Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nova #4-#7: “Annihilation: Conquest”

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  “Worldmind!  God, it’s good to hear your voice again!  Is that really you?”  “This is no time for sentiment, Nova 11249-44396.”  “Yup, it’s you.”  -- Nova and Worldmind, reunited (and it feels so good!)

Summary

En route to Hala, Nova encounters a group of Sentries who attempt to kill him.  Worldmind comes under attack from a viral program and, upon analyzing it, realizes that the Phalanx have taken over the Kree Empire.  He advises Nova to flee to a neighboring galaxy to secure assistance to fight the Phalanx, but Nova continues heading to Hala.  The Phalanx, meanwhile, have corrupted Gamora, who uses her (ahem) knowledge of Nova to direct an attack, sending a thousand Sentries after him at once via teleportation.  The Sentries box in Nova, who’s forced to open a stargate to incinerate the Sentries and escape.  Wounded, Nova takes Worldmind’s advice and attempts to leave the Empire, only to run directly into the “wall” that the Phalanx established around the Empire in “Annihilation:  Conquest Prologue.”  His body crashes onto Drez-Lar, a Kree outworld.  He’s discovered by Ko-Rel, a Kree Captain leading a group of soldiers stranded on the planet after they covered the retreat of the other inhabitants during the Annihilation Wave.  Worldmind deputizes her as a member of the Nova Corps to protect Richard while he heals.  Meanwhile, Gamora and her hunters arrive on planet.  Ko-Rel dispatches one team easily before returning to the ship to plan strategy with her crew.  She considers leaving Drez-Lar to go get help, but Worldmind pushes her to stay there to protect Richard.  (She has also learned of the fall of the Kree Empire to the Phalanx, contributing to her desire to leave.)  Suddenly, the Phalanx invade the base, slaughtering many of the Kree (including Ko-Rel’s three closest confidantes).  Ko-Rel tries to distract the Phalanx by fleeing the base, but Gamora sees through the ruse and finds Nova, infecting him.  Ko-Rel returns to base to find her crew obliterated and leaves Drez-Lar seeking revenge.  Worldmind directs her to Nova, ordering her to kill him lest the Worldmind itself becomes infected.  Meanwhile, Gamora and Nova hunt down Drax, infecting him.  Ko-Rel arrives shortly thereafter, attacking Nova.  Worldmind guides her in the battle, and she manages to disable Nova with the help of some trickery in a central thermal-processing core.  She hesitates before killing him, which gives Gamora the opening to kill her.  Nova continues to work on behalf of the Phalanx while Worldmind continues to resist the transmode virus, though he is losing the battle.  Nova is eventually roused from the collective consciousness by Worldmind, who manifests a Free-Richard personna to convince Phalanx-Richard gestalt to resist.  (Worldmind’s efforts to fight off the virus are represented by avatars of the Nova Corps.)  Richard rebels, freeing himself of the Phalanx’s control and escaping.  Drax and Gamora pursue him while Worldmind directs him to a neutron star.  By flying through it he escapes the enclosed Kree space, but finds himself on the “far side of the universe.”  He also accidentally dragged Drax and Gamora with him, who resume pursuit.

The Review
DnA continue to have a great knack for pacing and an even better ear for dialogue.  Moreover, I really could not predict outcomes in this book.  The Drez-Lar crew getting slaughtered, Nova becoming part of the Phalanx, Gamora stabbing Ko-Rel:  it was all just one shock after another!  One of the things I think DnA really capture here -- as they did in "Annihilation:  Conquest Prologue" -- is the emotional and physical toll bouncing from crisis to crisis must take.  You don't really see it in other superhero books; the Avengers and the X-Men always seem fresh as daisies when the newest crisis presents itself.  Instead, Richard looks and sounds totally like a man on the verge here.  It's what makes the story believable, different, and memorable.

The Good
1) In terms of the Drez-Lar part of the story, I found it particularly impressive that DnA managed to create a whole group of believable and interesting secondary characters in just a few pages.  Ko-Rel’s crew were distinct, funny, and real.  DnA even manage to differentiate her confidantes, giving us three characters with clear personalities and strengths.  By doing so, DnA actually convinced me they were going to be key to the plot of the arc, so you can imagine my surprise when they were Ensign Jones-ed.  Their deaths imbue the issue with an emotional gravity that it wouldn’t have had if DnA hadn’t so carefully crafted the characters.

2) Holy crap, I think I forgot to breathe for most of issue #6!  The fight between Nova and Ko-Rel was intense.  Moreover, as I said above, I totally didn’t see Gamora stabbing her coming.  I understand why she had to die, to inspire Nova to fight off the transmode virus, but, I have to say, I was sad to discover in issue #7 that she had actually died.  (In retrospect, it made Nova crushing of the image of her son all the sadder.)  Ko-Rel was a cool character and I hope Nova does find her son.

3) Drax!

4) Phalanx-Richard’s narration over the first few pages of issue #7 about the wonders of being a member of the Phalanx was downright creepy.

5) Along those lines, the conversation between Phalanx-Richard and Free-Richard was pretty awesome.  Having Worldmind use the Nova Corps – including Ko-Rel – as his avatars in the fight against the virus was seriously clever.  I also liked how Free-Richard acknowledged that Ko-Rel was going to weigh on his conscious for a long time.  Again, DnA did a great job really creating her character, even if it was only really for two issues, and I’m glad to see it acknowledged that her death meant something.

6) I loved when Worldmind got cranky!

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  Seriously, issue #5 was almost a textbook case!  We learn about the Select here and we also learn that Ko-Rel isn’t the new Nova but, instead, just a deputized Nova guarding Nova while he heals.  I’m pretty sure we could’ve been told that in-story.  If that wasn’t enough, we get confirmation that Ko-Rel is dead in the introduction to issue #7, killing my hope that she might have survived.  My delusions should be ruined by the issue, not the introduction to it!

2) Frankly?  Gamora’s breasts were INSANE in issue #6.  I mean, I get that artists are usually straight guys drawing for straight guys, but, seriously, if Gamora’s breasts were really that big, she could never have become the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy.  She’d be practically tripping over herself or, at least, injuring herself every time she swung a knife.  I mean, draw all the skimpy costumes you want, fellas, but let’s at least stick to some sense of biological reality.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #575-#576: "Family Ties"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "*@%# that."  "What he said."  -- Shoulder Angel Spidey and Shoulder Devil Spidey agreeing that Spidey should surprise attack Hammerhead

Summary
Spidey rescues a homeless woman being chased by clowns dressed in suits riding Goblin gliders who are trying to recover her "pet" rat, who actually has a supercomputer brain.  (Um, yeah.)  He later chooses to cover the community events fair with "Front Line" reporter Norah (who seems to like him) rather than the Hollister campaign event, for fear of running into Lily (who, as we all remember, kissed him in "New Ways to Die!").  Meanwhile, a gangbanger named Dunk is about to be initiated when the "ceremony" is interrupted by Hammerhead, who informs the gang that everyone who doesn't follow Mr. Negative (his new patron, who gave him a super-strong skeleton in "Amazing Spider-Man:  Extra!" #1) will be toast.  Dunk then removes his little brother from the science exhibit at the community events fair, despite Peter's protestations.  Spidey later tries to scare Dunk straight, only to have Dunk reveal he doesn't really want to be a gangbanger, but has to protect his family.  Hammerhead appears to take down the whole gang and soundly beats Spidey, who's not expecting his enhanced powers.  Peter and Norah follow the "Hammerhead as a new enforcer" story, when Peter discovers that Dunk's little brother faked his own kidnapping to get Spidey for Hammerhead.  Spidey defeats Hammerhead, Pete and Norah get the story and possibly a date. 

Review
"I...but, wait, when did that happe...is that the Joke...why are they...did he just...STOP!"

The above line sums up my impression of the first ten pages of issue #575.  I had a hard time rating this arc, and I would've given it 3.5 of five stars if I'd let myself take the easy path and add in half a star.  The issue flirted with greatness, invoking the same feel of playfulness as the awesome Mayan deity arc from "Brand New Day."  But, that feel of playfulness occasionally became a sense of confusion through odd characterizations (see the discussion of Aunt May below), a bizarre opening, and poor editing (see the comments about the recap page below).  So, I think we're going to have to stick with three.  But, after the "New Ways to Die!" fiasco, it was refreshing to have a stand-alone arc that lets us forget about Mephisto and Harry and just enjoy ourselves.  So far, the best stories since "One More Day" do what the Spidey Brain Trust wants them to do; they don't get overburdened by the superhero shenanigans (like "New Ways to Die!") but instead give us Spider-Man stories of yore:  fun, clever, and meaningful.  Even with the uneven parts weighing down the overall rating, I'm really looking forward to more stories by Kelly, because I think, once he grows into writing for "Amazing Spider-Man," we're going to see a lot of five-star reviews attached to his name in the future.

