Friday, May 27, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers #13:  I've been very unhappy with Bendis for a very long time at this point.  Between the split-personality disorder "New Avengers" has been suffering and the overly-cosmic adventures of "Avengers," I just haven't really felt like either of these book has been worth reading (let alone $3.99).  "Avengers" has always emphasized the team and its members' relationships with each other, and Bendis hasn't really focused on that, giving us instead time travel and Kang and Ultron and Parker Robbins and Infinity Gauntlets and...well, you get the picture.  This issue?  I love this issue.  Maybe it's because I've been so starved for good characterization, but I feel like Bendis gives us 13 issues' worth of it in just one.  I love the conversation between Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman because, OMG, finally they both get to be real people.  ("It's a bad idea."  "Go away."  "Bad."  "Disassemble."  I mean, hilarious.)  I love the flirtation between Hawkeye and Spider-Woman because, honestly, I actually think they'd be a lot better together than Hawkeye and Mockingbird, which I never before realized (and feels like heresy to say).  I love that the best pick-up line Clint has is "You've got amazing hair" and I love that Bendis finally stopped ignoring Hawkeye and Spider-Woman.  I love that Bendis incorporates the oral history he's been delivering into the actual narrative and that he manages -- better than anyone ever on this title -- to give each and every member his or her own distinct personality.  I love that, on top of all the other things about this issue that I love, Bachalo, my favorite artist, drew this issue, icing on the cake.  I love even the things I didn't love about this issue, like Spidey (yet again) puking in his mask again.  So, thanks, Bendis, for finally giving us back the Avengers.  Huzzah!  (One quick note:  is someone ever going to mention that Bucky is gone?  We dropped him from the title page a few issues ago -- in the middle of an event, for Pete's sake, -- and no one, not even Spidey, noticed?  No, "Hey, I wonder how Bucky-Cap is doing in that gulag in Siberia?  Anyway, pass the eggs."  It seems weird, particularly given that this issue is essentially about how much the Avengers are a family.)

Batman #710:  "Long Halloween" is, to this day, one of my favorite Batman stories ever told, second, possibly, only to its sequel, "Dark Victory."  Throughout this issue, I got a "Long Halloween" vibe, a vibe that totally reached its crescendo when Gilda Dent stepped from the shadows and shot Harvey.  Harvey is at his most deranged here, and Steve Scott captures that beautifully, giving us two fairly grim shots of Harvey shooting people in the face.  Daniel not only builds on the foundation laid by "Long Halloween," but he draws together stories told in at least two different series over the last few months.  Harvey is searching for his coin in this issue, which, if I'm not mistaken, he last possessed in "Batman:  Streets of Gotham" #15, when one of his henchmen gave it to a homeless guy after he and another henchmen supposedly killed Harvey and ditched his body.  We, however, last saw it in "Batman" #707, when a woman (who I thought was going to be a female Two-Face) was casually flipping it.  It's pretty clear that "female Two-Face" is Gilda, and it's interesting Daniel hasn't fully shown us her face yet.  Gilda, in that issue, asked Riddler to help her with one "teensy little job," which I'm guessing has something to do with Harvey's predicament at the end of this book.  Daniel generally does a great job in the beginning of a story arc drawing me into the story; this arc is no different.  Hopefully, he won't do what he also generally does, which is leave me disappointed at the end.  Fingers crossed.  At any rate, this issue is a great start to the return of one of Batman's classic villains and sets up Dick's first time really dealing with Harvey as Batman.  We'll see how it goes.

Batman:  Gates of Gotham #1:  OK, in a pique of annoyance over getting EIGHT different Bat-books, I canceled this series a while ago.  But, then I realized it was being written by Scott Snyder, so I put it back on my pull list.  I'm glad I did.  Snyder is a genius when it comes to pacing a story, and this issue is a great example of that.  He builds the plot on two levels, giving us the central event-- a shadowy figure, a few explosions, and a questionable motive -- as well as some overarching questions -- how said event ties to Gotham's dodgy past, particularly its prominent families.  I wasn't aware that Penguin came from a storied Gotham family and I didn't see the possibility of Hush getting pulled into the mix, even though it makes sense, given the Elliots' historic prominence in Gotham society.  I'm intrigued to see where the series is going, particularly after all the revelations about the Waynes during Morrison's "Return of Bruce Wayne" as well as the exploration of the Elliot family tree in "House of Hush."  More importantly, I always enjoy seeing Dick and Tim work together, so I'm excited we're going to get a whole five issues dedicated to it.  (Damian is awesomely arrogant here as well, as usual, so I hope he's also part of the mix.)  Snyder also manages to work in some character development vis-à-vis Dick here.  His principal theme in "Detective Comics" is how taking on the mantle of the Bat is affecting Dick, and he continues that here.  Higgins pens a great scene where Commissioner Gordon encourages Dick not to blame himself for the explosions and Dick is more or less not able to do so.  This title is a natural extension of the stories Snyder is telling in "Detective" and if you like that series you'll be quite happy with this one.

Hawkeye:  Blindspot #4:  We get a pretty satisfying conclusion to this mini-series, with Clint using his wits (and a little emotional blackmail) to defeat his brother Barney and chase off Baron Zemo.  Zemo is his usual weird self, deciding to honor his "agreement" with Hawkeye and depositing all of Barney's ill-gotten gains into Hawkeye's bank account since he won the battle.  The only discordant note for me in this issue is that Barney agrees to allow Donald Blake and Tony Stark to use his bone marrow to repair Clint's sight, but then repeatedly threatens to kill him when Clint thanks him.  It doesn't really make sense, unless McCann wants us to think that, deep down, Barney doesn't really mean it and might still be looking for redemption.  It's also unclear, in the end, if Clint is using the money Zemo gave him to set up his own version of the WCA, which would be awesome.  We shall see.  Or, unfortunately, we won't.  I searched for some news on what happens next for Hawkeye and didn't find anything.  So, it looks like the end of the road for Hawk and his own series.  Hopefully Bendis will start using him more in "Avengers" while we wait for McCann to convince Marvel to give him another go.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #660: "Fantastic Voyage"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Hullllo!  Dimensional Rift!  Can you merge me with a paladin Spidey and a +2 broadsword?"  -- Spidey, to the dimensional rift

Summary 
The FF finds itself fighting the Sinister Six while the FF kids fend off the zombie pirates.  Mr. Fantastic tries to reason with Doc Ock, telling him that the dimensional portal threatens all existence.  Doc Ock tells Reed he doesn't have the capacity to understand his plans.  Valeria figures out the "zombie pirates" are robots, and Spidey figures out the Sinister Six members are as well, when Sandman doesn't transform to sand.  The Chameleon and Mysterio are revealed to be the only flesh-and-blood members of the Sinister Six present; the other four have invaded the Baxter Building.  (The building had been sealed against Sandman after his turn in the Frightful Four, but the kids left open the hatch when they left to meet the FF in the Caribbean.)  Doc Ock retrieves one of Reed's inventions, which he needs to "finish the tapestry of destiny [he's] been weaving."  Meanwhile, the FF begins switching powers, since the dimensional rift is causing alternate realities -- where the FFers got different powers -- to come into existence.  The FF kids are also affected, including Dragon Man, who begins attacking the team.  Valeria directs Sue to retrieve the tachyon gun on Dragon Man's back, which she fires at the portal.  The portal explodes with the children still in the blast radius, but Spidey saves them.  Spidey laments letting the Chameleon and Mysterio escape, but Sue and Reed tell him he's too hard on himself.  Back in New York, Carlie confronts Pete about the business trip, and he tells her that he's going on secret business trips, that Mr. Modell knows about them, and that she's got to trust him.  She then reveals that she got a Spider-Man tattoo and, well, all's well that ends well.

In the first back-up feature, a jock terrorizes a nerd in high school.  When the nerd pulls a gun on him, he uses Spidey powers to defend himself, killing the kid and fleeing.  The Jackal is watching, since this kid is one of his test subjects for the coming infestation.

In the second back-up feature, Spidey and Ghost Rider are chasing the Servicer, who has merged with Ghost Rider's bike and fled up the Empire State Building.  There, the Service channels the bike's powers to steal the maximum number of souls for Hell.  Ghost Rider confronts the Servicer and defeats him, telling him that the bike chose him, not the Servicer, and that he doesn't belong to heaven or hell anymore.  The Servicer disappears, and Spidey asks for a ride to Tribeca. 

The Review
My gut reaction, before I wrote the review, was to give this story a three because I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The only thing that kept me from giving it a four was that it got really, really convoluted by the end.  In writing about the goods, mehs, and bads, though, I found that I had a lot more negative (or vaguely negative) things to say about the book than good.  But, overall, the good -- the fact that it was fun -- outweighed the bad (and the meh).  So, I'm sticking with the three stars.  As I say below, though, I'm looking forward to a return to regular ol' Spidey stories.

The Good
The issue, for the most part, is fun.  Although I outline the drawbacks of the convoluted plot below, the positive side effect of it was that it did give the issue a sort of WTF? kind of quality.  The last issue had a similar vibe, like when Franklin asks if they were on Scoobie-Doo, which results in Sue and Peter realizing they're being played.  The switching powers is kind of an old schtick, but it was handled pretty well.  (Though, when Ben asked Peter if he was felling all right, I was hoping the reveal would be that he was the Spider-Thing.)

