Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Avengers #19:  OK, because I'm still awash with the warm fuzzy feeling from "Spider-Island," I'll start with the good.

First, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman flirting makes me a happy camper.  Seriously, I love Mockingbird, but I can't say I ever felt their relationship the way I feel Hawkeye and Spider-Woman.  Something about it brings out the smart ass in Clint and an actual personality in Jessica, and I'm all for it.  Second, I think the idea of recruiting old friends was a good one.  The Avengers have been shaken to the core, have lost two founding members (the Wasp and Thor), and need a way to re-connect with who they were.  Along those lines, Cap's scenes with T'Challa are the best in the issue, and maybe the best Bendis has written in a while.  Reading them, I was excited by the prospect of him joining the team, along with some other old friends.  Maybe Captain Marvel?  Or Ant-Man?  I was excited to see.  Third, the art is great.  I really dig Acuna's painted style, because it conveys a lot of emotion that you don't get with just pencils.  Finally, thank freaking God that Spidey and Wolverine are no longer on both teams.  Maybe I can almost tell apart this title and "New Avengers" now.  OK, the good, there.

Now, unfortunately, the bad.  First, Quake?  Fucking Quake?  Second, I don't see why we continually need ten people on the roster.  On some level, the traditionalist in me wants five or six, no more.  But, more importantly, I just feel like this series is going to continue to be dominated by three or four characters, with occasional moments for the members of the back bench.  I mean, do we really believe that the Protector and Quake are going to contribute as much as Hawkeye and Red Hulk, let alone Cap and Tony?  Hawkeye himself barely managed to get in a few lines before "Fear Itself," and he only started recently getting them because of his relationship with Jessica.  Third, we don't really get any new friends.  Cap approaches the Black Panther, and he suggests Storm.  Done.  We do get Vision, but I'm so enraged by the fact he's just magically inserted into the comic that I can't really go there right now.  (I mean, he's clearly here just for the war with Ultron, right?)  In the end, we replace Spider-Man, Thor, and Wolverine with Quake, Storm, and Vision.  Um, OK.

If Bendis would've left out Quake, Storm, and Vision, you'd have the following team:  Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Protector, Red Hulk, and Spider-Woman.  I mean, there you go.  You've got a six-person team, and the Protector could actually be the newbie who manages to get some character development.  You get Spider-Woman, who can more than stand on her own on a team with five dudes, so the whole series doesn't devolve into a sausage feast.  Perfect.  I just don't understand why Bendis insists on these huge casts.  I mean, Storm?  QUAKE?

All that said, I'm still intrigued by the way Bendis is setting up the war with H.A.M.M.E.R.  Quake's conversation with Cap does a great job of building the tension, and I'm excited to see where it all goes.  The only problem is that I was also excited to see some character development along the way.  With nine characters on the full roster (plus Maria Hill), I'm guessing we're still going to get a non-stop slug-fest with everyone throwing out occasional one-liners.  [Sigh.]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #672: "Spider-Island" Part 6

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "YOWZA!  Now that's what I call a Spider-Woman!"  "Standing right here."  "Oops." -- Thing, (the real) Spider-Woman, and Thing, observing MJ's entrance

Favorite Quote #2:  "Ewww.  Stretchy neck.  That really freaks me out."  "No, it doesn't.  You've seen it a billion times."  "So?  You and Spider-Man?"  "Clone.  Just go with it." -- Kaine, Peter, Reed, and Peter, commenting on Peter's appearance at the side of Spider-Man

Favorite Quote #3:  "Wait.  You can't call 'dibs.'"  "Why not?  Why should you always get the best of everything?"  "Can't believe there were times I asked Aunt May for a little brother."  -- Spidey, Kaine, and Spidey, commenting on Kaine calling "dibs" on the stealth suit

Favorite Quote #4:  "C'mon, partner!  Parker Brothers away!"  "That is not our catchphrase.  We'd get sued."  -- Pete and Kaine, again with the banter

Favorite Quote #5:  "Hey, idiot.  Spider-Man never made you special.  Being Peter Parker makes you special!  So nerd up!  Be clever.  Build something!  Get us out of this!"  -- MJ, telling Pete to get his ass in gear and save the day

Favorite Quote #6:  "You said we needed a distribution system?  I have an app for that."  -- Spidey telling Reed he's using the octobots to distribute the cure

Favorite Quote #7:  "Ah!  Not liking this!  Every time this many heroes show up...someone always dies!  Usually a third-guy-from-the-right like me!"  "Focus, Gravity!  No one is dying today!"  "Well, not me!  I've got a brand new baby girl to come home to!"  "Why'd you have to say that, Luke?  Now you've jinxed it!"  -- Gravity, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, discussing why "Fear Itself" sucked

The issue begins with a different perspective on the ending of "Venom" #8, with a conversation between the Secretary of Defense and Steve Rogers' pilot narrating Steve and Venom's battle against the Queen, Venom "killing" the Queen, and the Queen being resurrected as an 28-storey-tall mutated tarantula calling herself "Spider-Queen."  At Horizon Labs, Reed and the Horizon Labs employees are attempting to enter Lab Six after Spidey's battle with the Tarantula.  Spidey has Kaine switch clothes with him (hoping a "half out of it" Eddie Brock doesn't see him unmask) so he doesn't have to explain to the Horizon Labs employees why Spider-Man is standing next to a "scruffier, longer-haired clone version of Peter Parker."  Before Reed et al. can enter, the perimeter alarm sounds.  They rush to investigate, finding MJ, who has led the people who had taken refuge at Our Lady of Saints Church to the safety of Horizon Labs.  Everyone observes that she's the only person left at Stage Two, and Reed hypothesizes it's "from all the years of being so...close...with Mr. Parker."  (Heh.)  They all then return to Lab Six, where they encounter Spider Man and an em-boxer-ed Pete, who sends everyone away so he and Spidey can build an "anti-Queen" suit.  In reality, Pete gives Kaine his stealth suit to block the Spider-Queen's sonic scream and the two head to confront her.  Along the way, they run into Madame Web, who informs Pete that the Spider-Queen is a god now, feeding off the Web of Life.  She reminds Pete that she has foreseen him killing the Spider-Queen, though he insists, as he and Kaine continue on their journey, he'll find another way.  The assembled Marvel Universe heroes protecting the various Spider-Sense Jammers observe the Queen's transformation and subsequent rampage and head to engage her.  Spidey and Kaine get there first, but Pete gets thrown at a wall by the Spider-Queen.  He's saved by MJ, who's with the assembled heroes as they arrive on the scene.  MJ encourages Pete to "nerd up," telling him that the heroes can handle the Spider-Queen but only he can save the day.  Pete has a brain wave and brings MJ to the superhuman evidence locker, where he retrieves Doc Ock's octobots.  The assembled heroes take on the Spider-Queen while MJ and Spidey head to the Empire State Building with the octobots.  Pete puts on Doc Ock's control helmet and dispatches the octobots first to Horizon Labs, where they fill up tubes of the cure, and then throughout the city to begin injecting the mutated tarantulas.  The assembled heroes continue battling the Spider-Queen, and Spidey tells Cap, who's surprised by the arrival of the octobots, that he and the assembled heroes have got to hold the line while Spidey inoculates all the mutated tarantulas.  The Spider-Queen begins losing powers as Pete takes more and more mutated tarantulas off the Web of Life, with MJ protecting him as he does so (and quietly telling him she loves him, which he doesn't hear).  Ms. Marvel and Kaine observe that the Spider-Queen is weaker and, using a move she developed with Spidey, Ms. Marvel hurls Kaine at the Spider-Queen.  He uses his stinger thingees to fly right through her, killing her.  Pete and MJ enjoy a moment on top of the Empire State Building, with Pete observing that everyone got to walk a mile in his shoes and MJ correcting him, telling him that they only got the wall-crawling parts, with everything that matters still being unique to him.  (Awww...)

The Review
So...much...awesomeness.  It was hard not to compare this event to "Fear Itself," given that it did everything "Fear Itself" didn't do.  First, Slott did a masterful job pulling together the plot points of all the previous issues (including the tie-in issues), delivering a conclusion that felt like the logical culmination of the various storylines that ran through his event...whereas "Fear Itself" just sort of ended, ignoring almost all the events happening in the numerous tie-in issues.  Second, Slott used the event to tell a story about the main hero, revealing why he's unique and why's he's the heart and soul of Marvel Comics...whereas Fraction killed his two main heroes.  At the same time, Slott used the various secondary and tertiary characters to great effect, with even Gravity getting in a funny one-liner...whereas everyone in "Fear Itself" just seemed to stand together in a group and watch the events unfold.  Third, Slott sets up several future stories here, everything from where Peter's relationships with Carlie and MJ are going to go to how Kaine is going to find a new place in the world...whereas "Fear Itself" pretty much returned everything to the way it was, but took three epilogue issues to do it.  Finally, as the SEVEN "Favorite Quotes" show, these issues were FUN and exciting...whereas "Fear Itself" was maudlin and dull.  I hated "Fear Itself" and I hate it all the more reading this event and seeing how well it was done.