The Really, Really Good
I loved Shoulder-Devil Spidey and Shoulder-Angel Spidey agreeing that he should engage in a sneak attack.  It could've been terrible, but Kelly wrote it so well and Bachalo depicted it so well that it was hilarious and unexpected.  

The Good
1) I like Norah.  Her introduction is kind of weird, in that she treats Peter in a Fourth Grade "I like you so I'm going to tease you" kind of way.  But, his chemistry with her is a lot more organic than it is with Carlie, who, after all, may or may not be dating Vin.  (We haven't really re-visited that sub-plot.  In fact, this arc almost exists outside ongoing continuity, which, as I mentioned above, is part of what I like about it.  I mean, Peter can have a few girls expressing interest in him at the same time.  But, I almost feel like we need a Peter-centric issue at some point to resolve some loose ends in his personal life.)  Anyway, I hope she sticks around a while.

2) The covers are awesome:  Hammerhead punching Spidey, then Spidey punching Hammerhead in the next one.  They're simple, but the symmetry and the execution are really well done.

3) The plot (outside the bizarre opening sequence, mentioned below) was nicely handled.  It could've been VERY "After-School Special"-y, but it wasn't.  It was pretty light and really fun, particularly given that it's dealing with a dark issue like teenage gangbangers.  The conversation between Spidey and Dunk when Spidey's trying to go all "scared straight" on him was touching and hilarious.  Well done, Mr. Kelly.

4) The art for most of the arc is great.  I love Bachalo.  My only qualm here (and why it's not in "The Really Good" category) is that the opening sequence (yes, I know, I'm officially harping here) is really, really confusing to follow.  The mouth on the homeless woman was so bizarrely drawn that it actually distracted me on several occasions.  Even when I wasn't distracted by the mouth, I found the flow of the action to be somewhat disorienting.  Otherwise, the art was great, but the opening sequence definitely weighed down the whole.

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  Whoa, whoa, whoa, WHOA!  The recap page discusses Mr. Negative's rehab of Hammerhead as a past event to such an extent that I actually had to look to make sure I hadn't missed an issue.  With some Internet research I discovered it occurred in "Amazing Spider-Man:  Extra!" #1, a title I didn't even know existed until this point.  (I tracked down the "Extra!" issues, and I've put #1 in chronological order in my blog posts.)  But, the editors really need to let us know when they're describing something from another comic, because it's distracting to be hurled into a story feeling like you skipped a few issues by accident. 

2) I've said it before and I'll say it again:  the opening sequence is just bizarre.  I think it's here where Kelly's inexperience showed.  I don't even know where to begin.  I mean, a bunch of guys dressed suspiciously like the Joker are riding Goblin gliders trying to recover a bionic rat being kept as a pet by a homeless woman.  Really?  The research lab that sent out the Jokers spent the time to dress them in costumes and put them on Goblin gliders rather than just, I don't know, giving them a company car?  It's actually not an entirely uncool sequence, but it needed to be a little tighter to work.  I get what Kelly was trying to do and I applaud it, but the combination of the recap page revealing previously unknown information on Hammerhead and this random opening sequence left me not really wanting to read more by the end of the first ten pages.  Thankfully, I did, because the rest of the arc was great.

3) I could've really lived my whole like not seeing Spider-Man puke in his mask.

4) I really didn't get the Aunt May scene at the fair.  I mean, why does she hate Lily Hollister?  It seems particularly weird since Mr. Li, who runs the shelter where Aunt May volunteers, endorsed her father for mayor.  Instead, Aunt May calls her a gold-digging skank.  No, I mean, literally.  (OK, she actually calls her a "skunk," because it's amusing when old people get hip-cat lingo wrong.)  As Pete notes, Lily is actually the one who's loaded, not Harry.  Also, I want to know how exactly Aunt May was in a conversation where Lily was said to be a skank, despite Aunt May telling us not to ask.  Is Aunt May racist?  Otherwise, the whole exchange makes no sense.

5) Spidey's webs dissolve after one hour.  If he really slept a few hours, they would've been totally gone.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman and Robin #26:  This is a fairly remarkable issue, given how inventive it is.  Batman and Robin are in Paris to chase a psycho who's freed some of the inmates of the French version of Arkham Asylum; the inmates, in turn, are running wild through the Louvre.  The psycho's motivation is to record the chaos and show it to his insane father to prove that life has no meaning.  (The kicker is that he's dissected his father into his component organs and is keeping him alive through machines.  Yup.  It's a bit of a downer.)  The plot has some holes, like how exactly the guy discovered the existence of the criminals he freed, since, according to Nightrunner (who guest stars in this issue), their existence had been classified.  But, this sort of issue isn't one where you ask for a linear type of story.  Hine keeps us guessing with each page and Tocchini and Bressan do an amazing job on the art, particularly given how seamless it appears.  It's a pretty great and fitting ending to this series as we head into the reboot.  It only recently dawned on me that the reboot means we're not going to see Dick and Damian together anymore, which is a damn shame.  I'm not sure Damian is going to have quite the same chemistry with Bruce, given that they're essentially the same.  Instead, he excelled as a foil for Dick, because they're so different.  Hopefully, the rebooted reality doesn't erase the time they spent together and we see flashes of that relationship in the future.  Fingers crossed.

New Avengers #15:  OK, I had seen comments on-line about how good this issue was, so I was excited to read it.  Um, those comments were not wrong.  Squirrel Girl!  Who knew?  Bendis does an amazing job here not only of fleshing out Squirrel Girl -- showing us her insecurities and hopes and dreams -- but also of using her as a frame of reference for the craziness happening in "Fear Itself."  His use of the interview format has been stellar and continues to be here.  After reading this issue, I am really left to wonder what Bendis would've done with "Fear Itself" in place of Fraction.  I guess we'll just have to be satisfied with his contributions in these tie-in issues.  I can't wait to see what happens next issue!

New Mutants #29:  I kind of enjoyed this issue, though it's a little odd.  The characterizations seemed a little off, almost like it wasn't written by DnA.  Nate seems really aggressive in a way that surprises me and Illyana seems even weirder than usual.  The biggest negative is the art, which is pretty awful.  Sunspot actually looks like the Beast and Nate looks like an organic Colossus.  That said, I did enjoy the plot.  Cypher is one of my favorite characters, so it was fun to see him be his usual weird self but also, for the first time possibly since his resurrection, seem interested in the world around him.  Hopefully it's the beginning of a process of making him more human.  The New Mutants finding themselves in Hell (two Ls) was a fun twist and I'm entertained by the prospect of where that story is going to go.

Red Robin #26:  Of all the reboot-related changes, the loss of "Red Robin" is, to my mind, the one I least understand.  Christopher Yost and Fabian Nicieza have done a great job over the run creating a vibrant set of supporting characters, expanding his adventures beyond the Bat-family and making him his own man.  Although the series had its ups-and-downs, it was consistent in showing Tim as the strategic thinker of the Bat-family while at the same time giving him an actual sense of humor.  He's always been a blend of Bruce and Dick, and Yost and Nicieza nailed that perfectly.  This issue actually throws in a little Jason, with Tim contemplating killing the man who killed his father.  I was a little skeptical at first, but Fabian really sold it, and made Tim's character all the more interesting and compelling for it.  But, of course, enter the reboot.  Given that Tim's appearances seem likely to be limited to "Teen Titans," it's a shame we're likely not going to see characters like Tam, Lynx, Lonnie or even Mikalek again.  At any rate, thanks for the memories, Tim, and good luck in the new gig.

X-Men #15.1:  I'm surprised to say it, but this issue is terrible.  I really like Gischler, but it's like he had five minutes to write a script and did so on the back of a roll of toilet paper while waiting in line for the men's room.  Gambit calling his grandmother "maw-maw?"  Cyclops calling Gambit "Cajun?"  It's just bizarre.  Plus, parts of it make no sense.  Dani originally tells the tribesman to seal up the concrete house where the old woman is dying, but then advocates for not sealing up the house.  I know this issue was essentially a vehicle for introducing the new lady Ghost Rider, but Gischler obviously put no effort into it whatsoever.  Also, paging pet peeve #1:  Colossus doesn't appear in this issue, despite appearing on the cover.  I've been pretty forgiving of these .1 issues, but I really can't believe I spent $2.99 on this one.

