Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Comics!: The X-Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Generation Hope #8:  For the first 9/10 of this book, Gillen gives us a fairly typical "Generation Hope" story, with the Lights supporting Hope in her efforts to get Teon to stay with them.  However, he throws what could be the curve ball of the year in the last 1/10, when Kenji and Laurie realize that Hope may well be sub-consciously (or consciously) forcing them to follow her.  Gillen has toed this line extremely well for the entire series, not losing sight of the fact that the other side of Hope's potential future is that she would kill millions of humans and give rise to the bleak future of Bishop.  (He also had previously given us a physical reminder of Hope's darker side when we see a flash of anger in her eyes as she fights with Cyclops and Evangeline about legal strategy.)  Gillen is creating a complicated character here and anyone who's dismissing this book as being a junior version of the X-Men is missing some really fascinating stuff.

Uncanny X-Men #538:  Wow.  This issue felt like three because around every page another plot twist brought the story somewhere I didn't expect it to go yet made perfect sense.  (OK, maybe not "perfect" sense when you reflect on it, but at least enough sense while reading it that the story flowed really well.)  Gillen has really crafted an intricate story that unfolds beautifully.  He clearly knew where it was going to end, so the issue didn't have the "plotting by the seat of his pants" feel that a lot of Fraction's stories seemed to have to me.  Moreover, it didn't just feel like a cheap way to render Kitty tangible, since Haleena's decision to sacrifice herself for Kitty is based on her need to save Kruun and the Breakworlders.  I had figured Kitty would somehow get back her powers thanks to Kruun's mutant "cure," but Gillen's way was a lot better.  (I will say that I'm not entirely sure why Haleena decided that only Kitty could stop Kruun and that it was worth sacrificing her life to make her tangible so she could do it.  I mean, presumably she could've just, I don't know, gotten Psylocke or something.  But, whatever, I've decided I buy it.)  I'm glad Gillen has wrapped up the Kitty storyline because I think it's high time we get to see Colossus and her just enjoy being together (as Kitty suggests on the last page).  Gillen has portrayed their relationship better than anyone I've ever read and I'm really excited to see where he takes them.  This arc rocked and I continue to be thrilled with Gillen's stewardship of one of Marvel's flagship titles.

X-Factor #221:  Seriously, I heart this story.  I heart everything about this story.  Shatterstar and Wolfsbane fighting off demons set on stealing Rahne's baby?  Awesome.  Rahne letting Shatterstar sneak a peak at her naked?  Awesome.  Feral NOT cheesily being returned from the dead but instead being a creepy ghost who keeps appearing creepily and creepily helping the demons find Rahne?  Awesome.  Madrox reading "Sybil?"  Awesome.  Getting resolution on Pip's mysterious benefactor (huh, I hadn't seen a "Great Expectations" connection there before writing that)?  Awesome.  "X-Factor" continues to be one of my favorite books right now and, if you're not reading it, you should be.

X-Men #13:  This story continues to be split between past and present.  In the present, we get some background on the Evolutionaries in the form of one of the Evolutionaries expositing their story to someone (though, to whom, I'm not entirely sure).  We learn they were created by an Eternal to help species set to become dominant evolve (though I thought in an earlier issue we established that the Eternals had washed their hands of this job, since they were tasked by the Celestials with containing the Deviant threat and nothing more).  Meanwhile, the X-Men continue trying to defend Cyclops from the Evolutionaries, who view him as responsible, as leader of the mutants, for the reduced number of mutants in the world and want to eliminate him.  In the past, Magneto has accepted the Evolutionaries charge to eliminate homo sapien.  I can't say either plot -- the X-Men defending Cyclops or Magneto accepting the Evolutionaries' task -- is particularly interesting, since neither really advances all that much from where it was at the end of last issue.  However, it's not what Yost does here that's interesting, but what he seems poised to do, which is seriously flesh out the history of several major characters.  First, I'm intrigued by the Scarlet Witch sending the past X-Men to find Emma Frost, since it implies that the Evolutionaries' appearance was the cause of (or at least contributed to) Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch breaking with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  Second, we seem poised to delve into Emma Frost's back story, something that I don't think we've ever really been given all that extensively.  In the present, we seem on the verge of Magneto remembering his dealings with the Evolutionaries, with Emma warning Iceman that he may indeed get a chance to fight Magneto as a result.  Despite some of questions I have about the Evolutionaries and their origin, Yost has done a great job of building up the suspense in this issue, even if we don't really end with a change to the status quo.  I can honestly say I can't wait to see what happens next issue.  (I have no idea who the crew that appeared at the end of the issue were, so I'm hoping to get some clarity on that, too.  Also, the Storm/Magneto splash page was FANTASTIC.)

X-Men:  Prelude to Schism #3:  Jenkins continues the pattern of previous issues of framing this issue around Cyclops seeking advice from an advisor, this time, from his dead mother.  It's an interesting conceit, and it gives us insight into Cyclops' emotions that I can't say I've ever really seen.  Moreover, it pointed out something that had never dawned on me, that Cyclops -- despite being leader of the X-Men -- can't actually control his power.  Even more interestingly, Jenkins also calls into question whether Cyclops can't do so because of the concussion he suffered when he parachuted from the plane with Alex when they were children or simply because he hasn't focused enough on controlling it, raising the hint of the possibility that Cyclops could go the way of Rogue and actually learn how to control his power without his visor.  Other than this possibility, the issue doesn't really cover that much ground, leaving us to wonder what threat exactly the X-Men are facing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #559-#561: "Brand New Day:" "Peter Parker, Paparazzi"

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "You'd figure a ba-zillionaire like Carr could afford better speakers.  It's like I pulled up to a Wendy's."  "Hey, focus."  "What?!  Do I want fries with that?"  -- Spidey-MJ banter

Summary
Spidey chases Screwball, a parkouring thief who live-streams her crimes on the Internet thanks to a follow video crew.  She surrenders to police after Spider-Man tags her with a Spider-Tracer, fearing for her life (given his suspected status as the "Tracer Killer") and asking for NYPD assistance (at least this time, it doesn't look like Vin was involved).  Dexter Bennett, "The DB!'s" new owner, decides not to run Peter's photos (since Screwball already saturates the media with her own images), but recognizes Peter's talent and puts him on the paparazzi beat.  Peter photographs movie star Bobby Carr attacking a waitress asking for his autograph, earning him serious bank but the outraged scorn of Harry Osborn, who's had his own troubles with the paparazzi.  (Robbie Robertson, Aunt May, and Carlie also voice their disapproval of Peter's new beat over the course of the story arc).  The waitress tries to sue Carr, but is murdered by a two-dimensional stalker dubbed "Paper Doll."  Carr later assaults an abusive paparazzo outside a hotel; the paparazzo also files suit against Carr.  Peter learns of the waitress' death and watches over the paparazzo, defending him when Paper Doll attempts to kill him at a museum event.  Tipped to Carr's presence at his Hamptons retreat by Carr's agent (who Paper Doll also kills, since he's selling the tips), Bennett sends Peter to get photos of him with his mystery girl, offering $2 million for the shot.  The mystery girl winds up being MJ, which Peter never discovers, since Paper Doll attacks and MJ flees to the panic room.  MJ guides Spider-Man via the panic room's house-wide intercom system in his fight against Paper Doll, whom he re-inflates in Carr's pool.  Realizing Carr's not a bad guy, Peter gives up the paparazzi beat, resulting in Bennett firing him (and remembering his name for the first time).  Peter completes his move-in with Vin, pays off money he owes Harry with the rest of his paparazzi money, and enjoys a good time with friends.