The Good
1) Wow, the Queen did kill the Jackal, and the heroes killed the Queen.  As Gravity said, I was half expecting someone to die in this issue, because Marvel just can't seem to have an event without killing a hero.  But, Slott only kills the two people who pretty much had to die.  I mean, I don't believe for a minute that the Jackal won't appear again one day, given the number of clones of him that exist.  But, his "death" and the Queen's death both made sense in the context of the story and didn't feel like cheap stunts meant to make the event "mean" something.  (I'm looking at you, Fraction.) 

2) I thought using the conversation between the Secretary of Defense and Steve Rogers' pilot to recap the events of "Venom" #8 was really clever.

3) Um, seriously, Ramos can draw naked Peter Parkers forever in my book. Sexiness!  I'm so glad they put him on this event.  So much of the energy and fun of this event came from him.  I mean, the conversation recapped in "Favorite Quote" #2 was so great in part because of the faces Ramos drew, hilariously conveying Peter's annoyance at Kaine and Kaine's disgust at Reed's "stretchy neck."  Ramos also drew amazing battle scenes, like the one where Gravity, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage have their conversation in "Favorite Quote" #7.  Ramos delivered the whole package, and this event wouldn't have been as amazing without him.

4) Speaking of Peter Parkers plural, I thought everything with Kaine was great in this issue (as you can tell from his prominent role in the extensive "Favorite Quotes" section above).  I don't know how, but I really didn't see coming that Kaine, and not Peter, would fulfill Madame Web's prophecy that "Spider-Man" would kill the Queen.  It seems so obvious now, but the fact that I didn't anticipate it shows just how good Slott is at playing his cards close to his chest, making the reveal all the more exciting.  But even the smaller moments, like the two of them switching costumes at Horizon Labs, were great.  Slott does an amazing job of selling Kaine as a character in his own right, making him similar to Peter in the good ways (sense of humor, sexiness) but also different in intriguing ways (sense of doom, lethalness).  As I've said before, Kaine has always been a hodge-podge character subject to the whims of every new author.  Slott himslf take some liberties here, gives him a relationship more akin to the one Peter had with Ben.  (I certainly don't remember them being this chummy, given that, you know, Kaine was usually trying to kill him.  But, I'm sure as hell not re-reading the "Clone Saga" to fact-check the characterization.)  In the end, though, I'll allow it, because it's giving us a cool new character, an alternate vision of Peter Parker, that should be fun to explore.

5) Slott once again works in previous plot developments, like the octobots from "Amazing Spider-Man" #600 and the stealth suit and Peter working in the nude from "Amazing Spider-Man" #650.  He is just so good at this.  I thought the use of the octobots was particularly inspired.  I was wondering how Slott was going to have Peter cure the infected persons AND defeat the Spider-Queen.  I love that Slott answered both question by tying them together.  Brilliant.  It made perfect sense, since Slott had made sure we understood that the Queen's power came from the Web of Life by mentioning it in several issues.  As such, it didn't come from left field, feeling like a deus ex machina, but instead a logical conclusion to the story.

6) I actually loved MJ's Peter Parker immunity.  Was it a little childishly funny (like Ben thought)?  Yes.  Was it still funny?  Yes.  I can't believe Slott got it past the editors.

7) Speaking of MJ, I love everything about her here.  I loved her saving Peter, I loved her telling him to "nerd up" (and having that inspire him to have the idea that saved the day), I loved her telling Peter she loved him.  Slott hasn't used MJ so well in the past, often portraying her as a nag for most of his tenure.  But, in this arc, he really gives us one of the better characterization of her since "Brand New Day" started and I applaud him for it.  She serves the role she used to serve, propelling Peter into action when his doubts get the better of him.  (She was also the one to send him into the Bryant Park fray in "Amazing Spider-Man" #668.)  I could be all for a Peter-MJ-Carlie love triangle (assuming it's well done).  After all, as it says up top, we're Team MJ here, no matter how much I've started liking Carlie.  You need nothing more than this arc to remind you why.

8) I like how Slott brings in the Queen storyline, probably the last one not to be revisited since "Brand New Day" began.  He also took some of the work that had been done by other authors -- namely, Guggenheim's Raptor story and Kelly's "Grim Hunt" arc -- in revisiting the "Clone Saga" and brought it to a new place, giving us a resurrected and revived Kaine.  We've largely moved past the fallout of the deal with Mephisto that gave us "Brand New Day," but it's always nice to get confirmation that the past is what we thought it was.

9) I thought, given Parker luck, when Peter announced that he was going to save everyone, that MJ was going to die or something.  Instead, Slott actually lets him do it.  It's one of the things that I've liked the most about Slott's run:  he's no longer letting the Parker luck be an excuse for having Peter always face tragic consequences to his heroic actions.  Sometimes, he actually lets Peter get the win.  Awesome.

10) Similarly, I liked that Kaine won the day.  I mean, he even got to swing in front of the flag and that totally makes him a hero!  I also liked that he gave the credit to Peter.  As I've said throughout this arc, I was hoping that the events of "Spider-Island" would mean that people would appreciate Peter more and we definitely see that here.  I mean, you essentially get every Marvel superhero in play JUST to buy Peter time to save the day.  Along those lines, I loved MJ telling Peter that people only got to walk a mile in his wall-crawling shoes, that everything that makes him unique was still his.  Awesome.  It's exactly what I wanted someone to say, though I couldn't quite put my finger on how I wanted it said.  It essentially sums up the whole event, showing that anyone can get Spider-Powers, but only our man Pete can be Spidey.  Slott has focused on his awesomeness before (in "Amazing Spider-Man" #600, in fact, when he uses his brains to defeat Doc Ock).  I'm glad he does it again here.

The Bad
1) We never found out how the Jackal maintained his knowledge of Peter's identity even after the Iron Man/Mr. Fantastic/Dr. Strange mumbo-jumbo.  I feel like this lack of explanation is the biggest oversight of this arc, though I'm wondering if Slott is going to wrap up this loose end in the epilogue.

2) If the Jackal knowing Pete's secret identity is the biggest oversight, the fact that I'm still not sure how the Spider-Sense Jammers created a psychic barrier quarantining New York (that somehow also didn't affect the Queen) is the second biggest.  This one is even more essential to the plot.  I feel like I might get it if I re-read the event, but I feel like Slott probably should've made it a little clearer if, after 20-something issues, I still don't get it.

Amazing Spider-Man #622: "The Gauntlet: It Is the Life"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "If I have to penetrate Morbius's clinic for the poor...of's going to be at the height of morning rush hour!"  -- Spidey

Spidey discovers that the Black Cat has sold the blood they retrieved from Mr. Negative in the previous arc to a group of vampire wannabees.  Dressing in his finest goth gear (seriously, it's pretty amazing), Peter hits the club where the wannabees gather, only to discover from a "helpful" stranger that his blood was bought by Morbius.  Spidey breaks into Morbius' clinic, only to discover (again) that the "helpful" stranger was in fact Morbius' undead ex-fiancée.  Spidey and Morbius stake her, and Morbius reveals he had bought Spidey's blood (and its obvious healing powers) in an attempt to cure his best friend of an undead plague.  Spidey then offers Morbius his blood to help him synthesize a cure.

The Review
I really, really want, at some point, to give Van Lente something higher than two stars.  But, the Morbius story here is just kind of a mess.  It seems totally pointless and I have no idea how you could even pretend the Kravinoffs were in any way involved, again calling into question the whole "The Gauntlet" aspect.  The good news is that it's only 12 pages long, as opposed to the 20-page long "secondary" feature on Flash Thompson by Greg Weisman.

The Good
1) Peter in goth gear was just...I mean...amazing.

2) Peter's ringtone is "If ya liked it, then ya should put a ring on it."  Nice, nice touch Weisman!

The Bad
1) OK, I don't buy, at all, that the Black Cat would sell Spidey's blood.  I mean, granted, the fact that she did so gives us the vision that is Peter Parker in goth wear, so I'll forgive Van Lente.  But, even Felicia isn't so amoral that she'd ignore the repercussions of selling Spider-Man's blood on the open market.  Mr. Negative is a pretty plugged-in kind of guy, so what was keeping him from simply buying up the blood, like Morbius did?  Why would she go through the trouble of stealing the blood from Mr. Negative only to wind up putting it on the market where he could buy it?