X-Men Legacy #253:  This issue is awesome.  I haven't been the hugest fan of this storyline, mostly because I've found it to be pretty slow.  This issue, though, has all sorts of twists and turns, and shows that Carey has had firm control over it as it's developed.  First, I did not see the Legion/Rogue switch coming.  I finished last issue wondering how exactly the other X-Men were going to defeat a Legion-powered Styx, and I was all ready to disbelieve the answer.  However, the answer -- that we never got a Legion-powered Styx, thanks to the Legion/Rogue switch -- was perfect.  At this point, I pretty much thought we were done, so imagine my surprise when Carey unexpectedly connected this story to the next one, sending the team into space to find Rachel.  Excellent.  I was worried that story -- despite it being urgent that Rachel be found lest she die -- was going to be on a really slow burn, so I'm thrilled to see that Carey is launching us right into it.  I have to applaud him for using Legion's personalities so cleverly.  They often approach deus ex machina levels, as they do here, with Chain providing the vehicle for the Legion/Rogue switch and Compass Rose serving as the means for the team to get into space.  But, Carey sells it.  In fact, Legion using the Chain persona as a tool shows his increasing mastery over his powers, making me hope that he's not going to be the boring old psychotic threat to all existence he's often portrayed as being.  Moreover, Rogue going against Styx was perfect, given that their powers are eerily similar.  Also, something about the team finally gelled for me in this issue.  Carey doesn't necessarily do anything specifically here to make it happen, but I think we've now seen the personalities interacting enough for a rhythm to develop.  It looks like we'll continue to get Rogue, Frenzy, Gambit, and Magneto together for the next few issues, and I have to say, I can't wait!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #667: "Spider-Island" Part 1

***** (five of five stars) 

Favorite Quote #1:  "Oh!  This happened right after we...y'know...took our relationship to the next level:  kissing, swapping spit, sharing the odd toothbrush, and...whatnot.  Did I...give her a Spidery-Transmitted Disease?"  -- Peter Parker, learning the importance of safe sex 

Favorite Quote #2:  "I swear, if we're doing the clone-thing again, I'm going back to LA" -- MJ, speaking for us all

Summary
Shocking Peter, Carlie reveals to him her newly developed Spider-Powers.  Refusing Carlie's request to make her Spider-Tech, Pete (with Carlie in tow) goes to take Aunt May and JJJ, Sr. to the airport for their flight to Boston.  Meanwhile, the Jackal approaches a group of low-level criminals to whom he's given Spider-Powers and offers them the chance to ditch their current crime families and join him in "looting and plundering and pillaging!"  Cut to Bryant Park, where the Avengers arrive to battle the maraudering criminals, who are all dressed in a variety of Spidey outfits.  On the way back from the airport, Peter and Carlie learn of the chaos in the city and, telling Peter to sit tight, Carlie swings to help.  Peter arrives (as Spidey) in Bryant Park trying to find Carlie, but he's defeated by the Avengers who don't believe him when he says he's the real Spidey.  Meanwhile, Shang-Chi and Madame Web observe...observingly.

The Review
And a-w-a-y we go!  This issue was super fun.  Seriously, it was just a good, rollickin' time.  It reminds me of "Big Time," which is one of the highest compliments I can pay a comic.  We've kind of been on a detour since then, with Marla Jameson and Johnny Storm dying, the constant team-up issues, etc.  But, Slott returns to his roots here, giving us a really fun yet still gripping read:  I was often nervous to see what happened on the next page, while at the same time enjoying the fun on the page I was reading.  It's seriously hard to do that, and I hope Slott keeps it going, because it'll be awesome to get to read an entire fall full of issues like this one.

The Really Good
I just really have to take off my hat to this idea.  It's a little reminiscent of "Batman, Inc." in that it plays with the notion of secret identities.  (I hope Peter gets to web around town without wearing his mask just to see how it feels.)  But, it goes beyond that.  Bruce Wayne still controls who is a member of "Batman, Inc."  Peter Parker doesn't control anything here.  Part of the excitement of "Spider-Island" is the fact that I have no idea how Slott is going to resolve it without somehow taking away Peter's powers.  I mean, you can't just set off an anti-Spidey bomb, or Peter wouldn't be Spider-Man anymore either.  On the flip side, it makes you wonder if other of Peter's disappeared powers -- like his Spider-Sense or organic Web-Shooters -- might wind up re-appearing as a result of how Slott wraps up this arc.  At any rate, it's that interest, that uncertainty that keeps this issue a page-turner.  Unlike "Fear Itself" or "Flashpoint" or "Schism," I honestly just can't wait to see how Slott wraps up this one!

The Good
1) Of course, the cutest moment of this issue is Carlie revealing to Peter she has Spider-Powers.  Slott works in all sorts of nice touches, from Peter marveling at what it's like to watch someone you love leave to go fight the bad guys to wondering whether he gave Carlie a "Spidery-transmitted disease" from, you know, to quote Deadpool, the "special hugging."  But, Slott also gives us a meditation on what it's like to have a secret identity, as Peter is amazed by how easily Carlie shared her secret with him.  Of course, Spidey knows the hard way the importance of a secret identity, but I'm wondering if Slott is building to the moment where everyone else loses their Spider-Powers, but Peter reveals to Carlie he still has his.

2) The JJJ, Jr. scene is awesome.  Jonah's craziness is so over the top all the time, I loved that Slott turned it on its head and had someone laud him as a "dagblasted visionary" for his decision to spend 30 percent (!) of the city's budget on the Anti-Spider Patrol.  I still want JJJ, Jr. to get some comeuppance for ordering the Police Chief to kill Massacre in issue #656.  But, we can save that for another time.  Right now, I can give JJJ, Jr. his moment in the sun.

3) The scene between Peter and Aunt May at the airport was sweet.

4) I loved MJ's scene here and I cannot WAIT for her to get Spider-Powers!

5) The art's great.  I know he's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but something about Ramos' art really works with Slott's plots for me.  It conveys and amplifies the sense of fun and looseness that Slott injects into the stories.  Plus, he draws a fetching Peter Parker.

Amazing Spider-Man #574: "Flashbacks"

*** (three of five stars) 

I'm not really going to review this issue.  It's a war story, putting Flash Thompson in the Iraq War.  After getting his legs repeatedly shot in an ambush, he uses an amphetamine injection to power through the pain to save an injured soldier.  The nerve damage to his legs is extensive and results in their amputation.  The story is done well, but it probably should've been a one-shot.  It's unclear where it fits in continuity.  Flash Thompson was at Harry's welcome home party in issue #545 (and I'm pretty sure he had both legs), and, given that only a few months have passed since then, it's unclear whether or not this story actually happened.  I'm assuming it did, since it seems unlikely they would just re-introduced Flash at some point in the future with legs, if they were amputated here.  But, it's such a mess from a continuity standpoint that I'm just going to let it go.  It conveyed the message it wanted to convey, so I'm giving it three stars and moving to the next arc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nova #1-#3: You Can't Go Home Again

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  “Peter Parker – the ‘Daily Bugle’ photographer – is Spider-Man?”  -- a stunned Nova responding to the news of Spidey’s unmasking

Summary
As the last member of the Nova Corps, Richard rockets around the Universe dealing with the aftermath of the Annihilation Wave.  As he does so – defeating a giant techno-organic creature on Turakis and a delayed pod of Annihilus’ minions on Halexa – Worldmind continues to voice its concern that he’s moving too fast and will burn out quickly.  After he almost kills the both of them by ignoring Worldmind’s navigational control and flying too close to a “super-gravitational event,” he relents and agrees to take some downtime.  Returning to Earth, he visits his parents, who give him the details on the destruction of the school in Stamford that killed Namorita and Night Thrasher and started the superhero "Civil War."  Dinner – and Richard’s dad’s diatribe about superheroes – is interrupted by Iron Man; SHIELD tracked Richard as a possible threat given his powerful power profile.  Iron Man is shocked by the new Nova, who gets upset with him when he realizes that the superhero community was so busy fighting its "Civil War" that it had essentially ignored the death of billions during the Annihilation Wave.  Iron Man tries to convince Nova to register, which he considers particularly important given that he’s a former member of the New Warriors.  Justice also tries to convince Richard to join.  At home, Richard’s dad is deeply disturbed when he discovers Worldmind controlling Richard’s body.  While Richard is on a walk to clear his head, he’s attacked by Diamondhead, who had staked out Richard’s parents’ house after Richard’s identity was revealed in the press after the Stamford incident (a result of his New Warriors connection).  Nova defeats Diamondhead, but attracts the attention of the Thunderbolts, against whom he holds his own.  Iron Man arrives to diffuse the situation, and Nova reveals his shock that villains like Venom are working for the government.  At home again, Richard’s father screams at him for fighting the Thunderbolts (“They’re the good guys!”) and his parents encourage him to register.  Angered by their implication that something is wrong with him mentally, Richard leaves the house, only to encounter Penance.  Robbie expresses his guilt over the Stamford incident, and Richard encourages him to move past it.  He then leaves Earth, telling his parents via a hijacked satellite feed that he’s needed elsewhere and that he’s the only one who can do the job he has to do. 

