Friday, July 29, 2011

Vacation

Sorry, folks, I meant to mention before I left that I was going on vacation. I've got two weeks' worth of comics waiting for me at home, so expect many opinions coming your way shortly.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman Incorporated #7:  OMG, I liked this issue!  No, really!  Crazy, right?  Morrison gives us a Native American Batman and Robin, and it's probably the strongest issue of this series.  He presents the plight of reservation life in a matter-of-fact way, avoiding the sermonizing, patronizing approach that usually accompanies such stories.  He portrays Man-of-Bats as a man who's unaware he's fighting a losing fight against crime (Bruce is going to love this guy) and shows (not lectures) how the lack of government presence made it easy for Leviathan to infiltrate the reservation.  Little Raven is a more reluctant and restless Robin than Dick, Jason, Tim, or Damian ever were, and his relationship with his father is poignant.  ("I'd kill to fight just one giant robot or master-villain...")  Burnham's art is great as always.  I would totally buy a series based on these two.  Thanks, Grant, for finally throwing us a bone!  On the larger Leviathan plot, the mystery deepens here, in the sense that at least one of Leviathan's goals (if not Leviathan's main goal) is taking down Bats.  Morrison's not going to give us an answer to that mystery anytime soon, so I'm glad he's now at least giving us enjoyable stories as he goes.

Detective Comics #878:  Not to put too fine of a point on it, but holy fucking homicidal maniac, Batman.  We'll get to that.  First things first, though.  The first 18 pages of this issue wrap up the storyline involving Tiger Shark and Sonia Branch.  Dick confronts Tiger Shark, a pretty-insane pirate who (allegedly) comes from a long line of pretty-insane pirates who seek to destabilize civilizations.  Tiger Shark manages to outwit Dick not once (capturing him in the first place), but twice (sabotaging the yacht after escaping).  One of my favorite moments of the issue is when Dick narrates his almost-unbelievable escape from Tiger Shark's yacht, observing (as he's swimming from an amazing depth to the surface) that he had been trained to be overcautious and, as such, boosted his oxygen levels before starting this "seafaring" mission.  It's a subtle nod to the past, and Snyder manages to convey in Dick's thoughts a sense of how hard Bruce drove him as a kid but also how much Dick owes him, and how Dick balances those two realities every day.  It's again a testament to Snyder's skill that he can do all that in just a few lines.  

The story switches gears when Dick meets James Gordon, Jr., something the Commissioner had previously asked him to do.  James has been volunteering at Leslie's clinic, and the two talk about the last time they saw one another, when a bully named Ben Wolff had stolen James' glasses.  During the conversation, Dick has an epiphany about the Branch case.  He confronts her later, correctly guessing that she had deleted the information on security tapes so that he would go after Roadrunner first then Tiger Shark, eliminating two of her enemies, despite the fact that Roadrunner had nothing to do with her assistant's death.  (By the way, this conversation occurs at Ms. Branch's rooftop pool, where she's clad only in her bikini.  Dick, man; he's a sucker for the troubled, hot girls.)  Snyder is an expert at portraying morally complicated people.  Sonia Branch used Batman to get two criminals off her back; she didn't really engage in serious criminal activity herself (other than a little obstruction of justice), but she shows a certain amorality in achieving her ends.  Moreover, I enjoy how no one really gets his or her comeuppance here.  Branch used Batman to scare off Tiger Shark, who was trying to get her to launder his money.  Tiger Shark escaped.  I'm not sure Bruce would've been manipulated this way, but it's why Snyder has such a great touch when it comes to being perhaps the only Bat-writer to remember Bruce isn't under the cowl.  Conversely, Bruce probably wouldn't have been able to let Branch walk.  Something about this issue just reminds you that Dick is playing a long game here, getting to know Gotham, getting to know how he fits.  He's careful and methodical while being loose and adaptable all at the same time.  I can't put my finger on exactly how we see it in his interaction with Sonia, but we do.  He doesn't feel the need to drag her to prison just to have a win, but he gets his point across nonetheless. 

Again, you'd think we'd be done.  However, Snyder doesn't stop here.  In the last two pages, we watch James go to Ben Wolff's house, pick up his mail, and enter his basement, where, we discover, he's been slowly removing Ben's limbs while keeping him alive.  Yup.  The question of whether or not James Gordon, Jr. is a sociopathic nut job has been answered, and it's a big ol' YES!  Snyder is just so brilliant when it comes to pacing a story, and I found my heart simply racing as James made his way through the silent house.  The reveal on the last page was made all the more amazing by Jock's depiction of James, making him reminiscent of his father, showing us in a way a weird, sick, twisted version of James Gordon, Sr.  I have no idea where Snyder is going with the James story, other than my previously voiced hunch that we're seeing the birth of a new Joker here.  Dick seems to see the evil in James, since the epiphany he had during their encounter was that people don't change, leading him to believe that Branch, the daughter of the man who killed his parents, was at heart a criminal.  As such, he probably doesn't buy James, Jr.'s rehabilitation.  I hope the reboot doesn't sweep James, Jr. under the rug.  Honestly, no one writes a better comic book than Scott Snyder, and someone should use this arc as a case study for how you write a comic-book series.  Simply amazing.  This issue is possibly the best one I've read all year and this arc is right up there with Snyder's "The Black Mirror" arc from a few issues ago.  Awesome.

Uncanny X-Men #539:  Part of the reason I don't like Wolverine stories is that they're all the same:  Logan is the tough guy who has to make the hard decisions, but he's also a soft touch who feels the pain of those decisions deeply.  This story is exactly that.  We learn that Logan is avoiding Hope because, if she goes "the bad way," if you will, Wolverine will be the one likely to have to kill her (see "Jean Grey").  His words also imply that he'd normally be drawn to her, in a way that he was similarly drawn to Kitty and Jubilee (hopefully in a non-gross way).  I don't disagree with Logan's assessment, really, but, at this point?  Yawn.  Gillen still manages to write an entertaining issue despite his two main characters being not exactly the fun sort.  But, let's just say I'm glad it's a single-issue story. 

Venom #4:  With each new issue, Remender tightens the noose around Flash's neck a little more, building an increasingly suffocating sense of doom.  The interesting part of this issue (and series so far) is that the symbiote isn't the only one making life complicated for Flash.  As Crime Master predicted, he neglects to tell the military that Crime Master knows his secret identity and he lies about losing control in the Savage Land.  Flash knows he's digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole, so much so that it's looking increasingly unlikely he's going to find a way to escape it.  However, beyond the intriguing moral decisions Flash has to make, this issue had some down notes.  I'm confused why General Dodge, who, after all, pushed the detonate button to kill Flash last issue, in the end decides to let him live.  He knows that, if Flash has in fact been infected by the symbiote, Flash is not going to be able to tell him that, so why does he take Flash's word that the symbiote was only in control for a short time in New York?  Moreover, how does Spidey totally ignore the duality of Venom, who on one hand wants to kill Betty and on the other hand is begging him to save her?  Peter doesn't realize that the symbiote has bonded with someone who's fighting for control?  Peter's a smart enough guy to realize the symbiote and the host are two different entities, so it's bizarre that he has absolutely no sympathy for the host, particularly since he has no idea who it is.  Remender has to tighten up that side of the story, particularly if the main theme of this series is going to be the moments when Flash loses control and the symbiote takes charge.

X-Men:  Prelude to Schism #4:  Anyone who reads this blog knows that Wolverine is pretty much my least favorite character ever, so it should come to no surprise that I liked this issue least of the series.  It's a tour of Wolverine's past, ground we've already seen covered pretty much everywhere else, so it doesn't really do much to contribute to the story.  We also don't learn the source of the threat that will be the focus of "Schism."  It's time to get this show on the road. 