The Meh
1) Ok, this story gets really confusing, really quickly.  Dr. Octopus created a dimensional portal and tagged three dimensional abnormalities, presumably to said portal, in order to lead the Future Foundation to the Caribbean island where the Fantastic Four first faced Dr. Doom.  He then had the Chameleon and Mysterio set up a trap, full of zombie pirates, on said island, all so that he and the remaining three members of the Sinister Six could find something in the Baxter Building.  Uh-huh, OK.  I was confused why "Electro" tells the FFers to leave the island or lose their lives, since the Sinister Six, after all, led them to the island on purpose, but then I realized that the FF didn't know that (though Valeria apparently did, but she didn't have time to warn them).  But, then, I wondered why exactly Dr. Octopus decided to go with a dimensional anomaly in the first place, but then I realized that dimensional anomalies were the FF's stock in trade.  If I were an insane, genius super-villain trying to get the FF's attention, I'd probably go with a dimensional anomaly, too.  So, in the end, I actually realized that, despite all the ins-and-outs, Slott's plotting is pretty sound here.  But, it took a lot of reflection to get there.  While I was reading the story itself, it was fairly confusing, which distracted from the fun.

2) OK, so, Carlie.  First, we move right into Peter's "fight" with her with almost no segue.  One minute, we're on an island in the Caribbean, the next minute we're in Peter's loft in the middle of a relationship discussion with Carlie.  Second, although I'm glad she didn't get the Goblin tattoo and we got to see them be all cute with one another, I'm still not entirely sure why Slott introduced this sub-plot.  My hope (fingers crossed) is that he did so in order to give Peter a chance to give Carlie the "I do secret things with my Horizon job" line.  If so, I'm hoping we'll avoid what I was afraid was going to happen in my last review, which is that we're going to have to live through a never-ending series of "Peter, where were you?" fights.  Hopefully, Carlie will accept Peter's "secret job" (which she seems to do) and we'll be able to just enjoy Peter having a nice, stable relationship, at least for a while.  But, I still think this sub-plot wound up being an unnecessary distraction from the fun of the FF appearance.

3) The Ghost Rider secondary (tertiary?) feature, which had been fun last issue, is kind of meh this issue, suffering from the same overly-expository dialogue as the main feature.  But, overall, I'm still glad they gave it to us and I hope it becomes a regular bit, these "Marvel Team-Up" features.

The Unknown
If Miles Warren can inject some kid with a Spider-Sense, I assume the upcoming conflict with him is going to be the thing that re-instates Spidey's Spider-Sense, right?

The Bad
1) Van Lente, who I really, really don't like, as you'll see as I progress with the "Brand New Day" posts, gives us some really cheesy dialogue here at times.  Sue Richards telling Electro that her days as a professional hostage are long over, Sue and Reed telling Peter how proud he should be of himself:  I actually found myself rolling my eyes.  I'll give him credit for Ben and Pete's banter, but otherwise a lot of the dialogue felt way too wooden to me.

2) So, despite Doc Ock's "genius," the only reason they can get into the Baxter Building is because the kids left open the door?  Really?

3) I'm not really sure how Spidey saves the FF kids.  He just creates, what, a web?  The blast is so weak that Spidey's web can contain it?  If so, was it really that big of a threat?

4) Avengers Academy next issue?  Really?  I mentioned in one of the Avengers cross-overs earlier in Slott's run that I actually like how Slott is incorporating what Spidey does outside the title into the title.  But, I mean that more in terms of referencing events happening outside the title, not constantly importing the various members of the teams on which he serves.  "Amazing Spider-Man" isn't supposed to be "Marvel Team-Up."  In fact, we seem to now have a secondary feature for that.  I read "Avengers Academy" #1 and I can't say I was really all that impressed, so I can't say I'm jazzed about the next issue.  Can't we, I don't know, have Stilt-Man go on a murderous rampage or something?  Who's next?  The Defenders?

Amazing Spider-Man #659: "Fantastic Voyage"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Zombie pirates?  Weird lights?  What is this, Scooby Doo?"  "Wait a..."  "It'd explain a lot, actually."  -- Franklin, Sue, and Spidey, on the road to an epiphany

Summary
The FF has returned to our time and dimension, discovering that the epicenter of the dimensional anomalies it's been chasing is somewhere in the Caribbean.  The Thing reflects on how, the last time the Fantastic Four were on the island, Johnny, Reed, and he were sent into the past by Dr. Doom to retrieve Blackbeard's treasure.  (Apparently, in "Fantastic Four" #3, Doom kidnapped Sue and sent the guys to get the treasure because he thought it had mystical powers.  They, for some reason, scattered it on the bottom of the sea after finding it.  I'm not really sure what they used in exchange for Sue, but, you know, whatever, it was the 1960s, I'll trust Stan figured out something.)  While recounting the story, the FF is attacked by villagers.  One villager steps forward, calming the others and informing the FF that the villagers have been being attacked by a sea creature, forcing them to send their women and children inland.  He also notes that a mountain...with a skull on it...has been emitting strange lights and sounds.  Meanwhile, Carlie overshares with her roller-derby teammates, giving us a recap of her bad relationship with men.  Back in the Caribbean, the FF makes its way to the creepy mountain, where it encounters zombie pirates.  (Srsly.)  At the Baxter Building, Valeria has created a tachyon pack that will stabilize the dimensional breaches and attached it to Dragon Man.  She's also determined that the rifts the FF had been combating have no natural connection, but someone wanted them to think they did.  Back in the creepy mountain, the FF discovers a portal surrounded by Blackbeard's gems, which a guy in an old-school diving suit tells the FF was created to summon Blackbeard.  In New York, Carlie -- now drunk with her teammates -- decides to get one of the Goblin gang-banger tattoos in order to annoy Peter, given his hatred of Norman Osborn.  The FF attempts to shut down the portal, and the Thing assumes the role of Blackbeard (which he apparently did in the original adventure) to convince the zombie pirates he's returned.  The zombie pirates attack him instead.  The FF kids arrive, and Valeria begins to explain that the problem with the portal is worse than the FF thinks.  The FF realizes it's been played, and the Sinister Six reveal themselves as the masterminds behind the scheme.

In the first back-up feature, we get a prelude to the upcoming "Infested" storyline, where we learn that Miles Warren (aka the Jackal) has been behind the deaths of bumblebee populations around the world and the infestation of bedbugs that has plagued Manhattan.  He's releasing a new group of bugs that promises...to do bad things.

In the second back-up feature, Spidey -- Spirit of Vengeance -- stops a mugging.  However, the Servicer is in pursuit and we -- creepily -- see Ghost Rider pop briefly from his torso to warn Spidey not to let him get the bike -- before purple-clawed demons pull him into the torso again.  (I told you it was creepy.)  The Servicer grabs the bike by the wheel with a chain, and Spidey decides to play chicken with him, hoping he'll release the bike.  Instead, Spidey runs the bike into him.  Ghost Rider appears, telling Spidey, "I told you...don't let him get the bike!"  The Servicer has now merged with the bike to become "some kinda mega monster motorbike" who appears to be after Ghost Rider and Spidey.

The Review
OK, this issue is pretty fun.  It's a little corny, but I can live with it, because it's at least better than last issue.  I think a FF-Sinister Six battle royale will be a good time, so I'm excited to see what happens next issue.  However, I'm also excited for us to return to some classic Spider stories after this arc concludes.  We've been really focused on team-ups and dramatic events over the last few issues, and I'd like us to return to some regular ol' Spidey stories.  How about some information about Kaine-Tarantula?    (Maybe we'll find out more about him given the return of the Jackal.)  What happened with the Black Cat?  I know Spidey stopped seeing her as a result of Peter dating Carlie, but I never feel like we really got closure on that front.  Can't they still be partners with sexy banter if they're not together?  What's happening with JJJ, Jr.?  He did, after all, order his Police Chief to assassinate someone extrajudicially.  Is there any additional fall out to the revelation, to Max Modell's mind, that Peter "works" for Spidey?  Slott has left a lot of loose ends dangling while he pursues this FF arc, and I hope we return to some of these stories once it ends.

The Good
1) Again, this issue is fun.  It reminds me of the Hobgoblin arc from "Big Time" that started off Slott's run, which is a good thing (though not quite as awesome).  We get to see some Peter/Thing banter and even some Reed/Sue banter.  (Reed and Sue's reactions to Peter and Ben's Blackbeard gambit were classic.)  It's a lighter story than we've seen in a while (after all the "why is everyone dying?" stories) and I appreciated the change in tone.  I feel like Slott does this sort of story really well, so let's hope he gives us a lot more of them.

2) Speaking of fun, I enjoyed the Ghost Rider back-up feature this issue (after feeling meh about it last issue).  Rob Williams has a good ear for Spidey's banter.  I particularly enjoyed his interaction with Ghost Rider after, you know, he was freed from inside the demon.  I hope he's going to do more of these "Marvel Team-Up" features because they could definitely be good fun.