The Review
DnA cover a lot of ground here.  Richard goes on a full emotional and physical journey, beginning the story longing for home in space as he still deals with the aftermath of “Annihilation” and ending it seeking solace in space from the insanity of “Civil War” on Earth.  I couldn’t hope for a better start to this series.  I really hated Erik Larsen’s brief “Nova” series, the last time we got to see Nova in his own book.  This arc was repudiation, on all levels, of that series, showing us Nova as an adult hero.  To paraphrase the President quoting the Bible, Richard has put away childish things, and DnA get that point across clearly here.

The Really Good
1) I spend a lot of time overseas with my job, and I felt like I was reading a comic-book version of my life at points during this arc.  I was living overseas from 2000-2004, which meant that I wasn’t in the States for September 11th or its aftermath.  Every time I went home during that era, I eagerly awaited living in my own culture, of not being a stranger in a strange land.  But, just like Nova and the "Civil War," I found that the most disturbing part of going home in those post-September 11th years was that I still felt like a stranger in a strange land.  The culture was changing rapidly without me, and I often found myself surprised and occasionally disturbed by the changes.  For me, DnA really, really got that hue of shock down perfectly.  I should read these issues again right before I got home next summer, so I can prepare myself better!

2) If the "Civil War" was the macro-version of the expression, “You can’t go home again,” Nova’s fighting with his parents was the micro-version.  Everyone who’s ever left home inevitably goes back again only to find that his parents still view him as the person that left.  It didn’t matter that Richard led an intergalactic effort to save the Universe, he still found himself trying to explain himself to his father.  It’s a classic tale, but DnA still do a great job of making it poignant here.

3) Speaking of his accomplishments, I felt like DnA really got right the fact that everyone still viewed Richard as who he had been.  It doesn’t matter that Ronan the Accuser considers him a brother, Richard is still just the kid he was when he left, a member of the New Warriors, nothing more, nothing less.  Again, we all go through that moment.  No matter how successful you are in life, you’re never going to convince your First Grade teacher (or, you know, Iron Man) you’re not a kid with a runny nose who can’t figure out his Velcro sneakers.

4) Richard’s conversation with Robbie was really poignant.  You could feel Robbie’s guilt just exuding from him.  Richard’s comment – “Don’t let them turn you into something you’re not.” – was pitch-perfect.

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Fear Itself #5:  I fucking hate Matt Fraction.  I know that’s harsh, but, as I detail in the first post of this blog, the reason why I stopped reading comics several years ago was because “celebrity” authors like Fraction were allowed to just do whatever they wanted to characters with long-standing histories.  These authors replaced careful storytelling with shocking twists and big reveals.  This issue is a great example of that.   To make matters worse, the plot itself makes no sense whatsoever.  It is all so unbelievably bad I almost don’t know where to start. 

Let’s start with the plot, I guess.  I’ve tried to write this paragraph for the last five minutes and I just can’t find a way to try to make sense of it.  Instead, I’ll just list my complaints and questions:

1) Odin abandoned Earth because it had no hope of surviving the Serpent and because he had to spend all his time preparing Asgard for the Serpent, but he has time to chat with Iron Man?  Also, if Iron Man really could forge weapons that could defeat the Serpent, don’t you think Odin would have known that and been able to commit Asgard’s forces to hold back the Serpent and given Stark time to do just that?  What’s the point of being all-seeing if, um, you’re not?

2) As the Avengers attack the Serpent, Cap tells them not to let the hammer hit…something.  Except, um, no one threw a hammer.  Even if someone had thrown a hammer (which no one did), it’s still unclear what the hammer wasn’t supposed to hit and, when it did hit said something, why it caused a huge explosion.  I’m not just being nitpicky here, since it’s this explosion that knocks out the Avengers and results in the Serpent winning the battle.

3) We’re supposed to be all, “OMG, no WAY!” when the Serpent breaks Cap’s shield and declares, “I am God,” while seemingly unleashing a nuclear-level explosion.  But, then, everyone is, um, you know, totally OK.  As Spidey says, “Nobody’s too terribly incapacitated.”  Um, why not exactly?  I mean, if I were the Serpent facing Earth’s mightiest heroes and I had the chance to kill them, I, you know, would. 

4) If Franklin Richards can keep the Thing from dying, can he bring back Bucky?  (That being said, if this whole series ends with Franklin just undoing everything, I am going to be fit to be tied, just to warn you.)

5) Thor tells the Hulk he can’t beat him.  The Hulk responds that he knows.  Thor, for some reason, is infuriated by the Hulk, um, agreeing with him, so he proceeds to beat him, despite the whole fight starting because he allegedly couldn't.  Um, yeah.

I almost don’t have the energy to keep ranting, but here we go.  The characterization:

1) Fraction has possibly the worst ear for voices I’ve ever seen in an issue here.  Tony Stark is just unrecognizable in his bizarre conversation with Odin ("My word?"  Did he become Aunt May?), Thor is portrayed like he’s Clint Eastwood, (“You were always a pain in the ass.”) and I don’t even know where to start with Cap.  (“Reckon you can’t, either.”  WTF?  Cap’s from Brooklyn, not Arkansas.)

 
2) We had a whole mini-series about how Spider-Man tirelessly defended the city in the face of the onslaught from the Serpent’s forces.  But, he just up and quits?  Um, no.  I know Fraction tries to make Cap and Spidey losing hope the big emotional moment where our heroes face their greatest challenge so that their victory will be all the sweeter in issue #7 when they inevitably beat the Serpent.  But, Fraction does NOTHING to sell that.  He just maladroitly uses the characters as set pieces.  Giving Spidey one quip does not characterization make.  What caused Spidey to lose hope?  I actually think they did pretty well, considering that no one died in their first skirmish with the Serpent.  I mean, what were they expecting, exactly?  The Avengers engaged him for one brief moment (seriously, it was three panels) before he unleashed an explosion and disappeared.  Spidey is going to quit simply because they didn’t beat him in less than a minute?   Fraction chose Cap and Spidey to lose hope because he thought they’d have more impact, since they’re the definition of hope when all hope is lost.  But, if you don’t spend any time showing us the reasons why they should feel hopeless, then I’m not going to believe it.   Fraction is essentially just relying on Immonen’s amazing art to tell the story.  Although the art is, in fact, amazing, the story is actually his job, and he’s not doing it.

I could keep ranting about this issue, but I’ll stop here.  Suffice it say, I can’t wait for this series to end.  And, I’m never buying a comic from Fraction afterwards again.

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Detective Comics #881:  Scott Snyder has crafted one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- runs on a Batman comic ever.  He has not only delivered consistently amazing quality with each issue, but each issue also has built off the previous one to create, in the end, a specific and nuanced tale.  He has written the definitive Dick Grayson, not just in terms of his stint as Batman but also of the essence of his character.  He has done more than possibly any author to portray Gotham City as a living, breathing villain, the most dangerous member of Batman's rogues' gallery.  He's also created his own Joker, his own villain, his own evil.  He has done all of it in only 11 issues.

One of the amazing things about Snyder's run is that the things that normally would bother me about this issue didn't, because they built on previous stories.  Normally, I'd be annoyed by the fact that James left Barbara's wheelchair for the Commissioner to find, because I'd wonder why he would announce his crime to give the authorities a chance to stop him.  But, we know why, because we know he's a sociopath, because we've seen him toy with the Commissioner by overflowing the taps at the diner where they met for lunch, because we've seen him mutilate the body of someone who taunted him at least a decade earlier, because we were shown through flashbacks how he likely murdered one of Barbara's childhood friends simply because she (accurately) called him weird.  Most authors would've just presented the wheelchair as a disjoint act necessary to bring about a plot resolution, but Snyder uses it as yet one more example of James' inability not to toy with his victims, both primary and secondary.

