first "Brand New Day" arc, Peter is now living with Aunt May, since, due to the Superhuman Registration Act, he can no longer appear as Spider-Man and, therefore, Peter Parker can't make a living taking photos of Spider-Man.  Peter is mugged outside a club by the "Spider-Mugger," a guy who's been mugging people while wearing a Spider-Man mask.  The mugger takes not only Peter's wallet but one of his Web-Shooters (they're back!), mistaking it for a watch; Peter tags the mugger with a Spider-Tracer to find him eventually.  Later, desperate for cash to pay back money he owes Aunt May and Harry, Peter screams at JJJ for money he owes him; JJJ proceeds to have a heart attack while screaming, "Parker!"  Marla Jameson sells JJJ's shares of the "Daily Bugle" to Dexter Bennett.  Meanwhile, Spidey mistakes the mugger for a guy leaving a bar at the same time; the guy winds up being the (dim) scion of two mafia families.  A new villain, Mr. Negative, is using the scion's blood to create a genetically-specific poison, which he releases at a meeting of the two families in an attempt to take control of the underworld in the resulting power vacuum.  Spidey can't save the mafiosi but he does save their children.  Mr. Negative makes Spidey give him his blood as insurance, pledging to make a poison to kill Spidey's blood relatives (not realizing Peter doesn't have any) if he causes problems for him in the future.  In the end, Mr. Negative's revealed to be the operator of the homeless shelter where Aunt May volunteers.  (Dum-dum-dum!)

The Review
I’ll preface this section with the following statement:  this arc was the most fun I’ve had reading a Spider-Man comic in a long time.  Based on the letters in subsequent issues, I wasn’t the only one to feel that way. 

The Really Good
I really, really liked the Peter voiceover typeface.  Steve Wacker notes in the letter page that the editors and the letterers went back and forth about the right font and size for Peter’s voice-overs and the amount of attention they paid to that detail really shows.  It’s intimate and fun at the same time.  It really conveys the sense of excitement I used to feel back in the day when a editor's note would say "See ish #xxx for the deets!" and I'd think "I know!  I read that one!"  It goes a long way to re-establishing a connection with the comic, something the editors are also doing by re-instating a letters page.  So, well done, letterers, you unsung heroes of comic books! 

The Good
1) OK, so, a lot of the questions I mentioned having after reading “One More Day” are addressed here, by both the story and the “Spider-Man:  The New Status Quo!” two-page spread.  Peter is living with Aunt May not because he never left home but because he’s broke.  Harry has been “in rehab” “in Europe” for a while, though it’s unclear how long.  (I’m assuming that the events of "Spectacular Spider-Man" #200 still happened, based on the “Spider-Man:  The New Status Quo!” spread.  I hope they did, because that story was really well done and I’d hate to see it obliterated.)  I’m hoping this means that revealing how Mephisto’s actions affected the Spidey universe will be ongoing interesting sub-plots, rather than overly complicated distractions. 

2) I’m excited to see Spidey back-to-basics in terms of his powers and abilities.  I missed the whole Queen/Spider-Totem/etc. storylines, but, from what I’ve read, it seemed to me that Spidey was almost invincible by the time all the extra powers and abilities were added.  But, part of Spider-Man’s charm has always been his limitations, both as Peter Parker and as Spider-Man.  I’m glad to see we’ll be getting more of the original Spidey here.  Plus, the Web-Shooters are back!  I've always loved them, because they remind us that Pete's a smart guy not just a strong one.  Having them stolen by the mugger was a great way of highlighting that it's a...um...brand new day. 