The Bad
1) I'm sure all will be revealed at some point, but, I have to say, I'm a little confused why the Sinister Six would go through all the trouble of dressing as zombie pirates to lure the FF to the dimensional portal.  It all seems very 1960s "Batman" TV show.  (I mean, you even have a Skull Mountain!)  Are they going to put the FF members in an enormous tea cup with an enormous tea pot precariously perched over them, and then leave the scene assuming that the scalding hot water that will eventually pour on the FF as the tea pot continues to tilt will, in fact, be the end of them?  It seems like we're going there.

2) The Carlie turn of events feels extremely forced.  I get that Slott is telling a story about how Peter's Spidey-induced absence affects his relationship with Carlie.  However, when their sexy date was first interrupted by Carlie's ringing cell phone -- and not Peter's FF signal -- in issue #657, I thought Slott was creating some space, allowing Carlie and Pete's relationship time to develop before throwing us into the drama that we all knew would eventually come as Pete found it more and more difficult to hide his time as Spider-Man from Carlie.  However, Slott seems to have gone in the other direction entirely, having Carlie discover that Pete wasn't on a "business trip" as he claimed.  Somehow, this revelation has sent Carlie entirely into a tailspin, resulting in her drunkenly getting a tattoo of the monster who's tortured Peter's best friend for the last 20 or so years (which Carlie knows, since she's also Harry's friend).  Not only do I feel like Slott is rushing the drama, but I also don't buy Carlie's reaction.  She goes from in love to in tattoo in, what, 24 hours?  Also, I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  why did we have to go through "Brand New Day" if we're just going to wind up having the same "Peter, where were you last night?" stories?  What changed by having Peter go through these conversations with Carlie instead of Mary Jane?  All in all, Carlie's weirdness just injected what I felt was an unnecessarily dark and ominous tone to an otherwise fun read.

Amazing Spider-Man #658: "Peter Parker: The Fantastic Spider-Man"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "I know.  It's like it's not even a word anymore.  Just some weird sound.  Sure.  Sure.  Sure."  -- Carlie to Pete, commenting on their use of the word "sure" while getting ready to have sex

Summary
Pete and Carlie are getting ready to bring their relationship to the next level but are saved by Carlie's ringing cell phone (telling her about a superhero crime scene) and the FF flare signal (telling Pete to meet at HQ).  Pete heads to Horizon Labs to get his costume, where he's accosted by Mr. Modell and an angry Grady and Sajani, who claim Pete stole their ideas for his noise-canceling headphones.  Pete, in a rush, suggests they all share the credit.  He arrives at the Baxter Building in a traditional Fantastic Four outfit, only to enrage Sue and Ben, since they agreed to retire the number and the colors in respect for Johnny.  He switches into the new FF uniform (complaining that it makes him look like Anti-Venom) and the FF heads to Paris.  Reed exposits that the team is facing the first of "three rifts in the space-time continuum," which, if it doesn't seal them, could cause reality to collapse on itself.  The team battles beasts from Arkon's reality, and herd them all back through the dimensional rift.  On the way to the next mission, Pete leaves Carlie a voicemail telling her that he'll be on a business trip for Horizon Labs.  Carlie, meanwhile, is investigating a crime scene that appears to involve a drug deal gone wrong but could have involved the Wraith.  The FF is on its second mission, helping Superego the Living Atom to keep from disintegrating by correcting her electrons' orbit.  The team accomplishes its task and leaves; meanwhile, we see "Psycho-Man" use a device to catch the expansion frequency allowing the team to return to our universe, claiming he can now enter it to cause havoc.  At the Baxter Building, Valeria Richards determines that the three different dimensional anomalies triangulate to an island in the Caribbean, where the Fantastic Four first made a trip through time.  In the year 3,141,592,653, the FF arrives at the "Future-Future Foundation," where the Future FFers need Reed's help to figure out its HQ's "ancient" (and failing) dimensional circuits.  Reed reveals that they're based on Hank Pym's dimensional-wave inducer.  When Peter comments that he can use that science for his job at home, Reed makes him swear not to use anything from FF adventures in his work, since science needs to progress naturally.  Finally, Carlie goes to Horizon Labs to ask the secretary to ship a box of snickerdoodles to Pete, since she had to cancel their date the previous night.  The secretary, Flo, tells her that Pete's not on a business trip.  (Duh-duh-duh.)

In the back-up feature, Spidey meets Johnny Blaze, aka Ghost Rider, at a bar (finding him there by following the stream of screaming people fleeing the bar).  Their drink is interrupted by the Servicer, a demon who has come to collect Ghost Rider's bike because it has not been used for its intended purpose, "the collection of souls for Hell."  Ghost Rider takes on the Servicer, who (eww) absorbs him into him.  Spidey then flees on the bike.

The Review
This issue was really hit or miss for me.  It had some really good aspects -- Pete's sex conversation with Carlie and the art -- and some not-so-good aspects -- Pete disrespecting Johnny's memory more or less on purpose and Carlie's weird behavior at the end.  Overall, I'm giving it a two just because I expected something a little better for Pete's first mission as a FFer.

The Good
1) I loved the sex conversation Carlie and Peter have in the first two pages.  It's probably the best such conversation I've ever seen in comics.  Slott totally captures Peter and Carlie here; they're both a little awkward, a little shy.  It goes exactly how you imagine this sort of conversation would go between the two of them.

2) I really enjoyed Javier Pulido's art in this issue.  He brings the same sort of innovation he did to this issue as he did the Sandman arc during "The Gauntlet."

3) I don't know if I necessarily buy Reed's assertion about "meta-science," but I certainly take his point that it's weird that Galactus, the devourer of worlds, appears as a white guy with purple boots.

The Unknown
It's too early to tell, but Slott kind of leaves two plot points hanging here.  First, we see Carlie investigating the possible Wraith angle to the drug deal gone wrong, finding some sort of purple goo she finds familiar.  Second, we see "Psycho-Man" using the FF's presence in the Microverse to determine the frequency he needs to expand into the normal universe.  My sense is that we're not going to return to these plot points any time soon, but we'll see.

The Bad
1) The initial sequence with the FF was odd.  Sue and Ben are irate at Peter for wearing the old Fantastic Four uniform, and Reed makes it clear that Pete knew about the change when he comments that Pete left his (new) uniform there the last time.  Pete seems to be acting like a jackhole here.  It's funny that he feels disappointed he's not a member of the "Fantastic Four," per se, but, if he knew the FF didn't want him wearing the uniform to respect Johnny, why would he disrespect his best friend by wearing it?

2) I didn't really buy how Carlie discovers Pete's not on a business trip.  She baked him cookies and asked his place of business to FedEx them to Peter?  Really?  It just seems kind of weird.  Who would do that?  I mean, I get we're supposed to buy Carlie as an awkward scientist type, but she didn't strike me as a crazy stalker type.  If my boyfriend goes on a business trip, I don't bake him cookies and try to convince work to FedEx them to him.  It's just weird.

New Comics!: inFAMOUS Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

inFAMOUS #3:  This mini-series keeps getting better and better in terms of the plot.  We see Cole stuck between a rock and a hard place:  if he doesn't leave the city, Moya will bomb it into the Stone Age; if he does, he's essentially abandoning it to the gangs.  But, we get a few twists and turns as well that complicate matters.  First, Moya is actually trying to protect Cole, since he's the link for her (and the military, apparently) to replicating the Ray Sphere experiment.  Second, Kessler's monster (who I think is the Beast, or at least some earlier version of him) is chasing Cole because he thinks he's Kessler (which, of course, he is).  This turn of events seems to be the action-forcing event that will force Cole to leave Empire City, lest the monster kill more people in pursuit of him.  I can't wait to see where it goes next.  The fact that I'm going to get to play the game after this mini-series ends is really just icing on the cake!  This issue has two main drawbacks, though.  First, William Harms isn't great when it comes to writing emotions.  I'm not really sure why Cole got so...whiny in this issue and I was confused why he has his emotional break-down on Zeke's couch.  I mean, yes, he's had a lot happen over the last few weeks, so you could argue it was the combined stress of all those events.  But, Harms doesn't actually argue that; we're just presented it with no real explanation for why Cole is in the mental space he is.  The other drawback here is the art, which is rushed.  But, to be honest, I'm really reading this comic as a fan of the game, so the answers we're getting plot-wise compensate for the occasionally weak writing and spotty art. 

inFAMOUS #4:  This issue not only gets us some answers, but promises us more answers in the future.  We see here how Moya learns of John White (who, in the game, she pretends is her husband to get Cole to find him).  We also get confirmation that Kessler went rogue when he set off the Ray Sphere to "activate" Cole, since Moya is trying to arrest him.  Moya finally gets her hands on Cole here, so we're likely to get some answers about her and the government's plans when she and Cole have their "long talk."  We're also seeing the reporters from the last few issues sneak into Empire City to get see how bad it is with their own eyes, which should significantly shake up the status quo.  Cole's dream sequence is odd, though.  He refers to just wanting to protect his "wife and two daughters," but, of course, they weren't his, they were Kessler's.  I know it's a dream, so it doesn't really have to make sense, but it left me feeling a little confused about the point Harms was trying to make.  Why would Cole be so grief stricken over daughters he never had?  Plus, to be honest, we had kind of put to bed the guilt Cole felt over Trish, so it's weird to see it return.  Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to getting some information from Moya in the next issue, and even more so the return of Sasha. 