Similarly, I'd inevitably get annoyed when James waxed poetic on the phone with Dick, since most authors would've made that the eventual key to the story's resolution, him talking too long on a phone that he thought was untraceable but really wasn't.  But, him talking on the phone too long has nothing to do with how Dick finds him; Dick finds him because he's an excellent detective and he placed a sub-dermal tracer on him the last time they met.  As opposed to the other Bat-authors, Snyder portrays Dick as different than Bruce (softer, according to James), but no less brilliant.  James waxed poetic not because it was needed to wrap up the story, but because he, as a sociopath, needed someone to hear him extol the virtues of his evil.  The best Joker stories show a similar side of him, show him bringing that sort of need for understanding to his crazy, and using that need as his strength.  His need to present his crimes means he usually gets caught, but he usually breaks the person doing the catching in some way.  (The worst Joker stories portray that need to share as his weakness, with it simply leading to him getting caught and nothing more.)  Here, Snyder uses that approach with James and, because it's not a plot device, but an accurate characterization, he makes the story feel all the creepier.

Moreover, James doesn't actually wax poetic.  He describes, somewhat logically (to him), how he came to the conclusion that empathy -- when he finally got a brief taste of it during the medical trials -- was a weakness that everyone other than he and the other men in the trial shared and that he could exploit that weakness.  Seeing it in Dick and seeing Dick become Batman just gave him an irresistible target, similar to how the Joker remains attracted (as we saw last issue) only to Bruce.

Moreover (yes, I can keep going on this one), Snyder gives us a realistic Gordon family.  Commission Gordon of course knows that Dick is Batman, and we dispense with even the wink-wink/nudge-nudge that authors usually use in displaying that relationship.  Moreover, we get Barbara Gordon being brilliant as always, knowing that James was going to come for her in a totally straightforward way, not in a campy 1960s "Batman" TV show way.

Speaking of Barbara, the implication that James suggested to the Joker that he should paralyze her is the best of several examples of the ambiguity that Snyder leaves us pondering at the end of this arc.  Did he really encourage the Joker to paralyze his sister?  Did he poison the baby food?  We're just not going to know.  James flew under the radar for so long, managed to keep his crimes hidden for so long, because he was too smart to show his hand.  Even when his sociopathic impulses finally force him to do so, to a certain extent, here, he only shows one or two cards; the rest of his deck of crazy remains hidden.

Snyder goes further in giving us some quiet moments as well.  When Dick says, "Come on, you little piece of...Damian," I realized that we've never really seen Damian in "Detective Comics" during Snyder's run.  It's because, although it's somewhat counter-intuitive, Damian is actually comic relief.  His brashness and crankiness is meant to be a foil to the Bruce/Dick/Tim school of control and order.  Snyder's run, though, was too adult for that, too quiet for that.  Snyder gives us a laugh here, but does so in a way that reveals a truth about the story he's been trying to tell.  Sheer genius.

I'd be remiss not to again congratulate Jock and Francesco Francavilla.  Their art individually, and collectively, is so spectacularly spot-on.  I could point to several instances but the most chilling -- and effective -- is the switch between Francavilla as James hunts Barbara and Jock as she stabs him.   It plays with perspective and point of view so well that it takes the amazing work Snyder did in plotting it to a level that I don't know if I've ever seen in comics.

Again, this issue -- and the entire Snyder/Jock/Francavilla run -- is the best comics have to offer.  It's been a sheer pleasure to read them.  In fact, I actually feel sort of privileged to have done so.  I can't wait to see what Snyder does next in "Batman."

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1/#35

* (one of five stars)

Summary
Jackpot isn't Mary Jane.  That's about all you need to know. 

The Review
I wasn't really going to do a full review of the annuals, but I guess I am, at least for this one, if only because it's so bizarre.  I mean, the issue itself isn't bizarre.  It's a pretty average story, actually.  I feel bad for giving it a one, because Guggenheim does his best here to craft a decent story.  But, for all the reasons stated below, the way the reveal of Jackpot's identity is handled is so bad that I just didn't feel like I had any other choice. 

The Bad
So, we're told right off the bat, essentially, that Jackpot isn't Mary Jane, when the first page of the issue says, "Who is the mysterious super-heroine known as Jackpot?!  (hint:  she's not who you think she is!)"  Way to ruin the reveal.  Jackpot's identity and the strong hint that she was Mary Jane have been a long-running sub-plot since the start of "Brand New Day."  It's weird that the editors just blurt out the fact that she isn't, in fact, Mary Jane.  It's a basic rule of good writing:  show not tell.  They didn't show us; they just told us. 

The Ugly
1) OK, so, I bought this issue when I found out somewhere that the Jackpot reveal was shunted to the annual.  I'm putting it in the right chronological order in terms of these reviews, but I wound up reading it about 50 issues or so after it appeared.  It's just bizarre to me that the editors decided to tell the story of one of the hallmark "Brand New Day" characters in the annual.  I mean, I get that the annual is still part of continuity, but, at the end of the day, it's still removed from the series itself.  It really seems weird to me that the Spidey Brain Trust decided to reveal Jackpot's identity here.

2) Equally bizarre as the decision to reveal Jackpot's identity in the annual was the way the reveal itself was handled.  First, we never really see Alana outside her Jackpot identity.  She's never unmasked, even after she dies.  Second, we're never really given a motive for her wanting to be Jackpot.  We're just told that all she ever wanted was to be a hero.  Um, why?  I mean, a lot of people want to be heroes.  But, you've got to have a pretty compelling reason to pump yourself full of drugs and buy a secret identity.  Third, we're never told how exactly Alana "bought" Sara Ehret's identity.  I mean, how did she know Sara Ehret didn't want to be a superhero after she received the training?  It's not enough that her identity was just public knowledge; Alana had to know she had changed her mind.  Were they friends?  Finally, let's address the whole dying thing:  she just dies.  I mean, that's it, she just dies.  Given the number of drugs she was taking, it certainly makes sense.  But, given the number of questions I outline here, you'd think the writers would've had enough material to keep her for a few more issues.  Instead, BLAM-O, dead.  Again, weird.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Annihilation: Conquest Prologue

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
On an outlying world of the Kree Empire, Phyla-Vell, the new Quasar, and Moondragon fight off a group of scavengers attempting to take control of the temple they’re helping to rebuild.  On Hala (the Kree homeworld), Peter Quill – now military advisor to Ronan the Accuser, the Kree’s leader – greets the Spaceknights, who have offered their A-Ware software to upgrade the Kree’s War-Net.  The Spaceknights upload A-Ware into War-Net, and a test of the Kree’s new military capabilities begins.  Meanwhile, the Quantum Bands have told Phyla-Vell to find “the Deliverer,” who is the only one that can end the disaster that the Kree are soon going to experience.  Phyla-Vell begins to tell Moondragon about the conversation, but it is cut short when a Kree Sentry attacks them.  On Hala, the Sentries that were part of the test go haywire and begin attacking military targets.  Quill realizes that the Spaceknights betrayed him just before all the Kree Sentries come under their control.  Quill escapes and watches, with the rest of Hala, as all the Sentries join together in a unified structure, which sends a blast that stretches across the galaxy.  Quasar follows the blast, discovering that the Kree Empire has been surrounded by a force field.  Quill regroups with his unit, which turns on him, displaying the same odd eye covers that the Spaceknights did.  The eye covers are revealed to be the work of the Phalanx, who were the ones controlling the Spaceknights and who have now taken over the Kree as well.

The Review
DnA set up a good story here, showing the desperation and hardship of the aftermath of the Annihilation Wave.  We don’t often see that in comics, where these sort of galactic wars just fade into the background, so I’m intrigued to see where they’re going with the story.

The Good
1) DnA do a great job of letting the action unfold.  They use the Quasar and Moondragon introduction to establish how desperate the Kree Empire is in the wake of the Annihilation Wave, thereby setting up the scenario under which Peter Quill and Ronan the Accuser jumped at the chance to upgrade the Kree’s defense capabilities thanks to the Spaceknight’s A-Ware.  It was pretty clear the Spaceknights were going to betray them, but by firmly establishing Peter and Ronan’s desperation, DnA give a plausible reason why even they turned a blind eye to the possibility.  Most authors would’ve just served up the betrayal without explaining why two fairly savvy guys like Peter and Ronan would’ve fallen for it.  DnA, thankfully, respect the readers more than that.

2) Peter Quill continues to be a rocking character.  I loved all his scenes here, from flirting with Ten-Cor to fighting his way through Hala.

The Unknown
Are we talking about the same Phalanx who almost wiped out the X-Men?   If so, I need to do some Internet research, because it was a while ago and my brain has definitely not retained all that information...