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers:  The Children's Crusade #6:  OK, so I read this issue in my office at work and cheered loudly enough that I hope I don't get fired!  Ant-Man is back!  Wanda is the boys' mom!  Rictor is re-powered!  Hurrah!  Much to discuss.

I started off the issue a little confused (one of the consequences of the bi-monthly format Marvel has decided to use for this series) because I couldn't remember if we were still in the "Avengers Disassembled" past or in the present.  (I had to re-read issue #5 to be sure.)  Eventually, Heinberg confirms that we're in the present, which also confirms that Cassie's dad, Scott Lang, is back.  Hurrah!  I always liked Scott and thought his death in "Avengers Disassembled" was cheap.  (I mean, didn't Wanda have bigger fish to fry than a newbie Avenger?)  Heinberg keeps the hits coming, given that we also almost immediately get the second big revelation of the issue:  Wanda confirms that she is, in fact, Billy and Tommy's "mother."  That said, I though Tommy's argument about why he didn't care about the revelation (since she was just going to be taken from them again to atone for her crimes) was particularly well made, given that Billy seemingly hadn't fully appreciated the consequences of Wanda's return.  Heinberg adroitly uses this argument to keep the plot moving, with Beast proposing that everyone would be a lot easier on Wanda if she could undo M-Day.  As such, the group brings in X-Factor, which (as Jessica Jones exposits) originally got its start under Madrox by investigating why the mutants who lost their powers during M-Day did so.  The gang assumed that X-Factor could put them in touch with these mutants to see if the Scarlet Witch could successfully return their powers to them.  Madrox refuses, but Rictor volunteers as a test subject.

To be honest, throughout this series, I've been waiting for this moment, since Rictor (more so even than Moonstar from the "New Mutants") has been the poster boy for de-powered mutants who want to regain their powers.  I wasn't sure exactly how it would happen (or if it would happen), but when I realized where Heinberg was going, I was ecstatic.  (By the way, Heinberg writes a great X-Factor, from his portrayal of Madrox's anger at the Scarlet Witch to Shatterstar's concern over Rictor.  If David ever leaves the series, I vote Heinberg take the reins.)

However, we have three more issues left, so these three developments aren't going to be the end.  At some point, I'm guessing we're going to have to see some sort of negative consequence to the Young Avengers' (and Scarlet Witch's) actions here.  If this mini-series is going to be something other than a blatant ret-con exercise, we're going to have to see something balance out the positive developments.  It doesn't have to be a death or a de-powering or anything, but Wanda has to atone for her sins and the Young Avengers do have to face some sort of reckoning for the disruptions they've caused (invading Latveria, changing history, etc).  Beast, Hawkeye, and Jessica Jones essentially defy Iron Man's warnings and help the kids anyway, but, eventually, the Avengers are going to appear and aren't going to be as amenable to helping...kind of like the X-Men who appear outside Avengers Mansion at the end of this issue.  It's these questions that keep me waiting for the next three issues, because I'm really hoping that -- at least in terms of Scott, Wanda, and Julio -- we get to keep the wins we got in this issue, even though I doubt it.

Annihilation #1-#6

**** (four of five stars)

Summary
Six months after Annihilation Day, Nova now leads the resistance, called the United Front, with a de-powered Starlord (Peter Quill) serving as his deputy and Gamora (of "Annihilation:  Ronan") serving as his black-ops leader.  The Front is holding the Annihilation Wave on the periphery of the Kree Empire, a world called Daedalus-5, when the Wave manages to break through its force field.  Firelord captures Extirpia, Annihilus' queen, who reveals that the attack was a distraction so that Tenebrous and Aegis could defeat and kidnap Galactus and the Silver Surfer.  Meanwhile, Annihilus sends Ravenous after the remaining Heralds (Firelord, Red Shift, and Stardust).  After the Front retreats behind another series of force fields, pausing the battle, Phyla appears to Drax to tell him that Thanos has captured his daughter, Moondragon, and Praxagora arrives with the body of the Super-Skrull (and the story of their defeat of the Wave).  As Nova and his allies are trying to sort out Praxagora's allegiances, Ravenous appears with a squad (including a mind-controlled Terrax) to engage Nova and his allies.  As they almost start winning, Annihilus' elite guard, the Centurions, arrive, turning the tide in favor of the Wave.  The rest of the Wave arrives, using Thanos' teleportation technology, and Nova is forced to order a disorganized retreat.  Meanwhile, Thanos has been experimenting on Galactus and the Silver Surfer and reveals that he's found the key to siphoning the Power Cosmic.  He activates Galactus against Daedalus-5, forcing Nova to push an even hastier retreat.  The Super-Skrull is revealed to have been resurrected, and Drax, Red Shift, and Stardust stay behind to cover the escape.  Upon regrouping, the Front disbands, given the heavy losses and the revelation that the Wave now has teleportation technology.  Gamora goes to engage in guerrilla attacks on the Wave, Nova decides to take on Annihilus directly, and Ronan takes Super-Skrull and Praxagora to take on the Kree royal family, House Fiyero.

Drax is revealed to have survived the destruction of Daedalus-5 after having worked his way through the Wave troops to a ship.  Annihilus is furious with Thanos that he is diverting even a small amount of Power Cosmic to keep Galactus alive.  Peter Quill questions Nova's plan to go after Annihilus, but decides to accompany him when Nova points out the fact that Earth's heroes are too distracted by the Civil War to help.  Drax kills another queen (Eradica) and takes command of her ship, while Nova takes Peter Quill and Phyla to Xandar in order to get his hands on the Nova Corps' phase technology.  Moondragon reveals to Thanos that, based on reading his mind, Annihilus has staged the war not to conquer the Universe but to use Galactus as a bomb to destroy both the Universe and the Negative Zone.  Thanos agrees to deactivate the apparatus imprisoning Galactus (only he can), but Drax arrives and kills Thanos before he can finish the process.  Drax frees the Silver Surfer who finishes the deactivation of the imprisonment apparatus, freeing Galactus.

Meanwhile, Ronan, the Super-Skrull, and Praxagora storm through Hala, only to discover the Kree have joined the Annihilation Wave, and Nova finds Blastarr, who's leading his own resistance and gives Nova Annihilus's coordinates.  Ronan defeats Ravenous and eliminates House Fiyero, taking up leadership of the Kree after discovering that House Fiyero left the Supreme Intelligence brain-dead.  (Ronan mercy kills him).  Finally freed, Galactus sets about destroying most of the Wave (after shunting Drax and Moondragon to safety).  Annihilus barely survives, extending a great amount of power in so doing.  Ravenous launches another attack from Hala's orbit, but a Ronan-led Kree army repels him.  Nova finds and engages Annihilus.  Before Annihilus kills Nova, Phyla takes back the Quantum Bands from Annihilus, further de-powering him.  Nova realizes his weakness is through his mouth and rips out his heart.

In the epilogue, we learn that Red Shift and Stardust are in fact dead, and Drax, Super-Skrull, and Praxagora have gone MIA.  Ronan ceded certain parts of Kree territory to Ravenous after he sued for peace.  The allies are talking about making Nova chief of police (of the Universe, I guess), though he's unsure what he wants to do.  Phyla is considering taking up the Quasar name.  Ravenous, now in control of the Skrull Empire and the occupied Kree territories, uses a mother to re-birth Annihilus.

The Review
I really, really enjoyed this series.  You'll notice, of course, that I do list a significant number of bads.  The plot, unfortunately, had a number of holes.  If I were going to summarize them, it would be that Annihilus is portrayed during the mini-series and the first half of this series as completely un-defeatable:  he has the numbers, he has Tenebrous and Aegis, he has Thanos, he has the Centurions, and he has Galactus.  But, then, suddenly, it all changes, but not because of anything the heroes did but because characters suddenly disappeared.  Yes, Thanos betrayed Annihilus and freed Galactus.  But, Tenebrous, Aegis, and the Centurions disappear just as he needs them.  It would be like Han Solo and Princess Leia just suddenly disappearing halfway through "Return of the Jedi."  I felt like something should've been used to explain their absence because, in the end, it felt like Giffen had them disappear just so Annihilus could be defeated.