inFAMOUS #5:  This issue is a little lackluster in part because Cole spends most of it imprisoned by Moya.  Most of the issue is dedicated to the two intrepid reporters interviewing survivors of the Ray Sphere explosion and getting confirmation that the government is lying about its activities and "support" of Empire City.  We see Zeke and the cop with whom he and Cole have been working approaching the aircraft carrier where Cole is being held.  However, in the end, Cole is freed by Sasha, who has managed to free herself.  I can't remember if she did so in the last issue or if it was ever explained how she did.  But, it feels a little forced (she only managed to free herself from Moya's clutches just in time to free Cole?) as well as unnecessary (why bother having Zeke and the cop try to rescue Cole at all?).  Sasha's character wasn't really all that well developed in the game, if I remember correctly, so her motives are all the more confusing here.  However, Harms does a good job in this issue building up the tension as we wait to see how some loose ends are going to resolve themselves, like whether the reporters are going to manage to get out their story and how Cole is going to defeat (or if he's going to defeat) Kessler's monster.  I still don't know if this series would appeal (or make sense) to people who aren't fans of the game, but, as a fan of the game, I'm still pretty satisfied.  Most importantly, I'm keenly anticipating the release of the game, exactly what Sucker Punch wants!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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

Flash #10:  I thought the two-month gap would have a more significant impact than it did on the story.  But, I was mostly able to follow what happened.  Hot Pursuit, an alternate-universe version of Barry whose powers are derived from his uniform, may, or may not be, killing people connected to the Speed Force in order to fuel his "cosmic motorcycle" and chase down "time-traveling rogues" who are destabilizing the time stream.  Yup, pretty straight-forward.  Johns actually does an admirable job making that all seem pretty logical.  I have to say I'm more excited about the upcoming "Flashpoint" event than I was before reading this issue, when I was on the verge of canceling the title.  (Manapul's pencils are beautiful as always.)

Flash #11:  OK, so, one of the problems in reading "Flash" as a new reader is that he's got a pretty convoluted back story, as do all his supporting characters.  I'm vaguely aware that the Reverse-Flash is a bad guy, thanks to the ret-con issue a few issues ago, though I don't entirely understand his connection to Barry.  Based on his comments at the end of the book, he appears to be somehow connected to Hot Pursuit (who, of course, is an alternate-universe version of Barry), who may or may not be stealing years from people to fuel his cosmic motorcycle.  It's all still a little unclear.  Johns doesn't dwell too much on these sorts of metaphysical questions, though, giving us some emotional grounding in the form of the intervention staged by Iris, who's trying to get Barry to connect with his family.  (If I remember correctly, Barry feels estranged from them due to his fear that he'll be responsible for their deaths, something connected to seeing his mother in the mirror during the first arc of this series.)  I'm sure we'll get some answers next issue as we segue to the full "Flashpoint" series.  I miss Manapul's pencils here, but Scott Kolins does an admirable job keeping up the high quality of the art in this book.

Flash #12:  Johns wraps up the ongoing "The Road to Flashpoint" arc here, though I still unfortunately have a lot of questions.  As noted above, it initially seemed like Hot Pursuit may have been responsible for ageing the victims to power his suit.  However, we discover that it's actually Reverse-Flash doing so.  So, what exactly was Hot Pursuit doing to those people?  Also, how does Hot Pursuit go so quickly from knowing that Kid Flash is the "floating paradox" (so much so he's willing to kill him) to suddenly realizing that it's Reverse Flash?  Reverse-Flash's motives are also a mystery here.  First, he tells Patty Spivot that he's going to remove the Flash from his "historical equation," but then he tells Hot Pursuit that he can't kill Barry Allen without destroying his own timeline.  Which is it?  I'm assuming the answer to this conundrum is the whole point of the "Flashpoint" storyline, but I can't say I'm really all that interested in it, to be honest.  I can't believe DC is pushing out 20+ issues of the cross-over in the next two months based on this concept.  I trust Johns, even though these last few issues have been spotty, so we'll see how it goes.

New Comics! HERE BE SPOILERS!

Batman and Robin #23:  Despite usually being focused on plots, I'm going to talk about the art for most of this review.  The most amazing part about the art isn't how spectacularly good Jason Todd looks (we'll get to that).  The most amazing part is that I had no idea Guillem March didn't draw the entire issue.  Andrei Bresson must be an anagram in a different language for Guillem March, because the transition here is so seamless it had to have been Guillem who drew the whole issue.  With that discussed, let's return to talking about Jason Todd.  Um, wow.  I'm glad we've returned him to red hair, because having to keep track of all those dark-haired brooding men was getting confusing.  The drawback, of course, is that it's a little hard at times to remember we're dealing with Jason, at least visually.  Here, Jason actually appears older than Dick, despite being significantly younger than him.  But, whatever.  I will happily gaze upon the new, improved Jason Todd for as often as DC will let me.  Concerning the plot, I'm disappointed that we're getting Judd Winick here and not Peter Tomasi, who did such a bang-up job in the "Dark Knight, White Knight" arc.  I don't hate Winick, but I'm not pleased that he's been given control over Jason, since I think someone like Tomasi (or, dare we dream, Snyder) could do really amazing things with him.  Here, we wind up getting a somewhat anti-climatic conclusion, with Jason just happening to be sprung from the armored transport taking him back to Arkham Asylum.  I had figured that Jason had arranged the entire transfer to set up his escape, something that, frankly, Jason would've totally been shrewd and calculating enough to set into motion.  (Bruce himself even implies it earlier in the issue.)  It's that sort of missed opportunity that makes me disappointed that Winick never seems to understand Jason, to allow him to become the dark genius anti-hero that he has the potential to become.  Hopefully, we'll see flashes of him in the coming issues.  At the very least, I hope March will continue giving us other flashes of him to keep me entertained.  That said, the interaction between Bruce and Jason is well done, with Jason egging on Bruce in his usual smart-ass way and Bruce seemingly incapable of finding a way to relate to him.  If Winick doesn't get the finesse of Jason's dark genius, he does get the subtleties of Bruce and Jason's relationship.  Jason's at his best when we see him barely able to control his anger and hurt, because we see him struggle with trying to be a good guy, even if it's in his own unique way; when he gives into the anger and hurt, he just appears to be another homicidal maniac.  Winick gets that, and I hope we see that Jason throughout this arc.

Batman Incorporated #6:  Yay, finally an issue I like!  Morrison ditches the nonsensical approach and given us an issue with an honest-to-goodness plot!  This issue actually reads more like a first issue of a series, with Bruce detailing his plans for Batman Incorporated to its participants.  Morrison, however, doesn't reveal those plans to us, the reader, successfully conveying a sense of intrigue (instead of a sense of confusion, as he has been doing).  We don't know what it was the Bruce told Tim just before assigning him to the Outsiders, or what he told the assembled heroes about his trip through time (and its connection with Leviathan).  We also don't know the identity of the mystery Batman, who I'm hoping against hope is Jason Todd.  It actually makes me, possibly for the first time, want to continue getting this series.  The concept behind Batman Incorporated has always been solid, but the execution so far has been terrible.  I'm glad to see Morrison might actually be listening to the criticism that the book defies comprehension and gave us something more concrete as a result.  The "Joe Average and the Average Joes" framing concept worked well to give the story direction.  Also, I just have to add here, Bruce Wayne is the sexiest I've possibly ever seen him in a comic.  Burnham draws him well (and actually has him smile) and Morrison writes him with more personality than we usually see Bruce have.  All in all, it was a solid issue.  Hurrah!

Dungeons and Dragons #6:  Seriously, I love this series.  When last we left Adric and company, they were falling through some sort of wormhole created when Adric accidentally introduced an extra World Key into...I don't know, it was something involving a portal.  At any rate, the result is that we get a flashback to the past and the origins of Fell's Four, who come together mostly how you expect they would:  some friendly misunderstandings, some quick thinking, and a little luck.  I'm intrigued by how Adric goes from holding a sword to Juliana's throat to becoming her lover and how Varis goes from aiming an arrow at Adric's head to becoming his colleague.  Rogers is even more on fire than usual here.  In the first arc of this series, he occasionally skimped on some explanations.  It never really detracted from the fun, but you had to put aside your questions and just keep reading.  Here, he's tightened up his storytelling a bit.  Everything is explained, though not in an overly exposition-y way.  The characters continue to be awesome:  funny, quirky, irreverent, smart.  Buy this book, people.  Buy this book.

Fear Itself:  Spider-Man #1:  This issue suffers from a similar problem I'm having with "Fear Itself:  The Home Front," which is that the story seems to be running ahead of where we are in the main title.  Yost frequently refers to "the fear" here, with everyday people essentially giving into their greatest fears.  In "Fear Itself:  The Home Front," we saw a mob almost killing Speedball as revenge against all super-humans; in this issue, we see a second-generation Iranian-American get attacked by a mob for September 11th.  But, nothing we've seen in the main title really explains why people would be acting this way.  This issue makes it seem more like the Serpent (or someone) is sending out subliminal messages stoking people's fear, instead of them responding to some sort of attack from a member of the Worthy.  As such, although this issue is fairly well scripted, I found myself just constantly wondering why everyone was behaving the way they were behaving.  I'm hoping we'll get some more clarity in the next installment of "Fear Itself."  In terms of what Yost does here, thought, it's a good issue.  It covers similar themes as the Speedball story in "Fear Itself:  The Home Front," giving us a look at how the actions of the super-human community affect the every-day lives of "regular" people.  I'm pretty sure every secondary title that Marvel is going to publish is going to address this theme, so, if you're just now starting to read "Fear Itself," I'd say just pick your favorite character and stick with his/her title.