The Review
This story arc started slow, but, holy crap, it was a rush at the finish.  New villains, new dilemmas, Mary Jane.  Craziness!  The only reason I gave it a four and not a five was that the first issue of the arc was kind of meh.

The Really Good
1) OK, the Mary Jane angle was handled amazingly well.  I mean, I actually felt my heart race as the story unfolded, with Mary Jane in the panic room helping Spidey, Spidey telling her they made a great team, and MJ telling him they met in another life.  (Yes, she even repeats it again at the end, but I don't care, it was still awesome.)  It seems apparent (though, I've read comics too long to say definite) that MJ's sotto voce deal with Mephisto was that she would remember her life before the new status quo.  She could be referring to her possible identity as Jackpot as her "other life," a plot that also thickens in this issue when MJ signs an autograph for Sara Ehret, the woman whose name Jackpot provided as her secret identity but isn't actually Jackpot.  The fact that we seem to know more about what's happening with both MJ and Jackpot -- but actually don't really know anything -- is a real testament to Dan Slott's writing abilities.  MJ's entire sub-plot was exciting and it gave the arc an energy it didn't have before MJ's appearance.  Well, well done, Dan.

2) This arc was, in its own way, a great tribute to the original Spidey story.  Peter becomes focused on using his Spider-Man abilities to earn money and, as a result, good people wind up getting hurt.  I thought the revelation that Bobby Carr isn't that bad of a guy was a particularly nice touch, making him not just the two-dimensional (heh) character that I think most writers would've made him be for expediency's sake.  Also, Peter's epiphany was really keeping with the entire Spider-Man mythos.  Kudos all around.

The Good
1) The ending was pretty great.  The new management, if you will, has been underlining the return to the era where Peter was broke but happy, and he basically says that in so many words here.  Plus, Mary Jane signing Sara Ehret's autograph kept the Jackpot identity in the air, just as we were reeling from the (possible) revelation that she remembers the old status quo.  This story really propels the "Brand New Day" narrative forward.  Peter's got a new place to live, but he's also got to find a job.  He's happy where he is (and maybe is, after all, interested in Carlie), but his slightly-less-than-happy past -- in the form of MJ -- is still out there waiting to be explored.  I can't wait for the next story arc.

2) Spidey hitting the "giant metal banana" in front of the Lichtenstein-esque "WHAAM!" piece?  Genius. 

The Bad
1) The Screwball character was kind of weird.  She was introduced in issue #559, but really only served the purpose of transitioning Peter to the paparazzi beat.  I feel like Slott could've accomplished that without introducing a character he drops completely, particularly since the villain of the arc winds up being Paper Doll, yet another new character.  I like all the new villains, but no need to introduce them willy-nilly!  Also, it seemed really weird to me that she surrendered to the police because she was afraid Spidey marked her for death by tagging her with a Spider-Tracer.  People really think Spider-Man is a serial killer?  Seriously?  Plus, she only became afraid of Spider-Man when he tagged her with the Tracer?  I mean, presumably he was the same killer he was when he was chasing her, so why did she get scared only when he tagged her?

2) Honest to God, are Vin and his partner THE ONLY COPS IN NEW YORK?

3) Bennett, the new owner of the "Bugle"...er, sorry..."The DB!" began "Brand New Day" as a sort of kindly-uncle figure.  In the Menace story arc, I imagined him having a soft Southern drawl when he told Peter that he'd pay him well for quality shots.  In fact, he even told Peter, "Without honor, we have nothing."  Then, in the Freak story arc, he's calling Spidey a serial killer and starts behaving more or less as tyrannical as JJJ.  But, he's still focused on publishing good photos, given that he rejects one of Peter's photos for being of poor quality.  Now, in this story arc, quality isn't apparently that important since Bennett rejects Peter's photos of Screwball because he was just going to run a photo e-mailed from a camera phone.   Moreover, he's paying Bobby Carr's agent for tips, a definite no-no in non-tabloid journalism.  The Spidey Brain Trust has done a really great job keeping all the other characters consistent.  But, except for Bennett's penchant for using the wrong names for people, his character is pretty much all over the place.  He's a kindly uncle who wants quality, he's a hard-hitting editor who wants speed, he's a rumor monger who wants access, he's...something.

Amazing Spider-Man #558: "Brand New Day" ("Freak the Third")

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "YESSS!" -- Aunt May, on learning Peter is moving into the city

Summary
Peter tells Aunt May he's gong to try to move to a new place in the city; he feels bad that he's leaving her while she quietly exclaims, "YESSSS!" in the dining room.  Dr. Connors and Spidey devise a plan to make sure that Freak doesn't emerge from his chrysalis now that the blizzard has passed...once they discover where his cocoon has been taken.  While Peter is photographing mayoral candidate (and Lily's father) Hollister at a campaign event at the homeless shelter where Aunt May works (for Mr. Negative, in his secret identity), Menace attacks, threatening Hollister if he doesn't withdraw from the race.  The NYPD essentially chases off Menace and Spidey, who intervened when Menace attacked.  Spidey then goes to meet Dr. Connors at the site where Freak's been relocated.  Spidey battles Freak, who's eventually forced into chrysalis mode once more.  His cocoon is loaded into a truck called "NYPD Hazmat Unit," but a worker removes the sign, revealing an "Oscorp Enterprises" sign.

The Review
This issue -- as evidenced by the cover even -- wraps up some loose threads from the four story arcs we've seen in "Brand New Day."  Menace returns (briefly) and Freak gets iced.  Other story arcs remain hanging:  we don't know the identity of Jackpot or the "Tracer Killer" and we're starting to get some hints that Harry is hiding something.  It wasn't a great issue, but it more or less did what it was supposed to do, segue us into the next series of story arcs.

The Good
I like the new Aunt May.  I mean, as I've said before, I still feel it's intellectually dishonest the way they've de-aged the characters, given that Mephisto's deal didn't affect time.  Aunt May is acting probably a good ten -- if not 20 -- years younger than she's possibly ever been portrayed.  But, she's fun, so I'm learning not to mind.

The Bad
1) I'm still not a huge fan of the Menace storyline, for reasons similar to why I'm not sold on the Jackpot storyline:  we're clearly supposed to believe they're Harry and Mary Jane, respectively, and in all likelihood they're not.