However, despite that, it's a pretty rocking series.  I read it -- and its preceding mini-series -- because Nova is one of my favorite characters.  I just re-read the short-lived "Nova" series by Erik Larsen, and it was a huge disappointment.  As I mentioned in "Annihilation:  Nova," he's portrayed as a girl-crazy, attention-seeking frat boy with few redeeming qualities.  I'm down with girl-crazy and attention-seeking (they're part of his charm, after all), but it was time for Nova to grow up a little and temper out those traits with a commitment to fighting the good fight for a reason other than getting the Avengers' attention.  Giffen gives us that gift here -- a Nova with a cause -- and it's awesome.  He gets the girl, he gets the wise-cracking side-kick, and he gets respect.  Perfect.  It's a long overdue moment and it gives Nova the potential to be one of Marvel's top-shelf super-heroes, not just a poor man's Spider-Man.  I'm really looking forward to making my way through the "Nova" series to see what DnA do with this development.

More than just Nova, though, Giffen and the other authors do a great job getting me to care about all sorts of characters -- Ronan, Drax, Phyla, Super-Skrull -- who existed only on the periphery of my awareness.  They've opened a whole new world of series for me, and I'm excited to see where it goes.  So, despite some of the plot holes that occasionally drove me to distraction, I recommend this series for its heart.

The Really Good
The portrayal of the destruction of Daedalus-5 and its aftermath in issue #3 was really well done.  Nova's narration was pitch-perfect, showing us the emotional impact of the sacrifices of Drax, Red Shift, and Stardust on him and stressing how those sacrifices didn't matter because they lost the war, given than Annihilus' now had large-scale teleportation technology and a weaponized Galactus.  You feel Richard's sense of helplessness, having carried the weight of so many life-and-death decisions for months only to face utter defeat.  Watching Gamora leave to go guerrilla-warfare on the Wave, seeing Ronan take the Super-Skrull and Praxagora to overthrow the Kree rulers, watching Nova decide to take on Annihilus by himself:  issue #3 was really the "Empire Strikes Back" of the series!  We see everyone at their lowest moments, the Front dissolved, the Wave threatening Earth in three months' time, the heroes saying their good-byes to each other as they go their separate ways.  (I particularly liked the dramatic scene between Nova and Ronan at the end, with Ronan telling Rich he considered him a brother and Nova left staring into space.) This issue alone earned this series four stars, despite some of the plot holes I outline below.

The Good
1) Giffen really manages to pull together all the disparate characters from the four lead-in mini-series in a deft way, with everyone fulfilling pretty logical roles within the United Front structure.  I mean, by the middle of the second issue, we've got the entire cast of main characters from all four mini-series in play!

2) As mentioned above, I enjoyed seeing the natural outcome of the sentiments expressed at the end of "Annihilation:  Nova," with Rich going, in his own words, from boy to man.  We still see his charm hidden in there, but the burdens of leadership are evident.  He fears that he's getting too used to the difficult decisions he has to make, like firebombing the wounded soldiers on Daedalus-5 to take out the Wave army so the remaining soldiers can escape.  It's a far cry from the kid fighting crime in part to get the attention of the Avengers.  It's a welcome change (and makes him even sexier than usual...).

The Bad
1) At the end of issue #2, we see the leadership group of the United Front facing the Centurions, who seem poised to overwhelm them.  But, in the start of issue #3, the Centurions are nowhere to be seen.  Instead, the Wave itself is attacking.  Weird.  Moreover, they're only occasionally mentioned -- but not really seen -- for the rest of the series.

2) The Super-Skrull's resurrection is bizarre.  First, the writer and editors seemed to have changed their minds about his death, because I doubt we would've seen the tribute scene at the end of "Annihilation:  Super-Skrull" if they had intended to resurrect him.  Second, even Nova concedes that they don't really know how he was resurrected, noting they all just took it on fact since they were busy fleeing Galactus.  Boo. 

3) I don't get Thanos' reaction to news that Annihilus is trying to use Galactus as a bomb.  I thought his motivation had been to serve Mistress Death, so, um, wouldn't he want as many people dead as possible?  The revelation that he was helping Annihilus just because it was interesting fell a little flat, to say the least.

4) The resolution of the Galactus problem was a little...simple.  Issue #4 ended making it seem like all hope was lost because only Thanos could release Galactus, having keyed the device to his energy signature.  But, then, Drax decides it had more to do with power levels and pretty easily frees the Silver Surfer, who accomplishes the task.  Didn't you think Annihilus would've maybe had better security on Galactus and the Surfer if they were that important?

5) Speaking of security, what happened to Tenebrous and Aegis?  They disappeared much like the Centurions.  You'd figure, if they were in league with Annihilus, he would've dispatched them in his defense as he was in the process of being slaughtered.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Annihilation: Super-Skrull #1-#4

** (two of five stars)

Summary
Super-Skrull is defending a Skrull world from the Annihilation Wave when he witnesses one of its warships, the Harvester of Sorrow, destroy the entire planet.  He flees to a Skrull warship controlled by one of the warlords now running the Skrull empire and asks her to provide him with a platoon to attack the Wave.  She refuses, since it could open up her territory to conquest from another warlord.  She insults him as a has-been disgrace and he attacks her.  The Super-Skrull flees and a young mechanic, R'Kin, rescues him, telling him that he had always been his idol.  Taking R'Kin with him, the Super-Skrull gets Reed Richards to send him into the Negative Zone to raise an army of those who oppose Annihilus.  Through torturing an official loyal to Annihilus, Super-Skrull discovers that the Harvester is a living organism created by a Hawal, who runs a prison planet.  The Super-Skrull attacks the planet and finds Hawal, who tells him he can create a virus to destroy the Harvester.  Two escaped prisoners sign onto the crusade to stop the Annihilation Wave to stick it to their jailers, and the Super-Skrull turns the rest of the prisoners into his army.  R'Kin builds a dimensional portal and asks the Super-Skrull if he can be the one to deliver the virus bomb, so he can finally strike blood.  The Super-Skrull leads the defense of Zaragz'na, the ancestral Skrull home world where the Super-Skrull's son lives.  However, R'Kin is revealed to be a traitor who did not deliver the bomb, and the Wave captures the Super-Skrull and his two followers and destroys Zaragz'na.  The Super-Skrull hypnotizes R'Kin and gets him to free him and the two other prisoners.  One of the prisoners, the robot Praxagora, plans on detonating the reactor core that fuels her to destroy the Harvester, while the Super-Skrull tracks down R'Kin.  R'Kin says he betrayed the Super-Skrull because he learned that he's a villain and that war makes no sense.  After amputating R'Kin's limbs so he cannot escape, the Super-Skrull finds Praxagora and absorbs her detonation, allowing her to live and him to make the sacrifice.  In the end, thousands of days after Annihilation Day, it's revealed the Skrulls worship the Super-Skrull as the hero he wished to be.

The Good
It seems odd to mark it as a "good" but this series is unspeakably sad.  Grillo-Marxuach gives us a group of truly wounded characters, from the Super-Skrull, who realizes too late that he should have focused more on his son and seeks to save him as his last act of redemption, to Praxagora, the last surviving member of her race.  I've rarely read an issue with a heavier heart than I did #4, where R'Kin narrates his horrible betrayal and Praxagora narrates her preparation to sacrifice her life.

The Bad
1) Why is the Skrull Empire broken apart again?  As mentioned elsewhere in these "Annihilation" reviews, I feel like I needed a better cheat sheet on the Skrull Empire than we got in the "Annihilation:  Prologue" series.