3) Similarly, I like the way they’re also presenting a back-to-basics Peter.  The sequence in #546 where he realizes he has terrible job recommendations (since he was constantly missing work) and no applicable job skills was really well done.  It harkens to the good old days, when Peter was a broke student but had a fun life.  It’s great to see and maybe, just maybe, I’m seeing Quesada’s point that the character had gotten weighed down by the constant threats to his family that became the major trope of the last 15 years or so of Spider-Man stories.  (Though, I see that Aunt May is YET again somehow living/working in the vicinity of a villain.  Le sigh.)  I also give the Spidey Brain Trust credit for focusing on the fact that Spider-Man’s identity is secret again as the focus of the first post-“One More Day” arc.  The emotions from the other major change -- the dissolution of Peter and MJ’s marriage -- were too raw; it would’ve been a dark beginning.  Clearly the Brain Trust wants us to return to happier times and it's accomplished that here.  It’s clear we’ll discover more about the MJ side of the story eventually, but, in terms of bringing back the old Spidey, the editors and writers have accomplished what they wanted to do. 

4) It wasn’t until I saw the full-page spread of Spidey in #547 that I realized we actually didn’t see Peter in costume (except in flashback) in #546.  I cheered a little.  It’s nice to have him back.  I gave up reading him during all these ridiculous plot twists that turned the various Spider-Man books into dark, Dostoyevskian dramas.  I’m digging the return of a happy-go-lucky Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.  So, I cheered a little.  Sue me. 

The Meh
I’m reserving judgment on the back-up stories.  We’re clearly supposed to believe that Jackpot is Mary Jane, though it seems a little too easy to be true (and I think I remember reading somewhere it’s not).  The story was a little too brief -- as were Aunt May’s and Harry’s -- to draw any real conclusions.  But, if done well, they could be an interesting insight into new old characters.  However, other than "Captain America’s" Nomad side feature, Marvel doesn’t do secondary features as well as DC does, so, we’ll see if they continue. 

The Bad
As we all know, time is a fluid concept in comics.  I get that.  But, despite Mephisto’s actions not undoing time, everyone (even -- if not particularly -- Aunt May) looks and acts much, much younger.  It’s pretty clear that the writers are approaching the characters as recent college graduates, giving everything a “Real World” (yes, I’m dating myself there; "Jersey Shore?") feel, despite the fact that, in the earlier timeline, they were probably in their late 20s to early 30s.  Peter even refers to himself as being “too young to be married,” which, I guess is subjective, but is there definitely to imply that he’s a young man.  It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, in terms of plot (Petey macking on the ladies!), but it’s a little intellectually dishonest.  It also raises the nagging questions about what exactly the Mephisto deal changed.  For example, we’re supposed to buy Harry as a swinging man-on-town, but, um, doesn’t he have a kid?  I mean, presumably Liz left Harry, but was Normie ret-conned from existence?  I can handle the questions inherent in this exercise, but, by more or less de-aging the characters, it could make some of the reveals seem a little odd.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman:  The Dark Knight #2:  OK, here's the thing.  I've got to be honest:  I'm kind of tired of the "girls Bruce Wayne loved" schtick.  We saw it with the Absence in "Batman and Robin," we see it in "Batman, Incorporated" #4 (see below), and we see it here with the second installment of "In Golden Dawn."  Based on information we got last issue, Dawn Golden was a childhood friend who broke Bruce's heart after college graduation.  OK, sure.  That sucks.  Do I believe that his love for her and his need to find her are so strong that he would savagely break the Penguin's arm and leg?  Um, no.  I mean, we're talking about a guy who manages not to do that to the Joker, who beat Jason Todd to death with a crowbar and paralyzed Barbara Gordon.  But, Dawn Golden is the one to really push him over the edge?  I just don't buy it.  Also -- and I think I might raise it to status as pet peeve #3 soon -- the Penguin and Killer Croc really didn't take the chance to peak under Bats' mask to see who he is when they had him unconscious?  Or, you know, just kill him, like Penguin tried to do at the start of the issue?  Really?  Speaking of pet peeves, per pet peeve #2, we see Bats holding Dawn Golden on the cover of this issue, but he doesn't actually find her in the book.  Also, why is a mutated Ragman killing homeless people?  (Maybe something was supposed to happen in the Ragman secondary feature in "Batman:  Streets of Gotham," but the series got canceled before we could see it?)  I'm not sure Finch is a talented enough writer to keep all the balls in the air that he's got going here.  After waiting three months, I needed something more than essentially a poorly-written "Detective Comics" issue to justify keeping this title.  I'm not sure if I got that here. 