Fear Itself:  Youth in Revolt #1:  I saved this book as one of the last of my current stack to read because I had exactly no interest in it.  I actually didn't even remember subscribing to it; I probably did right when "Fear Itself" was announced.  I had already decided to cancel it before I read it.  But, then I read it.  "Fear Itself:  Youth in Revolt" is actually the best of the whole "Fear Itself" bunch, combining the high action of "Fear Itself" with the street sensibilities of "Fear Itself:  The Home Front."  I have no idea who any of these characters are (Thor Girl?); from what I can tell, they all played small parts in the "Civil War" cross-over and its aftermath.  But, McKeever does so well in presenting them as flawed and human characters -- particularly Prodigy, who we meet right away -- that he immediately sucks you into their world.  I can already tell that I'll buy any book with Prodigy after this whole affair ends.  If you're reading "Fear Itself," you should buy this book.

New Avengers #12:  OK, if this book didn't have "Avengers" in the title, I'd drop it like a hot potato.  Nothing happens this issue...again.  Mockingbird is still in critical condition, and we're supposed to believe Bendis is going to kill her.  We're also supposed to believe that Victoria Hand is secretly working for H.A.M.M.E.R.  Here's the thing:  even if both were true, I still wouldn't care.  I like Mockingbird as a character.  I was a fan of "Avengers West Coast," and I was happy to discover she was resurrected, of sorts, during "Secret Invasion."  But, if Bendis is just going to casually throw away her character, I'm going to find it hard to take anything he does seriously, because he's just showing that he can change anything willy-nilly.  But, of course, if he just finds a miraculous way to save her, I also won't be able to take him seriously, because he'll have wasted part of my life on waiting for the inevitable revelation that she doesn't die.  Ditto Victoria Hand.  But, this whole discussion is moot because, if the last few issues are any guide, nothing will happen ever and, 100 issues from now, we'll still be waiting to discover if Mockingbird survives.  The 1950s Avengers story is similarly stalled.  We never discover why Nick Fury and his Avengers are fighting a Captain Fauxmerica and the Red Faux.  I think we actually know even less than when we started.  We're also no closer to discovering if (and I'm beginning to doubt it) these stories are in any way connected.  Basically, I spent $3.99 on this issue when I could've just read "New Avengers" #11 again and gotten the same result.

New Mutants #25:  As a result of "Age of X," I felt like I hadn't read this book in ages.  I had forgotten some of the details of the "Fall/Rise of the New Mutants" arcs, which were complicated enough to understand even when I had the details fresh in my mind.  If I remember correctly, it's still unclear if Illyana has regained her soul, despite the fact that she now has possession over the bloodstones that contained the pieces of her soul.  We don't really get an answer here, but I think it's safe to say it's going to be a while before we resolve that issue.  Abnett and Lanning, meanwhile, really get to work propelling us into a new status quo.  First, we see Dani step into the leadership role, with Sam admitting he was overburdened, in part because of the drastic actions he had to take during "Fall/Rise of the New Mutants" and in part because of the psychological trauma inflicted on him during "Age of X."  (Also, it's fair to remember that "Fall/Rise of the New Mutants" happened while he was still trying to recover from "Hellbound".)  The leadership transition works well, because Abnett and Lanning foreshadow it with the opening battle and cement it with excellent scenes between Dani and Sam and then Dani and Cyclops.  I was legitimately thrilled to see Dani and Sam kissing again.  I never really bought Sam and Lila or Sam and Boom-Boom, but Sam and Dani make sense.  They're a couple that really makes me happy, and I hope we let them be happy for a long while.  Also, I'm excited about the new direction that the series will take, with the New Mutants resolving the X-Men's unfinished business, a mission similar to the one they had in their X-Force days.  I had thought Nate Grey was dead, but I always liked Nate, so I'm glad to see we've resurrected (or, at least, rediscovered) him.  I'm also glad, frankly, that we're probably going to be seeing a little less of Illyana.  Everything about Illyana is confusing and I think we could really use a break from her constant drama.  All in all, as I think is obvious from this review, Abnett and Lanning do an amazing job here, ably building on the foundation laid by Wells.  I can't wait to see where this series goes.

Red Robin #23:  Nicieza goes back to basics in this issue, giving us an investigation-heavy plot and bringing back a few characters we haven't seen since the first few issues of the series, such as Lynx and Scarab.  Tim is tracking down an assassin who appears to be targeting CEOs, using Lucius Fox as bait in an attempt to catch said assassin.  I'm not entirely sure what happens to Lucius; he appears to be dead and Tim even says that Lucius, who is unaware he's being used as bait, will be fine with the plan "after he's dead."  But, clearly Lucius Fox isn't dead.  I guess we'll have to wait to see what actually happened to him.  The best part of this book, as usual, are the Tim/Dick interactions, but, overall, it's a pretty solid issue, particularly after the disappointing Teen Titans and "Judgment on Gotham" cross-over events.  I'm intrigued to see who's hired the Order of the Scarab (or whatever they're called) to kill the CEOs and what his/her goal is.  I'm just hoping it's not Ra's al Ghul, because, seriously, he can't be responsible for everything.

Superboy #6:  [Sigh.]  I want to like this book.  I do.  But, Lemire  makes it difficult.  He begins the issue with a Conner/Tim heart-to-heart, where Conner spends most of the time whining and Tim does nothing more than making a tired joke about Conner's bad Hawaii-era fade cut.  (If Lemire wants to write these heart-to-heart talks, he should check out Geoff Johns' similar scene in "Adventure Comics" #3 and pick up some pointers.)   Then, Conner is attacked by Doomsday and, to be honest, I'm a little unclear on what happens next.  The art makes it almost impossible to follow.  Conner crashes into the "USA-Canada Tunnel" (which appears to be in San Francisco), flooding it.  He manages to knock Doomsday into the ocean and then appears to take a ship and smash it into the tunnel's gaping hole (seriously).  Conner then, somehow, procures a large fist statue (no joke) and tries to attack Doomsday with it.  It doesn't work, and Doomsday takes him down and brings him to his ship.  Some of the confusion, of course, comes from not having the back story, since this issue is part #5 of "Reign of Doomsday."  But, most of it is Rudy's really sloppy pencils and Lemire's bad dialogue and even worse monologues.  It's getting really hard to justify the $2.99 I spend on this book each month, shirtless Conner be damned...

Superboy #7:  I really, really, really wanted this issue to be AMAZING, so I could justify not canceling this title as planned.  Unfortunately, it wasn't.  We get another weird plant-based villain here, who injects Conner into a nightmare state where he's partnered with Simon to slaughter most of the world's superheroes.  Psionic Lad eventually helps him escape, and we learn that Superman had battled a similar plant a few years earlier.  The main problem with this series so far is that Conner has been super-whiny, which we again see here as he's constantly yelling, "Just stop so we can figure this out!"  The other problem here is the art, which is just awful.  The dream sequence art is a little better, because it actually suits the indistinct lines and sketchy effect that  Rudy and Hor use here.  But, overall, it's just a mess, just like the last few issues.  Conner looks different in almost every panel.  Geoff Johns' and Frances Manapul's run on "Adventure Comics" was amazing, giving us an introspective yet still fun Superboy who battled super-villains.  Lemire's and his various artists' "Superboy" unfortunately is terrible, giving us a whiny and boring Conner, who fights a bunch of plant villains.  This title, I hate to say, is canceled.

X-Men #11:  This issue is OK.  Professor X recounts a story of meeting a good vampire in Africa in the 1950s in an attempt to convince Jubilee that she can find a way to handle becoming a vampire.  The story itself is a pretty clichéd "searching for trouble on safari in Africa" story, full of bar fights in dodgy saloons and sexy Russians with big guns.  As such, it feels like Gischler kind of phones in the story, but it's still more or less entertaining.  It's a shame, though, because it returns us to the lackluster "Curse of the Mutants" story, just after Gischler really hit a home run with the Spidery cross-over.  Less vampires, more fun, Victor.

Friday, May 20, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman Beyond #5:  OK, so, one of the challenges of reading this series is that, except what I gleaned from watching a few episodes of the TV show, I really know next to nothing about the universe of "Batman Beyond."  My guess is that I'm supposed to know who the villain on the last page of the issue was, why Dana's brother was in prison (and why his creepy comment about being glad to have returned was so ominous), and who exactly Paxton Powers is/was.  However, I don't know any of those things.  I'm tempted to do a bunch of Internet research, but I think I'll wind up just being confused, since it's still unclear what elements of previous "Batman Beyond" works -- from the TV show to the previous comics -- Beechen is using.  However, despite not entirely following all the ins-and-outs, I still thoroughly enjoyed this issue.  Beechen has a great ear for dialogue, and he gives us a really great version of a cranky Bruce Wayne.  I hope he gives us some background next issue without falling too far on the "super-villain explaining his grand plan while our hero is perched precariously over a ravine" side of such divides.  At any rate, I'm excited to see where this plot goes. 