2) Holy pet peeve #2, Batman!  The introduction page to issue #2 tells us that the Super-Skrull has invaded the Negative Zone, captured someone who can destroy the Harvester of Sorrows, and found some allies.  Um, those events SEEM kind of important, so you think they'd happen ON PANEL.  Except, they do actually happen on panel.  They happen over the first few pages of issue #2 itself.  Rather than leaving the reader feeling like he missed an issue (which I totally felt), you'd think they've would've not spoiled the first few pages of the issue in the introduction page.  Since the same page appears in issue #3, it seems pretty clear that it was an error, but still!

3) So, R'Kin betrayed the Super-Skrull and his team because he felt that the Super-Skrull wasn't heroic (and was in fact a villain) and that war was pointless.  So, he becomes a traitor and lets the Wave devour the Skrull home world, killing millions of people?  Really?  Grillo-Marxuach really lost me with this pretty far-fetched explanation, which is why I give the series only two stars despite being mostly enjoyable.

Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1-#4

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
Air-Walker, a former Herald of Galactus, is attacked by a group of emissaries of Annihilus called Seekers.  The group's leader, Ravenous, reveals that the Annihilation Wave attacked Xandar (in "Annihilation:  Prologue") to draw out Air-Walker and another former Herald, Firelord, because Annihilus wishes to possess the Power Cosmic.  Silver Surfer rescues Air-Walker, who reveals, before he dies, the power of the Wave and beseeches Surfer to stop it before it's too late.  Meanwhile, Thanos receives an audience with Annihilus, who reveals that he is attacking the Universe because it is expanding into his Negative Zone and he seeks to restore the balance.  The Seekers find Surfer, who refuses to kill them because he has seen enough death.  He is saved by Firelord and Red Shift (another former Herald), who advocate to go to war on the Wave.  Terrax (another former Herald) is captured by Annihilus and Stardust, the current Herald, arrives to join Firelord and Red Shift on their mission.  Meanwhile, Thanos has sent his servant, the Fallen One (Galactus' first Herald) to see if the Beyonder has been freed in the fall of Klyn (again, in "Annihilation:  Prologue").  He finds her dead, but he also finds Tenebrous and Aegis, cosmic entities like Galactus.  Surfer is called to Galactus, who tells him that he imprisoned Tenebrous and Aegis eons ago after a war between cosmic entities that left only the three of them alive.  Morg (yet another former Herald) is revealed to have been killed by Annihilus, and Annihilus turns his attention to Terrax to try to find the secret of the Power Cosmic.  Firelord et al. fight the Wave as it attempts to capture them (putting a refugee convoy at risk), and Surfer agrees once more to become Galactus' Herald, accepting amped-up powers in return.  He is attacked by Ravenous, whom he defeats thanks to his new powers, telling him to flee to the Negative Zone and not return.  Tenebrous and Aegis summon Thanos, to whom they return the Fallen One's body, who they killed because of his ties to Galactus.  Thanos agrees to help them find Galactus to further both their agendas. 

The Review
This series covers a lot of ground.  As usual with Silver Surfer stories, I found it a bit...distant, emotionally.  It mostly serves the purpose of giving us some insights into Annihilus' motivations and deepening Thanos' intrigue, leaving the emotions more or less to "Annihilation:  Nova."  But, it does a good job at what it tries to do. 

The Good
1) This book is beautiful.  It took me a while to get into Arlem's art, but Surfer's fight with Ravenous in the last issue is truly stunning.

2) Of the four "Annihilation" mini-series, this one has the most to do with the core plot.  We learn Annihilus' motivations, we see him working with Thanos to find a way to amplify his power, we see the opposition (mostly in the form of Galactus's former and current Heralds) begin to organize itself.  Both "Annihilation:  Nova" and "Annihilation:  Ronan" focused on events happening on the margins of the core conflict, with only hints of Annihilus and his motivations.  This mini-series addresses them more directly, even if it's still geographically removed from the core conflict. 

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  The introduction to issue #3 says that the entire Skrull Empire has been destroyed, but I didn't know that we knew that.  After all, the events of this story occur on the periphery of the Skrull Empire, so how would anyone know what was happening closer to the heart of the Empire?  (We vaguely know it from "Annihilation:  Super-Skrull," but, given that that mini-series is also ongoing at the same time, I feel like it's not something that could be presented without comment as a fact.)

2) I don't really buy this "Galactus is part of the natural order of the universe, but Annihilus is a cancer that needs to be stopped" business.  I mean, killing a billion people is killing a billion people.  If the Heralds have to tell themselves that lie to get through the day, fine.  But, I don't think Giffen sells it here that a difference really does exist.

3) I'm not really sure why Surfer believes that keeping Galactus from the Annihilation Wave would save lives.  Wouldn't you want a being of Galactus' strength engaging the Wave?  Wouldn't that save lives?

4) Why are Ravenous and the Seekers not insects if they "work" for Annihilus?  They actually look like Thanos...

Annihilation: Ronan #1-#4

*** (three of five stars) 

Summary
Ronan the Accuser, as we began to see in "Annihilation:  Prologue," is stripped of his title as the Accuser and exiled from the Kree Empire.  In his search for Tana Nile, the witness on whose testimony he was convicted of sedition, he finds himself drawn to Godthab Omega, a backwater world in the disputed zone between the Skrull and Kree Empires.  There, he encounters Gamora, a powerful being also drawn to Godthab Omega, who has assembled a group of super-powered women named the Graces, of which Tana Nile is a member.  It is revealed that they have all been drawn to Godthab Omega by the Apprentice, a former apprentice of the Shaper of Worlds who is attempting to use the excess power from the fights between these powerful figures to re-create the world in his image so the Shaper -- who disowned him -- will be impressed.  However, during Ronan and Gamora's fight, the Annihilation Wave hits Godthab Omega.  Tana Nile is killed, but she manages to tell Ronan that the new royal Kree house manipulated her into bearing false witness against him in its attempt to purge the old guard from the Empire.  The Apprentice is driven mad after using his power to repel the Wave, and Ronan heads to Hala to inform the Kree of the coming doom. 

The Review
Furman gives us a really solid story here.  It's a little odd in the sense that we're actually in the middle of one plot (actually two:  Ronan searching for Tana Nile and the Apprentice re-shaping the world) when the Annihilation Wave attacks and essentially hijacks the story.  But, Furman manages to make it work and, in fact, conveys the point I think he was trying to make, which is that the Annihilation Wave was a totally unexpected event that completely swarmed the Universe without warning. 

The Good
Honestly, I knew next to nothing about Ronan the Accuser.  But, Furman does an excellent job of focusing on Ronan's current predicament without getting himself too bogged down by the weight of the character's history.  He gives us enough to understand what's happening but not too much that it hinders the plot. 

The Meh
Godthab Omega has a sort of Mos Eisley feel to it, and I feel like Furman could've done a little more to develop that, particularly because it might've lightened up an otherwise pretty dark series. 

The Bad
1) As I mentioned in my review of "Annihilation:  Prologue" and "Annihilation:  Nova," it's occasionally hard to keep all the worlds, histories, and stories straight when it comes to these sort of galaxy-wide stories.  In this series, I struggled with trying to remember my Kree history, particularly since I was in high school when "Operation:  Galactic Storm" had the Nega-Bomb eliminate most of the Kree Empire.  The last I knew of the Kree, they were attacking the Avengers as part of "Avengers Disassembled."  Furman does a pretty good job of keeping the new royal family running the Kree Empire as an intriguing mystery and not an annoying distraction.  But, an excerpt on the Kree Empire (similar to what we saw in "Annihilation:  Prologue") in the back of the book might've been useful.

2) OMG, pet peeve #2 is off the hook here.  The introduction pages frequently refer to the mercenary having given Ronan Tana Nile's location, when, in fact, he just gave him her name and the general sector where she went, if I'm not mistaken.  Ronan was drawn to Godthab Omega by the Apprentice, not because he knew Tana Nile was there.