2) Are Vin and his partner the only cops in New York?

3) Pet Peeve #1:  Jackpot appears on the cover, but doesn't appear in the book...unless she does in her secret identity that we don't yet know.  Maybe she's Aunt May!  Blue Shield also appears on the cover, but not in the book.

4) Where exactly does Spidey keep his cell phone?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On the Reboot

[Sigh.]

OK, after my rant about the possibility that Marvel killed off Bucky-Cap in "Fear Itself" #3, I'm going to try to keep myself calm here.  For those of you just joining us, DC announced that it is rebooting all its series in September at the conclusion of "Flashpoint."  You can find the announcement at the first link and a handy list of the new titles prepared by iFanboy at the second:

http://dcu.blog.dccomics.com/2011/05/31/dc-comics-announces-historic-renumbering-of-all-superhero-titles-and-landmark-day-and-date-digital-distribution/

http://www.ifanboy.com/content/articles/The_Definitive_Guide_To_The_DC_Comics_Reboot

At this point, I'm trying to keep an open mind.  On a positive side, the reboot means I'll be subscribing to "Superboy" and "Teen Titans" again, because the stultifying plots that led me to abandon those two books will be a thing of the past.  Plus, I like Scott Lobdell, so I think it's going to be a good ride.  (Also, Conner looks SMOKIN' in the cover for "Teen Titans" #1.  I'm just sayin'.)  See, look, I said some positive things.

On the negative side, I'm disappointed by what they're doing with Batman.  Dick Grayson, to my mind, was a more interesting and compelling Batman than Bruce Wayne.  I said it.  Deal.  Scott Snyder's "Detective Comics" is the best series on the shelves, and I'm disappointed that DC would decide to discard that.  Even if continuity stays in place (the jury still seems to be out on whether or not DC is wiping aside continuity or if it's just tweaking some aspects of it), we're still not going to see Dick behind the cowl.  I was pretty sure that would happen at some point, but I figured we'd have a few years left, since writers like Snyder and Tomasi were doing a great job telling Dick-as-Batman stories that were different from Bruce-as-Batman stories.

I'm on the fence about how I feel about Barbara Gordon walking again.  I'm going to reserve all judgment until I see how they do it.  I'm similarly cautious about how exactly Jason Todd is going to become the leader of the Outsiders.  Are we ever going to discover what demons haunt him, demons Bruce revealed existed in his holographic message to Jason after his death?  Are we going to wipe away the stories of the last few years of his switching between anti-hero and downright villain?  Truthfully, Jason could use a reboot since so much of his history and personality (and hair color) over these past few years have changed depending on the author.  But, I'd like to see some sense that Jason has struggled and overcome instead of us just being presented with a fully functional Jason Todd.

The most disappointing news seems to be that "Batman Beyond" and "Red Robin" are going to be canceled.  I think that revelation is what really fuels my anger.  On some level, we just went through a reboot of Batman with the whole Bruce-getting-lost-in-time bit.  Just as everyone's settling into their new roles, we're going to reboot AGAIN?

I am, however, going to admit that I was wrong about "Brand New Day."  Although everything wasn't handled perfectly, the Spider-Man we have now is a lot more fun and interesting than the one we had before the reboot, who carried with him years of badly-designed and poorly-implemented plot gimmicks.  If DC can manage what Marvel managed, then maybe it won't be so bad.  Maybe.

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman and Robin #24:  This issue is less porn-tastic than last issue (insert sad face), but it still manages to be enjoyable nonetheless.  After the fun of seeing some Bruce and Jason banter last issue (or, at least, Bruce silence and Jason banter), we get Dick and Damian resuming their usual two-man show, with Damian objecting (loudly) to the idea of working with Jason to rescue his former sidekick, Scarlet.  Winick's decision to bring back Scarlet is kind of odd, given that her previous departure had been so beautifully handled by Morrison.  It wasn't like they worked together that long, so it doesn't ring particularly true to me that the nameless villain who kidnapped her would:  a) know of her existence in the first place, b) be able to track her down, and c) be able to convince Jason he cared enough to find her.  My guess is that c) is what eventually leads to his redemption, when his heart grows three sizes that day.  Moreover, it's still weird to me that the plot of this issue is essentially random, something beyond Dick or Jason's control.  Jason is a fascinating anti-hero because he knows the Bats' tricks.  But, instead of seeing some brilliantly executed revenge plan implemented by Jason, we're just chasing down yet another bad guy who randomly kidnapped his former sidekick.  All that said, I still enjoyed the issue, mainly because of the aforementioned banter, and I'm interested to see whether Winick takes it to the next level with three of the four Robins on one side.  Maybe Tim will make a surprise appearance...

Batman Beyond #6:  "Industrial Revolution" continues in this issue, which is a pretty rollicking good time.  Beechen focuses mostly on the plot at hand here -- the return of Blight and what it means for Wayne-Powers Enterprises -- and only hints at some of the other sub-plots, such as Dana's creepy brother.  The only drawback of this issue has nothing to do with it:  "Batman Beyond" isn't on the list of titles being re-launched or rebooted or bootlaunched or whatever it is exactly DC is doing in September.  I really hope it's not the case, but it's hard to stay engaged in this series if it's going to disappear in two months.  Beechen's done some really great work over the last few issues and I'd hate to see it swept under the rug just so Jim Lee can feel all important.

Fear Itself:  Spider-Man #2:  OK, this issue is fine.  It's a serviceable "Fear Itself" sort of book, people are scared, blah blah blah.  It has some ridiculous moments, like when Spidey tells some guy he seemingly just met that he didn't kill the guy he thought he did because Spidey was there watching and the guy was fine.  (Follow that?)  Sure, OK, whatever.  The real missed opportunity here is an artistic one.  In the first few pages, we see a tour of Peter's worst fears, including Aunt May dead in a hallway.  (By the way, Slott did a much better version of this same plot in "Amazing Spider-Man" #655.)  Wouldn't it have been mind-blowingly awesome if they would've shown the scene from "One More Day" where she's dying on the bed?  Like, given us some hint that, on some level, Peter knows what happened?  I know they're trying to play down all that, post-"Brand New Day," but I feel like Slott might've been ballsy enough to give it us.  Ultimately, it's the problem with these sort of tie-in mini-series.  You get a distilled version of the character that pleases the masses but doesn't really do much for fans.  At any rate, it's a fine issue of an OK mini-series connected to a meh cross-over.