2) I also am now, as I mentioned in the last entry, required to complain, officially, about "The Gauntlet."  So far, it's a been a big to-do about nothing.  I mean, we don't even see the Kravinoffs at all anymore.  I'm sure we'll get some big reveal at the end of "The Gaunlet" that shows that they've been manipulating all the events.  But, it's going to feel hollow and forced since we're not really even seeing the slightest hint of them doing it.  The whole affair is the opposite of the great Tracer-Killer storyline from a few issues ago; in that storyline, we slowly got clues and gradually built to a reveal that made sense.  The looseness of this storyline has left me feeling kind of vaguely disappointed in the title, because we're missing the attention to detail that we saw for the first 50 or so issues of the new status quo.  They've got to wrap up this affair quickly so we can move onto something more like the Tracer-Killer or the "New Ways to Die!"/"Character Assassination"/"American Son" sequence.

3) So, as predicted, we seem to have just elided over Peter calling Flash "puny" during the Chameleon arc, because I'm pretty sure Flash wouldn't have been so happy to see his friend Peter had we actually addressed that.  I mean, I'm glad we have, but it still annoys me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Comics!: The "Spider-Island" Edition #5 (October) (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Spider-Island:  Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #3:  OK, so, first, I have to note how clever it was for Johnston to give Shang-Chi six arms just in time for him to fight a Demon-God.  It was a little unbelievable with them, but it would've been a LOT unbelievable without them.  Johnston wraps up the story pretty nicely here.  Again, it's still a little unbelievable that Shang-Chi managed to defeat a Demon-God by collapsing a building on him, but, you know, you've got to suspend some disbelief when you're reading about guys with six arms fighting Demon-Gods.  Like "Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger," this mini-series didn't have a ton to do with the main plot of "Spider-Island," but Johnston does a good job of selling the connection it does have (which, to be honest, was more than Spencer did in "Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger").  I'm still not entirely sure why the story went where it did (Immortal Weapons, Demon-God, etc.) when I think we could've also had fun with Shang-Chi fighting off mutated tarantulas.  But, it was a fun read, and, if you like Shang-Chi, it's definitely worth giving it a go.

Venom #8:  The "Spider-Island" issues of "Venom" have truly been excellent.  I was feeling kind of "meh" about the series before this event, but Remender has used it to great effect here, really getting to the emotional core of Flash Thompson.  In this issue, an apologetic letter from his father, written on his death bed, frames the action as Flash is sent to assassinate the Queen.  Everything about his fight with her was great.  I'm surprised Remender managed to get some of the sexually charged (but pitch-perfect) dialogue past the editors, but I'm glad he did.  I hadn't really gotten a handle on the Queen before this issue, since I've never read an issue with her in it before.  But, Remender uses her taunting to narrate the story of her life in an organic way, so that it doesn't feel like obvious exposition.  The arrival of Captain America at the end was awesome.  I totally didn't see it coming, but I'm really excited to see the two of them working together.  I feel like Cap could be a great influence on Flash, and I hope we see him again soon.  Once again, this title is home to a major "Spider-Island" development, the transformation of the Queen, and I can't wait to see how it plays in the finale.  I'm also excited to see where Remender takes Flash from here.  Great stuff, all around.

Amazing Spider-Man #671: "Spider-Island" Part 5

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Don't worry, people.  It's gonna be okay.  I'm Mary Jane Watson...and I'm all the super hero you need!"

MJ fights off some mutated tarantulas and answers a cry for help at Our Lady of Saints Church, noting to herself that she really gets it, "The great power -- great responsibility.  The whole bag."  At the emergency command center, Spidey keeps JJJ, Jr. from killing the Spider-Slayer, webbing him in a cocoon and telling Glory to lock down the command center behind him, because he's leaving for Horizon Labs.  Using her connection to JJJ, Jr., the Queen "overhears" Peter and realizes that Horizon has developed a cure.  She takes control of Sajani, one of the infected persons, turning her into a mutated tarantula just as Reed is giving her the cure.  Spider-Woman subdues her while Reed injects Sajani with the cure, returning her to normal (and proving to the Queen that Reed has, in fact, manufactured the cure).  The Jackal sends Tarantula to Horizon Labs, where Grady and Bella are talking to Eddie Brock about his sacrifice.  Number Six appears (dressed in a hazmat suit) and asks them to leave.  He checks on Brock and then disappears in to the sewers, revealing himself to be Morbius.  Spidey, en route to Horizon, runs into Firestar and Gravity, who are protecting a Spider-Sense Jammer.  Madame Web observes their interaction, deciding it was time for her to take action.  At Horizon, the Thing is holding off the mutated tarantulas, pondering that it seems like they're setting up a diversion (as Tarantula enters the Labs).  Reed speaks with the staff members at Project:  Rebirth, who confirm they've cured Spider-King and reveal he's Captain America.  (Reed notes that, to synthesize a cure, they'd need to "cultivate antibodies from a living symbiote."  General Dodge tells him that how they did so isn't important at the moment.)  Madame Web psychically projects herself into Horizon Labs, telling Reed that the Spider-Sense Jammers are jamming her access to the Web of Life.  She also notes that they caused the loss of Spider-Man's Spider-Sense, which is news to Max Modell.  Max tells everyone at Horizon Labs to drop what they're doing to help "fix Spider-Man."  Meanwhile, Peter enters his lab...only to be attacked by Tarantula, who was able to enter given that he's got the same DNA as Peter.  Peter holds off Tarantula for a while with his Spider-Fu, but Tarantula, who has reviewed tapes of Peter's new moves, defeats him, making his way to the vat holding the cure.  Tarantula is about to throw a contamination capsule into the cure, but Peter webs it from his hands.  Tarantula grabs Pete and is about to throw him into the cure (which would eliminate his Spider-Powers) just as the Horizon Labs folks find the right frequency to restore Pete's Spider-Sense.  Pete is all the more powerful, with his Spider-Sense working with his Spider-Fu.  He fends off the Tarantula, hurling him into the vat.  Kaine emerges, totally healed, and informs Pete that the Queen has been behind all the shennanigans.  Meanwhile, Madame Web regains her ability to see the future, but realizes that the Queen also now has amped-up, almost godlike powers.

The Review
Holy crap, gang, a lot happens in this issue!  All threads (heh) come together here, setting up a truly awesome finale.  Even with two bad points, I'm still giving this issue five stars, because I found it to be a page-turning read.  I had no idea where Slott was going with the story (in a good -- nay, great -- way), and the surprise ending was not only a surprise but made sense in terms of the groundwork Slott's being laying throughout this arc.  Anyway, enough rambling.  Let's get to the good stuff!

The Good

1) I loved MJ with Spider-Powers.  All the more, I loved MJ noting that she understood Peter now, not only the power, but the responsibility.  I've mentioned a few times in these reviews that I was hoping that the people who love Peter and know his secret would feel this way, so I'm glad that Slott went there and showed it to us.

2) MORBIUS!  Awesome.  Awesome, awesome, awesome.  It makes perfect sense.  When Reed referred to Number Six's extensive knowledge of Parker DNA, I thought it might've been Tony Stark, given his experience with the spell that re-secreted Peter's identity.  But, Morbius is even better, because it makes sense why his identity was a secret.  (I loved his sewer entrance.)  Often, I find that these sorts of "secrets" just wind up being obvious ploys to inject drama into a situation despite not being all that shocking (see my "Control"/Misty discussion in "Spider-Island:  Heroes for Hire").  But, it makes sense that Morbius isn't just going to be wandering around Horizon Labs, grabbing a latte with Grady.  As usual, Slott really delivers here.

3) Yay, Spider-Sense!  When I first heard about "Spider-Island," I figured it'd be the way we'd see a return of Peter's Spider-Sense.  But, the way it's done here is awesome.  I loved Max's inspirational "call to geek," if you will, asking Horizon Lab's employees to focus all their energies on helping Spidey because they owed him.  Again, I've been hoping throughout this arc that people would see Peter and his awesomeness in a whole new light, and Max's speech just seems a great expression of the respect I'm hoping people keep for Spidey after this arc ends.  I mean, he'll always be misunderstood by the public, but having people close to him "get" him all the better would be great to see.  Also, I love that the Spider-Sense blended with the Spider-Fu.  Peter is BAD ASS now!

4) I don't know a lot about the Queen, but Slott really pulls off an intricate plot twist here.  I thought he did a great job connecting a lot of events.  The creation of the Spider-Sense Jammers is what interrupts Madame Web's ability to see the future, which in turn makes her desperately appeal to Reed to restore her connection, which leads to the resurrection of Peter's Spider-Sense, which leads to the super-powering of the Queen's powers.  Awesome.  Peter himself notes that his Spider-Sense is better, working with his Spider-Fu, so Slott makes sure not to only power up the Queen.  (See below, though, for the down side of this development.)