Annihilation: Prologue and Annihilation: Nova #1-#4

**** (four of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "This is Drax."  "Drax?"  "Just Drax."  "Who may or may not have a past in destroying."  -- Nova, Quasar, Drax, and Nova, discussing Drax's possible past in destroying 

Summary 
A wave of insect-looking warships destroys the Klyn moons, a string of power-generation units that also serves as a maximum-security prison.  Later, on Xandar, all Nova Corps members (including Nova) are called to a briefing while a prisoner named Drax is released to a girl named Cammi after genetic testing proves that he is not Drax the Destroyer.  At the briefing, the Nova Corps members are dispatched to reinforce forces elsewhere in the galaxy, particularly given the presumed escape of prisoners when the Klyn moons fell.  During the briefing, the wave of warships arrive (despite allegedly being two star systems away).  Drax and Cammi flee the spaceport while the Nova Corps fights the wave.  The Corps is quickly overwhelmed and the wave sends the spaceport crashing into Xandar.  Nova decides to fly through the crashing spaceport (since flying around it wasn't an option) and later awakens to find Xandar -- and the Nova Corps -- totally destroyed.  Elsewhere, Ronan the Accuser is charged with sedition, the Silver Surfer observes the oncoming wave, some Kree warriors hope the wave wipes out the Skrull Empire (while the Super-Skrull invisibly observes them), and Annihilus is revealed to be behind the wave.

Later, Worldmind awakens Nova, who's still reeling from the destruction of Xandar and the Corps, and directs him to its physical location, the Hub.  Once there, Worldmind downloads itself into Richard in order to preserve Xandarian culture before the Hub is destroyed when the "habitational shard" where they're located suffers environmental collapse as it drifts from the sun's orbit.  Richard fears he will be driven mad like the last person to absorb Worldmind, but Worldmind assures him that it will help modulate the power until a permanent home can be found.  However, immediately drunk with power, Nova attacks one of Annihilus' warships.  He returns to the shard, shaken, and encounters Drax and Cammi.  Scared to use his power again, he decides to go with them to find a space ship to leave the planet.  Drax offers to help Richard control his powers, and Richard opens a stargate so they can escape the warships that surround the ruins of Xandar.  The ship begins to die, but the group is rescued by Quasar, who's helping a group of refugees flee the Annihilation Wave, as it's being called.  Nova agrees to help Quasar after Drax reveals to Quasar that Nova has the full power of the Corps, and Drax tells Cammi he's sticking close to people in power given the oncoming doom.  Nova and Quasar try to rescue an Aakonian warship attempting to help evacuate the refugees after it comes under attack from Wave forces.  They decide to go for a full-frontal attack on Annihilus to buy the refugees time to escape.  Annihilus destroys Quasar and absorbs his Quantum Bands.  Nova attacks, managing to contact Annihilus long enough for Worldmind to connect to the Wave and order it to attack itself (since all commands are centered off Annihilus).  Annihilus orders a retreat, Drax and Cammi rescue Nova, and Nova convinces Worldmind to stay inside him so that they can do good like they just did. 

The Review
I really enjoyed this story.  It gave me the Nova I always wanted when I read comics with him but that I never seemed to get.  In his last series, by Erik Larsen, he was an attention-seeking lug whose main goal was getting into the Avengers.  On some level, I always liked that, because it made him human.  (Nova has trouble with the ladies but saves the Universe!)  Occasionally, though, it felt like the writers were just aping bad Spidey tropes.  Giffen and DnA, however, give us a Nova all his own, where his challenges are handling the enormous power he controls and trying to do the right thing in a morally-ambiguous environment.  It winds up being a lot more interesting than him trying to get into the Avengers.  He gets to go through a journey and mature a little, without having to look like an idiot while doing it.  It's why this series is probably the best Nova story I've ever read. 

The Good
1) Giffen gives us something similar to the establishing scenes in "Starship Troopers" in "Annihilation:  Prologue," showing us just how many members of the Nova Corps there are but also at the same time conveying the innate sense of camaraderie that exists among them.  It's an important point, because it sets up how terrible the devastation of Xandar and the Corps is and frames Nova's mental state for the "Annihilation:  Nova" series.

2) DnA give us a pretty epic story in "Annihilation:  Nova."  Despite the occasional problems of keeping planets, systems, forces, etc. straight, the plot is actually pretty straight-forward.  Kev Walker manages to convey the epic-ness of the story while at the same time making the action easy to follow.  A lot of artists could learn from him.

3) As I said before, we really watch Richard go on a journey here.  We first seem him being treated as a somewhat green Corps member by other members, but, by the end of the first issue, he's the last remaining Corps member.  DnA do an excellent job showing Richard reeling from the events of "Annihilation:  Prologue," making bad decisions and fearing his powers.  Because DnA obey the first rule of good writing -- show not tell -- we see Richard go through this process of grieving and the end result -- Richard telling Worldmind it's staying with him and asking Drax to teach him how to destroy -- is totally believable and powerful.  Nova has always been portrayed as a kind of bumbling frat boy, but DnA seem to really see the potential that he's always had but no writer has ever seemed to fully grasp.

4) DnA pepper the series with a sense of humor.  Between Nova handing Drax his helmet so he can confer with Worldmind directly to the quote above, DnA make it feel like a real Nova story, not just some space opera.  They keep it human, and it's why it's such a successful story.  Some of the other "Annihilation" stories (particularly "Annihilation:  Super-Skrull") could have used a little more humor. 

The Bad
1) It occasionally gets a little distracting in "Annihilation:  Prologue" to keep track of all the star systems and named entities:  the Crunch Energy Cascade, the Klyn Moons, the Omega Core, the Syllth, etc.  "Annihilation:  Nova" also suffers from it:  I got confused about why "Aakonian colonists" were fleeing a planet called "Nycos Aristedes."  I've had a similar issue with comics like "Legion of Super-Heroes" and the old "Guardians of the Galaxy," so I think it's just a drawback of these sorts of epic space stories.  But, it's distracting nonetheless.

2) Moreover, I wasn't totally up-to-speed on what Drax and Quasar have been doing since I last kept tabs on them.  It actually seems like Giffen and DnA introduce the idea of the Drax-who-is-not-Drax for the first time in these issues.  I'm sure they're going somewhere with it but, honestly, it just served as a distraction for me.  I also wasn't sure what Quasar was doing exactly.  I know he's the Protector of the Universe, but how did he decide to help the Aakonians amidst all the other people who needed help?  It almost seems like he lived at Nycos Aristedes, but I'm not sure why he would.  I'm not saying I needed complete histories provided but, given that each issue did give bios of the main characters, I feel like a little more attention could've been spent fleshing out some of the more relevant parts, like why Drax may not be Drax (but may be) and why Quasar was where he was.

