Friday, September 30, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #3

The last of the bunch:

With Great Responsibility Comes Great Power:  This story, the second affecting an ongoing ASM storyline, serves as the epilogue to "Character Assassination" and does its job.  We see Peter pretty off-kilter.  He's had a fight with Harry, who (in a text-book example of convoluted Osbornian logic) blames Spider-Man for the fact that Lily was Menace.  He has to confront the fact that Vin's going to spend time in prison for his role in the Tracer-Killer hoax.  Finally, he's forced to deal with Flash, who says the act of bravery that resulted in him losing his legs was inspired by Spider-Man.  These moments all combine in making Peter wonder what he's accomplishing as Spider-Man if all the people around him wind up hurt.  It's a good story and gives us some insight into Peter that we don't often seen (particularly in the happy-go-luck "Brand New Day" era).  I don't know if I buy that Flash wouldn't have told Peter what to expect, but, other than that one small point, it's a pretty effective story, particularly because Peter doesn't come to any conclusions. 

Nice Things:  God, Norman Osborn is an asshole.  (This story is the best of the lot, I think.  Kelly has a clever idea here, showing Norman Osborn acting simply as a dad teaching his son how to ride a bike, but also showing how, at the end of the day, he's still Norman Osborn.  You can viscerally feel Harry's shame and embarrassment both as the kid steals his bike and as Norman destroys it.) 

Loose Ends:  Meh.  I'm still not a huge fan of the young Kraven, no matter how much they're trying to make me be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nova #10-#12 and Annual #1

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "It would be advisable for us to flee as well.  You're not going to, are you?"  "Uh-uh.  Never going to happen.  I don't break promises."  "You once promised to keep me -- the last repository of an entire culture's knowledge -- safe, Richard."  "Yeah, well, shut up now.  I'm busy."  -- Worldmind and Richard, at it again

Summary
Nova and a Phalanxified Gamora find themselves in a mysterious place and come to realize they were both hijacked during their extradimensional transit.  They stumble upon a hurt spaceman, but, before Nova can help him, they are all attacked by glowing, floating paramecium-like things, which devour the spaceman and force Nova and Gamora to flee.  Nova is weakened by his attempts to fight off the transmode virus, and Gamora encourages him to embrace it.  They have a relationship chat, which gets cut short when the paramecium-like things attack again.  Worldmind realizes that they are in a Vore, "a natural predator that hunts in the spaces between dimensions."  The Vore gives birth to the paramecium-like things (its children), flushing out Nova and Gamora in the process (ewww).  Nova gives Gamora to Drax and then heads to Kvch, where he's imprisoned by the planet on arrival.  It scans his mind, sorting through his memories of becoming Nova and predicting a timeline 40 years into the future where he's the head of a reborn Nova Corps, which has been fighting the Phalanx for years and is on the verge of eliminating them in a last battle on Earth, which fell to the Phalanx.  These memories -- and projected memories -- remind Nova who he is, and he awakens, discovering that Worldmind put him in a coma to protect him from the planet.  Nova escapes, discovering that Kvch is a dead world just as the virus begins to take over his body.  He's saved by Warlock (formerly of the New Mutants), who explains that he's on Kvch to redeem the technarch race by teaching Tyro, a recently-born technarch, to be a pacificst.  (He also infected Tyro with his mutant strain that leads to default pacifism.)  Nova urges him to help free the Kree, but Warlock explains that he doens't have anywhere near the power to do so and, therefore, will continue focusing on the technarchs.  Meanwhile, Gamora and Drax arrive and the virus, recognizing where it is, turns them into a Babel Spire, calling forward a fully-formed siredam (the parent of Tyro, who Tyro will have to fight to the death, as part of technarch social norms).  Warlock sends away Tyro so he doesn't have to fight and uses his lifeglow to purge the virus from Richard, asking him to delay the siredam so that Tyro can flee.  Richard engages the siredam and is prepared to lead it on a chase when Tyro arrives to challenge it.  Instead of fighting it, though, he has the siredam ingest him (ewww), thereby infecting it with Warlcok's mutant strain of the transmode virus.  The siredam "dies" from the strain and Tyro takes over the body.  Tyro uses his excess lifeglow to resurrect Warlock and then, at Nova's request, purge the virus from Drax and Gamora.  The five then depart to take on the Phalanx.

The Good
1) DnA really excel in stories where the issue opens and Nova has no idea where he is or what he's doing.  In both issue #10 and the previous "Knowhere" arc, they've given the search for answers a Hitchcockian feel, where you know trouble is right around the corner, but you're just waiting to see which corner.  I hope we continue to see more of these, because I don't think I'll ever tire of them.

2) I liked the coverage of Nova and Gamora's relationship.  "Annihilation" was an amazing mini-series, in no small part because of the attention paid to the relationships between the characters.  I think everyone knew that Nova and Gamora weren't going to last, for exactly the reasons stated here:  she's a killer and he's not.  But, DnA give a nice treatment of that here.  It could've been a little more emotional, but I concede that it would be a little hard to have a more complete heart-to-heart when you're fighting off the young of a space creature who's digested you.  So, all in all, it was still some nice to see DnA return to their relationship and not disregard it entirely.

3) Yay, mentioning Ko-Rel's son!  I was worried we were never going to see that plot point addressed ever, since it's usually the type of thing to which authors intend to return, but forget to do so or move off the book, leaving it hanging.  Along those lines, I'm glad to see DnA keeping the memory of Ko-Rel alive.  During the Free-Richard/Phalanx-Richard conversations from Nova #7, Free-Richard told Phalanx-Richard her death would weigh on him for a long time.  DnA have mentioned her several times since then, and I'm glad to see her death has not been forgotten, that she's become Richard's touchstone of humanity as he fights off the transmode virus.

4)  The annual was really well done.  DnA gave a great take on Nova's origin, returning to the idea that he's just a regular kid from Long Island...and it's being a regular kid from Long Island that made him into the superhero he is today.  Plus, rather than just giving us yet another origin story, they actually weave it into the existing storyling, using it to further the plot.  Awesome.

The Bad
1) It's still a little unclear to me what, exactly, Warlock's plan was.  OK, he was going to teach Tyro to be a pacifist.  That, I get.  But, how was the going to save the entire technarch race?  As Nova said, he's essentially just saving one child.  Is his plan to do the same when other technarchs are born in the Creche?  I felt like DnA needed to flesh out this plot a little more.  I actually understood the argument that he couldn't help because he didn't have the power to undo the entire Phalanx, but I don't feel they connected that to the whole "redeem the technarch race" plot as well as they could have.

2) I'm also not sure why the Phalanx decided to form a Babel Spire to call a siredam when Drax and Gamora arrived on the planet.  I thought the Phalanx and the Technarchy weren't exactly cosy?  Are they interoperative?  Moreover, why is calling a siredam the action the Phalanx take when introduced to the homeworld?  Wouldn't they want, I don't know, to take over Kvch, or something?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Comics!: The "Fear Itself" Edition

Fear Itself #6:  OK, this issue...isn't that bad, actually.  The decision to split the team -- into a god squad, if you will, and an evacuation squad -- totally made sense.  Captain America chewing out Odin actually felt organic with Fraction (for once) showing us how the emotions of the events of the last few issues are finally taking their toll on everyone, including Steve Rogers.  Along those lines, Spidey's conversation with May and Odin's conversation with Thor are also both excellent.  It's like Fraction suddenly discovered how you write emotions and why doing so is important for a story based on one (fear).  Moreover, the idea that each Avenger is going to get some super-dooper, amped-up Stark Tech/uru magic weapon is awesome.  I can't wait to see Immonen unleashed on their design.

I do have some nitpicks, though.  Cap declares that they now know the Serpent is after the World Tree, implying the Avengers learned that during their brief sojourn to Asgard, despite the fact that no one in Asgard is shown as mentioning it during their time there.  In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the Serpent only discusses his plan with Skadi (Sin) and Odin only briefly mentions it to Thor before he returns to Midgard.  So, I'm not sure how exactly Cap "discovers" that the Serpent is after the World Tree.  Moreover, I'm not sure why Odin would send the Avengers to Broxton (conveniently where the Serpent is heading to enter Asgard), when they, after all, entered Asgard from New York.  Moreover, if the Serpent was in New York, why didn't he just enter Asgard from there?  He probably had to know that Heimdall's Observatory was attached to Avengers Tower.

But, in the end, I'm willing to overlook those failing because, finally, Fraction delivers us an issue that feels like it approaches the level of grandeur and emotion that this series promised.  I'll still be glad when this story ends, but maybe Fraction will redeem himself (not totally, because that ship sailed with Bucky-Cap's death, but somewhat) by the end.

New Avengers #16:  I thought this issue rocked.  I love the idea of Daredevil joining the Avengers, because it makes Luke Cage's team feel all the more like the family that the Avengers used to be.  I don't feel that in the main title, but I do here, in "New Avengers."  I'd love to see us exist "Fear Itself" with a New Avengers team of Luke Cage, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Man.  With the possible exception of Ms. Marvel, the rest of these characters have such history together, intricate ties dating back decades of storytelling.  I never thought it was possible to see them all together on a team, and it really feels like the fruition of years of Bendis' storylines, aligning Luke Cage and his supporting cast with the Avengers' continuity.  It's really a moment of genius that makes me feel like Bendis has created his own old-school Avengers (or new-school Justice League).  Moreover, Bendis really sells the emotion of it.  It doesn't just feel like a way of bringing together all these street-level characters, but a honestly-reached decision based on the heroism Daredevil displayed in saving Squirrel Girl and Baby Cage.  I can't wait to see where this title goes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On the Spidey Brain Trust

In issue #588, Steve Wacker announced that the Spidey Brain Trust has been disbanded.  I notice, over the course of reading the last 43 issues, that I consistently liked some writers more than others.  I'm a bit of a numbers nerd, so I took a look at my ratings to see how the end of the Brain Trust was going to affect me.