The Unknown

Is the Jackal dead?  Also, we still don't know how he knows Pete's secret identity.

The Bad

1) Spidey's conversation with Firestar and Gravity is a bit odd.  When they appear in "Amazing Spider-Man" #666, they were really awed and inspired by Spidey.  Here, they're kind of rude.  I mean, maybe, you know, it has to do with them battling crazed mutated tarantulas trying to take out the Spider-Sense Jammers, but still it was a little weird to see the tone shift without an explanation.

2)  Speaking of the Spider-Sense Jammers, I still feel like (as I mentioned above) Slott hasn't really fully explained them, or the "psychic barrier" they created, yet.  For example, they didn't seem to affect the Queen negatively, since she maintained her connection to the Web of Life, even though Madame Web didn't.  I still think Slott needed to do a better job of explaining how exactly the Spider-Sense Jammers created the psychic barrier.  He clearly connects Pete's Spider-Sense and Madame Web's visions to the mystical Web of Life, which also gives the Queen at least her psychic powers.  So, again, why would she not be denied her psychic powers if Madame Web was?  Also, why would this psychic barrier hem in the infected persons?  Answers we still need.

On Kaine
I thought having Kaine enter Peter's lab using his DNA was great.  Slott always thinks of this stuff.  Speaking of Kaine, I'm excited to see him healed.  I've seen the adverts for "Scarlet Spider," and, I have to say, I'm kind of excited about it.  I feel like Kaine has previously always been a character with an uneven characterization.  In "Who Was Ben Reilly," he was a crazed maniac trying to get his final revenge on Ben Reilly and Peter Parker for having the life he wanted.  (Like I said in review for "Spider-Island:  Deadly Foes," though, I still don't understand why was he furious at Ben Reilly and Peter Parker for having the life he wanted but not at Miles Warren for making him that way in the first place.)  However, in "Grim Hunt," he was heroic, sacrificing himself for Peter.  He's been a character who needed either to be purged from Marvel's history or to be rewritten from a new persepective.  I'm excited it looks like we might get that in "Scarlet Spider."  The author of that book, though, is going to deal with the blood that Kaine has on his hands.  I'm hoping making amends for his past will be part of his title, similar to Bucky in the upcoming "Winter Soldier" series.  (Next year is going to ROCK!)

Amazing Spider-Man #621: "The Gauntlet: Out for Blood"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "You can do whatever a spider can, right?"  "Yeah?"  "When you can do whatever a man can, call me."  "Yeah.  She's a keeper. Someone you bring home to the folks."  -- Felicia expressing her dissatisfaction with Spidey's injury, and Spidey expressing his dissatisfaction with Felicia

Spidey enlists the Black Cat to help him retrieve the vial of his blood (collected WAY back in Mr. Negative's original "Brand New Day" arc) from Mr. Negative so that he's no longer susceptible to the Devil's Breath poison.  Aunt May firmly evicts the Reilly girls and Harry, who moves into MJ's place.  Carlie and Detective Watanabe discuss the aftermath of the explosion caused by Mysterio, with Carlie taking a sample of the Devil's Breath poison Mr. Negative had released.  While Spidey fights the Inner Demons (and gets his ass handed to him by Mr. Negative), the Cat retrieves the poison.  Carlie, meanwhile, locks her father in a storage unit with her and releases the Devil's Breath, allegedly keyed to her blood, to determine if the man saying he's her father is, indeed, her father.  He is (revealed when he attacks her for her gas mask, only to be told that it's actually knock-out gas), so she turns him into the police.  Carlie confronts Peter, telling her that he has one more chance to impress her.  Meanwhile, Curt Connors is revealed to be under pressure at the chemical firm where he's working to produce something with a "bleeding edge."

The Review
The issue wraps up a few dangling plot lines and moves them forward:  Pete retrieves his blood from  Mr. Negative (with the help of the Black Cat), Carlie resolves matters with her dad and Peter, and Harry moves into MJ's.  It's a solid issue on its own, but I also thank Slott for moving the ball down the field a bit on some tiresome sub-plots.  However, "The Gauntlet" is proving to be...boring, to be honest.  The Rhino story is, for me, the only real stand-out issue.  The rest are pretty pro forma stories about Spidey fighting some classic members of his rogues' gallery.  I can't really say that it's been anything special.

The Good
1) Harry!  MJ!  Hurrah!  I mean, I don't want them to date or anything, but I like that they're back.  The Web Heads (and the Spidey Brain Trust before them) had to keep MJ in California to let the "Brand New Day" status quo set, so to speak.  But, it seems enough time has passed that they get to bring back MJ and return to the halcyon days of Harry and MJ and, well, Gwen, but, you know, the whole gang living out of each other's pockets.  Those days have clearly been the inspiration behind "Brand New Day" so I think (hope) it'll be fun to see them resurrected here.

2) I'm glad we're getting somewhere with the Carlie/Peter business.  Her occasional tirades against Peter have been kind of tiresome, so we seem to have a chance here for them to engage with one another in a more stable way.  But, given that Peter is now more or less juggling the Black Cat, Carlie, Mary Jane, Michele, and Norah, who knows where things are going to end?

The Unknown
OK, this arc is the last one in which I assess the failure of the Kravinoffs to reveal themselves as behind "The Gauntlet" as "The Unknown" and not "The Bad."  I'm not saying they have to reveal themselves to Peter.  But, "The Gauntlet" seemed like it was going to be some coordinated attack on Spidey, when, in fact, it still seems pretty random.  At this point, I'm thinking that the marketing department made the editors randomly call this series of story arcs "The Gauntlet" in the hope to convince people it was an event.

The Bad
OK, this corrupted Aunt May storyline is already tired, and it's only three or so issues long.  I have a feeling that all May's insults are essentially going to be forgotten, much like "Peter's" actions when he had his life hijacked by the Chameleon.  But, it's still not pleasant to watch and I'd kind of like it to be over as soon as possible (much like everyone living through it).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New Comics!: The "Spider-Island" Edition #4 (September/October) (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Spider-Island:  Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #2:  OK, I'm not totally following everything happening in this title, because my only exposure to Iron Fist and Shang-Chi have been in the recent runs of "New Avengers" and "Secret Avengers."  As such, I'm not really steeped in their lore, if you will, making it difficult at times to follow all the nuances of the plot.  I'm not sure if the Bride of Nine Spiders or Ai Apaec are characters unique to this series or ones I'm supposed to recognize.  I get that the Bride is more or less an innocent bystander, but I'm not entirely sure what Ai Apaec's motives are, other than possibly to eat Iron Fist.  So far, this mini-series definitely isn't on the same level as the "Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger" mini-series, which has a similarly tangential relation to "Spider-Island" but at least a more compelling story.  If you were wondering if you were justified in skipping this one, you were.  But, it's not a terrible story, so I'll definitely be there to see how it ends.

Spider-Island:  I (Spider) New York City #1:  This issue gives us four different stories of New Yorkers who gain Spider-Powers.  They're all pretty decent, if not great, stories, reflecting on the "with great power comes great responsibility" adage.  A quiet theme of "Spider-Island" -- one that I expect we'll see more specifically mentioned in the epilogue, just like I expect people like MJ to talk to Peter about what it was like to have the powers he does for a little while -- is that Peter Parker is a remarkable guy.  As one of the criminals mentions in the first story, it's pretty amazing that Peter hasn't used his powers to rob banks or hurt people.  "Spider-Island" will hopefully be a good reminder of that, particularly for the people who love Peter and know his secret.  (Also:  I loved Spider-Cat!)

Spider-Island:  Heroes for Hire #1:  Of all the tie-in issues, so far, I think I like this one the most.  I read "Heroes for Hire" #1 when it was included free in an "Avengers" (I believe) issue a few months ago, and I can't say I was particularly intrigued.  I didn't see why it was so mysterious that Misty was Control.  I mean, she was already a superhero.  It wasn't like discovering that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.  It's basically just discovering that a superhero also had another identity as a...superhero.  In other words, it wasn't exactly as dramatic of a conceit as I felt like DnA wanted me to believe.  That said, this issue rocked.  The decision to focus on Misty was a wise one, giving us her view of the chaos of "Spider-Island."  I've always liked Paladin and I like that DnA humanize him here, something I assume they also did in the original series.  Moreover, this issue is more immersed in "Spider-Island" than some of the other tie-in issues have been, with Misty battling page after page of infected persons and mutated tarantulas.  I mean, it lost a little in translation, given that, again, I'm not sure exactly what Misty's deal is as a result of the events of "Heroes for Hire."  (Does everyone know she's Control or is that still a "mystery?")  But, DnA still give you a compelling story here, conveying Misty's loneliness as a result of the chaos that we're seeing in this later part of "Spider-Island," where no one really knows who they can trust.  Good stuff. 

Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger #3:  OK, I'm just going to say:  I'm really disappointed with the way this mini-series ended.  In the end, I have no idea what Spencer was trying to do here.  Mr. Negative engineers a switch in Cloak and Dagger's powers, seemingly at the behest of D'Spayre.  However, to my mind, a "dark" Dagger is much more likely to assassinate him than a "light" Dagger, so I'm not sure why Mr. Negative would agree to engineer such a switch, particularly when he acknowledges he can't do anything about the ultimate outcome of Tandy killing him.  (So, why make a deal with the devil if the devil can't do anything about your situation?)  Like Tandy said earlier in this mini-series, he actually seems like he's now responsible through his actions for making said outcome happen.  (It's these sentences right here that pretty much sum up my dislike of destiny-changing storylines, a dislike almost as intense of my feelings on time-travel storylines.)  Moreover, I'm not really sure why the switch had to happen.  If I figured out the events correctly, Dagger was being overwhelmed by the Darkforce dimension, so Cloak had to help by, I don't know, giving her his darkness?  It was extremely unclear to me, which sucks, since Spencer obviously intended the power switch to be the whole point of the mini-series. Plus, Spencer never really ties this story to "Spider-Island."  I was wondering if we'd see a more obvious connection in this issue, given the tenuous connection it's had in the previous issues.  Instead, it's mentioned briefly in passing, as an excuse for the damage that Cloak and Dagger's power switch caused.  At the end of the day, I'm just left feeling confused.  I'd buy a Cloak and Dagger regular series, but Spencer needs to do a better job keeping them grounded, as opposed to immersed in destiny-changing hocus-pocus like we see here.  I really liked where Spencer was going when this mini-series started, but it's hard not to feel disappointed by its vague (and not in a fun way) conclusion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #670: "Spider-Island" Part 4

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Man, this'd be the perfect time for a certain someone I know to swing in and save me.  Anytime now."  -- MJ, fleeing mutated tarantulas

At Horizon Labs, Reed conintues to work trying to find a cure, while putting the Spider-Sense Jammers into effect.  Meanwhile, the infected persons (now including Randy Robertson, Hawkeye, and Shocker) enter phase three of the Spider-Virus, turning into mutated tarantulas.  The already-mutated Carlie and Shocker follow the other tarantula drones to Central Park where the Queen holds an audience with them (and conveniently exposits her back story).  Spider-King (really Venom in disguise) arrives and joins the Queen and the Jackal.  Meanwhile, Anti-Venom is healing people in Our Lady of Saints Church (as we saw in "Venom" #7) and the X-Men and Heroes for Hire are seen guarding the Spider-Sense Jammers, which allegedly have created a psychic barrier around the city, preventing the infected persons from leaving.  (Yeah, I don't really follow that, either.  See below.)  Meanwhile, JJJ, Jr. is exasperated as Reed continues to be unable to find a cure, despite only 20 minutes remaining before the entire island is infected.  Spidey (the real one) is fighting the tarantulas and is directed by Madame Web (who lost her ability to see the future last issue) to save JJJ, Jr., who has left Horizon Labs and whose motorcade is being attacked while it's en route to his emergency command center.  JJJ, Jr. reveals his Spider-Powers to Spidey and joins him in figthing off the mutated tarantulas.  The Queen senses JJJ, Jr.'s powers, and Flash realizes she intends to use her power to get him to drop the quarantine.  He's distracted however when the Queen orders him to go kill Anti-Venom, after she received a report from one of the Jackal's clones that he held the cure.  Flash calls in the news to Project:  Rebirth, which in turn informs Reed.  (Reed, meanwhile, is exploring the possibility of using Alicia Masters' blood to synthesize a cure, as we saw in "Spider-Island:  Spider-Woman" #1.)    At the emergency command center, JJJ, Jr. reveals his ace in the hole:  he's had Alistair Smythe, the Spider-Slayer, transfered from Rykers Island to ask his advice.  Smythe taunts JJJ, Jr. after he intuits that he's infected, and JJJ, Jr., who halucinates a conversation with Marla where she sends him after Smythe, attacks.  Meanwhile, Venom takes on Anti-Venom (as detailed in "Venom" #7), MJ gains Spider-Powers (finally!), and Venom delivers Anti-Venom to Horizon Labs, where Reed reveals he'll need all his antibodies, effectively ending Brock's identity as Anti-Venom.

The Good
1) I loved Slott sending up the usual "damsel in distress" trope by having MJ wondering where the hell Peter was as she was getting chased by tarantulas...and then not needing him when she developed her own Spider-Powers.  I look forward to the epilogue of this arc, becasue I'm hoping people like MJ use their experience with the powers to understand what it's like to be Peter.  (Is Spider-May next?)

2) Again, the planning and execution of the story is great.  The tie-in issues continue to be well-connected to the event.  The only odd part seems to be that the "Venom" series is running a little ahead of the main title.  We already saw Flash confront Anti-Venom and get him to Reed in "Venom" #7.  I was wondering why everyone at Horizon Labs was spinning in the first half of this issue, given that we had already seen them informed that Anti-Venom held the cure.  But, then I eventually realized that this issue started a little behind that one and it made sense.  Otherwise, though, all the other major tie-in issues -- "Spider-Island:  Deadly Foes," "Spider-Island:  Spider-Woman" -- continue to get mentioned.  We even get a preview of the "Spider-Island:  Heroes for Hire" issue.

3) I thought JJJ, Jr. bringing in the Spider-Slayer and the Queen directing JJJ, Jr. to attack him were great twists.  I mean, if I had to kill a bunch of spiders, I'd call in the Spider-Slayer, too.  Moreover, we can tell the Queen didn't have to push JJJ, Jr. too much in getting him to attack Smythe.  I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but I just love how Slott carries through the repercussions of previous plots well after the dust from those stories settle.  Most authors would've surely forgotten about Marla by now, but Slott uses her memory here to inspire a really shocking twist.  He hasn't focused on JJJ, Jr. being unhinged for a while (not since JJJ, Jr. ordered the Police Chief to assassinate Massacre in issue #656), but, unlike other authors, it wasn't because he forgot about it.  Great stuff.

4) Peter apologizing to Carlie as she disappeared into the herd was really touching.

The Unknown
After Carlie turns into a tarantula, Pete calls her "honey."  I wonder if she can understand him in that form...

The Bad
1) WARNING:  I'm going to be super nit-picky here.  I hate when authors have Storm use contractions.  X-title authors do it, too, now, so it's certainly not Slott's fault.  But, it bothers me, because it was always one of her great idiosyncracies.

2) I didn't really follow the point of the Spider-Sense Jammers.  I get that their deployment allegedly created a psychic barrier around New York, but, how did that work, exactly?  Wouldn't it just deny the infected people the ability to sense danger?  Why would it prevent them from leaving New York?  I thought the Avengers' quarantine was doing that.  Or, is it somehow tied to the Queen's telepathic control over the infected persons?  Do the Jammers deny her that control?  I mean, they clearly don't, since all those mutated tarantulas went to Central Park to greet her based on their telepathic connection to her and we saw her psychically suggest JJJ, Jr. attack the Spider-Slayer.  So, do they just screw with her powers a little?  I feel like Slott could've that a little clearer, and it's the only reason I'm giving this issue "only" four stars.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Comics!: The "Spider-Island" Edition #3 (September) (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Venom #7:  Wow.  I've had some issues with this series over the course of its run, namely the way Remender has handled the more or less constant threat of the symbiote taking over Flash.  I feel like all the bells and whistles surrounding this iteration of Venom -- the "only 20 missions," "only 48 hours in the suit" caveats -- have somehow made the central conceit of the title -- Flash's attempts to use the symbiote for good -- take a back burner.  But, Rememder goes back to basics here, using Flash's fight with Eddie Brock to focus on that conceit.  I loved how Remender uses Eddie as a religious figure here, giving a sense of the trauma of "phase two" of the disease, with people turning to religion to help them through the crisis.  It's been an undertone of Eddie's role as Anti-Venom since his transformation, and Remender brings it to its logical conclusion here.  To that end, Eddie lectures Flash on the dangers of the symbiote and Flash listens, for the first time coming to terms with the effect the symbiote has on him, something he's been denying since it first started to assert itself.  Flash's conversation with his father on his deathbed seems to be a testament to that awakening, an attempt to come to terms with his reality.  I can't wait to see where Remender goes with that idea, because I think it'll really re-energize the series.  Remender is no slouch on the "Spider-Island" aspect of the story either.  Of all the tie-in issues, the "Venom" ones are the most central to the larger plot.  We had the identity of Spider-King revealed last issue and here we see the military realize what we've known for a few issues, that Eddie Brock holds the cure.  I hadn't quite figured out the way Slott was going to use the fact that Eddie could cure the disease.  I had thought (worried), given the presence of the other-wordly Queen, that it was going to be something that defied belief, like some spell that forces Eddie to sacrifice himself.  I'm relieved to see it's the much more believable scientific approach!  Finally, I've mentioned before how impressed I am with the way the editors and authors are tying the tie-in issues to the main event and to each other.  You need no better example of how on fire they are on this front than Flash swinging past the "Cloak and Dagger:  Ready to Assist You" billboard!  All in all, it's a great issue, both in terms of the series itself and the larger event.