The Bad
As opposed to the Peter Quill scenes, the Phyla-Vell scenes were almost painful to read, despite being key to the plot.  Between the over-the-top “LOOK, WE’RE LESBIANS!” dialogue between her and Moondragon and the constant expository narration, I spent most of her scenes rolling my eyes and waiting impatiently for us to return to Hala.  I hope DnA figure out a way to present a more nuanced character now that they’ve got the exposition out of the way.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #568-#573: "New Ways to Die!"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Please, Harry.  Girlfriends?  They're replaceable.  And don't act like you haven't died before.  You should be used to it by now.  We're Osborns.  We bounce back."  -- Norman to Harry

Favorite Quote #2:  "Wow.  Ven-orpion.  That's like the turducken of super-villains." -- Spidey, on the new Venom wearing his old Scorpion outfit

We're talking about six issues here, folks, so it's a LONG post (and also why we have TWO favorite quotes).

Summary
During a fight between Spidey and Menace, a building collapses, causing several people working in what appears to be a sweatshop to flee.  Spidey snaps a photo, which later reveals the workers are suffering from some sort of disease.  Crowne, behind in the polls, asks Osborn to support him publicly; in exchange, Osborn wants Crowne to use his pull to get the Thunderbolts free reign to take on Spider-Man.  Eddie Brock, formerly Venom, is cured both of his cancer and the symbiote by the touch of Mr. Negative, aka Martin Li, who's running the homeless shelter where Aunt May volunteers and that Brock frequents.  Spidey pays a visit to Norman Osborn (after being accosted by him earlier at home as Peter) but flees when he overhears that Venom, searching for traces of the symbiote he believes will lead him to Spider-Man, is at the homeless shelter where Brock (and Aunt May) is (are).  After being attacked by Venom, Brock reveals (to his surprise) a new identity as Anti-Venom (caused by Mr. Negative's healing), displaying the power to purge the symbiote from a host.  Venom, Anti-Venom, and Spidey engage in battle, and are later joined by the Thunderbolts.  Meanwhile, Menace attacks the Hollister campaign center, accidentally seriously injuring Hollister, who Menace reveals he's trying to help.  Menace then proceeds to attack Osborn, telling him to leave town since he has "plans for the city and its power structure."  Osborn refuses and fends off Menace, in the process finding a camera that Spidey had previously pre-positioned to capture his fight.  Osborn uses the camera to track Spidey (since Spidey had created a link between the camera and his costume to facilitate taking photos of himself), sending Bullseye and a team of Thunderbolt agents to the "Coffee Bean," where Peter is talking to Harry and Lily.  Harry and Lily escape the attack, and Spidey defeats Bullseye and the agents with the help of Anti-Venom, who discovered Obsorn's tracking device while going undercover as a Thunderbolt agent to try to find Venom.  Spidey and Anti-Venom head to Oscorp.  Spidey engages in battle with Osborn, now wearing his Green Goblin costume, who was fighting with Harry upon Spidey's arrival.  Osborn reveals that Harry is using human test-subjects to create some sort of formula, called Prometheus X-90.  Spidey and the Thunderbolts free a group of test subjects, while Venom and Anti-Venom continue fighting.  In the aftermath, it is revealed that Martin Li's healing powers are apparently starting to wane as several previously "cured" people relapse.  Peter helps Harry and Lily search for documents Harry needs in the wreckage of the Oscorp building; while Harry is in another room, Lily kisses Peter.

The Review
OK, so I asked for old school and the Spidey Brain Trust delivered old school, and, not just old school, but Norman Osborn and Eddie Brock old school!  The first few issues of this arc, the ones focusing on Venom and Anti-Venom, are pretty solid.  They weren't as light-hearted as the "Brand New Day" stories, but you can't really get light-hearted with Venom.  But, the action was exciting (Spidey v. Venom v. Anti-Venom!) and the evolution of Eddie into Anti-Venom was fascinating.  However, the last few issues, the ones focusing on Norman and Harry, have serious problems.  "New Ways to Die!" was clearly supposed to be the bridge putting "Brand New Day" behind us and moving us into the next phase of "Chapter Two," as the Spidey Brain Trust likes to call the post-Mephisto world.  However, it raised more questions than it answered (and not in a good way) and felt like it actually undid some of the progress the Brain Trust had made in getting us to forget the new status quo and just enjoy the book. 

Before "New Ways to Die!" began, we only really had two great questions left unanswered in the new status quo:  what happened to the Peter-MJ relationship and what happened to Harry?  I mean, we didn't know who the "Tracer Killer" was, or who Menace was, or who Jackpot was.  But, those questions are organically part of the new status quo, creations of "Brand New Day."  The other two -- about MJ and about Harry -- are the hangover from "One More Day," the needling questions about how this new status quo differs from the old.  This arc tries to address some of the latter, but it does so in such a maladroit way that I'm left more confused than I was when we began.  Harry pretty clearly isn't Menace, so the time spent implying he is seems like a waste of time.  Moreover, the revelation that he's not just running the coffee shop but also engaging in human experiments was just bizarre.  I mean, he just returned from "Europe" a few weeks earlier, and he's already engaged in human experiments?  The arc showed a lot of promise -- I mean, Norman Osborn AND Eddie Brock -- but it seemed to be unnecessarily damned by the baggage of "One More Day."

The Good
1) Menace confirms what we've pretty much known all along by telling an unconscious Bill Hollister (who, by the way, is unconscious because Menace blew up his office) that he's trying to help him.  I still can't say I care about Menace, but Slott definitely kicks it up a notch with him confronting Osborn.  Again, his conversation with Norman is styled to convince us it's Harry, but Harry (as he's fleeing the remains of the "Coffee Bean" with Lily) makes it clear that he's not Menace, despite his father thinking he is.  Menace's dialogue makes him sound like some sort of idealistic teenager.  Is Normie a teenager?

2) Um, Venom-Scorpion ("Ven-orpion") is pretty awesome, actually.  I'm also down with Anti-Venom.  It could've been cheesy, but it wasn't probably because of John Romita, Jr.'s depiction.  I'm not necessarily a huge JR JR fan, but his rendering of Anti-Venom was awesome, making him both scary and heroic at the same time.  Character-wise, Slott did a good job really getting Eddie Brock here.  Eddie suddenly deciding he's a savior -- just one that doesn't kill this time -- totally fits his personality.  Brock is back!

3) Eddie pretending to be Spider-Man in issue #573 was clever.  Just like Venom, I totally didn't see that coming!

The Unsure
1) I've kind of ignored the Martin Li "house of healing" plot so far because it's been all over the place.  In the first arc involving Mr. Negative, I had no reason to believe that he wasn't conscious of both the good and bad sides of his personality.  But, after Martin's conversation with Eddie about having a "mysterious" checkers (or whatever that game was) partner, it seemed that Mr. Li may not know about Mr. Negative.  But, then again, when May asks why he has his Fortress of Solitude (or whatever it is) at a homeless shelter, Martin implies he knows the answer (which, I'm pretty sure, has to do with Mr. Negative).  Confusing.

2) I'm not really sure what Norman meant by the exchange he had with the scientist who tells him Freak is dead:  "Idiot."  "What?'  "Think about it for a second."  "...  Oh."  "Idiot."  I'm assuming it just means that Freak isn't really dead and instead just entered another chrysalis.  But, there seemed to be more to it than that.

3) I'm assuming Norman lost his knowledge of Peter's identity from something OTHER than Mephisto wiping clear everyone's knowledge of it, because Peter isn't aware of the deal made with Mephisto  But, in issue #569, Peter thinks, "Ah, right, he doesn't remember anymore.  He has no idea I'm Spidey.  Nobody does.  Everything we did is still up and running.  I'm safe."  The "everything" in that thought sounds A LOT like the deal with Mephisto and, in fact, I can't think of anything else it could mean.  So does Peter know what happened?  I'm pretty sure he wasn't supposed to know, but it sure seems like he does here.

The Bad
1) Soooo...Peter has been looking for work at newspapers as a photographer, but he's been blacklisted by Dexter Bennett...aaaand...it apparently doesn't dawn on him, until Harry mentions it, to go to a paper competing with "The DB!," despite the fact that it's run by old colleagues and friends Ben Urich and Robbie Robertson.  Really?  Peter is that dumb?  Really?

2) I don't see how Norman Osborn capturing Spider-Man is going to help the Crowne campaign.  I mean, so what?  Crowne recognized Norman Osborn in a ceremony.  I don't see how that makes Norman's success (if he did actually capture Spidey, the accused serial killer) Crowne's success?