New Avengers #13:  The two most annoying questions of the last four issues of "New Avengers" have been:  will they kill off Mockingbird and how does the current-day plot connect with the 1950s-era plot?  We get the answer to both questions in this issue and it may just redeem the story.  The connection between Fury's mission to track down the Red Skull with the present-day story is that the Skull had developed a Super-Soldier Serum/Infinity Formula hybrid, which Fury and his team recovered in the 1950s-era story but Superia and H.A.M.M.E.R. stole in the present-day story.  Once the New Avengers recover the formula from Superia, Fury appears, tells us what it is, and applies it to Mockingbird at Hawkeye's urging.  We knew Mockingbird didn't die thanks to "Avengers" #13, but making her into a long-living, super-soldier bad-ass might just make me forgive Bendis for going all Women in Refrigerators on her.  Bendis really keeps us guessing until the end of this arc and, although I like where we wind up finding ourselves in the end, I think the split nature of the book over these five issues might have been a bit much.  When the connection was finally revealed, I have to admit thinking, "Really?  All that just to make Mockingbird a Super-Fury?"  The most intriguing question to emerge from this arc may actually be what Victoria Hand's true allegiance is.  Of course, someone like Hand actually probably doesn't have a "true" allegiance, so it's going to be interesting to see how Bendis teases out that sub-plot.  Otherwise, I think it's definitely time for us to move to the next plot.

Red Robin #24:  Well, I definitely didn't see that end coming!  (What a way to go, indeed!)  The Bat-boys really just have women throwing themselves at them, don't they?  Isn't Ra's al Ghul trying to get a hand on Tim's DNA?  I guess we'll see.  I only vaguely remember Promise from the Mikalek arc.  Nicieza pretty deftly weaves her into the plot, though, with the Assassination Tournament serving as cover for Promise to take out Mikalek, which winds up becoming the main plot (pretty clever, Fabian).  I'm going to have to re-read "Red Robin" #18-#19 to remember what Promise's deal was.  At any rate, I'm intrigued how Tim saves himself from this situation (if he indeed wants to do so)!

X-Men Legacy #250:  The primary story is pretty fun.  Legion has six personalities who managed to escape during "Age of X," and Professor X leads a team to find them so Legion can re-absorb them.  (I thoroughly enjoyed his frustration that Cyclops had added Frenzy and Magneto to the roster and Magneto having to remind him that they follow Cyke's orders now.)  I hadn't realized (because I don't think Carey made clear) that each of Legion's personalities had its own body during "Age of X," but it would make sense, given the number of people who were floating around Fortress X.  I'm assuming the creepy guy at the end is one of Legion's missing personalities, and it's intriguing that he himself appears also to have the ability to hold multiple personalities (who then appear to "see" events occurring elsewhere, though this part was a little, um, unclear).  The secondary story is possibly more exciting if only because it presages (hopefully) the return of Havok, Polaris, and Rachel.  I'm in the mood for a good old-fashioned space epic, which I'm hoping we get.  I'm a little concerned, though, that it's going to still be a while (despite Rogue's warning that time is of the essence) given that we're also staring down "Schism" this summer.  All in the all, it's a pretty good issue for "X-Men Legacy."  I'm still not a huge Carey fan, since I find everyone he writes to be so...joyless.  But, I'm intrigued by where we're going with the Legion story, so I consider it a win.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #662: "The Substitute"

* (one of five stars)

Summary
The Avengers Academy kids attack Spidey under the influence of Psycho Man.  Spidey neutralizes them while trying to help Reptil fight Psycho-Man's influence (since he's the only one showing the ability to do so).  Psycho-Man ups the ante by deciding to get the kids to kill an innocent, something that would permanently ruin them, making them believe they're the villains everyone believes they are.  Spidey tries to stop them, and he's almost killed by Reptil, until Spidey helps him remember he's a hero.  Reptil then convinces Mist to fight Psycho-Man's influence, and she uses her power to do the same for the other kids.  Together, they defeat Psycho-Man.  Back at Infinite Avengers Mansion, Spidey apologizes to Giant-Man for putting the kids in danger, but the kids thank him for treating them like real people and not potential villains.

In the first back-up feature, we see a regular man who, like the teenager from last issue, has gained Spidey powers, using them to save his family from a fire.

In the second back-up feature, we see the history of a guy called Magnetic Man, who invented gauntlets he used to rob banks.  Spidey stopped him, and he was sentenced to jail for six years.  Now free, he's struggling to find a job and decides to try bank robbing again.  He's stopped by Peter, who offers him a job at Horizon Labs.

The Review
OK, I hated this issue.  Just like the end of last issue, it's basically one long "After-School Special," with Spidey telling the kids "YOU CAN DO IT!" and the kids feeling all inspired.  If it was some sort of special issue that Marvel was giving out free in elementary schools, I'd say cool.  But, it's not.  It's "Amazing Spider-Man" #662.  Any number of writers could have struck the same themes Gage does here -- how Spidey, who's seen his fair share of troubles in life and who's the original teen hero, could inspire the Avengers Academy kids -- without waxing schmaltzy and narrative-y.  Gage is so heavy-handed, though, that it made this issue almost unreadable for me.  I mean, even the second back-up feature about Magnetic Man suffered the same problem.  I could go into goods and bads here, but they'd all be bads so I'm going to skip it.  I'm glad that it seems like we've ended the ongoing team-up story arcs and are returning to regular Spidey stories next issue.  It's about time, at this point.

Amazing Spider-Man #661: "The Substitute"

* (one of five stars)

Summary
Sue, Ben, and Spidey interrupt Reed's class at FF HQ in order to go battle a gorilla-looking creature attacking a bridge.  Seeing Reed teach the class makes Peter nostalgic for his time as a substitute teacher, particularly given how excited the FF kids were about science.  Pete suggests he could stay behind to teach the class, but Reed tells him Alex Powers can handle it, since the kids can't afford "distractions."  Pete takes offense, but the conversation is interrupted by the aforementioned gorilla-looking creature attacking a bridge.  Reed realizes the creature is from the Microverse, and Giant-Man appears to help defeat the creature.  He informs the FF that he needs a substitute teacher for Avengers Academy for the next day and, after the Thing turns down the offer, Peter agrees to do it.  Later, Peter confides to Carlie that he's nervous, but she assures him he'll do fine.  In class ("Superhuman Ethics"), Peter's examples fall flat with the new generation, who don't worry about secret identities or go on dates.  The kids also question his decision to give up his "celebrity wrestling" career (and the popularity that came with it), since he could've used the money to help people just as much as he could by saving people as Spider-Man.  Eager to escape the situation, Peter takes the kids on patrol, where they defeat a group of thugs trying to mug someone.  The class is heavier-handed with the muggers than Spidey would've preferred.  He recognizes the muggers and observes that they're usually not violent, realizing that something is afoot.  On cue, Pscyho-Man appears, stoking the fear, hate, and doubt of the assembled group.  He exposits that he sent the gorilla-like creature into the regular universe to distract Reed and send him to the Microverse to investigate, since he was the only one who would recognize Psycho-Man's handiwork.  He announces that he's in the regular universe to charge his "anguish-batteries."  The kids attack as Psycho-Man manipulates their emotions, but Spidey manages to overcome it, since he knows he's not good enough, which isn't an excuse to stop fighting.  Spidey destroys Psycho-Man's tablet, but Psycho-Man infests the kids with hate and sets them to attack Spidey.

