Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Thanos Imperative #3

*** (three of five stars)

During the fight at the edge of the Fault, one of the Abstracts falls to the Cancerverse creatures and the resulting psionic shock-wave knocks out Nova.  In the Cancerverse, the Vision is taking the Guardians and Thanos to Titan, where the sentient machines of this Universe who are revolting against the Many-Angled Ones have based their headquarters.  Vision explains that they have erected barriers that will block the Revengers' abilities to sense an anomaly like Thanos.  On Titan, Thanos learns the truth of this Universe.  Instead of dying, Captain Marvel made a deal of sorts with the Many-Angled Ones to cure his cancer.  Convincing the superhero colleagues around his bedside to join hands with him to share in the power he "discovered," he corrupted all of them.  They then performed a "necropsy" on board that Universe's version of Thanos' flagship, Sanctuary, killing the Avatar of Death and thereby fully releasing the Many-Angled Ones into that Universe.  In "our" reality, Lord Mar-Vell learns of Captain Marvel's death from Evil Quasar.  Meanwhile, Evil Scarlet Witch arrives to inform Mar-Vell of the death of the Defenders and assembles a strike team to return to the Cancerverse to investigate.  At the edge of the Fault, the Allied Council of War falls into bickering, something Nova ends.  He informs the Council that he believes the Cancerverse creatures are not focused on a straight invasion; Quasar agrees, noting that the "enemy elite" has been gathering particular individuals for unclear reasons.  Nova informs the Council that the Abstract who knocked him unconscious conveyed its dying thoughts to him and connected him to Namorita, via the "quantum bond" they share as a result of him bringing her from the Fault.  Through these two connections, he discovered that Namorita is being held on "our" Universe's Sanctuary, and assembles a strike team to take out the enemy elite and end the war quickly.  In the Cancerverse, all sides agree that Thanos must reverse the necropsy, though Thanos goads Drax into a confrontation before he departs, resulting in Drax killing him.

The Review
This issue is pretty good.  DnA spend a lot of time on exposition, but it's done in a way that isn't gratuitous and actually holds the reader's attention.  We have a pretty clear idea now of what the enemies want to do and what the heroes have to do to win.  It's a textbook third issue of a six-issue miniseries.

The Good
1) DnA do some really clever stuff here with continuity here.  First, I really dug the idea that Captain Marvel was the cause of the Cancerverse, opening the door to the Many-Angled Ones by agreeing to their "cure" for his cancer and spreading their infection to his colleagues in the superhero community.  Second, I like how DnA use what seemed at first to be a poorly made decision -- to "resurrect" Namorita in "Nova" -- and turn it into one of the key turning points in the series, with Nova using his connection with Namorita to track down the location of the "anomalies."  Great stuff.

2) I loved that Nova took charge of the situation as the various factions fighting the good fight on our side started squabbling among themselves.  I can't get enough of DnA showing how much Nova changed thanks to the Annihilation War, and I love when other characters notice it, as Quasar does here.  Also, Nova assembles a hell of a team.  Beta-Ray Bill, Gladiator, Quasar, Ronan, Silver Surfer.  Rock the flark on!  Sepulveda does a great job with that splash page, too, really conveying the awesomeness of the moment.

The Unknown

1) Was it me, or did the Cancerverse's Avatar of Death look a lot like Dr. Doom?

2) Thanos clearly goaded Drax to speed along his transfer to Sanctuary, though I guess we'll have to wait until next issue to find out how and why.

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  On the recap page, we learn that Vision brought the Guardians and Thanos "back with him through the Fault."  Um, really?  I mean, DnA were pretty unclear on how the Guardians knew how to enter the Fault at precisely the right location in issue #1, but I don't remember Vision appearing until they were already in the Cancerverse in issue #2.  So, either the recapper got his facts wrong, or DnA didn't do a great job of explaining how the Guardians and Thanos got into the Cancerverse in the first place.

2) At first, it appears that Ms. Marvel is the one to assemble the strike team, but, in the end, it's actaully Scarlet Witch.  I'm not sure if it's a dialogue or artistic error, but it threw me off a bit when later we see the Scarlet Witch (and, again, not Ms. Marvel) confront the Guardians.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #2: "Duel to the Death with the Vulture!"/"The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!"