Batman:  Streets of Gotham #21:  I read this issue first before re-reading the entire arc.  I can say now that "House of Hush" will make a really great trade paperback.  The plot is compelling, we get new insights into old characters, and the insight into old-school Gotham is fun.  However, as a storyline with installments of varying length spread over eight issues, it was hard to stay engaged with the story to the level necessary to fully appreciate it.  For example, it wasn't until I re-read the entire arc that I remember Judson Pierce's connection to Roger Elliot (Hush's father) and I had totally forgotten about the Bedbug sub-plot.  (Although Bedbug is actually a cool idea for a character, I think it would've been better to save that story for a different arc or a secondary feature, rather than wasting the pages on a story that only served to draw out the primary storyline.)  My guess is that the blame here lies with the editors who recommended the page lengths and chapter divisions than Dini, who really delivers a great story.  I'm pretty sure they could've had Hush encounter Jane Doe to the same effect (Hush losing Bruce Wayne's face, an important moment in the post-"Return of Bruce Wayne" world) in a three-issue arc that didn't bring us on the convoluted ride we've experienced here.  Moreover, if this issue is indeed the last issue of the series, then I'm pretty sure we're denied a conclusion to the Ragman secondary feature, which sucks because it was, for the most part, more compelling than "The House of Hush."  In the end, it's a sad ending to a series that showed a lot of promise.  (P.S.:  After I read the first issue and wrote the original version of this review, I read some other reviews online and someone noted that this arc gives us the origin -- or at least a glimpse into the past -- of the Joker.  When I re-read the overall arc, I'll admit my mind was BLOWN.  I give Dini a lot of credit for the way he subtly and deftly wove that in that plot.  The boy who would become the Joker suffers terribly and it really gives us insight into why he becomes who he becomes.  However, it's not enough to make me wish that the overall storyline hadn't been partially ruined by editorial interference.) 

Batman Incorporated #4:  OK, I've read issue #3 three times and #4 twice, and I've been able to piece together the following:  Kathy Kane, the former Batwoman, is the biological daughter of Agent-Zero, the head of the spy ring for whom Agent-33 (now known as the Gaucho) worked.  Agent-33 recruited Kathy into the ring for an as-yet-unnamed mission for Agent-Zero, who also happens to be an "unrepentant Nazi master criminal" known as Dr. Dedalus, who was locked into some cave (or something) in the Falkland Islands by a group of British superheroes during the Falkland War.  Meanwhile, Batman is trying to bring the Gaucho into "Batman, Incorporated," only to learn that he's the one that got Kathy Kane involved in the spy ring that allegedly killer her, and the new Batwoman is on the trail of an Argentine gang who killed three Marines.  Um, yeah.  I get that, to understand (and appreciate) Morrison, you've got to put in work.  I get that.  I also appreciate what Morrison does here with the original Batwoman, bringing her back into continuity.  In fact, the flashback sequences are amazingly well done, both in terms of the scripting (where I can almost hear Adam West's voice every time Bruce or Batman speaks) and in the art (aping the 1950s and 1960s style, right down to the original Batmobile design).  But, I still feel like Morrison is suffering from being too clever and sacrificing some coherence in the plot to do it.  I mean, we're juggling A LOT in these two issues (I didn't even mention "oroboro" in the above recap, and it's pretty much central to the plot), and I think Morrison forgets sometimes that he's competing with ten other Bat-books.  That said, this issue is a vast improvement over the last one and I'm now at least interested to see where it leads. 