3) Oh, look.  Aunt May's in trouble.  (Again.)  Oh, no.  Help.  Help.

4) I'm confused by the Lily Hollister business.  When Peter first mentioned that he thought Lily was flirting with him a few arcs ago, I thought it was just his imagination.  But, it was pretty clear in the "Coffee Bean" that she was hitting on him, despite a few pages earlier telling Harry about how he'll always be part of the Hollister family.  Then, she kisses Peter at Oscorp, while Harry is in the next room.  It seems out of character for her, though they haven't really spent all that much time developing her character, so maybe it's not.*

* It's worth noting here that, after I wrote my review, I read some on-line reviews.  I don't normally do that (for fear of spoilers), but I was so frustrated with the storyline that I needed to see how other people felt.  So, I know some people think Lily kissed Pete to distract him from pulling the "History of the Norman Empire" book.  Norman, earlier in the arc, mentions the book to Harry, so some people believe it contains another secret (possibly Goblin-related) room.  I can totally see that.  However, it seems a little crazy to me that Lily Hollister, who I don't think has dated Harry for too long and has also seemed more or less an upstanding citizen to this point, would know about Harry and Norman's secret and be willing to help Harry keep it a secret.  Given the ongoing insinuations of Lily liking Peter, it could have also just been luck that she distracted Peter from the book and she could have just been taking the opportunity of Harry having left the room.  I guess we'll see.

The Ugly
1) I'd like to present you with a conversation that probably would've happened if we were dealing with the real-life world and not the comic-books world:  "Hey, Harry, by the way, I meant to ask you:  the guy with whom you were speaking at the 'Coffee Bean' before I had my Thunderbolts team destroy it?"  "Yeah, Dad?"  "Who was that?"  "Peter, Dad."  "Peter?  Really?  Now, why would Peter be wearing Spider-Man's costu...oh.  OH."  I mean, seriously.  Normal Osborn knows that the person talking to his son and girlfriend was Spider-Man and he doesn't ask Harry who it was?  In fact, based on the conversation he has with Harry, he almost makes it sound like Spider-Man being there was only a secondary reason for him blowing up the "Coffee Bean" (the primary reason being getting Harry to, you know, join him in the evil).  It's that sort of lazy plotting that really annoys me.  It's the same with Ana Kraven in the last arc deciding Vin, and not Peter, was Spider-Man, despite, you know, the costume being under Peter's bed.  It's necessary from a plot perspective (since we don't want her or Norman to know Peter's real identity) but it's ridiculous from a logical perspective, which makes it really hard to engage in the suspension of disbelief and stay engaged in the storyline.

2) The Harry sub-plot is really just a mess.  I actually don't even know where to begin.  This part reads sort of stream-of-consciousness-y, but it reflects my general confusion over the repercussions of Harry now being alive:

I had been under the impression, until this arc, that Harry was running Oscorp and the "Coffee Bean" was some sort of side investment.  Norman even mentions that Harry was running Oscorp, though it's unclear if he's referring to before Harry "went to Europe" or after his return.  However, the revelation that it's Norman using Freak, not Harry, muddied these waters.  Who's running Oscorp now?  This arc pretty firmly establishes that Harry has been running the "Coffee Bean" full time.  However, if Harry's hasn't been running Oscorp, how is he engaging in research that involves human testing?  I mean, I get that he's an Osborn, so he'd clearly have some access.  But, Harry isn't a scientist, so I'm assuming he'd also have to be using Oscorp scientists to run the experiments.  Also, Harry's been back from "Europe," what, three months?*  He's already experimenting on humans to develop some sort of formula?  Moreover, why would Harry leak information about the experiments to Ben Urich and "Front Line" if he was behind them?  Plus, while he's searching through the wreckage of Oscorp for files, he says it's to clear his name.  But, it seems pretty obvious he was actually responsible for the human experiments.  So, how is he going to clear his name if he did it?  Honestly, it's seriously convoluted at this point, even if you overlook the attempt to make it seem like he's Menace (another confusing angle).  All the Harry sub-plots are bad remnants of the "One More Day" switch to the new status quo and I really hope they resolve them soon before it detracts from the book further.

* Norman confirms here that Harry was, in fact, dead at some point, making it seem likely that the undoing of Peter and MJ's marriage didn't somehow also undo Harry's tenure as the Green Goblin or the events of "Spectacular Spider-Man" #200.  This revelation was actually, to my mind, the only positive part of the Harry-related aspects of this arc, because at least we're dealing with roughly the same time frame as existed before "One More Day."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #565-#567: "Kraven's First Hunt"

** (two of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "I'm sure you think you're being clever, but I get no fewer than six crank calls from Spider-Man per week, another four from Iron Man and, occasionally, even one or two from Superman -- which is kind of impressive considering he's fictional."  -- Matt Murdoch on the phone with a person he suspects isn't Spider-Man (but is) 

Summary
A mysterious girl follows Spider-Man as he returns from defeating Fracture with Daredevil.  She later tries to assassinate Peter Parker in his new job at a comic book shop.  Meanwhile, Vin has a run of bad luck:  his off-duty gun was used to kill a drug dealer, he's hit by a car, someone stole his ATM number and wiped out his savings, and the bank is foreclosing on his student loans.  The mysterious girl later appears in the apartment, makes Vin put on the Spider-Man costume, and brings him to the sewers where Vermin dwells (and Spidey fought Kraven way back when).  Believing Vin to be Spidey, she makes him participate in a hunt (her hunting him) in the sewers.  Meanwhile, Peter discovers both Vin and his costume are gone.  Thinking Vin is rounding up a posse after discovering his secret identity, he borrows Daredevil's costume so he can enter a police station (and not have them arrest him as the "Tracer-Killer") and ask about Vin.  A cop tells Spidey...er, Daredevil...that word on the street is that Spidey's being held hostage.  After a brief skirmish with Vermin, Spidey gets Vermin to lead him to Vin and the girl, who's injected Vin with mutant-growth hormone before the hunt.  Vin (as Spidey) and Spidey (as Daredevil) hold off the girl long enough for Vermin to take over the battle.  Spidey later appears at Vin's hospital bed, telling him that Vin's one of the decoys he's established to keep his identity secret.  Vin subsequently punches him.  The girl is revealed to be Kraven's daughter, and has brought a trussed-up Vermin as a trophy for her mother. 

The Review
I'm kind of torn on this one.  I really enjoyed the arc the first time I read it, but, in re-reading it, a few things that nagged me in the first reading really bothered me. 

The Good
1) Spidey as Daredevil was pretty freaking awesome, actually.

2) I enjoyed the "vermin" reference on "The DB!" recap page.  Cute.

3) "This guy nearly killed me once.  Right after Mary Jane and I moved in together..."  NICE!  Finally, we're getting some hints here about what Mephisto's actions changed.  In interviews about "Brand New Day," Quesada has mentioned that Peter and Mary Jane lived together, but didn't get married.  But, this comment is the first time we get confirmation of that in the actual comic.  I still don't think it's going to be as easy as that, since clearly they ended their relationship as some point, something that doesn't happen in the pre-"One More Day" continuity.  But, at least we're starting to get some idea of what actually happened to the past.

4) Spidey having to make up the story about Vin being his "decoy" so that Vin doesn't figure out his secret identity was a nice touch.  The wordless scene of Spidey swinging his way through the city after the confrontation conveys how depressing it must be for Peter to have to "prove" to Vin that he's justified in hating Spider-Man.  It was a nice way to wrap up a loose end, particularly since so many other loose ends and plot inconsistencies were never addressed in this arc. 

The Unsure
1) So, is Carlie/Vin happening?  In "Threeway Collision!" Carlie seems to agree to go meet Vin's dad.  Here, she tells him she'd be upset if he hadn't told her his secret identity.  The previous "Brand New Day" arcs made it seem she was aware Vin liked her but wasn't interested (since she was, probably, interested in Peter).  Here, though, it seems like it's happening.

2) Presumably, Ana still thinks Vin is Spider-Man since nothing about their confrontation proved he wasn't.  I wonder how that's going to manifest itself later. 

The Bad
1) OK, so, the big (huge, actually) problem with this story arc (and the reason why I'm only giving it two stars, despite enjoying it) is that I totally don't understand why Ana thought Vin was Spider-Man, not Peter, in the first place.  I mean, I can see where she narrowed it down between the two of them, since she watched Spider-Man enter the apartment.  But, the costume was under Peter's bed, not Vin's.  Why would she decide it was Vin and not Peter?  She mentions (or at least implies) that she knows the lease is in Vin's name, but she also knows that Peter is Vin's roommate since she tries to kill him.  It totally makes no sense.