Spider-Island:  Spider-Woman #1:  Huh.  I was really excited about this issue, in part because I was glad to see Jessica Drew's connection to a Spidey-related story.  I thought it was odd during "Grim Hunt" that she wasn't included in the spiders that the Kravens were collecting, given that pretty much everyone else was.  So, when I saw she was going to have her own one-shot during "Spider-Island," I was excited.  After reading it, not so much.  The premise of the issue is odd.  In a "Marvel Two-in-One" issue a LONG time ago, Alicia Masters was infected by a corrupted version of Spider-Woman's mutated DNA.  As such, Reed, in the present, thinks she might have built an immunity to the Spider-Virus.  OK, what?  The Jackal's disease, if I'm not mistaken, is based on Peter's mutated DNA, not Jessica's.  Given that their mutations happened for different reasons, I'm not entirely sure why an immunity developed to Jessica's DNA would be the same as one to Peter's.  Moreover, we already pretty much have a cure, in the form of Anti-Venom, as we saw in "Venom" #7.  However, here, it's pitched like Alicia is the only person who can be used for the cure.  In the end, the whole issue becomes an eye-roll inducing exercise in Alicia "seeing" the real Jessica after Jessica makes the case that she, like Ben, is trying to overcome the person she was born as being.  This schtick also requires you to believe that Jessica views herself as more spider than person, which just seems totally odd and something I've never really seen her previously assert.  I'd say this issue is the only real loser for me so far in "Spider-Island."  (I, of course, then looked to see who wrote it, and it was my logic-challenged nemesis, Fred Van Lente, who wrote almost all the "Brand New Day" issues I hated.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #669: "Spider-Island" Part 3

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Nice gihrrl."  "Puh-lease.  I'd recast.  She's no Gwen Stacy.  Seriously, you couldn't pay me to clone her."  -- Tarantula, refering to Carlie, and the Jackal, voicing the thoughts of fanboys and fangirls worldwide

Spidey (um, I mean, Pete) and Carlie are jumped by Chance, Scorcher, and the White Rabbit, who are guarding the former Jackal HQ from intruders.  When the White Rabbit takes out Carlie, Pete breaks out the Spider-Fu, disabling the three super-villains (and raising Carlie's suspicions over how he's "half-spider, half-Jackie Chan").  Carlie tells Pete to meet her at the police station -- with Spidey -- so that the three of them can discuss the Jackal's involvement in the plot.  Meanwhile, the Jackal watches the fight from his new HQ and then calms the mysterious benefactor's concerns over Carlie and Pete figuring out his connection to the plot, noting that phase two is on schedule.  Elsewhere, almost everyone in New York (except MJ) has developed Spider-Powers, and the Avengers do their best to enforce the quarantine, keeping out people seeking to get powers and keeping in people wanting to go home.  At Horizon Labs, some of Pete's colleagues use his technology to develop huge Spider-Sense Jammers and Mr. Fantastic reveals that he's discovered the source of the infection.  Reed informs JJJ, Jr. (who's on site pressing Horizon to resolve the situation) that powered individuals are immune to the virus and proposes giving everyone without a power a benign one ("compass power," the ability to tell which way North is) to make them immune.  JJJ, Jr. asks for the vaccine, but a bio-scan reveals that he's infected.  Meanwhile, Anti-Venom is swarmed by an angry mob as he continues taking away people's powers and Madame Web is incapacitated by the shock of the number of spiders added to the Web of Life.  Carlie meets Spidey, who's having lunch on the roof of the police station.  He informs her that Pete just left.  Carlie asks him what would happen if she compared the bite marks on Pete's sandwich with the bite marks on his, but their conversation gets interrupted when Spidey hears via his police scanner that the Shocker is attacking a bank.  At the scene of the crime, Spidey discovers the Shocker has developed six arms and is stealing money to pay the Mad Thinker to cure him.  At the same time, Carlie mutates into a Kaine-like tarantula, "phase two" of the Jackal's disease.  The Jackal's mysterious benefactor is revealed to be the Queen, who seems to be able to exert control over the mutated tarantulas.

The Review
OMG, again!  Slott gives us another issue that kept me on the edge of my seat.  Moreover, I was totally impressed by the way he deftly changed the tone of the story.  For the first few issues of this arc, Slott has played up the laughs, giving us some really funny moments.  Even tie-in issues like "Spider-Island:  Avengers" have used the humor inherent in the plot to great effect.  For most of this issue, Slott focuses on the tension (still in a fun way) between Carlie and Pete as Carlie starts putting two and two together and Peter finds it hard to keep his identity secret from her.  By the time you get to the end of the issue, you think Slott is setting up Pete revealing his identity to Carlie.  Instead, Slott adds a dangerous twist, with the affected citizens suddenly turning into mutated tarantulas, as poor Patrick did in "Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger" #2.  It's an awesome step that kicks the story up a notch.  Everyone has had his fun.  But, as we all knew would happen, the true peril of the situation has become clear.  I can't wait!

The Good
1) Again, I have to compliment the coordination of the tie-in issues with the central plot.  We get a glimpse of the events of "Venom" #6 and it becomes clear now why, as I mentioned above, Patrick suddenly became a tarantula in "Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger" #2.  Everyone is really at the top of their game here.

2) I loved the Jackal and Tarantula watching Peter as he reacted to Carlie's demand to see him and Spider-Man in the same place.  I think I previously mentioned that I've never actually really read an arc with the Jackal before.  I've found it a little hard to believe that a science professor, even a crazy science professor, could be so, I don't know, loopy.  It's actually annoyed me the last few issues.  But, with this scene, I've decided I don't care.  Slott just makes the Jackal such a fun character to read that I'm willing to buy his schtick, regardless of whether I believe he would really act that way or not.

3) I like that Slott realistically portrays how I think people would react to the reveal that they, too, could have Spider-Powers.  I imagine people really would be storming the gates to get their chance.  It makes the later reveal -- that the infected persons are going to become mutated tarantulas -- all the more profound, since it shows the consequences of this "gift."  It underlines the whole premise of Spider-Man, that with great power comes great responsibility.  Slott has been setting up that realization on the part of the public for a while, and I'm interested to see where he continues to take it.

4) JJJ, Jr. with Spider-Powers!

5) I always like when Spidey's shows his understanding for his opponent's motivations.  I thought the scene with the Shocker was really well done, particularly because it's the moment when we realize that everything isn't as fun as it has been.

6) I never read the Queen storyline, because I had stopped reading comics during the time period it was published.  As such, the reveal wasn't all that shocking to me.  But, I have to say, even without knowing her deal, the idea that she manufactured this event to build herself a colony seems like the sort of thing a diabolical super-villian would do.  Good stuff.

The Unknown
1) It's not clear to me why the Jackal stationed Chance, Scorcher, and White Rabbit to guard his former HQ.  Pete and Carlie didn't seem to find anything in it, so what exactly were they guarding?  A plot device?

2) How exactly did Reed discover that bed bugs were spreading the infection?  I think we're just supposed to assume it's because he's brilliant, so he'd eventually find the answer.

Amazing Spider-Man #618-#620: "The Gauntlet: Mysterioso"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Y'know, it's a shame that super villains don't give out awards for this stuff." -- Mysterio, contemplating the awesomeness of his "death" as Silvermane

The (dimwitted) heir to the Karnelli crime family ignores the advice of his consigliere, Carmine, and attempts to launder money through the family's casino, raising the attention of Mr. Negative and his Inner Demons.  The two sides brawl, with Spidey intervening in an attempt to limit the bloodshed.  After both sides escape, Peter arrives to photograph the crime scene.  In reality, he's hoping to get some more information about the Inner Demons, so he invites Carlie Cooper, who's the CSI on duty, to lunch.  However, he has to ditch the appointment because he remembers he has to pick up Aunt May and JJJ, Sr. from their honeymoon.  Aunt May, fleeing Peter's terrible driving, goes to the F.E.A.S.T. center, where she sees Martin Li standing over the bleeding body of an Inner Demon.  Li uses his corrupting powers on her, and she proceeds to chew out Peter and later Harry and the Reilly girls.  Meanwhile, Carmine, seeking to prevent the Karnelli heir from running the operation into the ground, brings back several leading Maggia members from the dead; in reality, they had faked their deaths with the help of Mysterio, who also introduces a puppet Silvermane to take charge of the family.  Silvermane leads the Maggia in a fight against the Inner Demons.  During the fight, Carlie Cooper discovers her dad has returned from the dead as well; in fact, he's been helping Mysterio "disappear" the Maggia members.  Mysterio tries to convince Spidey, who interrupts the fight, that he killed one of the Maggia.  However, Mysterio goes one step too far in trying to convince Spidey that long-dead Captain Stacy was in fact the Big Man, and Spidey guesses Mysterio's involvement.  Mysterio, meanwhile, uses Silvermane to manipulate the Maggia into bringing all the cash it's been unable to launder to one location.  Carlie puts a tracker on her dad, who leads Spidey to the location, just in time to see Mr. Negative also trying to get his hands on the cash.  Mysterio blows up the building, killing most of the Maggia members, but Spidey foils his plan to escape with the cash.  In the end, the Chameleon approaches Mysterio on behalf of the Kravinoffs.