First, I just want to say that the last several issues have been amazing.  The last five arcs ("Unscheduled Stop," "Fill in the Blank," "Mind on Fire," "Platonic," and "Character Assassination"), or the last 11 issues, haven't gotten anything lower than a three from me.  Compare that to the seven arcs before that (the Bookie arc, "Threeway Collision!," "Kraven's First Hunt, "New Ways to Die!," "Flashbacks," "Family Ties," and "Old Huntin' Buddies"), or 16 issues, that didn't get anything higher than a three.  I almost started feeling bad for consistently rating issues so highly, until I realized that we really had hit a low point there for a while.

Looking at my ratings per arc, my favorite author was Waid:  I gave fours to each of his two arcs.  Slott and Wells were my next favorites, averaging at 3.5 each.  The numbers lie a little here.  Wells' Mayan deity story arc was one of only two fives I've given.  Unfortunately, his only other arc was the Punisher one; I only gave that issue a two, since I really dislike the Punisher.  Slott also has a albatross around his neck:  "New Ways to Die!" only got a two from me, but his three other arcs get fours.

Guggenheim comes in third place with a 3.25.  I was unimpressed with his "Kraven's First Hunt" (it got a two) and I gave his Menace and Flash stories respectable threes.  But, "Character Assassination" is the other five I gave.  I thought that arc was brilliant (and it might make up a little for my original meh on Menace).

Kelly and Stern both take threes.  I enjoyed both their stories, and I really struggled with the Kelly rating.  "Family Ties" had moments of brilliance, and I felt like, with some experience, he's going to be an amazing Spidey man (heh).

Gale is my least favorite, the only one to average below a three.  I disliked his character, Freak, which made it hard for him to catch my attention.

The point of bringing up these ratings?  According to Steve, the Spidey Brain Trust will be succeeded by the "Web Heads:"  Guggenheim, Kelly, Slott, and Waid.  In other words, based on the fact that Waid came in first, Slott tied for second, Guggenheim came in third, and Kelly I felt had potential, well, I think the next year or so of Spidey is going to be awesome.  Woot!

So, thanks, Spidey Brain Trust.  With "Character Assassination" resolving some of the more interesting (and annoying) questions raised by the new status quo, I think we're ready for yet another brand new day.  I unabashedly admit I love the new Spidey.  I was skeptical (and I'm still hoping for Mary Jane to make her triumphant return), but I have never had more fun reading comics than I have reading these and I've never felt like I've known a character more than Peter Parker.  Looking forward, I still have some questions:

1) I want more information on how Spidey's life changed and I'm hoping we see more of Mary Jane.  At some point, somewhere, the new status quo diverts from the old:  Peter and Mary Jane have to end their relationship in a way they didn't in the old status quo.  It's not as simple as them just not having gotten married.

2) I'm intrigued by a comment made by Brevoort in issue #587's letter page, that Peter knows "precisely" how people forgot about his identity, but "we haven't revealed it to you readers as of yet."  In issue #569, Peter made a comment that implied he remembered the deal with Mephisto.  I had assumed (as I think we all did) that Peter did not, because, really, how could he live with himself knowing what he'd done?  So, either he does, and our man Pete has been more tortured than we thought, or Mephisto created an explanation for why no one remembers his identity...and Peter remembers that he unmasked himself once.

3) Along those lines, Spidey mentions Morlun in issue #588.  It's intriguing that Morlun still exists in the new status quo, because Spidey doesn't have the powers that he finished the Morlun arc having in the old status quo.  Maybe him remembering Morlun lends credence to the idea that Peter remembers the deal with Mephisto and knows that, however people think Peter and Mary Jane ended their relationship in the new status quo is just an illusion created by Mephisto.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #584-#588: "Character Assassination"

***** (five of five stars) 

Holy crap.  I mean, wow.  This arc totally blew my mind. 

Summary
The Shocker and Boomerang discover the body of the Bookie and call the police; the cops discover a Spider-Tracer on him, linking him to the "Tracer Killer."  The cops come close to arresting Spidey and shoot him through the arm.  Carlie's colleague invents a device to track Spider-Tracers.  Harry proposes to Lily, who declines because of his "history."  Using the Spider-Tracer device, Carlie discovers a stash of Spider-Traces under Vin's bed.  Spidey overhears Vin's partner tell him that Menace is attacking Hollister's campaign rally and goes to engage him.  Menace defeats Spidey and allows the police to capture him.  Harry walks into Hollister campaign HQ to discover Lily in the Menace costume.  Lily confirms she's Menace, having read Harry's diary and located Norman Osborn's secret room of Goblin gear.  She had planned to use the evidence to expose Osborn as the Goblin to help her father decide to run for mayor, but accidentally knocked over a vial of formula, which imbued her with the Menace powers.  Lily leaves Harry to his thoughts, accepting his proposal.  Meanwhile, Matt Murdoch prevents Sergeant Palone, who's investigating Spidey, from removing his mask; Palone is then paged by Carlie, who reveals to him that she knows that cops are behind the "Tracer Killings."  Palone has Vin's partner finger Vin and Carlie, since the scheme went beyond fraud when Palone ordered the death of the Bookie to keep the scheme a secret.  Spidey tells Murdoch he has to save Vin when he sees him admitted with the general population, so Matt slips Spidey a web-shooter.  Spidey breaks out Vin.  Meanwhile, Carlie appears at Hollister HQ to ask for help, only to be arrested.  Enraged, Lily turns into Menace to save her.  Menace almost kills Spidey, but is stopped by Harry, who's assumed the Green Goblin persona.  Spidey injects Menace with a serum brought by Harry, which reverts her to Lily in front of the press.  Vin arrests Palone as he's destroying evidence.  Later, Peter tells Harry he needs to get past the curse of his father.  Meanwhile, Norman visits Lily in prison, welcoming her to the family. 

The Review
I was right...and wrong!  I totally called Vin being the "Tracer Killer" (or, at least, one of them), but I definitely missed Lily as Menace.  You win some, you lose some.  Onto the good and the bad! 

The Really Good
1) The pace was amazing.  I found myself having to slow myself down a little while reading this story so that I could enjoy it, even though I really, really just wanted to know how it ended.  If I had to have the crappy "New Ways to Die!" to get this arc, then so be it!

2) If only we caught Peter in the shower more often!  Sexy boy.  JR JR can draw him all the time in my book.

3) Harry and Peter:  I was worried about Harry.  He got angry throughout the arc and it all seemed building to the inevitable conclusion of him putting on the Goblin outfit...which he did, more or less.  But, he did it to save Spidey and to stop Menace.  Also, notably, he was still wearing his street clothes.  He wasn't in full Goblin gear; just the mask.  I feel like that's significant.  I mean, Guggenheim leaves enough of a hint that Harry's not necessarily free of the Goblin's influence -- talking about how good Harry felt putting on the mask -- to make for an interesting story later.  But, Harry's conversation with Pete at the end of issue #588 was great.  Lily mocked Harry during the interlude for being weak, and I feel like Peter helped give him a road map to stop being weak, to accept his "curse," and to become his own man.  It was a nice Harry/Peter moment, just like the one at the end of "Mind on Fire."  I still think Harry knows Peter's Spidey (given he didn't really raise an eyebrow at Peter's injuries, just mentioning it at the end of the conversation) and Peter still doesn't seem to be doing a lot to hide it from him.  If (and I hope it's not necessarily when) Harry every does become the Goblin again, I'd be really heartbroken.  I don't think we've ever seen him struggling (and winning) against it like we have in these last few issues.  I really take off my hat to Guggeinheim and the Spidey Brain Trust for making an almost 50-year-old character as fresh and as new as Harry has been over these last few issues (and, really, since "Brand New Day" began). 

The Good
1) I was actually honestly stunned when Spidey got arrested.  I love how Matt Murdoch used legal wranglings to get the right to privacy extended to Spidey getting to keep on his mask.  One of my greatest pet peeves is when super-villains don't take the opportunity to unmask unconscious or indisposed superheroes, so having Matt Murdoch use the law to prevent the cops from doing it was just brilliant.

2) In my review of "New Ways to Die!" I noted that I thought it was crazy the idea that Lily would help Harry keep his secret of being the Green Goblin after only dating him a few months.  Now, I get the fact that she wasn't helping HIM keep it a secret, but SHE was keeping a secret, the fact that she was Menace.  It definitely makes MUCH more sense now.  (Sorry for the caps.  I'm just excited that the Spidey Brain Trust wasn't as asleep at the wheel as I thought it was after "New Ways to Die!")

3) After the "Kraven's First Hunt" story arc, I was becoming convinced that Pete stashes his stuff under Vin's bed when Carlie found the Spider-Tracers there and came close to ranting and raving about the stupidity of that.  I'm glad I was able to avoid that.