2) Pet Peeve #2:  The revelation at the end of the arc that the girl hunting Spidey (well, Vin) is Kraven's daughter is made totally irrelevant by both the title of the arc ("Kraven's First Hunt") and the recap pages in both issue #566 and #567 calling her a "mysterious...Kraven."  I mean, the parallels to the classic "Kraven's Last Hunt" series (which, by the way, scared the bejeezus out of me when I read it as an 11-year-old) make it clear who she was supposed to be pretty early in the story, so it's not like it was supposed to be a huge surprise.  But, it still bothers me because it does involve a level of editorial intrusion into the story that makes it a little harder to suspend disbelief.

3) I have some trouble with the idea that Spidey, knowing that someone was watching him (or, at least, that his Spider Sense indicated that danger was in the area when he was approaching his apartment building) would still, nonetheless, enter it.  It's hard to imagine that, after years of being a superhero, Spidey wouldn't have a protocol for changing from his costume into Peter Parker.  Also, Peter keeps his costume in an unlocked box under this bed?  Really?

4) I totally don't buy that Ana -- after weeks of preparation -- would brag to a MGH dealer that she has Spider-Man "trussed up somewhere."  It was WAY too convenient of a plot device.

5) Peter Parker does not "hate math."

On Spider-Man and Nova posts

OK, so, I finally entered the 21st century and spent some time last night scheduling my backlog of Spidey posts to appear every Monday and Friday at 10:00 am.  We're probably good until, like, January at this point.  In addition to the Spidey back issues, I've also started recapping the recent "Nova" series, including the various related side events.  I've already posted on "Annihilation," and I'll be starting "Annihilation:  Conquest" shortly.  "War of Kings," "Realm of Kings," and "Thanos Imperative" are on deck.  These posts should appear Wednesdays at 10:00 am (if I can get my act together).  Everything else will continue on its totally haphazard usual time frame.  Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Amazing Spider-Man #666: "Spider-Island" Prelude

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "So, you and the ex...what happened there, huh?"  "Long story."  "Just saying, you guys were good together."  "Drop it."  "She was hot.  Had a real girl-next-door thing goin' on."  "You're from Yancy Street.  Girls next door are missing prominent teeth."  "Y'know if she's seeing anybody.  'Cause maybe I could --"  "I do not know you."  -- Thing and Spidey banter

Summary
Spidey, directed to the crime scenes by his police scanner, disrupts a robbery and saves the Young Allies from Hydro-Man.  Returning to Horizon Labs, Pete reveals that he's wearing a new unstable-molecule suit.  He also exhibits to Max Modell and his colleagues his new "Cryo Cube 2000," which he developed partly from the tech he created to freeze Hydro-Man.  Carlie, on the scene of the robbery, calls Pete to tell him they need to talk about something "weird" that's happening to her.  To underline the point, she cold-clocks one of the muggers who uses his new Spider-Powers to break free of Spidey's webbing and try to escape.  Distracted by his fear that Carlie wants to talk to him because something's wrong in their relationship, a Spider-Sense-less Peter almost gets hit by a bus, but is saved by Phil Urich, who's hanging on the street with Norah.  Pete makes his way to the Baxter Building, and then he and Ben go to New Avengers HQ for some poker (despite Sue Richards warning Ben not to do so).  Meanwhile, Aunt May and JJJ, Sr. are having their apartment cleaned of "bed bugs," the Jackal tells one of the folks exhibiting Spider-Powers to meet his at a set location, and a hospitalized Betty Brant observes the Emergency Room suddenly flooded with folks exhibiting powers.  Spidey trains with Shang-Chi only to learn that he and Madame Web set up the training so Spidey's prepared for the coming problems.  The Jackal is revealed to be experimenting on [an unnamed figure], at the instructions of a mysterious benefactor.  The experiment results in a powered-up [creature] now under the control of the benefactor, who appears to be able to control all the people exhibiting Spider-Powers.

The Review
"Spider-Island" is here!  Woot!  I have to say, I'm pretty happy with the way it started.  The last few issues have been kind of hit or miss for me.  I liked the Anti-Venom arc, but the Avengers Academy arc and the Betty Brant issue sucked.  This issue, to me, was a real return to form, evoking Slott's excellent work on "Big Time."  Slott covered a lot -- A LOT -- of ground here.  I mean, it was almost worth $3.99!  It was a fast-paced issue that incorporated all aspects of Spidey's and Peter's life (lives?) in a way that didn't feel rushed.  It dropped some hints about where we're going and I found those hints to be intriguing and not annoying!  All in all, a great start to what I hope is a fun story.

The Excellent
Spidey comments on how engaged he is as Spider-Man now, essentially confirming the sense I've had that Slott's goal is to turn Spidey into a grown-up character.  I occasionally get annoyed (Bendis is often guilty of this sin) when authors portray Peter as a rank amateur, despite the fact that he's still one of the more seasoned heroes out there.  By putting him on two Avengers teams and the FF, Marvel has decided to let him become one of the big boys in-universe.  Slott seems to really have a grip on that, which I think is why we're seeing things like the evolution of his Spider-Tech, his use of the police scanner, his training with Shang-Chi:  it's all part of him becoming a serious superhero.  More so than the events of "Brand New Day," Slott is really bring Spider-Man into the 21st century and setting the ground work for years of stories...assuming Marvel doesn't completely undo it in a future ill-advised reboot.

The Really Good
1) I continue to love Peter's constant innovation of his Spider-Tech.  I mean, it's been 50 years and he's finally (FINALLY!) got an unstable-molecule suit!  Hurrah!  I can't believe costume near-miss stories are finally going to be a thing of the past!  Also, the mid-air cartridge swap and Anti-Hydro Man Tracer were equally excellent!

2) I loved everything about the FF and New Avengers' appearances here.  I loved how Sue Richards nagged Ben and Peter about the Avengers poker game, I loved Ben basically telling Spidey he was Team MJ (!), and, most especially, I loved, loved, loved the poker game itself.  Words fail me to describe how much I loved that scene.  They didn't previously invite Peter because of his Spider-Sense and because his ongoing brokeness?  Excellent.  Awesome.  Way to build relationships, Dan!

3) Moreso than, possibly, like, anyone ever, Slott is a master of not dropping loose ends.  From mentioning the "no one dies" pledge to keeping Phil Urich as a presence in the book, he makes sure that storylines end because they've run their natural course, not because they've been forgotten.  It's a rarity in comics and it deserves to be applauded.  It's an offshoot of his uncanny ability to synthesize Spider-Man's various supporting characters, making sure they all stay present.  He's done that since "Big Time" and it continues to be impressive. 

The Good
1) The opening was fun.  I don't have much more to say about it than the fact that it was just good ol' wholesome American Spidey fun.

2) Carlie with powers!  Carlie with powers!  I enjoyed how Slott gave us a really great depiction of a perfectly normal relationship in the Carlie/Peter scenes.  The miscommunication between them felt really organic.  I didn't worry that they were going to have unncessary drama over it (like the Carlie-getting-a-tattoo debacle of "Amazing Spider-Man" #659-#660).  They were just an exhausted guy and a worried girl who had to put off having a discussion because they weren't sure how to have it.  Well done, Slott.

3) I thought the premise that Spidey may have to kill someone to end the upcoming events of Spider-Island was interesting.

4) Stefano Caselli keeps getting better and better.  The first-page scene of Spidey floating above New York was just really well done.  In his first few issues, I had some problems with the way he drew his faces, but he's really seemed to have improved in that department.  It's a really great issue, art-wise.

5) I wasn't really sure what the plot of "Spider-Island" was going to be, other than just a bunch of people with Spider-Powers.  But, the revelation that some mysterious benefactor of the Jackal's will be able to control and direct an army of Spider-Men works for me as a significantly scary event.  I just hope it's not the Kravens... 

The Bad
Slott was downright brilliant in his use of practically the entire bench of Spidey supporting characters.  (Only the Phil/Norah scene felt a little forced.)  However, we yet again see MJ as nothing but a nag here.  Can this stop, please?

* NOTE:  The redacted brackets used to say "Kaine" in them.  Originally, when I read this issue, I thought it was Kaine in the tube, not, as we later learn, Captain America.  I explain my initial confusion -- and subsequent epiphany -- in this post:

http://untimelycomics.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-comics-spider-island-edition-1.html