The Review
When Psycho Man appeared during "Peter Parker:  The Fantastic Spider-Man," I doubted we'd see him again.  Well, the good news is that I was wrong.  The bad news is that I really wish I had been right, because, OMG, this issue is terrible.

The Good
[This space intentionally left blank.]

The Bad
1) Why, exactly, did Reed think Peter would be a distraction?  It's like everyone suddenly forgot he's a genius.

2) "All core faculty members have other commitments tomorrow.  We're in dire need of a substitute."  Really?  My guess is that the Avengers Academy probably frequently has interruptions in the regular school day and that it's not exactly the kind of place where you're going to have consistently meticulous instruction even if, you know, Galactus is attacking.  As such, the whole premise of this arc just seemed ridiculous.  The substitute schtick was clearly just invented so that they could get Spider-Man into Avengers Academy and it's hard to get into a story when you don't buy the premise.  Moreover, the fact that no one thought of Spidey in the first place is, as Spidey himself notes, ridiculous given that he's on BOTH Avengers teams, a genius, and, unlike everyone else, a certified teacher.

3) We're often told how sharp Carlie is, so I'm surprised that Peter just tells her that he's going to act as a substitute teacher for special-needs kids the next day and she doesn't, at any point, raise an eyebrow.  I mean, people with full-time lab jobs, even if they have teaching certificates, generally don't just decide to substitute a special-needs class for the day.  Yet again, it's another example of a heavy-handed set-up, meant to show us Peter's anxiety about returning to the classroom.

4) Could Psycho-Man be a lamer villain?  I mean, seriously.  He's there to refuel his "anguish-batteries?"

5) Pete was a "celebrity wrestler" for about five minutes.  Stop trying to make it happen, Marvel.  You're worse than the fashion media and Pippa Middleton.

6) Spidey's monologue about overcoming adversity at the end was WAY too "After-School Special."  I found myself doing something I rarely do, which is skim the text boxes, because it was just too painful to read.  Are we all going to hold hands and sing inspirational songs when this arc is done?  Blech.

7) In the back-up feature (which didn't really merit its own recap), we see Spidey and the Thing battle Psycho-Man.  Is that foreshadowing?  Where are the kids?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Programming Note

OK, so I was trying to stick to the new "Spidey on Monday and Friday, new comics on Wednesday approach," but my comics unfortunately don't come with that sort of regularity.  I often get two shipments at once, which results in a veritable deluge of new issues.  So, instead, to try to be as timely as possible (or at least minimize how untimely I am), I'm going to just post new issue posts when I get a quorum of issues reviewed.  I'm still going to try to stick to "Spidey on Monday and Friday," though.  I'm hoping to post the three most recent Spidey reviews Monday, and the ongoing review of "Brand New Day" issues will resume on Friday.  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America #618:  So, when the "Gulag" storyline first started, I was super-annoyed, because it felt like just yet another iteration of the "Trial of Captain America," making Bucky pay, yet again, for his sins as the Winter Soldier.  But, it's actually morphed into something much more intriguing and much more sinister.  It hadn't dawned on me that Bucky might not end this series as a good guy.  I assumed he wasn't going to end it as Captain America, but I figured we'd get him some other secret identity (USAgent, I believe, is available).  They'd probably give him a monthly series that would get canceled after 25 issues or so, but he'd still be seen as a member of the "New Avengers."  But, here, Brubaker opens the doors to the possibility that he may actually become the Winter Soldier again.  I don't think it'll happen, but just the injection of the possibility of it happening has made this story line a lot more dramatic.  It's like the "Trial of Captain America," before the somewhat bizarre Sin-related ending, where Brubaker really just kept you guessing.  The next issue is the conclusion to the storyline, and I'm intrigued to see what connection Rostov has to the two KGB agents the Winter Soldier killed and whether we will indeed see Bucky still on the side of angels.  Way to get me back in the game, Brubaker.  I won't doubt you again. 

Detective Comics #877:  I don't even know where to begin.  This issue is perfect.  It starts with a cliff-hanger, gives us character development in the middle, and ends with a cliff-hanger.  I could point out so many awesome moments in this issue, like Bats taking out the Roadrunner's foot while he's in the middle of a tirade to Dick embarrassing himself in front of Sonia Branch.  Both these scenes work not only on a basic level, but on a secondary level, sending up the usual "super-villain" monologue trope (by having Dick cut it short) and reminding us that Dick, and not Bruce, is behind the cowl by making him embarrassed (something I'm guessing Bruce probably wouldn't have been).  But, the scene that totally epitomizes why Scott Snyder is the best writer in comics right now is Dick's hilarious conversation with Red Robin.  It represents the grace note that Snyder is so good at giving us.  Other writers would've just given us Dick monologuing to himself (something Bruce probably would've done), but, instead, we get Dick having a conversation with Tim, developing their relationship and injecting humor into the story.  Snyder makes his life more difficult by giving us these scenes, because they're harder to write, but it's why "Detective Comics" is the best comic on the shelves right now. 

inFAMOUS #6:  Since the first moments of the game, Moya's allegiance has always been a question (if not the question).  If you accept that her primary allegiance is to the government (which is a big "if), her ties to Kessler and his experiments made her dirtier than your average agent.  However, shooting a military officer in the face pretty definitively establishes that, if she was working for the government, it was a pretty shady outfit (and probably not the FBI, as she claimed).  Her death means we don't know, still, who was pulling her strings.  At this point, I'm not sure how big of a deal it is.  inFAMOUS, as a game and a comic, has always hinted at some sort of conspiracy.  But, if you look at what we know, I'm not sure it matters.  We know Kessler got involved to jump start Cole's powers so he could face down the Beast (who clearly isn't David, as I originally thought) and we know that the government at the very least wanted the experiments to create some sort of super-soldier.  Zeke telling us about Cole surviving an accident a few years earlier more or less establishes that Cole's powers were innate (and activated by the Ray Sphere) and not something the Ray Sphere created in him.  So, I'm not sure if we really have a mystery left.  Sure, we can find out the identity of the shady outfit employing Moya, but it's not really going to change what we already know.  Despite the lack of a big reveal, this mini-series more or less did what it was supposed to do:  wrap up the loose ends from the first game and wipe the slate clean for the second game.  It doesn't so much set up the second game, since all we know is the NSA wants to talk to Cole.  But, it does give us some insight into Cole that we haven't really seen before.  He laments here that he walked away from things his entire life, and he decides he doesn't want to be that guy anymore.  It sets the stage for a more heroic Cole in the next game (and not an accidental hero, as we saw in the first game).  So, despite some pretty bad art, this series delivered on what it promised for me.  Now, I can't wait to get my hands on the game! 