4) The background on Lily, about whom, as I've mentioned, we haven't really gotten to know much made a lot of sense to me.  I sort of wish they would've introduced some "least favorite daughter trying to make her dad proud" hints before this plot.  One of the reasons I was annoyed by her behavior in "New Ways to Die!" was because she had always seemed like an upstanding citizen.  Now, I get that she also, um, had some issues.  I'm still marking it as a "good," though, because it made sense, even if it would've been helpful to know earlier.

5) We also now know why Norman thought Harry was the Green Goblin in "New Ways to Die!:"  because stuff kept going missing from his secret room.  I think the only question mark left at this point from that arc is the human experiments, but it's not exactly a major plot point like the other ones, so I can live.

6) Peter mentioning Gwen.  Nice.

7) Norman Osborn's conversation with Lily at the end was predictably creepy.  I've never really liked "Menace."  She's always been kind of boring.  But, that being said, a full-on, crazy-ass Lily Hollister working with Norman Osborn could be the opposite of boring...

8) The Shocker/Boomerang conversation that began the book was bizarre but also funny. 

The Unsure
1) I'm not really sure why exposing Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin would've given Lily's dad a reason to run.  But, Lily's crazy, so, you know, so long as it makes sense to her, I guess I can't hold it against Guggenheim too much...

2) I'm also not really sure how the cops got the Spider-Tracers.  Given that they were once called an old model, I assume they just made them themselves.  But, I don't think that was ever really explicitly mentioned.  I guess it didn't have to be, but I thought it was worth noting.

3) See the next post, "On the Spidey Brain Trust," for a discussion of Spidey's mention of Morlun in issue #588.  Curiouser and curiouser. 

The Bad
1) I was baffled at the end of issue #585 why Menace decided not to kill or unmask Spidey.  It was the only real question I had after the first two issues, and the interlude definitely explained it by giving us Lily's "voice-over."  But, similar to "Kraven's First Hunt" and "New Ways to Die!" I do feel like the writers occasionally really write themselves into a corner and have to engage in logic gymnastics to keep his identity a secret.

2) Pet Peeve #2:  The intro to issue #588 mentions that Carlie "escaped" but we actually didn't know that until later in the issue.

3) Carlie's dad drinks?  It's just kind of thrown out there, so I'm assuming we know that from one of the "Family" or other titles.  But, it annoys me each time we run into something like that.  Between the constant references to "Swing Shift," "Extra", "Family," it's kind of undermining the whole three-time-a-month approach.  I thought the whole point of three-time-a-month was that I didn't have to collect every Spider-Man story to know what's happening.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Justice League #1:  OK, I'm a fan.  I felt like Johns captured both Batman and Green Lantern perfectly here, giving us a calculating Bruce and an arrogant Hal.  By using them at the center of the book, he lets us know that, despite all the change, somethings stay certain:  Bruce is smart and Hal is obnoxious.  But, he did more than just assert them as their usual stand-alone archetypes.  He used their interactions to actually show these traits.  I loved the moment where Bruce slipped the ring off Hal's finger.  Brilliant.  Seriously, Johns shows so much in that scene, displaying that Bruce's ability to have sussed out Hal's powers in the few minutes they've been together IS his super-power and that Hal's need to constantly assert control over a situation despite not understanding all the nuances is his Achilles' heel.  Johns also gives us a slightly different take on Superman (in the one panel in which he appears) giving him almost an edge (perish the thought).  Lee, meanwhile, is on fire throughout the book.  The scene where Batman shoots the grapple through the alien's leg conveys the "all-new, all-gritty" feel of the book and, um, seriously, he can draw Superman whenever he wants.  (Badabing!)  Beyond all else, though, the attention to detail that he displays in drawing Green Lantern's constructs is amazing.  (The guys with the shields protecting him and Batman?  Awesome.)

Having read the book, the relaunch of "Justice League" seems the perfect way to usher in the New 52.  Moreover, setting it five years in the past, at least for the initial arc, was a great decision, since we need some help fleshing out the details of the DCnU.  (I hope they don't go too far, though.  I mean, do we really need another "Batman:  Year One?")  Seeing Hal badger Bruce over his powers (after initially expressing shock that he was "real") and Bruce telling Hal that Gotham was his were just great moments, exactly how you'd think the first meeting between Bruce and Hal would go.  Except, it probably didn't go that way.  The genius of this enterprise is that, in all likelihood, the initial meeting of Bruce and Hal probably happened in the '60s when everything was a bit...hokier.  Bringing a modern sensibility to the reboot (and the personality traits that these characters have developed since they all first met, whenever the Justice League was originally assembled) is what promises to make this series spectacular and why starting it five years in the past makes sense.  It gives us the excitement of seeing the characters we know now meet, as opposed to when they originally met, decades ago, when their personalities were still being defined.  The decision to bring Darkseid into play so quickly just makes it all the better.  One of the biggest questions for me in this whole enterprise is:  did Bruce still die?  I'm hoping, by addressing the Darkseid issue first, we'll get to that answer quickly.

The Justice League is the touchstone of superheroes for any child of the '80s.  Do I admit, when I heard that "Justice League" would be put squarely in the center of the DCnU, that I felt a childlike flutter of excitement?  Yes, yes, I did.  Johns and Lee, thankfully, gave me a reason to be excited.  I feel like they really accomplished what they intended to do here, give old fans a reason to be excited and new fans a reason to be hooked.  Was "Flashpoint" disappointing?  Yes, yes, it was.  But, just like "One More Day" before "Brand New Day," it's in the past.  I can forgive the bumpy transition if the new reality is as awesome as this book presages.

Secret Avengers #16:  This issue is beautiful.  I'm not familiar with McKelvie, but he can pencil any comic he wants in my book.  He has the amazing combination of a great eye for both dynamic landscapes -- such as the awesome two-page splash of the underground city -- and small details -- such as showing Steve's hair blow in the wind when he stands in the atomic Cadillac.  The problem?  This book is DULL.  It's essentially Beast narrating the action with long, drawn-out explanations of the scientific principles behind the main threat, a Doom Platform set to make Cincinnati disappear.  I don't know how you make that boring, but Ellis manages to accomplish it.  In addition, I have to say, for as much as I hate "Fear Itself," I'm confused about where this story falls in continuity.  It seems to be before "Fear Itself," since Steve isn't Captain America yet (and Natasha is a little chatty for someone who just lost her boyfriend), but that makes no sense given that the last few issues of this title were "Fear Itself" cross-overs.  So, it happened but then it didn't?  Overall, this issue was a forgettable miss for me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Flashpoint #5:  OK, here's the thing.  This issue is the best of the series.  It's clear:  we're given cause, effect, and consequence.  Barry Allen decided to go to the past to save his mother from Reverse Flash.  However, Reverse Flash was in transit at the time Barry does so (presumably on the way to kill Flash's mother).  By altering the world while Reverse Flash was in the time stream, Barry created a time paradox, causing Reverse Flash to have left one time stream only to enter another.  In so doing, Reverse Flash now existed independent of Flash, whereas, before, he was always tied to Flash since he needed to ensure that the Speed Force reached him in the 25th century.  I'm not saying that makes sense, per se, but I'm saying that, in the context of time-travel stories, it makes more sense than we usually see.

The problem is that this issue feels like a one-shot, not the culmination of a five-issue mini-series that changes everything we know about the DC Universe.  Because Johns never lays the groundwork for this reveal (in fact, this issue is the first one where we really see Reverse Flash), the revelation that it was Barry that caused the change in the first place falls entirely and hopelessly flat.  I feel like we probably could've had an entire issue based on that reveal, with Reverse Flash revealing the truth and then Johns detailing the events surrounding Barry's decision to save his mother and his efforts to do so.  Without seeing that, we just have to take at face value that Barry was so grief-stricken that one day suddenly decide to shatter time.  It's a hard sell for only a few panels. 

Moreover, once we settle all that, we rush through Barry's tearful conversation with his mother by cramming a lot of conversation into three pages and end the issue with no real idea what changed.  We get some mysterious figure telling us about three timelines (though I'm pretty sure the DC Universe has had many more than three) and, boom, suddenly, we're in the "present."  The scene between Flash and Batman at the end is well done, but it still falls flat, since it gives us no hint anything really has changed.  In fact, if we didn't know about the reboot, reading that scene would leave you to believe nothing, at all, is different.

At the end of the day, I feel like it's that problem right there that doomed "Flashpoint."  This series was nothing more than a regular old "Flash" story.  It's pretty clear that DC seized on something Johns had planned just for "Flash" and used it to change everything.  You can tell because it's rushed, a fact made all the more shocking when you're talking about Johns and Kubert, who are the best at what they do.  In the end, it's a forgettable story, not really the memorable bridge between the two realities -- the old DC Universe and the new DC universe -- but a rushed attempt to explain an editorial decision that almost would've been better presented without comment.