3) I don't buy that Quasar's dead, partially, I know, because I'm reading this book five years after it was published and I'm pretty sure I know he gets resurrected.  But, even if I had read it then, I'm pretty sure I would've seen a resurrection coming...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #664: "The Return of Anti-Venom"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote"So, be honest...does Wolverine carry you to crime scenes?"  "Dude, you really need a girlfriend."  -- Anti-Venom and Spidey, part of their "team-up" banter

Summary
Anti-Venom webs up Spidey to the wall of the crack den where he's taken up residence, swearing that he's going to earn Spidey's trust.  He tell Spidey he's going to get more intel on the huge drug drop that Mr. Negative is planning.  Spidey is all in favor of taking down Mr. Negative, but doesn't believe Anti-Venom when he tells him that Mr. Negative is Martin Li.  Meanwhile, Carlie spies on the Wraith shaking down a Mr. Negative informant, using a pair of infrared binoculars to prove that she's not dead (since she gives off body heat).  JJJ, Jr. inaugurates an exhibit of Chinese terra cotta warriors that Martin Li donated, unaware that the drugs that Mr. Negative is smuggling are in the statues.  Eddie overhears this information and retrieves Spidey (who had just managed to escape) to bring him to the museum so he can watch him collar Mr. Negative.  Carlie, meanwhile, confirms her suspicions that Captain Watanabe is the Wraith when she discovers that several pieces of evidence -- Mr. Fear's gas, Mysterio's technology, and the Jean DeWolff mask -- were reported "destroyed" by the Captain herself.  Anti-Venom, Spidey, and the Wraith battle Mr. Negative, and, when Spidey knocks Mr. Negative into becoming more corporal than usual, the Wraith is able to use her suspect identification system to match him to Martin Li.  She uploads the information to all local servers, revealing his identity to the world.  Mr. Negative and his cronies escape, Anti-Venom is thrilled that Spidey learned he wasn't crazy for thinking Mr. Negative was Martin Li, and Spidey overhears Carlie confront Captain Watanabe about her extra-curricular activities.  Later, Mr. Negative's henchmen keep a bewildered Martin Li under wraps and, under questioning from Carlie, Pete admits that he designs Spider-Man's "tech."

In the back-up feature, Shang-Chi works with Peter to develop a martial-arts fighting style all his own (something Peter realized he should do in issue #660) to compensate for the loss of his Spider-Sense.  After Peter leaves, Madame Web appears and Shang asks her if Spidey's new skills will help him when, in Web's words, "the spiders come."  She says they'll have to wait and see...

The Review
Slott manages to wrap up several different ongoing storylines in this issue.  We get the private revelation of the Wraith's real identity, the public revelation that Martin Li is Mr. Negative, and Spidey working on adapting to the loss of his Spider-Sense.  Not bad for one issue!  I only gave the issue a three mainly because, though Slott does an admirable job keeping the issue moving, it's pretty apparent that the point of this issue (and the previous one) was to clear the decks of some ongoing sub-plots before this summer's "Spider-Island" crossover.  As such, even though everything makes sense within the universe Spidey inhabits, the issue has a certain "check the boxes" feel to it.

The Good
1) It's nice to see Eddie Brock get a win and get to be a hero.  That really doesn't happen often (if ever) and I'm glad Slott (and Spidey) gave it to him.  Slott actually gives us some great Spidey/Anti-Venom interactions and, I have to say, I actually hope Eddie shows up more often.  Venom got old pretty quickly back in the day, but the Spidey/Anti-Venom banter is actually pretty awesome and I'd love to see it as often as possible.

2) The revelation that Captain Watanabe is the Wraith was really cleverly done.  As I mentioned last issue, I was hoping that Slott was going somewhere with having "DeWolff" unmask for the villains, since it didn't make sense that she would do so if it were really her.  Slott gives a compelling reason for why Watanabe did what she did, adopting Jean DeWolff's identity, and how she did it, stealing evidence (like Mr. Fear's gas and Mysterio's technology and mask) and using the suspect identification system to get information on her victims.  Moreover, we get to see Carlie put in some really excellent detective work.  None of the revelations felt overly pat or like Slott suddenly just decided to add in the twist at the last minute.  Throughout his run, I've been impressed with the way he's dropped hints about future storylines (even ones involving Psycho-Man...) and actually returned to them, instead of just letting them hang in the wind like so many writers often do.

3) Thank God we've FINALLY revealed that Martin Li is Mr. Negative.  It's been long overdue and hopefully it can just go away for awhile!

4) Spidey spending half the issue webbed to a crack-den wall, freeing himself, and then immediately being re-captured by Anti-Venom?  Hilarious.  From a story-telling perspective, I realize Slott did it because he needed to focus on characters other than Spidey, so he had to park him somewhere.  But, the event itself felt organic to the story and not just a plot device.  Well done, Dan!

5) I really liked the back-up story, because it gets to this issue of Peter needing to adapt to the loss of his Spider-Sense.  Although we all know his Spider-Sense will return one day, Slott has managed to handle it in a way that hasn't felt gimmicky.  In fact, between Spidey using his science know-how to his benefit (the reflective suit, the bulletproof suit, the voice-activated Web-Shooters) and improving his combat skills, Slott has really brought Peter to the next level.  He's not just a kid trying his best to stay alive, he's actually starting to take the need to improve and expand his skills seriously.  It's a pleasant surprise for a storyline that could've gotten old quickly.

The Bad
In my last post, I outlined most of my complaints about the lack of clarity over the Martin Li/Mr. Negative character, particularly given the confusing (and often contradictory) portrayals of their "relationship" that we've seen since he was first introduced during "Brand New Day."  This issue doesn't really give us that much more clarity, showing Martin Li at the end being unaware of his Mr. Negative personality (as he appeared to be in "New Ways to Die!" and "Dark Reign:  Mr. Negative").  As mentioned last issue, Slott seems to have decided to resolve this duality by asserting that Mr. Negative can control the Martin Li persona for short periods of time, and I think it's probably the best answer we're going to get.  But, it's still annoying and I'm still considering it a negative (heh).  Hopefully, given his identity finally being revealed, it'll be less of a focus in the future.

Amazing Spider-Man #663: "The Return of Anti-Venom"

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
Anti-Venom is at the docks, on the trail of an opium shipment being brought into New York by Mr. Negative, whose criminal empire Anti-Venom is trying to dismantle after discovering that he's the alter-ego of Martin Li, Anti-Venom's savior (of sorts).  However, he encounters Mr. Negative's men fleeing from the Wraith in fear.  Elsewhere on the docks, the Wraith attacks one of the henchmen who couldn't escape, reciting to him a list of sins only he knows that he committed and telling him that the only way he can "save" himself is by telling her where Mr. Negative is getting his shipments.  Anti-Venom arrives on the scene in time to see the Wraith unmask herself, learning that she's Jean DeWolff.  Meanwhile, Carlie leaves Peter's place to go investigate the Wraith scene while Peter goes to Horizon Labs to show Max Modell his new super-strong helmet (adapted from his bullet-proof uniform from issue #656).  He leaves Horizon Labs (not before testing out his new voice-activated Web-Shooters) and (as Spidey) picks up an issue of "American Science Journal," in which Peter Parker has an article!  Aunt May is handing out copies at the F.E.A.S.T. center, where she runs into a bearded Eddie Brock, who asks her why she's been away so long.  Aunt May can't remember that she was possessed by Mr. Negative and tells Eddie she doesn't know.  Meanwhile, Mr. Negative is told about losing his shipment at the hands of the Wraith AND Anti-Venom and takes control of the Martin Li persona to put in place a plan.  While leaving the center, he runs into Aunt May, provoking her to have a seizure and remember the possession.  Elsewhere, Carlie is with Captain Watanabe investigating the Wraith scene, where they're told by the hood the Wraith interrogated that she's Jean DeWolff.  Carlie notes to Watanabe that Mysterio had planned to "resurrect" Jean DeWolff when he was resurrecting mafiosi but Watanabe tells her she had the costume destroyed.  As Aunt May is loaded into an ambulance, Brock, enraged that a good woman like Aunt May was hurt by Mr. Negative, turns into Anti-Venom and attacks.  Spidey is on the way to the hospital when he stumbles into the fight and tries to save Li (with the blessing of Aunt May, to whom he speaks on the phone after telling JJJ, Sr. that he has to help someone in a car accident).  Anti-Venom decides that Spider-Man is a villain since he's trying to help Li and attacks.  Anti-Venom's powers play havoc on Spidey's and the story ends with a weakened Spidey about to be "cured" by Anti-Venom.

In the first back-up feature, Cloak and Dagger are in the process of stopping a drug dealer when he exhibits Spider powers and escapes.  The Jackal observes the scene and announces it may be time for him to "graduate to the next stage."