Dark Sun #4:  Our rag-tag team of (sort-of) heroes gets one more step closer to the Tomb of Ianto in this issue.  Over all, it's a pretty solid issue, with Irvine doing a particularly great job of quietly building the suspense for the first few pages as the team makes it way through the too quiet tombs.  However, a lot of the details of the world are unclear to me, and we're far enough into the series that it's becoming distracting.  For example, Rubi tells us that she can sense Haskyr, since he's a fellow member of the Veiled Alliance; but, when we first met them in issue #2, they appeared to be unaware of the other's connection to the Alliance.  Can members only sense other members when they're revealed?  Moreover, the only real information we've gotten on the Veiled Alliance is in the recap page (paging pet peeve #2), which reveals they're an underground group of mages trying to restore Athas to its former glory.  Irvine probably doesn't have enough time to flesh out these details, which is a shame.  The biggest drawback to the issue itself is the art.  I normally like Bergting's pencils, but it feels a little rushed in this issue.  At times, it was hard to tell who was saying what to whom and the action sequences were somewhat confusing to follow.  The last page, however, is great, thanks to Ronda Pattison's colors; after four issues of a coloring us a bleak, desolate world, we suddenly get a light, green vista, and you realize how much restraint we've seen on the colors over the course of the series.  I'll be sad to see the series end next issue, just as we're seeing some hope sprouting in this really sad world. 

Dark Sun #5:  I'm sad to see this series end.  I feel like Irvine has left us with enough material for a bang-up ongoing series.  First, he leaves several mysteries unresolved here, almost all of them dealing with Rubi and the Veiled Alliance.  When she first appears in issue #2, she doesn't seem to understand the important of the amulet she gave to Grudvik and can't tell that Haskyr is a fellow member of the Alliance.  However, in this issue, it's clear that she's known much more than she's let the others think.  For example, she knows that Ianto's tomb holds something called Ianto's seed.  If she knew that, I kind of figure she knew the key she gave to Grudvik opened the tomb.  If so, why did she give it him in the first place?  Also, her sudden departure also raises all sorts of questions.  If she could form a portal to leave the tomb, why couldn't she just use that portal to get them into the tomb?  Who's this militia that will be chasing her?  Where is she going?  Second, Grudvik and Aki make a really compelling team, with Grudvik's quiet stoicism and Aki's quick wit.  I hope this title sold well enough for an ongoing series or at least another mini-series.  I'm going to keep it on my pull list just in case something appears one day! 

Fear Itself #2:  OK, this issue is better than the first one, so maybe this series won't be terrible.  Odin brings the Asgardian gods to what appears to be New Asgard, preparing for battle, and the Serpent assembles his warriors, sending them into the world to wreck havoc and spread fear.  Meanwhile, we see the heroes try to get a grip on events as they happen, so they don't really do much this issue, though I'm sure that will change shortly.  I was kind of hard on Odin in the last issue, mostly because I don't read Thor comics so I'm not entirely sure what his deal is.  But, he's a bit more clear here on the fact that the gods will be lucky to survive a war with the Serpent and don't have time to worry about Midgard.  As tempting as it is, I'm trying to keep a handle on my collector obsessivism, because I really have no desire to spend hundreds of dollars chasing down all the tie-in issues, particularly since Marvel did such a poor job of making them count in "Chaos War."  But, it would be useful if Marvel produced some sort of "core book" reading list.  At any rate, I can't say it's worth $3.99 an issue, but at least it's not terrible so far.  (How's that for a back-handed compliment?) 

Fear Itself:  The Home Front #2:  This issue is pretty forgettable, if not downright bad.  The Speedball story is OK, but, unless Gage really throws us for a loop, it seems pretty clear that Ms. Sharpe is going to come to an understanding about Speedball by the end of this story.  We'll probably all hug.  It's just starting to seem a little pat, and we're only two issues into the storyline.  Otherwise, it's fine.  Just like last issue, Gage adroitly presents the anxiety and fear that I imagine regular people would feel in a world of super-humans.  We don't get an insight into those feelings often, and Gage does a really great job with them.  The other stories are actually pretty terrible.  I still have no idea how Jimmy Woo and his "Agents of Atlas" are.  The story is basically a post-script to events we originally saw in the "Fear Itself" prelude, where the Red Skrull attempts to track down Skadi's hammer.  The dialogue is awful, the characters are wooden, and the plot seems irrelevant.  We then have a one-page "Purple Man" story (again, who?) that left me confused, which, really, given that it's a one-page story, is an accomplishment.  Finally, we have a totally random story about Liz Allan, Harry Osborn's ex-wife, that seems to screw up continuity, since Liz says they just visited Harry in New York, but I'm pretty sure Harry fled New York after the events of the "Origin of the Species" arc in "Amazing Spider-Man."  If next month's issue is as irrelevant and predictable as this month's, I'm pretty sure I'm canceling this series and saving myself $3.99 a month. 

X-Men Legacy #248 (Age of X Epilogue):  This issue actually clears up some questions left lingering from "Age of X," particularly who Revenant (aka Phoenix) was.  We learn here it was Rachel Summers, who got caught in the event while trying to connect with Professor X telepathically, inadvertently rendering her mind separate from her body.  I was excited to see Rachel here.  Havok and Marvel Girl are two of my favorite X-Men, reminding me of the awesome issues in the early and mid-200s from my youth.  They've been gone WAY too long and, hopefully, this issue sets in motion their return.  Carey cleverly uses "Age of X" to move along some long-stalled plots here, such as giving Legion more control over his powers (again) and addressing Gambit and Rogue's relationship problems (which I feel like have just been left to linger for a long, long time).  I'm hopeful that we actually get to see Legion start on the road of playing a role as something other than his usual "greatest mutant threat alive."  Also, I'm sure the psychological effects on the X-Men of "Age of X" are going to be totally forgotten soon, but it's interesting seeing Carey not completely ignore them immediately.  I still find Carey's writing somewhat...overwrought, making "X-Men Legacy" a book that I read more from obligation than enjoyment.  But, even if I don't exactly emotionally connect with his characters here the way I do with Gillen's in "Uncanny," Carey definitely does some interesting things here.  I actually find myself anticipating the next issue for the first time, possibly ever, in this title.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers #12.1:  It's the Avengers turn for a .1 issue, and Bendis returns to a plot point from the first arc, planting the seeds of the return of Ultron.  I enjoyed this .1 issue less than some of the other ones, mainly because it still has some of the flaws that annoy me every month in this title.  Although we at least see some of Spider-Woman in this issue, Hawkeye and Spider-Man are criminally ignored.  Hawkeye doesn't get in a word, and Spider-Man's reduced to one (pretty funny, granted) one-liner.  Moreover, even Spider-Woman's appearance barely counts, since she's all Women in Refrigerators here.  The think tank of evil geniuses was clever enough, I guess, and the Wizard and the Thinker actually had some decent banter.  But, I had to raise an eyebrow when it's revealed that basically the entire plot of the issue was just to get the Avengers in the room so they could just happen to witness the return of Ultron.  Ultron announces that he's not ready to fight the Avengers and disappears, destroying the mad genius' secret lair (while, miraculously and conveniently, not killing anyone) in the process.  This bait-and-switch gambit left me feeling kind of cold.  It's similar to what Bendis did with the aforementioned first arc, where we were told the Avengers had to go to the future to defeat their kids, only to discover it was a ruse to get them to convince Ultron to let Kang defeat him.  Bendis apparently thinks these sort of bait-and-switch plots keep us on our toes, but instead they just leave me annoyed and disappointed that I didn't get the story I thought I was getting.  Moreover, we see a great example of pet peeve #1 here with a clearly-Steve-Rogers-not-Bucky-Barnes Captain America appearing on the cover.  I know that the point of the .1 issues is to project future storylines, and we know Steve Rogers will soon be Captain America again.  But, it felt cheap. 

Batman Incorporated #5:  This issue is an improvement over the previous two issues, in that it actually has a (mostly) linear narrative, so we actually got somewhere.  Batman and El Gaucho follow Scorpiana's trail to the Falklands; Batwoman has also followed the trail of the missing Marines there as well.  Moreover, a new player (the Hood, who I initially thought was Azrael) joins the search.  We learn that the Argentines and the Brits are going to go to war over ouroboros, which is allegedly some fifth form of matter and under the control of Dr. Dedalus.  However, beyond that, Morrison leaves several loose ends.  Batwoman was, if I remember correctly, following the trail of the three murdered Marines; we learn they were killed and replaced before arriving at the Falklands, but it's unclear why they were killed and who replaced them.  My guess is the Leviathan figure who rescued Dr. Dedalus, since one of his henchmen utters "Hail Leviathan" before he dies.  But, it's still unclear what Leviathan's motives are.  (I had to do some Internet research to chase down my vague recollection of the character who -- thank you, Internet -- appeared in "Batman:  The Return.")  It's also unclear how he sprung Dr. Dedalus, who was allegedly so trapped on the island that he had been unable to leave for decades.  However, we were never really told how the British superheroes who were killed trapping him on the island did so, so I guess it makes sense that we're not told how whatever they did was undone.  We also never really get any clarity on the Kathy Kane issue, other than Batman, Batwoman, and El Gaucho referencing her in passing.  I know it's not Morrison's style to spoon feed us information, but I still feel more annoyed by the way this arc unfolded than intrigued.  The art continues to be beautiful, but I just don't know if it's enough to keep me going.  I loved his run in "Batman and Robin," but here I'm just not sure if I'm sufficiently intrigued to do the work a Morrison book requires.  I guess if I find myself in a lull of comics, I could re-read "Batman:  The Return" and the first two issues of this arc.  But, am I going to have to do so with EVERY issue of "Batman Incorporated?"  At this point, I think I'll have re-read issue #3 four times and issue #4 three times!  Given how much I hated issue #3, it's really hard to motivate.  I think I'm just going to consider it done and hope we get somewhere next issue. 