X-Factor #220:  OK, so, I wasn't super-thrilled with the JJJ, Jr./Black Cat arc.  Whatever.  It's in the past.  This issue?  I love this issue.  It's been a while since we focused on the Rahne/Rictor/Shatterstar love triangle, and David handles it beautifully here.  He not only gives us a really touching scene between Rahne and Shatterstar as they walk through the rain discussing Rictor, but he also gives us Rahne and Shatterstar kicking some serious ass against a creepy-as-all-Hell-villain.  David's genius is really on display here, highlighting his talent in giving us emotionally-driven stories while at the same time scripting excellent fight scenes.  Those two abilities don't often go hand-in-hand (in fact, they almost never go hand-in-hand), which is what makes "X-Factor" such a joy to read month after month.  The appearance of Feral -- who, last I checked, was dead -- was an unexpected surprise at the end.  From the preview page at the end of the issue, this whole "Rahne and Shatterstar versus the Hordes of Hell" story looks like it's going to last a few issues, and I am very excited to see that.  I just hope, in the end, Rictor doesn't get jealous when Rahne and Shatterstar spend a night doing each other's hair. 

X-Men #12:  This issue continues the story from "X-Men Giant Size," with Cyclops facing down the Evolutionaries just as he remembers he has faced them before.  The issue starts with a group of Eternals (I'm assuming) watching a group of proto-humans being attacked and expositing that their purpose on Earth is to keep the Deviants in check, not get involved in deciding which races live or die, which is the Celestials' job.  Sure, whatevs.  Based on the narrative boxes, the Evolutionaries might have come from this group (or race) of proto-humans, though we don't really return to that idea in this issue.  Instead, we learn that the Evolutionaries, who seem to be the ones designated by the Celestials to make the sort of decisions the Eternals said weren't their job, have decided that Cyclops has failed in his task to protect mutantkind and decide to eliminate him as its leader.  Cyclops has downloaded his memory -- which Jean apparently blocked -- to Madison Jeffries and Dr. Nemesis, who are disturbed by what they learn (but we don't) and are scrambling to do something about it.  At the end, as the team swarms to protect Scott and Emma orders Pixie to take him off the island, Scott is trying to keep the Evolutionaries from contacting Magneto, who, in a flashback, the Evolutionaries previously took to be the leader of mutantkind.  This issue doesn't really answer that many questions.  Although it's (more or less) clear that the Celestials are behind the Evolutionaries, their origins are still shrouded in mystery and it's not clear why they decided that they needed to strike now (unless it was just to protect the X-Men from the Neo, which it may well have been).  Moreover, Cyclops clearly knows something more about the Evolutionaries that scares him, which intrigues me, since it seems enough that they're threatening to wipe out humanity.  At any rate, we shall see.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Fear Itself #3:  OK, so, one of my fears, when it came to "Fear Itself" (see what I did there?) was that it was going to be impossible to follow the main story without reading at least a good number of the tie-in issues.  (Chaos War had a similar problem, where the main plot really didn't exist at all, so the tie-in issues were pretty much the only ones that told the story.)  I think we're officially there with "Fear Itself" #3.  Some events follow directly from "Fear Itself" #2, such as the Hulk and Juggernaut becoming members of the Worthy and the Future Foundation researching the hammer that struck Yancy Street.  Cool.  Some events tie into issues mentioned on the last page of "Fear Itself" #2 that I knew I wasn't going to collect, like the Absorbing Man getting a hammer in "Iron Man 2.0" #5 and Loki making some sort of decision in "Journey into Mystery" #623.  I'm fine with not knowing all the gory details there.  However, several things leapt off the page at me here as being inconsistent with where we were at the end of "Fear Itself" #2 or in other comics.

First, the Captain America aspects of this story sucked.  Last I checked, Bucky was in a gulag in Siberia and not fighting Sin's forces in Washington, DC.  This storyline has been building for months (seriously, months) in "Captain America."  However, here, we're basically just told Bucky frees himself from the gulag (or somehow manages to get sprung) just in time to fight Sin in DC.  (Or, we'll just ignore it entirely in the main title and just have to assume "Fear Itself" fit between story arcs.)  Moreover, I'm pretty sure we're going to see Steve take up the shield in "Fear Itself" and not "Captain America," given the events of this issue.  NOT COOL.  I mean, I'll give Fraction credit that the battle between Bucky and Sin was awesome and epic, but I am NOT COOL with the shield being changed outside "Captain America."  I don't believe Bucky is going to die; see Mockingbird in "New Avengers" for my arguments.  If he did die...

...FUCK YOU, Marvel.  Seriously, FUCK YOU.  You actually bring back the character and, against all odds, when it had so much potential to fail, give us a Captain America that isn't the emotional robot Steve Rogers is often portrayed as being.  You give us a character who, over the last few years, we've watch grow and mature in his role, becoming the hero he hoped he could be, in spite of all the crap that's happened to him.  You give us a totally soul-draining last few months of "Captain America," leaving us to hold out hope that, when the dust settles, Bucky was going to get to be his own man.  Instead, you kill him.  Not only do you kill him, his death is absolutely meaningless.  Natasha and Sam try to convince him to retreat, he says the world won't have a tomorrow if they do, he charges them into war, then he dies.  I'm assuming Marvel Comics isn't closing shop next month, so, essentially he was wrong.  So, they make him commit a grave error and just kill him, all so Matt fucking Fraction can have his "big death" so that "Fear Itself" means something.  Yes, if Bucky is dead, it'll mean something.  It'll mean we're once again in the fucking 1990s and "celebrity" writers and terrible editors just willy-nilly kill a character in events that have no bearing on the rest of the Marvel Universe (despite promises to the contrary) all so the event can "mean something."  Congratulations, Marvel.  I assume Chuck Austen will start writing "X-Men" any day...

Oh, hi.  Wow, ladies and gentlemen, we've got a surprise here tonight.  It's Ben Reilly, the deceased -- or so we thought! -- clone of Spider-Man.  [Applause.]  Ben, wow, what a surprise!  You look great.  Death really agrees with you!  [Laughter.]  So, how's life been treating you since, you know, you were revealed to, in fact, be the clone after all and disintegrated on some rooftop?  Oh, you were in Portland.  Cool, cool.  Did you happen to run into Jean Grey there?  You did.  Good, oh, good to hear.  You were running a coffee shop together?  Awesome.  Say hi to her for me when they kill you off again next year.  Anyway, thanks for stopping by the set.  Ladies and gentlemen, Ben Reilly!  [Applause.]  I just can't believe it...

Ahem.  Anyway, on top of all the Bucky-related bad, we also get Steve-related bad.  Am I really supposed to believe that, in the middle of a major international crisis, Steve Rogers would literally bail on Maria Hill just because he wanted to pound on some bad guys?  Really?  The Sentinel of Liberty is all, "Hey, good luck with saving the world, I just need to stretch my legs a minute."