The Review
To be honest, I don't have a lot to say about this arc.  It's a totally serviceable Spidey/Mysterio story.  The premise -- that Mysterio helped Maggia bosses fake their own deaths -- makes sense, as does Mysterio betraying the Maggia consiglieri who paid him to "resurrect" Silvermane in order to steal the cash himself.  The ongoing sub-plot of the gang war occuring between the Maggia and Mr. Negative's forces recalls the Rose's attempts to take over the mob a few (gulp) decades ago, and I'm looking forward to it drawing to a close with some really good issues.

The Good
1) I could deal without a corrupted Aunt May that I know will eventually return to her sweet self, but, if it gets us one step closer to the big reveal vis-à-vis Mr. Negative, so be it.  I mean, it's been over 70 issues at this point.  It's time.

2) OK, so, here, it appears that Martin Li knows he's Mr. Negative, despite him seemingly not knowing in "Dark Reign:  Mr. Negative."  Seriously, I'm so over his storyline.  Can't we just out him as Mr. Negative and put it to rest?

3) Mysterio's kind of...funny here.  Like ROFL funny, not odd funny.  I actually can't remember the last time I read a Mysterio issue, but, seriously, it was fun.  He was almost Peter-esque in his need to banter.

The Unknown
We once again see the Kravinoff hand being played after the events of the issue occur.  Based on the summary page, we're led to believe that the Kravinoffs have been behind everything in "The Gauntlet:"  Electro, Sandman, the new Rhino, and Mysterio.  But, the writers still haven't really shown that; instead, we generally only see a Kravinoff after the event, not before.  I'm sure we're going to get some grand reveal at the end of "The Gaunlet," but I still feel like, at this point, we're just dealing with a regular succession of super-villains attacking Spidey.  I mean, for this sort of event, you'd expect that we'd see an exhausted Spidey barely able to fight off each new villain.  Instead, Pete is pretty normal...except for the nightmares...

The Bad
Just like she did during "Mind on Fire," Carlie goes on a tirade about Peter treating her poorly.  I kind of get it, because it strikes a familiar theme of unreliable Peter Parker, but it still seems misplaced.  Ever since their circle of friends dissolved, what, with the whole Lily-is-a-super-villain revelation, Carlie only really sees Peter when he's involved in one of the cases she's working.  It's not like they have this great "will-they-or-won't-they" sort of relationship.  I understand why she's frustrated, but I feel like the anger is a OTT.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Comics!: The "Spider-Island" Edition #2 (September) (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Spider-Island:  Cloak & Dagger #2:  OK, first, the positive.  Spencer and Rios give us a really innovative issue here.  Spencer uses all sorts of interesting structures, like the dream sequence that begins the issue (establishing Mr. Negative's ability to screw with Tandy's mind) and the action sequence where Cloak gets beaten by Mr. Negative's Inner Demons (awesomely titled, "Cloak Gets Beat Up:  A Silent Play in One Act, Staged Two Hours Ago").  Rios also delivers, giving us the mirror-reflected dialogue bubbles, an innovation so awesome that it reminds me of Bachalo having the Mayan deity punch Spidey from the above panel in "Amazing Spider-Man" #557.   Moreover, Spencer doesn't let these experiments come at the expense of the storytelling.  He takes a fairly well-trod device, the "superhero at college" schtick, and makes it feel fresh.  I was rooting for Patrick to convince Tandy to go on a date with him (before he became a tarantula), in part because it would be nice to see Tandy have a little, you know, fun.  Unfortunately, both Spencer and Rios also have some missteps here.  First, I'm not entirely sure why Mr. Negative felt the need to turn Tandy into a dark version of herself rather than just killing her to stop the prophecy (though, as Tandy noted, he might wind up making it a self-fulfilling prophecy just for trying to stop her).  Hopefully, Spencer will clarify Mr. Negative's motives next issue, but I just don't see how it's going to be something believable.  Moreover, Rios loses the plot a bit as the issue progresses.  Although her indistinct lines work well for Cloak and Dagger when they work, they cause confusion when they don't  The sequence where Cloak fights the Inner Demons gets down-right incomprehensible at times, because it's hard to tell what exactly is happening.  Finally, it's not a negative (heh), exactly, but it's still pretty clear that Marvel is just using "Spider-Island" as a way to get people excited about Cloak and Dagger.  I'm down with that, but, other than Patrick turning into a tarantula, this issue has almost nothing to do with the larger event.  (Also, paging pet peeve #1:  Cloak and Dagger don't fight in this issue, contrary to what the cover implies.)

Spider-Island:  Avengers #1:  I appreciate what Yost tries to do here.  "Spider-Island" as a concept lends itself to a certain level of hilarity.  In a lot of ways, it's the perfect Spider-Man story:  it's a serious event that also allows the authors ample room to explore their funny side.  Yost is at his best here when he's delivering the banter between Hawkeye, Jessica Jones, and Ms. Marvel.  On some level, it's like watching the cool kids at school complain about the popular nerd.  Hawkeye is at his obnoxious best, and both Jessica Jones and Ms. Marvel are great, supporting Peter while at the same time allowing that he does, in fact, maybe get them into some annoying situations.  I also liked how Yost pulled in the plots of a lot of different issues from the past few months.  We've got "Amazing Spider-Man," "Avengers," "New Avengers," "Venom."  It's good stuff.  It goes to how good the authors and editors have been, since Slott took over "Amazing Spider-Man," at fully integrating Spidey in the world he inhabits, not forgetting he's on three superhero teams.  Yost lost me, though, with the addition of Frog-Man.  I mean, Frog-Man.  Really?  (On a totally random side note, I actually have Frog-Man's first appearance, "Marvel Team-Up" #121.  I bought it at a flea market in Miami not quite realizing the, um, gem I was uncovering.  In fact, it's a pretty decent issue.  It doesn't mean I want Eugene in my "Spider-Island," though.)  I really could've spent my whole life without seeing the Avengers win a battle because Frog-Man vomited on someone.  Essentially, I could've used more Hawkeye, less Frog-Man.  In fact, that's a pretty good metaphor for how I feel about comics in general...

Amazing Spider-Man #668: "Spider-Island" Part 2

***** (five of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Why in all my years in this city, I never thought I'd -- Parker?!  With Spider-Powers?!  Now I have seen everything."  -- JJJ, Jr.

Favorite Quote #2:  "You were in there with Number Six, huh?  So?  Guy?  Girl?  Bigger than a breadbox?"  "Their identity's a secret.  And I'm very good at keeping secret identities...Peter."  "Touché."  -- Peter and Reed, discussing the mysterious occupant of Lab #6

Shang-Chi helps Peter to his feet, after he got walloped last issue by the Avengers, who mistook him for one of the rampaging Spideys causing trouble in Bryant Park.  Luke Cage sends Peter away, given that the Avengers and FF can't be worried they'll accidentally pummel him (again) as they try to contain the riot.  Dejected, Peter makes his way from the park, where he runs into Norah Winters, who's trying to film herself while reporting on the riot.  She asks Pete to play cameraman for her, but MJ arrives and suggests that Pete do something.  She points out Carlie, who's nearby, taking down some rioters, and Pete gets her drift.  He gives MJ the camera and she records him as he calls on everyday New Yorkers with Spider-Powers to help the Avengers and FF defeat the rioters; he then leads the charge of those who answer the call into Bryant Park.  Meanwhile, in a conversation with his mysterious benefactor, the Jackal reveals that the goal of the riot was spreading the infection.  He then fills Spider-King with spider embryos to help spread the disease outside New York (as we see in "Venom" #6).  After the battle, JJJ, Jr. quarantines New York and asks Horizon Labs to take the lead on investigating the disease.  At the labs, Peter runs into Mr. Fantastic, who's working with the mysterious colleague "Number Six" on a cure.  Reed takes a sample of Peter's DNA and refuses Peter's offer to help, since Number Six is an expert on Parker DNA.  (Dun-dun-DUN!)  Instead, Modell assigns him to go through the NYPD's superhuman evidence locker to retrofit the equipment there for JJJ, Jr.'s "Anti-Spider Patrol."  Meanwhile, Anti-Venom is going around town taking away people's Spider-Powers.  Carlie meets Pete in the locker and reveals to him her hypothesis that the Jackal is behind the infection.  Feeling dumb for not figuring it out himself, he joins Carlie and they go to one of the Jackal's old HQs, on ESU's campus, where they're watched from the shadows...