All that said, "Brand New Day" in "Amazing Spider-Man" proved that you can reboot a series so long as you don't totally disregard continuity AND you tell a great story.  For example, I'll be a lot more comfortable with the reboot if we get confirmation that Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne were, for a time, Batman and Robin.  If we learn those events didn't happen, however, I think it'll be hard to get over that, at least immediately, given that I thought their stories were some of the best ones the Bat-books have ever told.  Similarly, I hope we don't see Superboy returning to the era where he was constantly lamenting the fact that he was "just a clone."  This whole endeavor of rebooting the line has a lot of excellent possibilities, but it also has some serious pitfalls.  We'll see how it goes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #583: "Platonic"

**** (four of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "I wish he were around more, but he's always there when no one else is.  And that's enough.  Because when you don't burden him with expectations and just let Peter be Peter...he shines." -- Betty Brant, on our man, Pete

Summary
Betty decides to help Pete with his love life by taking him speed dating.  (It doesn't go well.)  Pete has to ditch Betty in order to stop a mugger, misses an appointment with her to get a "21st century haircut" because he's fighting Menace, and is hours late to a date to meet a friend of Betty's because he's saving people from a burning building.  Meanwhile, we hear from Betty's "voice-over" that she's nervous Pete's going to flake on setting up her birthday party.  In the end, when only Peter appears, she gets mad at him for flaking, only to have Peter reveal that no one wanted to come because they're mad at Betty for stories she's written at "The DB!" 

The Review
(I actually didn't know this issue was the "Obama issue" until I read it.  I've got the cover with...well, we'll get there.  The Obama story is OK, but the Betty Brant story is great.  I'm ignoring the Obama story for the purpose of this review, because, meh.  Let's talk about Betty:)

This issue is awesome.  I'll admit it:  I teared up a little at the end.  I noted in an earlier post how happy I was to see Betty Brant back in the mix.  I realize now that, one of the benefits of "Brand New Day," in terms of story telling, is that the writers don't have to dedicate so much space to Mary Jane anymore, so some supporting characters are getting some more space to shine.  Harry is back, Flash had an issue dedicated just to him a few issues ago, and, in this issue, we get Betty Brant.  Mark Waid writes Betty better than, I don't know, possibly anyone ever. 

The Good
1) I'm not sure if Betty likes Peter and vice versa.  One of the many aspects of this issue that I love is that Mark Waid allows that ambiguity to exist.  He doesn't make Betty into some sad sack (though, based on the first few pages, I was worried we were going there), desperately in love with Peter but trying to get to pretend she's not.  She's actually a friend, who may have some interest on some level in him, but is actually still being a friend.  The same with Peter.  Peter isn't pining for Betty necessarily, but he's still there setting up her birthday party (or trying to do so).  It's a study on two characters that have a long, long history and Waid allows it to be accordingly complicated.

2) Betty's "voice-over" about Peter on the last two pages is just so...heartwarming.  We often see Peter struggling, usually in a comedic way, with trying to let Peter Parker have a life while still being Spider-Man.  He's not Batman or Cyclops or any other hero who really doesn't have another identity from the hero he is.  I thought it was unique for us to get the perspective of someone on what it's like to be friends with Peter.  I'm tearing up right now thinking about it.  I kind of feel like Betty was talking to me.  It's like I suddenly remembered how great Pete is, too. 

The Bad
1) The cover is awful.  Peter looks about 40 (really, a turtleneck, blazer, and pinstriped pants:  is he a pimp?) and the "Face it, cougars -- you've just hit the jackpot!" is an insult to Mary Jane that we here on Team Mary Jane just won't stand.

2) Other than the cover, I'm knocking this issue to four stars because it would've been nice to hear more from Betty about how she felt about working at "The DB!" after Peter told her everyone was mad at her.  She's worried that everyone hates her, but it would've been nice to hear how she struggles with trying to keep her professional ethics in tact.  I'm playing the gender card here:  when Peter himself went through this struggle in "Peter Parker:  Paparazzi," he more or less shrugged off the personal criticisms, but was deeply worried about the professional repercussions.  I would've liked to have heard Betty address those.  She could've cried about everyone not liking her (I probably would've:  I mean, Jesus, it was her birthday), but we could've gotten a little bit more from Betty Brant, professional journalist.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #2

OK, so, as I said before, I'm just giving a down-and-dirty recap of the "Amazing Spider-Man:  Extra!" issues.  So, away we go: 

Black & White:  This story's OK (and is one of the two stories that directly affects an ongoing ASM storyline).  Chris Bachalo is awesome as ever and we get a better sense of Mr. Negative and his agents.  I'm confused by some of the plot points, though.  First, based on Mr. Negative's conversation with Mei-Li, it appears that the sweat-shop victims and the Osborn test-subjects from "New Ways to Die!" were the same people.  That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  Did they escape the sweat shop only to, what, return to Oscorp for their testing?  I mean, they don't necessarily have to be the same folks.  The group who escaped might have just been a different shift of employees.  But, it's still weird that they'd be forcing employees to work in sweatshops AND be subject to testing.  That seems a little OTT evil, even for Norman Osborn.  Also, speaking of Norman, how did Mr. Negative get his hands on Osborn's venom formula?  His Inner Demons are using it, but Mr. Negative and Norman aren't exactly chummy.  Finally, it still appears that Martin Li may not know he's Mr. Negative.  Weird.  Anyway, I really feel like it's time to wrap up this Mr. Negative story or, at least, reveal the secrets and let him just be a pretty cool member of Spidey's rogue gallery. 

Birthday Boy:  Um, OK, did they not notice that the first issue also had a story named "Birthday Boy?"  C'mon, editors, wake up a little!  This story is fine.  I'm so totally over Wolverine, but, whatever, it gets across its point.  Spidey mentioning the Mayan deity story arc is a nice touch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nova #8-#9: "Knowhere"

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
As a result of traveling through the "hyper-gravimetric wormhole" at the end of issue #7, Nova is lost at the end of the Universe, called the Rip.  He gets caught in some sort of vortex and finds himself inside Knowhere, a community built inside a Celestial's severed head on the edge of the Rip, which seeks to understand better the nature of the Universe.  He is attacked by a possessed member of the Luminals, Xarth Three's version of the Avengers.  He defeats her, though she unexpectedly disintegrates, leaving him accused of murder by the other Luminals when they happen upon the scene.  He escapes and meets Cosmo, a talking Russian dog who serves as chief of security for Knowhere.  Cosmo informs him that the Luminals brought a black box into Knowhere and asserts his belief that it was this box that resulted in a haunting event that forced the rest of Knowhere's population into hiding.  Meanwhile, the Luminals are possessed by the entity in the box, called the Abyss, who they had intended to send into the Rip to end his threat.  Instead, they attack Nova and Cosmo, who flee and find the box.  They discover that the box has begun to malfunction, likely due to Abyss' skill to escape from anything, anywhere.  Nova drops his fight against the transmode virus long enough to infect Abyss and fix the box.  The crisis averted, Cosmo makes Knowhere's advanced teleportation system available to Nova and sends him to Kvch, the homeworld of the Technarchy and the birthplace of the Phalanx, figuring he could find answers to the transmode virus there.  Later, Drax and Gamora invade Knowhere and use the teleporter to follow Nova.

The Review
In my review of "Annihilation:  Conquest," I was confused how Nova suddenly appeared with Drax, Gamora, and Warlock in tow.  I didn't realize that issues #8-#12 are also part of "Annihilation:  Conquest," at least indirectly.  So, I'm glad, at least retroactively, that I did actually miss something and DnA didn't just sort of insert Nova into the last issue of "Annihilation:  Conquest" without explaining, at least somewhere, how he got there.

That said, I really dug these issues.  DnA give me everything I expected from a "Nova" series by giving us an intergalactic murder mystery.  I mean, seriously, it took a heck of an imagination to have Richard not only be stranded at the end of the Universe but, as if that weren't bad enough, have him trapped inside a Celestial's severed head with a talking Russian dog and a murderous intangible villain.  It was like reading "'The Shining' in Space!"

The Good
1) The Nova/Worldmind conversations continue to really be one of the greatest parts of this series.  DnA understand the importance of injecting fun in their stories, and Nova implying that Worldmind is essentially a bad software program -- and Worldmind correspondingly getting all defensive and offended -- did just that.

2) I hearted Cosmo.  I mean, yeah, was he a little campy?  Sure.  But, could it just have been some boring fill-in-the-blank alien species dude serving as the head of security?  Yes.  I'll take talking Russian dog over boring alien dude any day!

3) DnA could've gone a lot of places in a Nova-at-the-end-of-the-universe story.  I liked not only that they chose to give us a somewhat quirky one that wasn't all intergalactic war, but also that still kept Nova's ongoing troubles -- the transmode virus and Drax and Gamora in hot pursuit -- on the front burner.  It can't all be Annihilus and Ultron!

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  Although we learn in this issue that Cosmo was the head of security for Knowhere, we didn't know that in issue #8, despite the introduction page of issue #9 so telling us.