Captain America #615.1:  I read the other day that Marvel has announced that Steve Rogers is going to take over the role of Captain America again, something I figured was going to have to happen given the upcoming movie.  This issue sets that stage, with Cap encountering a faux Captain America who steps into the vacuum left by Bucky's ongoing legal troubles.  I can't say I'll be disappointed to see Steve return, since, to be honest, I've missed reading about him, having to settle only for his appearances in "Secret Avengers."  But, I hope Bucky gets his own kick-ass series, because, if he doesn't, THEN I'll be disappointed.  Maybe he, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Mockingbird can get a combined series called "Love Rectangle" or something. 

inFAMOUS #2:  The plot continues to build here.  Moya, who last issue was working with the First Sons, appears to resume her government role here, ordering the capture of Sasha and the invasion of Empire City.  Cole is still trying to put himself back together, and works with the Warden and Zeke to fend off the invasion.  The Beast is loose in the city, but Moya appears to have another version of him ready to go.  This issue really builds on the energy of last issue, clarifying some mysteries and deepening others.  For example, Moya mentions that Sasha got her powers at the same time as Cole, which I don't think we knew before.  (I'm not really sure how that happened, unless she was holding some secondary Ray Sphere that also absorbed the abilities of all the people who died.)  Also, one of the soldiers refers to Moya as "Mother," which makes me wonder whether that's her First Sons codename and where the line between the First Sons and the military is drawn.  You get the sense that things aren't going to go well for our guys... 

New Mutants #23 (Age of X:  Chapter 4):  As expected, Legacy and Gambit survive Magneto dumping debris on them.  In fact, Magneto dumped debris on them on purpose, so he could hide them in an underground tunnel and reveal that he's the one who sent Kitty Pryde outside the walls.  (He realized it's pretty bizarre that they all keep repeating the same day, over and over again, like "Groundhog's Day.")  It's revealed here that the reason Kitty's camera was full of blank pictures is because nothing exists outside the wall; when she said she saw "nothing," she meant it literally.  (I'm not sure, logistically, how they're going to make that work, since the humans have to be attacking from somewhere.)  Magneto goes into full revolt to distract attention from Legacy and Gambit going to a newly-discovered room in the center of Fortress X.  Magneto liberates Professor X, who speaks to him cryptically, but he's interrupted by Dani's squad, who's been sent by "X" to capture him.  Just as he convinces Dani to listen to Professor X (when he regains consciousness), Magneto is defeated, and removed from command, by the Force Warriors.  Meanwhile, Legacy discovers that someone (a "she") has stolen the universe and put it in a box.  This cross-over event continues to be interesting, with Carey doing a great job of making it a good read not just because we can see what's different in this world but because it's a fascinating story.  I'm wondering now if "X" isn't Cassandra Nova or even Jean Grey.  Guessing is half the fun! 

Uncanny X-Men #534:  The "Quarantine" storyline wraps up here in a more or less satisfying way, with the humans who took Sublime's drug learning the hardships of mutanthood in a way that borders on "After-School Special" territory but doesn't cross into it.  The Sebastian Shaw sub-plot is resolved oddly, though.  If wiping his mind of his memories was such an easy solution, I'm confused why Emma just didn't do it in the first place, since it's pretty clear it was the only option other than killing him.  Then again, Professor X wiping Magneto's mind didn't turn out so well, so maybe that gave her pause (though I think I'm giving the writers too much credit for thinking about her motivations).  The main problem with this series for me, at this point, is the same I have with the other two main X-books.  We see little in the way of character development (Dazzler learning Welsh slang from Pixie doesn't count) because every character appears in practically each issue of each series.  We need to return to the days where each book had a set roster.  I mean, you can still handle 18-21 characters over three books if you put six or seven people on each team!  Also, I'm kind of ready for Kitty to be able to talk again.  To the extent character development occurred in this arc, I think it's due to Gillen's addition to the writing team, so I'm looking forward to his reign beginning soon on the book.