Detective Comics #876:  Scott Snyder gives us a brand new mystery here while at the same time developing a key ongoing sub-plot.  A killer whale's body is found in a bank's headquarters, and its stomach contains the dead body of the personal assistant to the owner, Sonia Branch, who just happens to be the daughter of Tony Zucco, the man who killed Dick Grayson's parents.  Dick and Commissioner Gordon have another of their meetings in the Wayne crime lab, where the Commissioner tells Dick that his son has returned to Gotham and asks him to meet with him and give the Commissioner his honest assessment.  Batman approaches Branch, who rebuffs him, but then eavesdrops on her conversation with a man blackmailing her.  Her blackmailer is a luxury-car dealer cum gun runner, and Bats finds himself in trouble when the dealer's henchmen get the jump on him.  I continue to be impressed by how well Snyder paces a story.  I particularly liked the seven pages Snyder dedicated to Dick and Commissioner Gordon's conversation.  The art in this sequence is evocative of the first time they met in the crime lab a few issues ago, reinforcing the sense that we're seeing Dick and the Commissioner really build their relationship here, case by case.  I can't say I'm overly intrigued by the immediate case at hand -- why the car dealer/gun runner is blackmailing Branch -- but I am intrigued by Dick's eventual meeting of James Gordon, Jr. and how the connection between Branch and Zucco will become relevant to this story.  Even if the primary plot doesn't interest me all that much, it's still a joy watching Snyder unfurl a story.

Generation Hope #6:  This series continues to be a surprising treat every month.  Gillen has not only created compelling characters but, after only six issues, has also given them complex relationships with one another.  Kitty is a great choice for a team liaison and I'm waiting for the inevitable conflict between Hope and her.  I like how Gillen makes Hope not a 100 percent likeable character.  You're rooting for her, but she's also obviously going to have a moment where she learns she's not as capable of a field leader as she thinks she is.  Kitty has been fighting the good fight since she was a child -- just like Hope -- and at some point Hope is going to have to listen to her.  Gillen's newest light also continues to be innovative and weird -- I mean, how do you fight a fetus?  I can't wait to see how this fight goes down.  All in all, it's a great book that's telling better X-Men stories than "X-Men Legacy" and, until recently, "X-Men."

Secret Avengers #12.1:  This issue was so well done that I was about to congratulate Ed Brubaker for another excellent installment.  But, then, I looked at the title page and saw it was Nick Spencer.  Welcome aboard, Nick!  This issue is a return to form, of sorts, for the title.  I say "of sorts" because it's not like this title has been around that long to have a form to which it can really return.  But, the Shadow Council has pretty much dominated this title almost from the start, so it's nice to see Spencer re-focusing it by embracing the .1 concept and giving us a self-contained story focused on espionage, the type of story I thought this series would give us (instead of the aliens and Nazis).  We get the requisite amount of espionage here and Spencer hands the team a loss, something, to be honest, you just don't see that often.  It actually may be my favorite .1 issue yet! 

Starborn #5:  I'm canceling this title.  It's OK, but I find the writing to be a little too weak to justify $3.99 a month.  It was a cool concept, but the author seems stuck just giving us scenarios where the main character acts like a rube.  Did I mention the $3.99 a month? 

Teen Titans #94:  I had already decided to drop this title before I read this issue, but reading it didn't convince me I had made a mistake.  This issue is b-o-r-i-n-g.  We're supposed to be all a-twitter because Wonder Girl is missing, but I really can't summon the energy for it.  I've been collecting this title since issue #81, and I have to say that it's just been aggressively morose.  I get that it's about teenagers, but I've never really gotten the sense that anyone is even remotely enjoying themselves.  (Superboy himself alluded to that in his own title.)  I'd normally keep going until at least the current arc ended, but I can't say I care, so it's gone.  Bye, Titans.  Hope you all get sorted soon. 

The Traveler #6:  I'm tempted just to say "see 'Starborn' #5" here, but I'll give it a go.  This issue is odd.  To be honest, I'm surprised I hung in here as long as I have, given that I pretty much hate time-travel stories.  But, this issue is pretty much a testament to why I hate them.  The whole Amelia Earhart schtick felt forced, and it's unclear to me why Abaris is holding her and the other people as prisoners.  Daavi seems to imply that that Abaris doesn't know exactly why they're there, but that doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me.  He might not care what the repercussions of them being there are, but it seems like he'd at least know why they're there and how the "random space-time warps" work.  Similar to "Starborn," I liked the concept behind this story in the beginning, but I don't think it justifies an ongoing monthly series, particularly at the cost of $3.99 a month.  Ciao, Traveler.  Good luck. 

Uncanny X-Men #536:  This issue is stressful!  Gillen does a great job here giving everyone dynamic personalities, taking them beyond just talking heads meant to move along the plot and instead giving us a subtle building of tension as they all interact.  Kruun is both struggling to be a diplomat while at the same time planning his revenge.  Colossus is trying to be compassionate toward the Breakworld refugees, but can barely control his hatred of Kruun.  Scott is trying, as usual, to balance all sides and Emma, as usual, is skeptical (and right).  I love that Kruun SCHOOLED Magneto, something you don't see every day.  I didn't read the original Breakworld saga (though I'm inclined to hunt down a TPB), so I'm pretty sure I'm missing some subtleties.  For example, I'm not entirely sure how Kruun got his hands on the formula that negates the mutant gene, and I'm not sure if it's meant to be permanent.  But, for the most part, Gillen does a great job, just like last issue, of giving you what you need to know without over- or under-simplifying it.  I really love what he's done with "Uncanny."  It's gone from a book I more or less just got because it involved the X-Men to one of the books to which I most look forward each month.

X-Factor #218:  Guido got shot last issue, and we see Monet struggling to shake off Ballistique of the Three Ladies Who Blow Up Things (or whatever they'll eventually be called) in order to get him to the hospital.  Unfortunately, she's pretty much on her own, since JJJ, Jr.'s folks have Siryn pinned and the Black Cat is engaged in battle with Rococo.  It's a pretty solid issue, with David, as usual, doing a great job keeping the action sequences tense.  When we eventually get to the hospital, I actually thought they killed off Guido.  But, the truth is a lot scarier:  if Layla really did revive Guido, then, unless her power has changed, he has no soul.  I can't wait to see what the repercussions of THAT will be.  I think (hope) David is going to wrap up this Three Ladies Who Blow Up Things storyline in the next issue, because I'd really like to return to the Shatterstar/Longshot conundrum.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #657: "Torch Song"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Susan Storm!  Don't you dare!  I command you to --"  -- the Wizard to the Invisible Girl, as she's about to turn his pants invisible 

Summary
In a nod to "Amazing Spider-Man" #1, Spidey enters the Baxter Building only to be trapped in a security tube.  The remaining members of the Fantastic Four spring him, and he apologizes for missing Johnny's funeral service, telling them that he'd been to too many funerals lately.  In the kitchen, Peter tells the remaining Fantastic Four members that, more than anybody else, Johnny was like a brother to him.  The Thing says he felt the same, recalling the first time he realized how close Johnny and Peter were.  It was during a battle against Krakatoom in upstate New York.  After the battle, Reed notes that Krakatoom may have just dispersed, so they should stay in the area for a while.  Sue invites Spidey to join them, and antics ensue between Johnny and Peter. The Thing, who was initially worried that Spidey would get underfoot like the Torch, gets to relax and enjoy his vacation...until he feels a little lonely and goes searching for the boys, who rig up a mud-and-webbing version of Krakatoom to scare him.  In the present, the Thing reminds Peter that you don't have to be related to be part of the family, telling him that, if he needs a brother, he's got one in him.  Sue tells him to think of her as his big sister, which Peter says he always had, except for one time.  In a flashback, we see Johnny, Spidey, and Sue searching for the Frightful Four, and Spidey pants Johnny (who's sidetracked the search to sign autographs from adoring teenage girls).  At that moment, the Beetle, Trapster, and the Wizard attack, and Johnny is delayed in fighting while he tries to put on his pants.  It gives Sue an idea, and she turns the super-villains' pants invisible, leaving them in their underwear.  The trio wrap up the fight pretty quickly, but the police also arrest the Invisible Girl for indecent exposure, forcing Johnny and Spidey to post bail for her release.  They faux-lecture her about responsibility, and she makes them promise never to tell anyone about it ever.  In the present, Reed notes that Ben, Johnny, and Sue are all seen by Peter as siblings and asks if he views Reed as a father figure.  Peter says no, he's the coolest of them all, because he's Mr. Adventure!  Reed remembers a mission with Johnny and Spidey where they were launching his new faster-than-light skiff.  On the mission, they observe a green star (later dubbed by Reed the "Banner nova") that is in the process of going supernova.  While Johnny absorbs the energy coming from the star, Reed and Spidey try to fix the skiff, dismissing Johnny's attempts to help.  Johnny eventually shouts out the fact that it sounds like the engine was flooded, which it was, and they safely escape the exploding star.  While Johnny is outside the skiff releasing his pent-up energy, Spidey tells Reed that Johnny's actually a "really bright guy."  Back in the present, Peter regrets that he never told Johnny that, and Reed tells him that Johnny left a holodisc recording for him in case he ever died.  (All the Fantastic Four had recorded them for each other, but Johnny also added one for Pete.)  In the recording, Johnny tells Pete that he's sorry for leaving him, because he knows how Pete feels about losing family.  He tells him he's always been family, that the Fantastic Four all love him, and that he's giving him the most important thing he ever owned:  his place on the team. 