2) I'm not 100 percent certain how Nova fixed the box.  He seemed to affect Abyss, not the box, so why could he suddenly fix the box, too?  Was the Abyss physically connected to the box?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #581-#582: "Mind on Fire"

**** (four of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "He did.  I was close enough.  I heard him."  "Well, he can't always be on."  "Chillax?  If it was two years ago, maybe.  Two hours ago?  No."  -- Harry/Peter conversation about Spidey saying "...just chillax" to Molten Man upon injecting him with the Prometheus X-90 serum 

Summary
Spidey falls into the "Tracer Killer's" trap by going to a body just as the killer activated the Spider-Tracer...and right when the police arrived on the scene.  He escapes and returns home to Harry calling asking him if he wants to accompany him to visit Liz and Normie in Jersey.  (They live!)  Pete asks out Carlie, who shoots him down.  On the trip to Jersey, Harry reveals to Pete that he was the Green Goblin, which Pete acknowledges he knew from Spider-Man.  Harry discloses that Norman took his body and had Mysterio fake another corpse.  He was then essentially incarcerated by psychiatrists in Europe who convinced him the Green Goblin era was a hallucination, something he realized was untrue when he saw his father in his Goblin uniform.  Upon arriving at Liz's, Harry and she fight, an argument overheard by Liz's step-brother, the Molten Man, for whom she's caring.  He attacks Harry, furious at him for everything he's done to Liz over the years.  Harry uses the Prometheus X-90 formula seen in "New Ways to Die!" to cure him of his condition, revealing later to Peter that the only human test subject was the second Molten Man, who volunteered to do it.  Meanwhile, the Bookie declares that he's figured out who the "Tracer Killer" is...just in time for said killer to kill him. 

The Review
I came close to giving this arc five stars, just because I was so over-joyed that, despite all odds, the Spidey Brain Trust managed to eliminate most of my confusion after "New Ways to Die!"  It confirms the hint from "New Ways to Die!" that the events of "Spectacular Spider-Man" #200 did, in fact, happen:  Harry was the Goblin and he died fighting Peter.  We now know how he survived and how he was smuggled to Europe.  We've still got some questions (see below) but, for the most part, I think most of the lingering Harry-related "One More Day" questions were resolved.  On top of that, it's an emotional story that really represents the full return of Harry Osborn.  I'm still vaguely annoyed by some of the remaining "New Ways to Die!"-related questions, but, all in all, this storyline was excellent. 

The Good
1) This arc was everything I hoped it would be.  After the clusterfuck that was the last issue of "New Ways to Die!" I had no idea how they were going to salvage the Harry plot line, but they did.  Some things still don't make sense, but, overall, they really managed to explain it in a way that I buy.  Also, I'll give them credit for not putting together the story on the fly.  It's pretty clear they knew exactly what they were doing from the moment "Brand New Day" began.

2) Harry and Peter's conversation on the last page is possible the best one I've ever seen them have.  Harry implies he knows Peter is Spider-Man and Peter doesn't exactly deny it.  Harry covers it up nicely by implying Peter's dating Spider-Man (saying it would explain Peter's "girl troubles"), but I wonder where we've left the issue of whether or not Harry knows and, if he does know, how it's going to affect Peter in the future.  Harry, as evidenced in this arc, swears he's a good guy now, so, in theory, it shouldn't have any implications.  But, if Harry returns to his nefarious ways (like his father wants him to do), then obviously it's a whole other story.  At any rate, it was good to see Harry and Peter have a moment.  The one real drawback of "Brand New Day" is that it's featured so many new characters that we haven't really seen a lot of emotional depth, the kind of depth we see with Peter engaging with any of his old friends.  I hadn't noticed it until I read this scene.  I was a little skeptical when Harry returned, but I'm glad he's back and I hope, for once, maybe the writers will give him the chance to be almost happy.  Plus, Pete could use a friend.  Seriously.

3) The art's pretty great.  Peter looks, um, amazing.  Also, the change in Harry's expression in the side-by-side panels from when he's trying to negotiate with the Molten Mad and then (unseen to us) sees Spider-Man is really well done. 

The Unsure
1) It's interesting that Harry, in theory, didn't know he was the Green Goblin until he saw his dad in action.  I don't know if I buy that, but I don't know if I'm supposed to buy it.  I can't tell if it was the one weak point of the plot or if Harry's not exactly telling the truth.

2) Harry says that the only human involved in testing the Prometheus X-90 serum was the second Molten Man.  Re-reading the page from "New Ways to Die!" where the second room with human subjects is revealed, it now seems that someone in Oscorp (possibly Norman) either knew of Harry's trials and was (without Harry's knowledge) conducting them on more humans or was engaged in some other type of human testing that Harry may have vaguely known was happening.  It's unclear to me the applicability the Prometheus serum would have on any other person other than the Molten Man, so I'm guessing the latter.  As such, I'm assuming, at some point, we'll discover the purpose of the human testing.  At any rate, one of my questions during "New Ways to Die!" was why Harry thought he could clear his name with the books from Oscorp when, in fact, he was engaged in human testing.  Now, we have the answer. 

The Bad
1) Other than the human-testing question mentioned above, I think my only lingering question is when exactly was Harry running Oscorp and if he's still running it.  I mean, is he running a large multinational company and, you know, the "Coffee Bean?"  I can barely handle the one job I have.

2) I'm confused (really confused) by the Carlie scene.  First, she says that she was raised with Lily ("we may have grown up in the same house together..."), whereas I thought she was just a childhood friend.  Second, she turns down Pete asking her on a date for a reason I don't quite comprehend, though seems to imply it's because she thinks Pete likes Lily...despite, you know, him asking out Carlie in front of Lily.  Weird.

3) I'm still a little confused (notice a pattern) by Harry's return.  Mysterio faked a body and Norman sold Harry's death.  So, clearly, at some point, it was revealed Harry was alive.  We know he survived thanks to the Goblin serum, but I wonder what the public story is.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America #2:  Brubaker and McNiven deliver a great issue here.  Although the story is a little "Inception"-esque at points, I thought Brubaker was ingenious in using the dream dimension as a vehicle for creating a villain who was Cap's contemporary during the war but who also hasn't aged.  Bravo could really turn into a great new Cap villain, given that he's got all the hallmarks of an arch-nemesis (personal grudge, romantic competition, competing abilities).  It also helps that McNiven's amazingly crisp artwork helped really sell the sense that the dream world was just as real as the real world.  I'm not sure if the huge Captain America that attacks our Captain America is Bravo, but I'm excited to see!  Brubaker seems to have quickly moved past the occasionally awkward character-introduction moments we saw in the first issue and is now going full throttle into this new chapter.  Despite how I feel about the unceremonious dumping of Bucky, I'm glad to see Brubaker get to stretch his creative muscles and focus on stories about Steve.  It's been a while, and I'm hoping it'll have been worth the wait.  So far, so good. 

Captain America and Bucky #621:  Well, I guess if I can't have an adult Bucky, the kid version isn't bad.  I thoroughly enjoyed the wise-cracking Bucky we got in this issue.  He manages to balance out Steve's "goody two-shoe"-ness, giving the partnership an edge and, in fact, even convincing Steve to act uncharacteristically brash.  (Flirting!  Actual flirting!)  As a result, it's a fun issue, even as the authors begin to address larger issues, like Bucky beginning to realize the consequences of killing.  It's an interesting place to start, given that we know Bucky will do all the killing in his burgeoning partnership with Cap, one of the darker aspects of their relationship that is rarely noted.  It'll be interesting to see where Brubaker goes with this story, particularly given the excellent work he did in focusing on Bucky's brutal past as a killer when he was writing about Bucky's transition to becoming Cap.  At any rate, the combo of humor and seriousness made for excellent reading and I'm becoming increasingly more excited about this series. 

Dungeons and Dragons #10:  OK, I admit to being confused about what, exactly, is happening here.  Last I remember, Fell's Five went to Al'Bihel and discovered that Thrumbolg -- the cyclops from issue #5 who was trying to invade our dimension by using world keys to open a dimensional gate -- stole the Guide of Gates.  Cool, I get that.  As such, Fell's Five go to Thrumbolg's stronghold to steal back the Guide.  Right, makes sense.  I even get that they cleverly pull a bait-and-switch ploy by trying to convince Thrombolg's Seneschal that they're merely the planned distraction and, in exchange for information on the main attack, they get to be sent home and to see the Guide.  Cool.  But, the problem is that the "guy" the Seneschal consults in deciding whether to accept the deal is NOT Thrombolg.  Thrombolg is a "crazy one-eyed giant," to use Adric's description.  The "guy" the Seneschal approaches not only has two eyes but is definitely more than a crazy giant.  So, does Thrombolg work for him?  Does anyone know of the "guy's" existence?  Confusing.  Rogers still has an issue left in this arc to reveal the truth (and to sort out the revelation that Trasgar from the original Feywild adventure survived).  He's pretty good at pulling these sorts of rabbits from his hat, so we shall see.

Superboy #11:  Um, yeah.  Although I enjoyed last issue, this issue is, I'm sad to say, a return to form.  It's all a series of deus ex machinas, from the Phantom Stranger revealing he gave Conner a figurine imbued with his powers, to Simon magically having a death-ray visor, to Phantom Stranger "helping" Psion Lad return the souls of Smallville's population to their bodies.  Moreover, the plot is even further muddied since Lemire is forced to abandon the "Simon as future bad guy" sub-plot as a result of the impending reboot.  Looking over these issues, I think my greatest problem with Lemire is that he just can't write dialogue that doesn't sound wooden to me.  The conversation between the four teens at the end feels totally forced; you don't get any sense that they have any affection for each other, despite the fact that we're supposed to believe that Lori, Psion, and Simon make Smallville home for Conner.  Finally, the less said about Gallo, the better.  In the end, this series is the one I'm most excited to see rebooted.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Comics!: The "Fear Itself" Edition

Before I start, I have to say that the tie-in issues reviewed here don't really do all that much to further the main "Fear Itself" plot.  The "Avengers" tie-in issue finally shows the team reacting to the death of Bucky, but does so months after it's been resolved (or, at least, moved past) in the main title.  The "Fear Itself:  Youth in Revolt," "New Mutants," and "Uncanny X-Men" issues are well-written stories, but they're still dealing with a small aspect of "Fear Itself," namely the Juggernaut's march across America and its consequences.  In fact, I actually can't remember if the Juggernaut has even appeared in the main title, or if he's just been entirely shunted to "Fear Itself:  Youth in Revolt" and "Uncanny X-Men."  I think it's pretty clear if you've been reading this blog a while that I'm not a fan of "Fear Itself," but, at this point, I'd really just like my regular titles back, particularly given the increasingly tenuous connection they have to "Fear Itself." 