Second, why wasn't Spidey with the Avengers OR the Freedom Foundation?  I mean, he's on both teams, you think SOMEONE would've called him for help.  I'm assuming it has to do with something in "Fear Itself:  Spider-Man" #2, but, since that hasn't hit the stands yet, I don't know.

I could continue, but I'm tired.  Basically, it's only been three issues, and I'm already annoyed and, if Bucky is dead, ENRAGED.  Can we wrap up next month and just spare us the time?  If we're just going to ignore or forget about ongoing plots, change up everything in the Marvel Universe to make Matt Fraction feel better about himself, it would just make life easier.  Please, Marvel?  Throw a guy a bone.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dungeons and Dragons #7:  This issue is a little confusing, mostly because I'm still not entirely sure what happens in the first scene.  Varis turns against his eladrin cohorts and defends Adric and company, but I'm not sure why.  Was he doing it to protect Juliana, who Adric was (technically) holding hostage?  Or, did he just decide he couldn't take the overbearing eladrin paladin Juliana was supposed to keep in check?  It's unclear to me and, truthfully, it's kind of an important detail, since it winds up being the event that results in Varis throwing in his lot with Adric.  The art doesn't help matters, since it's hard to tell the difference at times between the various eladrin and humans.  The rest of the issue is fine, though, with the usual combination of action and humor.  On a plus side, it's a little darker than previous issues, with Rogers giving us insight into the difficult choices Adric has to make as a leader, which often involve him sacrificing someone (in this issue, two people) to make his insane plans to save the rest of the party work.  The ending is a bit of a surprise, since we get a hint that we'll see Philomena and Justin again (I had assumed they were just temporary characters for this arc).  All in all, the confusion from the first scene meant it wasn't as good of an issue as I've come to expect from this series, but it did the job it meant to do, showing us how Fell's Four came to be.  Plus, a not-so-great issue from Rogers is still a better-than-usual issue for most writers, so I can't really complain.

Secret Avengers #13:  This issue has moments, but, mostly, I found it to be a little hard to believe that, in the middle of a huge battle raging outside the Capitol Building, Hank would indulge his friend, the secret-mutant Congressman.  It was particularly odd when, after clearly animating the Lincoln Memorial, George Washington, etc., the secret-mutant Congressman denied being a mutant.  I see what Spencer was trying to do here, but, for me, it didn't work.  The action sequences with Ant-Man and War Machine were a lot more interesting, and I would've preferred more attention spent on their efforts -- outgunned and outmachined -- to defend DC.  We'll see how it goes next issue, since I think we're stuck with "Fear Itself" for a while.

Venom #1-#3:  I enjoyed the appearance of Venom in "Amazing Spider-Man" and I was eagerly awaiting this new series.  I'm not disappointed, because this arc was interesting and fun, but I do feel like Remender is going to be careful not to let EVERY mission end with the possibility of the military pulling the plug on Flash.  We've learned that the military would only give Flash 48 hours in the suit before pulling the plug, but General Dodge actually allows him to stay in the suit longer when the mission in the Savage Land goes pear-shaped thanks to the unexpected appearance of Kraven.  As such, it's unclear how hard and fast these "rules" for Flash are exactly.  We end the issue with the "will the General kill Flash" cliffhanger, despite the answer obviously being no.  If every issue ends this way, this series is going to get old quick.  I'm also not entirely sure how Flash is going to explain destroying the clandestine mine but losing the Antarctic vibranium.  This book still has potential, but I'm worried Remender is going to too often take the easy narrative route and not give us something as interesting as the concept promises.  (Also, in great examples of pet peeve #2, the opening narration of issues #2 and #3 reveal plot points that either seem inaccurate -- that Jack O'Lantern was in Eastern Europe to test out weapons rather than get the arms innovator -- or that we don't actually know -- that Crime-Master was called Crime-Master and that he dispatched Jack O'Lantern to get Betty and Peter.)

New Comics!: The X-Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Generation Hope #7:  Gillen continues to do a great job with these characters, really hitting the nail on the head when it comes to conveying them as ordinary kids who just happen to have super-powers.  I enjoyed that Hope, the Great Messiah, was completely unable to convince the Fetus that life didn't suck.  It's nice to see that she can't solve all the problems the Lights encounter.  Similarly, Laurie's recitation of facts about Germany's excellent education system and highly-progressive work hours and vacation allowances was funny, as was Kenji telling the kid he couldn't really help him.  The ending is cute, keeping with the light-hearted nature of the stories we've seen so far.  Gillen isn't sending the kids against Mr. Sinister in these stories (though I'm sure those days are coming) but he manages to keep me interested, giving us an interesting meditation on life without being overly expository or lecture-y.  All in all, I continue to be pleasantly surprised by this series. 

X-Men:  Prelude to Schism #1-#2:  OK, so I don't know anyone who doesn't have event fatigue, a feeling made worse for me by the pretty awful "Chaos War" and isn't being helped by the somewhat meandering "Fear Itself."  But, that being said, these issues of "Prelude to Schism" were actually pretty interesting.  We see the X-Men facing an unnamed threat that could wipe out Utopia (it could possibly be Bastion, I think), but waiting for Cyclops to make some sort of decision.  Cyclops, meanwhile, is given advice by Professor X (in the first issue) and Magneto (in the second one), both of whom spend most of the issues reflecting on their own failures of leadership and their relationships with Scott.  Although it could've been done cloyingly, Jenkins actually handles it superbly.  He's got a real skill for portraying emotions without inducing eye-rolling, a talent that I wish more comic-book writers had.  I'm excited to see where this event is going, which, honestly, I don't think I've ever been able to say before, at least not recently. 

Uncanny X-Men #537:  This issue starts off angry and just keeps getting angrier.  Gillen really builds the suspense here, giving the issue an awesome Hitchcockian vibe as Kitty wordlessly and frantically stumbles through Utopia seeking someone to save Peter.  I'm going to have to re-read last issue, because I'm not entirely sure why Kruun's knife can magically injure a phased Kitty (maybe it's coated with the cure?) or the significance of Haleena striking what looks like the M'Kraan crystal.  But, seeing Peter in his underwear more than compensates for those questions.  I really like what Gillen continues to do with this book, because he never takes the easy road.  When the Breakworlders appeared a few issues ago, I didn't think we'd see the X-Men on the ropes like we do here.  I'm excited to see how it all resolves itself, because it's anyone's guess at this point.

X-Factor #219:  The General Ryan mystery arc wraps up here in a fairly dark way.  Monet shatters Ballistique's mind, but decides to allow her to live.  JJJ, Jr. is sleazy as ever, revealing that he had held back information from the team.  Layla leaves Guido's hospital room in tears when it's revealed that Guido is, indeed, probably soulless, given that he's talking about the "weight" he feels has been lifted off him.  Unfortunately, despite a lot happening, I can't say I particularly liked this arc.  JJJ, Jr. and the Black Cat seemed more or less oddly wedged into it, distracting from the story .  Monet, Shatterstar, and Wolfsbane also all seemed particularly blood-thirsty here, which isn't exactly out of character for any of them (and understandable given the Guido situation), but it felt little over-the-top at times to me.  Honestly, I'm looking forward to putting this arc behind us.