The Review
This issue isn't terrible, but it's kind of weird.  The three stories -- the upstate New York camping trip, the Invisible Girl getting arrested, and the outer space adventure -- don't really give us any great insight into Pete's relationship with the Fantastic Four, which was clearly the point of this issue.  After such mostly silly stories, the last scene -- Johnny giving Pete his role on the team -- isn't quite as poignant as it was intended to be.  Obviously, you'd have Johnny and Pete ribbing one another, but we could've also seen moments like the one during "Big Time," where Johnny tells Pete that he's just as smart as Reed and Stark and needs to get into the discussion of how to diffuse Doc Ock's bomb.  However, after a largely one-note presentation of Johnny and Pete's relationship, the emotional reveal at the end falls flat. 

The Good
The outer space adventure was the best one, since it struck me as the most realistic depiction of Spidey's relationship with members of the Fantastic Four -- Johnny and Reed.  It wasn't exactly thrilling, but it was the most believable. 

The Bad
1) Why, exactly, was Spider-Man with the Fantastic Four in upstate New York?  When Krakatoom appeared, did they invite him to join in the fight?  Also, why did grounding Krakatoom result in his shield failing?  I'm not a physics kind of guy, but it didn't really make sense to me.

2) I'm impressed the Fantastic Four tent has a toilet bowl and toilet paper (not to mention paper umbrellas for tropical drinks!).  Talk about roughing it!

3) The Invisible Girl story was pretty stupid.  Really?  She turned their pants invisible?  Plus, the art is pretty terrible.  Johnny Storm often looks so stretchy that I was wondering if Nuno Plati hadn't confused him with Mr. Fantastic.

4) When exactly was Reed going to tell Peter about Johnny's holodisc message?  He announces its existence pretty nonchalantly, given how important it was to Pete (and Sue, who notes it's the last thing she'll ever hear Johnny say).  I think it's part of the reason the issue fell flat to me.  If Peter hadn't dropped by the Baxter Building, would Reed never have told him about it?  Did Peter have to prove he was grief-stricken just for Reed to decide, "Oh, what the heck, I'll let him see it?"  Weird.

Amazing Spider-Man #656: "No One Dies"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Sorry.  I can pay for that."  -- Spidey to Captain Watanabe, after crashing on one of her police cruisers (weak, I know, but Slott didn't give me much material here...) 

Summary
The issue resumes right where the last one ended, with Captain Watanabe dealing with Massacre, a guy who is holding a bank full of people hostage.  Watanabe tells Massacre she can't deal with him in good faith, and he tells her he doesn't care, because he's not playing by her rules:  he then blows up the west wing of the bank, killing seven more people.  He tells her to turn off all alarm, camera, and surveillance systems for a five-block radius and to withdraw all emergency and police services so he can escape.  Spidey sees the explosion and webs over there.  Upon arriving, he accidentally webs plaster (rather than concrete) because his Spider-Sense didn't warn him about it and falls several stories when it doesn't hold.  He recovers and approaches the bank, telling Massacre that he's just there to talk.  Massacre opens fire and Spidey barely manages to dodge the bullets.  He tags Massacre with a Spider-Tracer, only to get shot.  Spidey tells Watanabe that she should let Massacre go, since he can track him.  But, after all the hostages are rescued, Spidey realizes that he doesn't have his Spider-Sense anymore, so he can't, in fact, track Massacre.  Spidey then goes to get stitched by the Night Nurse, who he offers to pay since he's now making cash.  He runs into Paladin in the lobby, who teases him about not saving Marla Jameson or Massacre's victims.  Spidey throws him into a wall, and Paladin tells him to relax and "grow a thicker skin," giving Spidey an idea  JJJ, Jr. gives a press conference about the victims of Massacre's attack, telling the son of a victim that Massacre is a dead man.  Peter, at Horizon, is working on a new armored suit when Grady, one of the think tankers, tells him to come get some human contact, since he's been sequestered in the lab for the last few days.  Peter explodes when people are talking about boring topics, given the Massacre tragedy.  Uatu (the kid, not the Watcher) leads Peter to a demonstration of a new suspect-identification software that Horizon created; Max Modell is showing it to Captain Watanabe.  We learn that Massacre was an investment banker who was injured when a car bomb exploded in front of his office; it killed his wife, who also worked at the firm.  The wound -- shrapnel to the head -- left him incapable of valuing human life.  Watanabe gets a call that Massacre is holding some people hostage on Wall Street, and Pete heads to the office in his new armored suit.  We see JJJ, Jr. in a car, having ordered the Police Chief (who's on the scene) to take out Massacre.  It's revealed that Massacre has taken his old office colleagues hostage, since, outside his wife, the firm was all he had and he wanted to see if he could feel something.  He's also laying a trap for Spider-Man for tagging him.  Spidey arrives and webs up the hostages in magnetic webbing that blocks radio frequencies, rendering Massacre's trigger useless.  Massacre fires at them, but Spidey blocks it with his armored suit.  Massacre then blows up part of the building so falling debris would kill someone on the street, but Spidey webs up the debris.  He then attacks Massacre, disarming him.  The Chief -- who ignores Watanabe's warning that Massacre is unarmed -- orders the sniper to take the shot, but Spidey blocks it, because "no one dies."  JJJ, Jr. argues with Spidey on the steps, with Spidey telling him they can't play gods and JJJ, Jr. telling him he's an idiot. 

The Review
This issue isn't great.  First, it continues to suffer from the problem of the last issue, which is that I'm a little over Peter's overdeveloped sense of responsibility.  Peter has to know that he can't, in fact, save everyone, despite swearing that "no one dies."  Slott is treating him like a newly-minted superhero, and, in fact, Spidey's first lesson was that he's going to make mistakes that have consequences.  But, on top of that, Slott's Massacre character is never really given his due.  We're treated to two pages of background narrative but we're left with a series of questions (see "The Bad" section, natch) that really leave Massacre feeling like a hollow vehicle for the larger point that Slott is trying to make.  Slott felt like a breath of fresh air since we had just gone through the Rhino arc, "Shed," and "Grim Hunt."  By returning to the grim note he has in the last two issues, it's starting to feel like the bad old days of the 400s, when Spidey was constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  More Hobgoblin, less drama, Slott. 

The Good
1) The first two pages are a real treat, visually, from the narrative panels of the first page being set in front of the Massacre silhouette to the "BOOM" panel on the second page.  I've always liked his art, but Martin is really on top of his game in this arc.

2) I actually like the outfit of the week.  I know some people probably don't, but I do.  Batman gets all different toys, so why not Spider-Man? 

The Unknown
The loss of Spidey's Spider-Sense is interesting, but I hope Slott doesn't drag it out too long.  During "Brand New Day," we got a few issues of Pete struggling with no Web-Fluid for his Web-Shooters, and it verged on getting too old before actually getting there.  Slott will want to wrap up this storyline as fast as possible, since no one believes Peter's going to be without his Spider-Sense forever.

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  Did we know it was a bank?  I actually assumed it was a bank at the end of issue #655, but I don't think we knew that until the recap page in issue #656.

2) Slott just leaves an enormous number of questions about Massacre unanswered in this issue:  Why did Massacre need the money?  Did he need it, or could he just not think of anything more original than robbing a bank?  Why was Massacre at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane?  Had he already killed someone?  If so, how did he escape?  Did it happen while he was being transferred, as Dr. Kafka requested?  Why was he such an egomaniac that he insisted on everyone playing by his rules?  I have to wonder if Slott had intended for this arc to be three issues, and the upcoming Human Torch memorial issue derailed that.  I also have to wonder how an editor could allow numerous references to Spidey's lost Spider-Sense but not ask Slott to address one of the questions here.

3) I don't really buy that the Police Chief would, under orders of the Mayor, simply decide to take out a guy like Massacre, ignoring police protocols and, you know, common sense and human compassion.  Just like Peter had to pay a price for skirting ethics as a journalist, I hope we see some repercussions to the fact that JJJ, Jr., as mayor, is basically treating his police force as his own personal hit squad.