Avengers #16:  Looking at the issue itself, I mostly enjoyed it.  We finally -- FINALLY! -- see the Avengers and Steve Rogers mourn the loss of Bucky Barnes.  (Seriously, how has it taken so long?)  Steve decides to take on Sin to exact his revenge and takes Sharon Carter, Victoria Hand, and Maria Hill with him.  I thought the decision (and justification) to take Sharon, Victoria, and Maria was really well done, with Steve reasoning that diverting a superhero from the ongoing battles would raise Sin's attention.  Moreover, I thought Bendis did a great job of using Maria Hill as the lens through which we viewed the action.  Throughout the mission, it's clear that the team is being driven by their emotions and grief.  They fall into Sin's trap because they are seriously off their game, despite not being "off their game" kind of people.  Bendis uses the ever-competent Maria Hill to great effect here, since, if even Maria Hill is off her game, you know Steve must be beside himself.  Moreover, the fact that both Victoria and Sharon kill people in this issue adds to this sense that emotions are driving their actions and, as Cap is confronting Master Man, Bendis raises the possibility that he, too, may snap. 

Unfortunately, Bendis decides to introduce a deus ex machina here, preventing us from seeing whether Steve is driven to murder.  Instead, we get some character I've only maybe seen once arriving and taking down the whole castle by using her earthquake powers.  I mean, WTF?  We're just getting to the interesting part -- the great moral dilemma -- and some D-list character suddenly appears and ends it with her "earthquake powers?"  Did the fight really have to end?  I mean, if Master Man is so strong, why is he knocked unconscious but everyone else is fine?  Bendis then continues the dive by giving us Steve randomly wandering around the ruins screaming "SIN!" like he's Marlon Brando.  He also abruptly leaves his post-game recap interview mid-sentence, saying simply, "I'm so sorry, Bucky."  Given that that comment is likely to be the last thing we ever see Steve say about Bucky, who I'm assuming is going into the Memory Hole after this series, it's a serious, serious letdown.  These bizarre last few pages really dragged down the book for me.

Also bad?  The art.  I actually like JR JR, but he's awful here.  I mean, half the time, I had no idea who anyone was.  It's like he drew the issue in five minutes and left it to the inker and colorist to flesh out the details.

All that said, I had enjoyed most of the issue until it took its bizarre turn, so it wasn't a total loss.  The real problem I had with this issue, though, had less to do with it and more to do with "Fear Itself."  One of the problems I'm having with "Fear Itself" is that the issues that flesh out the motivations of the characters seem to be appearing at least a month late.  I mean, Bucky was killed in "Fear Itself" #3 and his death is addressed in "Fear Itself" #4 and #5.  But, we're just seeing the Avengers and Steve grapple with his death here.  We needed to see that BEFORE issue #5, so we could've gotten a sense of the desperation that essentially leads them to give up the battle in the climatic scene in that issue.  I'm assuming that the events of this issue happen between "Fear Itself" #3 and #4.  After all, Steve faces Sin in "Fear Itself" #5.  Knowing that, it does make Steve occasionally seem crazy here, until you remind yourself that this issue clearly happened before "Fear Itself" #5 (not that anyone tells you that in the book).  It's just yet another reason why this entire ordeal of "Fear Itself" needs to end.

Fear Itself:  The Home Front #5:  This issue continues the pattern of this series, with the Speedball story being moralizingly annoying, the second story giving us minor characters in a forgettable story with a vague plot, a totally bizarre "Moment with...," and a final story with even more minor characters in an even more forgettable story with a nonsensical plot.  I still can't believe I'm spending $3.99 on these issues.

Fear Itself:  Youth in Revolt #4:  McKeever continues to do a good job on this series.  We see the heroes involved in this story have a complete and total meltdown.  Prodigy is snapping under the strains of commanding a losing battle while Gravity takes out his rage at the situation (and, clearly, his guilt for abandoning the battle) on Hardball.  McKeever gives us a cliffhanger, with Gravity implying that he becomes a murderer, though we don't know if it's because of his accidental strike on Komodo or the earthquake he and Hardball cause due to their fight.  But it's not the cliffhanger that will make me come back next issue; it's the tale McKeever is telling.  He continues to tell a compelling story about the pressures a group of C- and D-list superheroes face trying to do the right thing when all seems lost.  Moreover, McKeever excels at raising questions about what exactly constitutes "the right thing."  The attempts by the rest of the cast -- Cloud 9, Komodo, Rage, Thor Girl -- to save the innocent civilians while Gravity and Hardball go to war on each other is a great display of heroism.  You come to expect that sort of heroism on the part of your superheroes, but McKeever reminds us how special it is.  I hope he's given a series with these characters after "Fear Itself" ends, because I'd love to see the stories he could tell without "Fear Itself" hanging around his next.

New Mutants #30:  This issue is OK.  It sucks that DnA got forcibly sidetracked by "Fear Itself," because I'm much more interested in reading stories about Dani and her team serving as the X-Men's loose-end tie-up-er-ers.  I'm not entirely sure who, exactly, Dani is fighting at the end, other than the fact that they're some sort of nightmare entities re-animated thanks to the Serpent's return.  Meanwhile, the rest of the gang is in Hell ("two 'L's") trying to avoid negotiating with Mephisto, who, in the end, convinces Amara to go on a date with him in exchange for sending them to Hel (one "L").  For the last 30 issues, the various authors on this title have done little more than address, in passing, the fact that Bobby suddenly finds himself in love with Amara, so I'm actually hoping that Amara going on a date with the Devil (presumably after "Fear Itself" ends) will finally bring some sort of action to this long-simmering sub-plot.  Compared to other "Fear Itself" tie-in issues, this one is pretty good.  Compared to DnA's usual issues, it's mildly disappointing.

Uncanny X-Men #542:  Like he does in "Generation Hope" #10, Gillen give us a two-for-one deal here, moving forward existing sub-plots while at the same time furthering the "Fear Itself" plot.  First, "Fear Itself:"  Gillen delivers one of the better tie-in issues I've read.  So far, as previously mentioned, these tie-in issues haven't really forwarded the main plot of "Fear Itself" too much.  This issue doesn't exactly do so either, but it does give us the best story related to "Fear Itself."  By focusing on the Juggernaut over the last few issues, Gillen has been able to let the fear of his impending arrival grow.  Whereas all the other books seem to be just bounding from event to event, reducing the possibility of the stories having any sort of emotional impact, Gillen shows the X-Men throwing everything they have at the problem and still not stopping the Juggernaut.  (Contrast their efforts here to the Avengers surrendering after three panels of action in "Fear Itself" #5 and you'll see what I mean.)  It actually felt like Cyclops was playing a video game, trying to match combos to see which one could defeat the boss.  By giving us these scenes, Gillen manages to convey the sense of desperation and fear that we're supposed to be seeing everywhere else, but aren't.  Looking at the ongoing stories he furthers here, we see Emma coming to the conclusion to which I allude in my "Generation Hope" #10 review, which is that Hope Summers is a lot more tied to the Summers/Grey family and the Phoenix Force than she or anyone else (other than Emma) is aware.  It seems pretty apparent that it's the fear infesting everything as a result of the return of the Serpent that brings Emma to this conclusion (even if it turns out being correct), which just goes to show how well Gillen does integrating "Fear Itself" with ongoing "Uncanny" plots.  Finally, we see Colossus take one on the chin, possibly sacrificing his soul to save Illyana.  I had asked, at the end of the Breakworld saga, for Kitty and Peter to have some time to just be in love.  It looks like we may not get that.  Gillen hints here that Illyana might not be as reformed as we thought, since she lifts nary a finger to save Peter.  All in all, Gillen delivers possibly the best "Fear Itself" tie-in issue I've read.  Between the upcoming Emma/Hope and Colossus/Juggernaut battles, I really can't wait until next issue.  (Also:  Adam X?  Whoa.)

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

Generation Hope #10:  We get the first of two "Schism" tie-in issues here, with Gillen fleshing out the events surrounding Idie saving the X-Men in "X-Men:  Schism" #3.  Although I outline my issues with that issue down below, Gillen does a good job here of keeping the focus on Idie.  Although no one explicitly says it, it seems evident that Idie is forced to kill mainly due to her inability to control her powers more fully.  Laurie hints at that during her fight with Hope, who blames her for leaving behind Idie and putting her in that situation.  In response, Laurie notes that none of them are as good at being superheroes as they are when they're around Hope.  Gillen has been building this theme for a while, implying that Hope's influence (or control) over the Lights might mean that her powers go beyond power mimicry.  (Idie and Laurie have a conversation about how Hope looks like Rachel Summers, underlining the possibility that Hope is more connected to the Summers/Greys -- and the Phoenix Force -- than anyone knows, something the X-editors clearly have wanted us to believe since she came on the scene.)  As such, Gillen achieves the rare tie-in issue bifecta, developing the overall "Schism" story while at the same time furthering the story running through "Generation Hope."  It'll be interesting to see how both develop.  I'd be remiss if I also didn't note the poignancy of the exhibits in the Museum of Mutant History.  From the Sentinel's head to Rachel's interview, Gillen makes it all feel...real.  It's hard to put my finger on it exactly, but something about the way he presents it made me feel like I was actually in the museum.  All in all, another excellent outing for Mr. Gillen.