X-Men Giant Size #1:  Um, OK, I bite.  Wow.  My heart sank when I saw that the Neo were (at first glance) the enemy in this issue, because, after rummaging around my mind a bit, I remembered that it was the terrible Neo stories in "Uncanny X-Men" that partially led me to give up the X-books entirely.  So, I was a bit nervous as I continued reading, despite the fact that I actually found myself enjoying the first few pages.  The art was impressive, and Yost did a great job of giving us an epic battle without the action getting convoluted because of the significant number of characters involved.  Then, just when I was coming to the conclusion that maybe Yost was rehabilitating the Neo as not totally ridiculous villains, we get transported into the past, where we see the original X-Men fight the Brotherhood of Mutants.  (I wasn't as impressed with the art here.  I know they're going for a retro style but I think this section would've been even better if Medina had just done the whole issue.)  Despite feeling like a non-sequitur, the battle between the young X-Men and the Brotherhood was enjoyable.  Just when I'm wondering why exactly we're given this trip down memory lane, though, BAM, we get the Evolutionaries appearing and all Hell breaks loose.  Yost foreshadows the events that are about to happen by giving us a scared Cyclops, something I now realize I don't think we've ever seen before, at least not to the extent we see here.  The reason behind Cyclops' fear becomes readily apparently when the Evolutionaries wipe out the Neo.  When I say "wipe out," I mean, "destroy totally."  All of them.  Yost really shines here, giving us a story that slowly reveals itself to great effect, culminating in a spectacular cliff-hanger that leaves me counting the days until "X-Men" #12.

X-Men Legacy #249:  This issue is a bit...odd.  Magneto takes Rogue to a museum of the Holocaust in Los Angeles to show her a photo of a man he killed after the war.  The man was a scientist who experimented on Jews held in the concentration camp where Magneto spent time as a child, and Magneto forced him to hang himself lest Magneto injure his family.  He relates this "parable" to Rogue because, to his mind at least, it has something to do with her conflicting emotions about him and Remy and tells her to choose Remy.  I'm still not entirely sure what it means, though.  Is he saying he'll kill Remy if he hurts Rogue or something less sinister?  However, we never really get resolution, because the issue then turns to Frenzy and Legion.  Carey is, I believe, building toward creating the permanent team for this series -- Professor X, Magneto, Rogue, Gambit, Legion, and Frenzy -- but I think he tries to do too much here.  I didn't really buy that Magneto would take Rogue all the way to Los Angeles just to show her a photo, and, again, I'm not even sure what the parable really meant.  At any rate, we'll see what he has in store for issue #250 next month.  Hopefully it'll wrap up the post-"Age of X" stories and move us into the new status quo.

Friday, June 3, 2011

New Comics!: "Escape from the Negative Zone" Edition

Uncanny X-Men Annual #3 ("Escape from the Negative Zone:"  Part 1):  I'm not entirely sure how an Annual that's been published since 1970 can be on issue #3, but I digress.  I don't know who James Asmus or Nicholas Bradshaw are, but color me impressed.  Asmus gives us a really fun story here, on both the plot and dialogue levels.  Regarding the plot, I enjoyed how the events of this issue happen because of an accident.  Most times, superheroes get themselves into trouble because of grandiose plans of super-villains, squabbling gods, etc.  Here, they get themselves into trouble because Madison Jeffries essentially hits the wrong button.  Awesome.  It's just nice to see a different premise every once in a while.  Plus, we get a fairly hodgepodge group of lead characters as a result, with Asmus throwing Cyclops, Dr. Nemesis, Hope Summers, and Namor into the Negative Zone just because they happen to be in the room when things go wrong.  That collection of characters brings me to the dialogue.  Asmus has a great ear for banter, giving us an adolescent Hope nagging a condescending Cyclops and a haughty Dr. Nemesis sniping at an imperious Namor.  He excels here by letting the characters interact and display these personality traits, not just hitting us over the head with them.  In other words, he abides by the golden rule of good writing:  show not tell.  On the art side, Bradshaw's art has something about it that I find hard to define.  His facial details aren't necessarily great; Scott and Madison look younger than Hope at certain points.  But, he really has, I don't know, a sense of the epic, if you will.  The Negative Zone scenes are suitably bizarre and grandiose, but, at the same time, he retains a great sense of motion, so you still can follow the events happening on the page.  All in all, it's a pretty stellar issue, particularly for an Annual, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next two installments.

Steve Rogers:  Super-Soldier Annual #1 ("Escape on the Negative Zone:"  Part 2):  Seriously, I don't know who this James Asmus guy is, but, damn, he can write dialogue.  Just like the first issue of this storyline, this issue downright crackles with energy thanks to the witty and fast dialogue.  Asmus continues Cyclops' and Hope's squabbling, with Cyclops gamely humoring Hope's insistence that she doesn't like him.  Even Steve Rogers' somewhat non-sequitur lecture to Hope worked for me, mostly because it strikes at Hope's overinflated sense of her abilities (and maturity), something that we've seen in other series be laid as the foundation for what could eventually result in her accepting the "Destroyer" and not "Messiah" part of her destiny.  (We also get a fairly hilarious misunderstanding involving the phrase "good-looking," Cyclops, and Steve.)  Perhaps best of all was getting to see Namor totally tweeked-out from a lack of water, an image beautifully conveyed by Ibraim Roberson.  This issue really continues the fun from last issue, something that I remember from Annuals from the 1990s, but haven't seen in a long time.

Namor:  The First Mutant Annual #1 ("Escape from the Negative Zone:"  Part 3):  OK, this conclusion -- unlike most conclusions -- totally did NOT disappoint.  Awesome.  It was just all sorts of awesome.  Steve Rogers is often over-used as the voice of responsibility and reason throughout the Marvel Universe, but Asmus really makes it work here, giving him the chance to convince Hope to listen to Scott since he only has her best interests at heart.  We also see Scott learn just how capable (and willing to sacrifice) Hope is.  Scott and Hope mostly came to similar conclusions about each other in "Generation Hope," but you could actually see where the events from this storyline contributed to that arrangement.  Asmus continues to have a way with dialogue here, giving us in particular a Namor and an Emma Frost who really leapt off the page for me.  Somebody please give him his own series!  I've also always enjoyed Max Fiumara's art in "Amazing Spider-Man" (he penciled the amazing Rhino stories during "The Gauntlet") so it was fun to see him here, particularly since he exists in the same sort of epic spectrum as Nicholas Bradshaw and Ibraim Roberson, the artists on the other two issues.  Seriously, I'd really whole-heartedly recommend this trio of issues to anyone who wants to just read a rollicking good and really funny story that will remind them of a time when Annuals were fun.  Thanks, James!