The Review
I loved this issue.  Loved, loved, loved.  Slott just gives us a damn exciting story.  It was one of those stories where I didn't want to race to the end of the book, because the exciting part wasn't the cliff-hanging ending but the actual story proper.

The Good
1) As a continuity nerd, I was impressed by the references to the tie-in issues.  We saw Norah's conversation with Peter in "Spider-Island:  Deadly Foes," Shang-Chi joining the riot in Bryant Park in "Spider-Island:  Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" #1, and Venom taking on Spider-King in "Venom" #6.  (We even get some background when we see the Jackal injecting Spider-King with the spider embryos he hatches in that issue.)  By showing how those scenes fit into the larger puzzle, it does give you a sense how wide-spread the "Spider-Pocalype" is.  Part of the problem of "Fear Itself" is that the events happening in the tie-in issues were  never seen in the main title; at best, someone made passing reference to them.  By using scenes from the main story in the tie-in issues, the editors are doing a great job of making us feel immersed in the story.  Seriously, applause!

2) On a similar note, JJJ, Jr.'s speech goes a long way of establishing the seriousness of the situation.  I immediately felt the tension as he's speaking, with Ramos giving us excellent images of the quarantine going into place.  Again, it was part of what created the excitement in this issue because it gives you a sense of how totally out of control the situation could get.

3) I though Slott did a great job in using the premise of this event to further the characterization of his cast.  I loved the fact that Peter, who is the epitome of an unsung hero, gets to give the speech that rallies everyday New Yorkers to fight the bad guys.  Awesome!  (Plus, how great is it that he gets to be Spidey without his mask?  Seriously, I can't believe no one thought of this twist before, because it's just so mind-boggling to see Peter swinging through the streets of Manhattan without a mask!)  Returning to characterization, Slott does some really great work here with Carlie and Peter.  I loved how honest he makes their concern for each other, using it to show how close they are.  I've never been a fan of Carlie, but she's really growing on me by leaps and bounds in this arc.  I love that Slott has her, and not Peter or Reed, figure out the Jackal's connection to the events, and that the fact that she's a better Spidey than Peter is inspires him to step up his game.  Slott has used the idea of Peter more seriously embracing his responsibility as Spidey as a major theme lately, and I like how he carries it over here.

4) Speaking of characterization, thank you, Dan Slott, for not giving us the nagging MJ we've seen WAY too often lately but an inspiring MJ who doesn't exhibit a bit of jealous when she compliments how amazing Carlie, who's using her Spider-Powers to fight crime, is.

5) One of the things that I love about Slott is that he never lets a loose end fall.  I love that he's giving us a teaser of the user of Lab #6 at Horizon Labs, particularly given that the individual is familiar with Parker DNA.  Is it Tony Stark?

6) Ramos is on FIRE here.  The riot scenes are spectacular.  Seriously.  He's a major reason why this issue is so exciting, because he gives us such kinetic depictions of the action that you feel like you're actually in the middle of the event. 

8) This issue is funny.  Seriously.  Slott injects a lot of humor into this issue, with Peter "reminding" MJ about how Norah's a reporter for the "Daily Bugle" when MJ suggests in front of Norah that he "do something" and the exchange highlighted in the "Favorite Quote" #2 above.  Slott's always had a great ear for Peter's quips.  A Spidey book, no matter how grim, should be fun, and Slott gets that.

7) I was wondering how Slott was going to de-Spider-ize the population of New York, and I hadn't even thought of Anti-Venom.  Genius.  Of course, I'm now worried for Eddie...

The Bad
Pet Peeve #1:  At no point does Peter, in his civilian garb, fight the Jackal, despite what the cover says!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #617: "The Gauntlet: The Rage of the Rhino"

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "You're not an easy person to like."  "The gifted rarely are." --  Spidey/Norah banter

In a bit of foreshadowing, we learn that Peter's been having nightmares that he's been hunted by a lion.  He reports to work looking tired, and Ben Urich offers him a staff position, since "Front Line" is increasing its circulation.  A new Rhino has been created, but, before he can accept his assignment to work for the mob, he decides he must first challenge the old Rhino.  On his first assignment as a staff photographer, Peter accompanies Norah to a casino, where the old Rhino is working as a security guard.  The new Rhino attacks, but the old Rhino offers him the name without fighting.  The new Rhino doesn't accept the offer, since they must fight for him to "ascend."  Spidey visits the old Rhino later and convinces him not to go find and kill the new Rhino (who the old Rhino fears will hurt his wife), since he doesn't want to risk the now crime-free life he now lives.  Kraven's wife is revealed as pulling the new Rhino's strings and convincing him he must "ascend."

The Review
This issue is great for a number of reasons.  First, the story of the Rhino is really compelling and it's presented in a fun yet still serious way.  Second, the art is awesome.  Seriously, I don't think we've seen Max Fiumara's work before, but he can draw Spider-Man any day in my book.  Finally, it raises a number of questions that actually advance some old, stale sub-plots, making them much more interesting.

The Good
1) I continue to really like Norah.  Although she's crazy, she's not depicted as crazy in the misogynistic way Michele is presented as crazy.  (More on Michele below.)  I hope we get to see more of her now that Pete might be working at "Front Line" full time.

2) I'm assuming the woman who worked on the new Rhino was the woman who gave Hammerhead his adamantium skeleton.  She appears to go by "Dr. Trama," and it's unclear to whom she's allied.  In the Hammerhead case, she worked for Mr. Negative.  So, either Mr. Negative is also somehow involved with the Kravinoffs, or she's freelancing her talent.  Similarly, it's also unclear for whom the new Rhino is working.  He speaks to Kraven's wife on the phone, but, if Dr. Trama is still working for Mr. Negative, the new Rhino is at least theoretically attached to him, too.  Does Mr. Negative know the new Rhino is working with the Kravinoffs?  He may not, since the new Rhino's vague with Dr. Trama, telling her he has "something" he must do first before he's provided to the Russian mobsters who appeared to have paid for his services.  It's all pretty interesting and really injects some life into the Mr. Negative sub-plot, which has mostly been drawn out excessively since he first appeared in "Brand New Day."'

3)The casino sequence was awesome.  Seriously.  Having the Rhino working as a bodyguard at a casino?  Genius.  It served as the perfect scenario to see how the Rhino has reformed.  Speaking of him having reformed, I really enjoyed heart-to-heart Spidey and the Rhino have at the end.  I think Kelly makes it feel really natural, from Spidey reflecting on the tough times people around him have had lately (Flash and Harry come to mind) to the exchange about where he planted the Spider-Tacer.  I'm worried for the Rhino, because I'm pretty sure that Oksana isn't long for this world.  But, it was nice to see.

4) Again, the art is so well done.  I particularly loved the scene where Peter's pulling off his shirt, and the buttons are almost rendered 3-D, popping off the panel at you.  Well done, Fiumara, well done.

The Unknown
I'm not sure I get this whole "Gauntlet" thing.  I mean, I get the point that amped-up versions of old Spidey super-villains have started to appear and that the Kravinoffs may be behind it.  But, it's not all that clear.  Diablo was approached after he fought Spidey and the Black Cat (pre-"The Gauntlet) and Electro was approached by Kravinoff after his appearance in "The Gauntlet."  Moreover, Sandman wasn't approached at all (that we saw).  Here, the new Rhino has more of a connection to the Kravinoffs, but he wasn't going after Spider-Man; he was going after the old Rhino.  I'm sure everything will be revealed eventually, but right now I feel like we're just kind of seeing an average week in the life of Spider-Man, not really anything that different.

The Bad
1) Enough with Michelle.  Really, enough.  She bursts into Peter's room with a shotgun?  WTF?  Then, she implies she still wants him to ask her to be her date for New Year's Eve.  Really?  I'd rather, if we're creating tensions in Pete's love life, we focus on the Black Cat, Mary Jane, or Norah (I'd even take Carlie) rather than a character who seems to change personality every issue.

2) Peter has to think about taking a full-time staff position at "Front Line?"  Really?