X-Factor #224:  Holy crap!  This issue was intense.  David barely even pauses to set up the story, throwing us straight into the action.  Even given the high bar David consistently sets, I'm still impressed by how well he did in this arc keeping all the moving pieces in order.  I didn't have to constantly refer to previous issues to remember what was happening, even though he was juggling several different groups acting independently of one another throughout the storyline.  All in all, this arc told a gripping story with some great moments.  (The image of Rahne's child, with his glowing eyes, standing over Agamemnon's body was awesome, both creepy and hilarious at the same time.)  In the end, Peter doesn't dismiss the child as a mere psychopath, though.  We see the shock on its face when Rahne rejects it, and we also see it crawling to Werewolf by Night in obvious need of attention.  It's clearly not the last we hear of him, or, in all likelihood, Agamemnon, who's clearly someone we know...we just don't know we know him.  All in all, a stellar arc and a nice recovery from the disappointing preceding JJJ, Jr. arc.

X-Men #16:  Woot!  This issue rocked.  I'm hard pressed to decide what I liked more.  First, Gischler is a dialogue genius.  The Thing/Wolverine banter is truly excellent.  (Thing:  "I guess that was more like a home run special.  For the dinosaur."  Wolverine:  "Never throw me again.")  I mean, you even have Cyclops/Magneto banter, which, honest to God, I thought was impossible to make sound authentic and not forced.  (Cyclops:  "You knew Lee, too.  No comment?"  Magneto:  "That's ancient history.  I'm a different person now.  Mostly.")  Last but certainly not least, in terms of examples of Gischler's knack for dialogue, you get a truly fantastic upset Emma.  ("This is exactly why I either destroyed, mind-wiped or killed all my exes.  They're nothing but trouble.")  In Gischler's hands, she's really becoming my favorite character, which is saying a lot, since she had always been my least favorite.

Second, Gischler manages to keep the plot coherent despite -- in fact, amazingly, because of -- the numerous characters involved.  By the end of the issue, he's juggling ten characters.  But, it gives him some moments to shine.  The Pixie/Thing/Wolverine team is more fun than I thought it could be.  You can feel Pixie's excitement at playing in the big leagues.  Dr. Doom is awesome as always, and I can't wait to see the trouble that the rest of the team -- Cyclops, Emma, Invisible Woman, and Magneto -- can find.  The idea that the distress signal that Lee Forrester sent was sent over three years ago just makes it all the more intriguing.

Finally, the art is spectacular.  Molina does an amazing job making the alternate dimension pop.  The two-page spread actually startled me it was so beautifully done, fully conveying the impact of the strange land, unlike most splash pages, which, to me, often feel gratuitous.  Plus, you've got Scott Summers looking hotter than he has, ever.  (See page 4 if you don't believe me.  Wow.)

As I said, this issue rocked, as I think (hope), this storyline will.  Gischler BRINGS it here.  I first thought the Dr. Doom/Magneto, FF/X-Men team-up gimmick was going to suck, but he really sells it.  After the disappointing finish to the Evolutionaries saga, it's nice to see Gischler re-charge here.  Hopefully, he'll be able to keep his attention on the story and not lose focus like he did with the Evolutionaries saga.  But, it's a hell of a start.  This issue is a contender for issue of the year, in my book.

X-Men:  Schism #3:  Huh.  This issue was a little odd, to be honest.  First, I'm not sure if I'm buying the kiddie Hellfire Club.  It's one thing for there to be one genius super-kid, but four seems a bit of a stretch.  However, more importantly, I don't know if I buy the Cyclops/Wolverine fight over Idie.  It almost seems like they're on the wrong side of the argument.  Both Aaron and Gillen have pushed this idea -- Aaron here and Gillen in "Generation Hope" #9 -- that Wolverine views what he does as something that children should not do.  I certainly agree, but I'm not entirely sure I buy it from Wolverine.  Plus, Cyclops is right:  Wolverine didn't get there in time, so should Idie just have let everyone -- including herself, more than likely -- die in the explosion?  Given that, in "Messiah Complex," we saw that Wolverine was willing to stake out even more of a lethal position than Cyclops (leading him to keep clandestinely running X-Force), this "Wolverine isn't down with killing" position seems odd.  I mean, if we're seeing a split between Cyclops and Wolverine, what position is he going to take?  How does his philosophy differ from Cyclops'?  Before this event, I assumed it was because Logan advocated taking a harder line than Scott -- since, you know, he pretty much has for the last 40 years -- but Aaron seems to be going the other way, which strikes me as a significant departure for both characters.  Why the change of heart?  This question isn't inconsequential, since it's the core reason why this whole event is relevant.  I don't know if Aaron's really laying the groundwork he needs to lay to sell it.

X-Men Legacy #254:  Similar to Rogue and her team, we don't have a lot of insight into the back story that frames this issue.  Rogue apparently knows the Shi'ar who "kidnap" her, but I'm not sure from where.  Havok and Polaris appear at the end, but appear to be on the wrong side of the fight, if you assume that the Shi'ar are on the right side.  I'm still making my way through the various "cosmic" event series ("War of Kings," etc.) that happened over the last few years, and I may have to track down "Emperor Vulcan" just so I can have a sense of how Havok and company found themselves in their current circumstances.  Without that background, though, I have to say that I found this issue to be confusing.  It's not Carey's fault, given that he's dealing with five years or so of storylines.  But, I have to say that Kieron Gillen did a better job giving us a sense of the issues surrounded the Breakworld saga when he introduced it into "Uncanny X-Men" than Carey does here with the Starjammers.  Hopefully, as Carey makes the story his own, it will improve.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #580: "Fill in the Blank"

*** (three of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "'Grandma'?!  I am no relation to you!" -- Aunt May to the Blank 

Summary
Aunt May is at a bank while it's being robbed.  (Shocker.)  Spidey gets there post-haste and fights the robber, a villain called the Blank.  Peter runs into Ray Donovan, a former NYPD officer now working for the FBI and following the Blank's case.  It's revealed the Blank is robbing banks to raise enough money to have his belt, to which he's now physically bonded, removed.  Peter tracks down the Blank (by slipping a Tracer on Donovan, who he knows is following him) and defeats him. 

The Review
Since the end of "New Ways to Die!" we've had a series of stand-alone issues and arcs, the Spidey Brain Trust's way obviously of getting the most mileage on the mysteries still haunting us post-"One More Day."  At this point, the three most pressing are what the hell Harry's been doing (you know, instead of being dead), who Menace is, and who the "Tracer Killer" is.  (I'll leave the whole "What happened with MJ and Peter?" issue alone for the time being.)  I'm more or less ambivalent about the identity of Menace and the "revelations" in "New Ways to Die!" annoyed me so thoroughly for their inconsistencies that I'm not looking forward to seeing Harry's story further muddled before it's eventually resolved.  I'm intrigued by the "Tracer Killer," however, so thankfully it's not a total wash.  But, all of those storylines are irrelevant, because we don't touch them here.  Like the Flash Thompson and Punisher issues, we've got a stand-alone story here and everything else is still sitting on the back burner. 

The Good
1) The story is tight.  Motives are explained, everyone stays in character, Spidey saves the day while cracking-wise.  All good stuff.

2) I was initially annoyed when Peter roughed up Donovan outside the press conference.  It seemed so...un-Peter.  But the revelation that Peter did it to put a Tracer on Donovan so that he could track Donovan tracking the Blank made total sense.  Nice save, Stern.

3) Bringing back an old minor villain like the Blank, whose most notable appearance is from the red-headed step-child of the Avengers line, "West Coast Avengers," can be risky.  (Interestingly, completing my run of the re-titled-"Avengers West Coast" was part of my back-issue buying spree, so we could be seeing the Blank return to this blog...after I get through the remaining 70 or so issues of "Amazing Spider-Man.")  Since the character was last seen 20 years ago, readers aren't familiar with him and they haven't watched him upgrade/update like other villains who appear more frequently.  (Doc Ock and company are all 40 or so years old, but we see them frequently enough to get around this problem.)  If not done well, it can seem kind of hokey, having some guy whose powers were cool in the 80s suddenly appear and compete with a "villain" like Screwball, what with her hip parkouring and snarky repartee.  I'm thinking someone like the Ringer might seem a little ridiculous today.  But, Stern really did it well here.  He gives the Blank a believable motive for robbing banks that makes him more -- if not sympathetic, then -- identifiable.  I'm not sure who in the Spidey Brain Trust thought, "Hey, what about the Blank?"  But, I'm glad he did. 

The Bad
1)  This issue had a lot of exposition that seemed weird to me.  Peter explains how Aunt May raised him, how his parents left the country, how Uncle Ben died.  It was a little distracting, because it didn't really fit in the narrative flow.