In the second back-up feature, Spidey tries to do some regular ol' crime fighting, but has a bad go of it.  He tries to stop a guy from mugging an old woman, only to have it be revealed that she's his grandmother.  He yanks back an old man from getting hit by a taxi, and the man accuses him of giving him whiplash.  He stops a guy running from the cops, only to learn the cops were letting him escape to follow him to his supplier.  Discouraged, Spidey wonders why he does it.  Meanwhile, the old man goes home and complains to his wife, who scolds him for leaving the house without his hearing aids and thanks Spider-Man for being the guardian angel that she prayed would watch over her husband.

The Review
This issue is solid.  First, it's a happy return to Spidey stories, after the Future Foundation and Avengers Academy detours.  Second, we actually get some Peter time, which I always appreciate, particularly when it's "things going well" Peter time and not "old Parker luck" Peter time.  Moreover, Slott gives us the full cast of characters here:  Carlie, Captain Watanabe, Aunt May, JJJ, Sr., Anti-Venom, Mr. Negative.  It's a good reminder of how well Slott has integrated some of the really isolated characters and sub-plots that existed in "Brand New Day."  I'm excited about the next issue.

The Good
1) OK, so I was wrong in my review of "Amazing Spider-Man" #658 when I guessed we'd never see the Wraith sub-plot develop into anything.  Color me happy to be wrong!

2) I always like when Slott mentions Spidey's other activities.  It would be pretty unbelievable if we saw Peter lying around his apartment in his boxers with nothing to do, given that he's on two Avengers teams and the FF.

3) I'm glad we're letting Peter be good at this job.  Seeing him with a published article AND with a new invention in this issue makes me worry less that Marvel is going to take it all away from him...which probably means it'll happen next issue.

4) Giuseppe Camuncoli's pencils are great.  I hope they keep using him.  He's got a really relaxed yet fully detailed approach that works well for Spidey.  The sequence of Spidey jumping around the place with the "American Science Journal" issue was just awesome.

The Unknown
1) I'm not really sure why DeWolff (or whoever it is pretending to be her) would unmask for some punk in an alley.  My guess it that whoever it is pretending to be her wants people to think the Wraith is DeWolff, so I'm not going to give a demerit to Slott just yet.  But, if it turns out not to be the case, it's sloppy.

2) What exactly was Carlie taking from Captain Watanabe's pocket?  Is it the suspect identification software thingy?

The Bad
I actually think it's clever and interesting to have the Wraith be Jean DeWolff (or at least someone pretending to be).  But, the problem was that Slott built up a reveal (Anti-Venom stumbling upon her unmasked in the alley) that had been totally spoiled by Wacker mentioning her return last issue in the letters page (not to mention the title of the issue:  "The Ghost of Jean DeWolff").  I'm assuming the editors made the decision to publicize it to sell more copies, but it sucks when marketing gets in the way of the story (paging the Clone Saga, paging the Clone Saga).

The Ugly
1) All right, at this point, I officially don't understand Mr. Negative and his relationship with Martin Li.  Here, I believe for the first time, we learn that Mr. Negative has "control" over the Martin Li persona for a set period of time.  Now, if Martin Li doesn't know he's Mr. Negative (as "New Ways to Die!" and "Dark Reign:  Mr. Negative" implied), then it makes sense that Mr. Negative would have to exert energy to control him.  But, if Martin Li DOES know he's Mr. Negative (as, confusingly, "New Ways to Die!" also implied, in addition to "Amazing Spider-Man Extra" #2 and "Amazing Spider-Man" #618), then why would Mr. Negative have to exert control over his public identity?  Couldn't he just revert to Martin Li and do what he wants to do?  Are we supposed to assume that the incidences mentioned above where Martin Li seems to know he's Mr. Negative are actually moments when Mr. Negative is controlling him?  If so, we shouldn't really be made to connect those dots on our own.

2) Moreover, let's talk about Martin Li.  Martin Li isn't Martin Li.  As we learned in "Dark Reign:  Mr. Negative," the man who is Martin Li (let's call him "Faux Li") stole that identity from the real Martin Li, who died while being smuggled in a ship from China to America.  In fact, Faux Li was one of the smugglers who fled when the ship ran aground.  So, if Mr. Negative isn't in total control of the Martin Li persona, purposefully creating a saint-like persona to throw people off his trail, then why would a human smuggler get all righteous?  As I've mention in the "Dark Reign: Mr. Negative" review, I think it's also a stretch that a human smuggler could turn a garment shop into a financial empire.  The writers seem to be implying that Faux Li thinks he's the real Martin Li.  But, why?  It's not like becoming Mr. Negative infused him with the memories of a person he had never really met.  Moreover, he clearly knew he was Faux Li in "Dark Reign:  Mr. Negative."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

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

Avengers #14:  "Fear Itself" so far has felt more like the ham-fisted attempt by Marvel to take advantage of the "Captain America" and "Thor" movies that it is than a creative way to introduce change into the Marvel Universe that it could have been.  Fraction and Bendis are giving us a pastiche of previously-used tropes here, with a villain whose existence had been deleted from collective memory (the God of Fear here, similar to the Sentry in "Siege"), destroyed landmarks (the Capitol Building and Avengers Tower, just like Asgard in "Siege"), and a major death (seemingly Bucky-Cap, similar to Nightcrawler and Cable in "Messiah Complex").  The result is that no story with "Fear Itself" plastered on it has felt remotely original and this issue is no exception.  From a structural point of view, Bendis gives us the interesting multiple-narrative technique from last issue, but negates its impact with yet another dialogue-less action sequence meant to convey import, which it would do if Bendis didn't seem to use it every other issue.  From a plot point of view, I'm not entirely sure what Bendis is doing with Red Hulk here.  He added the Red Hulk to the roster during the Infinity Gauntlet cross-over.  But, since Bendis was moving so many characters through the title at that point, we've never really seen the Red Hulk as part of the specific Avengers team displayed in "Avengers."  However, before we ever got a chance to see that, Bendis (more or less literally) discards him here, if Jarvis' comments are to be believed.  Regarding Avengers Tower, I'm assuming that Fraction and Bendis have the Thing destroy Avengers Towers in order to set up him leaving the Avengers in guilt after "Fear Itself."  I've never really bought his participation in the Avengers and, with Spidey joining the FF, it seems ridiculous to have half that team on the Avengers.  At this point, I can't say I particularly care about either the Red Hulk or the Avengers Tower development.  Increasingly, I just want to see "Fear Itself" end so we can adjust to the new status quo and start the process of forgetting it.

Captain America #619:  OK, honestly?  I have no idea what's going down in "Captain America" right now.  We get a pretty satisfying ending to "Gulag."  Brubaker didn't wrap up all the loose ends; for example, we never (as far as I can tell) really get the truth about the two KGB agents Bucky assassinated during the Cold War, the whole reason he's imprisoned by Russia in the first place.  Also, given the fact that he's a fugitive when this issue ends, it's unclear to me how he suddenly appears in his uniform in "Fear Itself" #3.  But, even if it's not a technically-satisfying ending, it's an emotionally-satisfying one.  Bucky "remembers" training a series of super-soldier sleeper agents in America during the Cold War, and it inspires him to start hunting down the demons from his time as the Winter Soldier.  You can tell he's found the path to putting the Winter Soldier behind him and it's exciting to see him ready to embark on that journey.  He has a great moment with Natasha as they're fleeing, and it helps to contribute to the sense of awesome that you assume is coming.  I mean, could you ask for a better premise for a post-Cap, Bucky-focused book?  We'd get Steve as Cap and Bucky as Bourne.  Cool, cool, cool.  If you're not following "Fear Itself," I think you'd totally assume it's where Marvel is going.  Instead, if you are (unfortunately for you) following "Fear Itself," you know that we've apparently killed off Bucky.  Steve is going to take up the shield in a new "Captain America" series and "Captain America" is becoming "Captain America and Bucky," a series about the duo's early days.  I can't complain too much about the latter, because I did after all ask for it in my review of "Captain America" #616.  But, I can't help but feel like Marvel has squandered a long-term opportunity with Bucky for the short-term goal of making "Fear Itself" "mean something" by having a "significant death."  I mean, Nightcrawler was never going to have his own series, so his death in "Messiah Complex" didn't really affect anything too much.  But, Bucky was popular, from what I can tell.  I think someone (not even necessarily Brubaker) could've really done something with him.  So, despite "Gulag" bringing Bucky's emotional journey, which started with the "Trial of Captain America" almost a year ago, full circle, I finished this issue feeling disappointed.  We're not going to see Bucky next month (except for his teenaged version).  We're not going to get a chance to see him rise through the ranks of Marvel's superheroes, to become a hero fully in his own right.  This whole, great era of "Captain America" -- one of the best I've ever read -- is going to be left behind and eventually fade into a distant memory.  Marvel made a bad decision here and I find myself hoping against hope someone'll change it. 