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Annihilation: Conquest #1-#6

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
Forced to use low-tech weapons that cannot be overtaken by the Phalanx, Blastaar is leading a force of free Kree against the Phalanx when they're overwhelmed.  On Terma, a Kree outworld, Quasar explains to a newly reborn Adam Warlock that the Phalanx have overwhelmed the Kree Empire and a "voice" told her that only he can stop it.  (Adam had entered a regenerative cocoon after being driven insane by the deaths of billions during the Annihilation Wave.)  Before they can finish the conversation, Adam, Quasar, and Moondragon (who's now an actual dragon) are attacked by Kree Selects and flee to Terma's sun, which is revealed to contain the base of the High Evolutionary.  Quasar informs him that the Supreme Intelligence is the one that directed her to Adam, and the High Evolutionary informs her that, at the behest of the Supreme Intelligence, he has created a new advanced Kree race called (you guessed it) "Nu-Kree."  Meanwhile, Ronan and the Super-Skrull enter the Ceded Territories to ask for Ravenous' assistance fighting off the Phalanx and Blastaar is tortured to death by the Phalanx as they try to get information about the Resistance.

On Hala, a resurrected Peter Quill is leading a Resistance cell containing Mantis and Rocket Raccoon, who reveals that Blastaar is merely in hibernation but spreading Mantis' micro-spores through the Babel Spire so they can get more information about it.  In Terma's sun, Quasar begins to suspect the High Evolutionary is actually the one the Supreme Intelligence sent her to find, but they are attacked by Ultron, who had been revealed to be the leader of the Phalanx.  Moondragon is killed in the battle, and Quasar, in a rage, attacks Ultron and his forces while Adam suffers a seizure (which he has been experiencing as a result of being awoken from his regenerative state too early).  The High Evolutionary detonates the star in an attempt to kill Ultron, who simply uses the Phalanx network to download his consciousness into a new body.

On Kree-La, Ronan has the Wraith incapacitate Ravenous and his soldiers with his fear power, revealing he was there not to seek an alliance with Ravenous but to enter the room under his throne, where Ronan had stashed 15,000 Sentries for the day he took back the Ceded Territories from Ravenous.  On Hala, Quill and company set explosive devices throughout the Babel Spire.  The Phalanx realize that Blastaar is alive and turn him into a Select; they attack, killing one of Quill's team.  Quill resists, but Ultron arrives and captures him, later probing his mind to find out the Resistance's plans.  Mantis manages to block Ultron's probes but he eventually detects her and sends his Select to capture her and Bug.  Adam is revealed to have encased the High Evolutionary and Quasar in a force bubble with him, saving them from the explosion of the star, and they head to Hala, where the High Evolutionary reveals the Supreme Intelligence had constructed the "Nu-Kree" manufacturing plant.

On Hala, the High Evolutionary strikes a deal with the Phalanx and renders Adam unconscious.  He then begins downloading Ultron's consciousness into Adam, revealing how Ultron first connected to the Phalanx and how he learned about the High Evolutionary's work with the "Nu-Kree."  Once the transfer is completed, Ultron directs the High Evolutionary to do the same for the entire Phalanx (transferring its consciousness into the genetically perfect "Nu-Kree").  Meanwhile, Rocket Raccoon leads Bug and Mantis to free Peter Quill, while Groot grows himself throughout the Babel Spire, allowing Mantis to ignite him with her pyrotechnic powers and destroy the Spire.  At the same time, Ronan sends the Sentries to destroy Hala and free the Kree from Phalanx domination.  Meanwhile, Nova arrives with Drax, Gamora, and Warlock (the technorganic New Mutant) and takes advantage of the destruction of the Spire to exploit the sudden weakness of the barrier and enter the Kree Empire.  Ultron -- now in Adam's body -- engages Quill and his team, while Quasar learns Adam stored his soul in her Quantum Bands.  Warlock engages Ultron, forcing him to flee Adam's body to avoid being corrupted by Warlock's mutant transmode virus strain.  Quasar returns Adam's soul while Ultron corrupts Praxagora, who's traveling to Hala with Ronan and the Sentry fleet.  Ultron-Praxagora knocks out the Wraith, re-takes control over the Sentries, and then detonates Praxagora in a (failed) attempt to kill Ronan and his crew.  Ultron creates a new (enormous) body from the Sentry fleet and attacks the heroes.  Adam funnels the souls of the Kree departing the leaking Spire into Quasar's bands, and she channels them through her sword.  The revived Wraith traps Ultron's essence in his new body, which Quasar then destroys with the soul-fueled sword.

The Review
I was torn in assigning a three or a four to this series.  I decided on a three because, although I enjoyed it, I have to admit it was a bit of a chore, at times, to read.  It involved a lot of complicated plots (as the super-long summary attests), some of which I thought were really innovative and interesting and others of which I found either confusing or unbelievable.  (I know we're taking about a series with a talking raccoon and ambulatory tree, but you know what I mean.)  Ultimately, it came down to a comparison to "Annihilation," which I found just to be a more enjoyable and solid story.  That said, a three isn't bad.  DnA really reboot the cosmic Marvel characters and I am sorely tempted to buy all the "Guardians of the Galaxy" back issues.

The Really Good
At the end of the day, the decision to fuse Ultron with the Phalanx was nothing short of genius.  You can tell DnA are comic fans, because you need to have a deep knowledge of the Marvel Universe to have the idea to take those two discrete entities and put them together.  Moreover, the reveal that Ultron is behind the Phalanx was made slowly.  It's not until issue #5 -- after the "Prologue" issue, the various mini-series, and four issues of "Annihilation: Conquest" -- that we learn Ultron's motivation.  Suddenly, instead of the story being about the Phalanx taking control of the Kree Empire (as it had been for most of the storyline), we learn that the entire affair is driven by Ultron's desire to fuse machine intelligence with genetically perfect organic lifeforms.  I felt like DnA really hit a home run in terms of moving Ultron past his usual schtick with this idea.  It's a really interesting twist, and one that feels -- pardon the pun -- organic, since DnA took the time to slowly reveal it.  The story could've been just about Ultron taking over the Phalanx and it would've been interesting.  By adding the High Evolutionary and Adam angles (yet another example of their familiarity with the Marvel catalog), DnA give us a really nuanced story that shakes up the status quo of several characters in the Marvel Universe.

The Good
1) The first few issues had to cover a lot of ground, summing up the action that happened over the course of the introductory mini-series.  Unlike "Annihilation," I only read the prelude cross-over issues in "Nova," so I'm still not really sure what happened to some of the characters between "Prologue" and this series.  For example, how (and why) did Moondragon become a dragon?  How did Ronan and the Super-Skrull avoid being Phalanx-ized?  Who is the Wraith?  How did the Kree "spymasters" resurrect Peter Quill?  Despite these remaining question, DnA actually do a good job of giving us the overview (particularly of the Quasar-related events) while keeping the action moving.

2) Ultron!  Holy crap, I didn't see that coming.

3) I'm hesitant to call this "good," but Raney doesn't skimp from showing the brutality of the Phalanx:  the Holocaust-esque "processing" centers that turn Kree into fuel for the Phalanx, the torture room after Blastaar "died," Ultron ripping out Moondragon's heart, Blastaar blowing away Gabe, etc.  We're talking about a pretty grim comic, folks.  Raney's art was great throughout the series, but he really excelled showing us how awful Ultron's domination truly was.

4) "Take me to your leader."  Nice, Ronan.  Also, the two-page spread preceding this comment -- of Ravenous' forces fighting the Phalanx horde -- in issue #2 was spectacular.  Very nice, Raney.

The Bad
1) Um, didn't Ultron rip out Moondragon's heart?  How exactly is she still alive in issue #3?  I mean, yes, she does actually die, but I'm pretty sure even a dragon would've died instantly having its heart ripped from its chest.

2) The Sentries under the throne room in Kree-La, the "Nu-Kree" manufacturing plant on Hala, the "coating" of the Sentries by Praxagora and the Wraith, Ultron's presence on Khan-Lar in time to infect Korath:  these examples are just a few of the moments where DnA went a little too close to the deus ex machina sun and left the story feeling a little scorched for it.  In the first two cases, DnA give us explanations that make sense:  Ronan hid the Sentries under the throne room for the day that he decided to retake the Ceded Territories from Ravenous and the High Evolutionary's lab wasn't where the Supreme Intelligence necessarily was going to actually manufacture the Nu-Kree. However, other parts didn't really get that sort of logical (if still somewhat convenient) explanation.  Praxagora and the Wraith "coating" the Sentries with their combined powers to make them immune to the Phalanx didn't ring true to me, nor did Ultron seemingly just happening upon Korath, who just happened to receive the distress signal from Khan-Lar on his way to find the High Evolutionary.  I'm willing to look past Nova's last-minute arrival since it's still comics, after all, and you need some sort of dramatic entrance at some point.  But, the examples in this paragraph were ultimately the reason why I didn't rank this series higher, because I just felt like it all got to be a somewhat unbelievable string of coincidences.

3) Did we ever get the background story on how Nova finds Warlock and de-infects Drax and Gamora?  (I'm not even sure he did the latter, since Gamora still calls him "Richard-Human.")  I didn't read the Quasar, Star-Lord, or Wraith prelude mini-series, but I'm pretty sure they didn't cover that ground.