Fear Itself:  The Home Front #3:  The Speedball story is...whatever, you know what, I'm tired of pretending anymore.  This whole "Fear Itself" story is a debacle.  It's like a super-villain whose power is to make everything it touches suck.  The Speedball story, which showed at least some promise, totally goes predictable and schlocky here.  I still have no idea who John Atlas is, nor do I care.  The "Moment with..." story is bizarre, and the best fourth story this issue manages is one about a fourth-rate Spider-Man villain I didn't like 15 years ago when he first appeared.  The only reason I keep getting this series at this point is that I'm anal-retentive and I know, ten years from now, if I had a little money left at the end of the pay period, I'd wind up buying the rest of the issues just to complete the set. 

Fear Itself:  Youth in Revolt #2:  We don't get a lot of Prodigy in this issue, which is a shame, because he was essentially why I liked the first issue of this series.  Instead, the main story is focused on (ridiculously-named) Thor Girl, who has been incarcerated as a result of her involvement in the death of a police officer.  She's tortured by shadowy figures with an unclear agenda, the first time in any of the "Fear Itself" books we've been given a bad guy other than the Serpent and the Worthy, which makes me wonder where that sub-plot is going.  Elsewhere, the various Initiative teams are doing their best to maintain order.  One of the interesting parts of this series so far is its depiction of reluctant heroes:  Cloud 9 originally sat out the battle and Gravity quits halfway through it.  We all know, intellectually, that some people born with super-powers aren't necessarily born with a desire to use them, and it's interesting to see what McKeever does here in terms of showing that.

Secret Avengers #14:  This issue is beautiful.  I didn't necessarily buy it at first.  I didn't really see where a story only involving Valkyrie was going.  In fact, I'm still not entirely sure who Valkyrie is and why she suddenly appeared after "Siege."  I thought she was a mortal but it appears she isn't.  I can't say I'm really all that invested in her character, or at least enough to go rummage through back issues of "Secret Avengers" to see how she's previously been portrayed.  However, Spencer gives us a beautiful story here about how she became who she is, and he weaves it equally flawlessly into the main story.  It's one of the better "Fear Itself" tie-in issues I've read.

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #711:  Daniel reveals here that the "teensy little job" that Gilda Dent asked the Riddler to perform was helping her fake Two-Face's death in front of Mario Falcone.  Allegedly, according to the Riddler, Gilda is trapped in a relationship with Falcone and needed Two-Face's help in removing herself from it.  Obviously we've got more happening here than anyone is revealing.  Gilda needed Mario to believe Harvey was dead, for unclear reasons, though it seems like it has something to do with allowing her to have a freer hand in arranging something related to the mysterious Jade Society.  I'm not entirely sure what game Riddler is playing at this point, but he appears to be back to his old tricks so it's anyone's guess.  Daniel sets up a good story here, but Daniel always sets up a good story only usually to disappoint me in the end.  So, I'm reserving judgment until we see where this arc goes.  In the meantime, it's a treat to see two of Batman's iconic villains working together.

Batman:  Gates of Gotham #2:  One of the best parts about the Bat-books (and, paradoxically, one of the reasons why I didn't become a regular reader until recently) is that they have a mythos and a history you have to spend some time getting to know.  Whereas the X-Men are pretty easy to get (to paraphrase Bill Murray, "humans and mutants, living together!"), the Bat-books require an understanding beyond just the basic origin story in order to fully enjoy them.  Snyder and Higgins really get that, on a basic level, and it's why "Gates of Gotham" is as enjoyable as it is.  They've woven together the Waynes, Cobblepots, and Elliots in a really intriguing way, tying their histories together in a way that makes their presents all the more complicated.  I mean, having to save Tommy Elliot or Wayne Tower?  Tough call.  They've also given us a main villain who could be either Gates brother (or both) returned from the dead or a descendant of one of the brothers seeking revenge for a reason we don't quite yet understand.  But, perhaps best of all, our protagonists in this story are four of Bruce Wayne's five children:  Dick, Tim, Cassandra, and Damian.  I'm also assuming Jason will appear at some point, just as I'm wondering under what circumstances will Bruce eventually appear.  Snyder and Higgins have built the suspense, and I'm excited to see how it's all going to go.

Dungeons and Dragons #8:  This issue may be the best yet.  It is just non-stop.  I really honestly marvel at how Rogers makes each of these characters unique.  It's hard to write good banter, but it's even harder to write good banter that isn't just banter for banter's sake, but actually reflects the personality of the speaker and allows you some insight into the character.  Rogers manages to accomplish this task and sustain it throughout this issue, and it's a marvel to behold.  Moreover, the action is gripping.  Fell's Five are stuck in the Feywild and fall victim to a traitorous (with good reason, but still traitorous) gnome.  But, in typical Fell's Five fashion, things go from bad to worse when Juliana's evil father makes an appearance.  I think it's probably time for Rogers to start connecting these dots, since I wound up being more, rather than less, confused about Juliana's origins than I was after the last arc.  (We could also use a little bit more on Varic.  He has implied a few times that he's Earth-born, but we saw him in the last arc already in the Feywild -- and attached to Juliana -- when Adric arrived.)  But, I trust Rogers to get us what we need, so I'm not rushing him.  In the meantime, I'm just enjoying the good, clean fun.

New Mutants #26:  OK, so, first, I have to say, I love the new approach to the New Mutants, giving them the responsibility of being the team cleaning up the X-Men's loose ends.  The X-Men definitely have some fascinating loose ends, so it should keep the book running for quite a while.  Second, Abnett and Lanning really chose to begin with a great loose end.  Sugar Man using Nate Grey to power his Omega Machine to find a way home?  Awesome.  It totally makes sense in the context of the characters, so it doesn't feel like they're forcing anything to create a loose end.  Plus, the pared-down team helps a lot.  The book was getting a little crowded, so removing Cannonball, Karma, and Magik (who've been the focus of the last 25 issues) really gives some of the other characters room to grow.  The only note of caution I'd give them is not to go to the "X-kids" well too often.  It worked a few years ago, but the New Mutants have really graduated from that role, so making them feel like they have something to prove really makes it feel like we're going backwards rather than forwards.  Focusing on Dani learning how to handle a leadership role is fine and interesting, but having the New Mutants feel like they have to prove they're competent is a little 1980s.  All in all, though, it's a great start to a new era. 

X-Men Legacy #251:  OK, to be honest, I can't say I'm overly intrigued by this arc.  I'm a little Legion-ed out lately, and Carey seems to have forgotten rule #1 of team-book writing, which is to include some comic relief.  Given that no one's used Iceman in, like, forever, I really feel like substituting Bobby for Frenzy would've made this book a little less maudlin.  The story itself is fine, but, as I've felt about this series since I started reading it, I can't say it's enjoyable.