A new costumed villain, the Vulture, is terrorizing New York, using a flight suit to commit his crimes.  JJJ is desperate for a photo of the Vulture, but his editor explains none of their phtographers can get one.  At his high school, Pete overhears a bunch of students talking about how much a close-up photo of the Vulture would be worth, making him realize that Spider-Man could get close enough to get a photo.  At home that night, he asks Aunt May for Uncle Ben's miniature camera.  Meanwhile, the Vulture leaves notes for the radio network, police chief, and Jameson Publications telling them that he plans to steal a diamond shipment from under their noses, reveling in taunting them.  As he delivers the messages, he's observed by Spider-Man, who's on a rooftop testing out the camera.  Pete tries to set up the camera to get a photo of the Vulture, but the Vulture sees him and, while Pete's distracted, manages to strike him from behind.  The Vulture then deposits Pete in a water tower and escapes.  Panicked after realizing his Web-Shooters don't have any Web-Fluid left, Pete realizes he can use his Spider-Strength to propel himself from the water tower.  At home, he re-designs his equipment for his "secret adventurer" career, adding an extra fluid capsule on his Web-Shooters and designing a utility belt to hold extra Web-Fluid cartridges and his yet-to-be-purchased special miniature camera (designed to fit on his belt buckle).  He then works on his hunch about how the Vulture manages to fly and works on inventing a device to negate that power.  The next day, Pete successfully sells his photos to JJJ, making him swear not to ask how he got them and not to use his name in the credit.  Pete and the gang go to watch the diamond shipment, to see if the Vulture appears.  He does, but from below (and not above, as the police were planning), striking from the sewers.  Pete uses his Spider-Sense to track him and eventually locates him.  They struggle mid-air, but Pete activates his device, causing the Vulture to plummet to a nearby rooftop, where he's captured by the police (and photographed by Pete).  Pete reveals to the reader that the silence of the Vulture's flying device made him realize he was using magnetic power, so Pete devised an "anti-magnetic inverter" to combat it.  He then sells the photos of the Vulture's capture to JJJ, and Pete uses the money to pay Aunt May's rent for a year and buy her new kitchen appliances.  Meanwhile, in prison, the Vulture swears he'll develop a flying power that Spider-Man can't overcome.

Peter is given a chance by his professor to help a prominent scientist work on some experiments over the weekend.  Pete agrees, and the scientist asks him to pick up a radio he's sent to the shop for fixing on his way to the lab.  At the shop, called (originally) the Tinkerer's Repair Shop, Pete senses odd electric impulses with his Spider-Sense, but ignores it, figuring it was just the Tinkerer's testing equipment.  Meanwhile, in the Tinkerer's basement, where he's gone to fetch the radio, the Tinkerer is revealed to be in cohoots with aliens who are installing things into the radios of "special customers."  Pete is shocked when the Tinkerer tells him it only cost a dime to repair the radio, and the scientist confirms he sent it to there because he had heard of the Tinkerer's cheap rates.  Pete has trouble keeping the radio off his mind, and eventually realizes it's because it's still broadcasting those electric impulses.  When the scientist leaves to give a lecture, Pete opens up the radio and realizes it has some extra parts.  Heading to the Tinkerer's lab as Spider-Man, he observes the Tinkerer and the aliens discussing their plans, revealing that their "special customers" are leading military officials and scientists whose secrets they're trying to learn.  One of the aliens discovers Spidey, and a fight ensues.  The Tinkerer disables him with a ray gun and they place him in a "resisto-glass enclosure."  Spidey manages to escape by shooting a Web-Line to the control panel, releasing the latch before the aliens can siphon off the air in the enclosure.  In the ensuing fight, one of the aliens accidentally blasts the control panel, and a fire starts.  Pete tries to save the Tinkerer, but he escapes.  A space ship is later seen leaving the Earth, with the aliens saying they can "never again return."  Back at the lab, the scientist returns, telling a de-costumed Pete that he thought he saw a flying saucer.  Pete reveals that, in the fight with the Tinkerer, he pulled off his mask (implying that the Tinkerer was an alien).

The Review
Last issue, I wondered when Pete would start snapping photos to make ends meet and, to be honest, I'm surprised it happened this soon.  (Interesting enough, it's for NOW Magazine, a publication of Jameson Publications, and not "The Daily Bugle.")  I'm assuming that the focus on Pete making cash to help Aunt May is going to diminish over the next few issues as a result.  I'm pleased with that, because I'm also assuming it means Peter is going to be less angry.  It's been hard to see him so angry and frustrated all the time, so, hopefully, the money will help ease his mind.  But, I have to wonder why Aunt May didn't ask where a teenager like Pete is pulling down enough cash to "pay the rent for a full year and [buy her] the newest kitchen appliances[!]"  I mean, he's a handome boy in a big city, so I think I'd be a little concerned by his late night disappearing acts... 

Before he resolves the money issue, though, we still get a pretty angry Peter again in this issue, with him telling "Moose" that "at least my brain isn't muscle-bound, like that fat head of yours!"  Quite a zinger, Petey.  However lame, this comment made me wonder when we're going to start to see Spidey's trademark combat wit.  We see some light banter with the Vulture in this issue, but it's mostly just the two of them bragging about who's the better acrobat.

In other notable occurrences, for the first time, we see Spidey run out of the Web-Fluid.  Oh, how many times we'll see this scene over the next 50 years!  That said, I thought it was interesting how Lee has Pete refine his equipment, based on his fight with the Vulture.  (I wonder if we ever see the belt-buckle camera, because I don't remember it.)  I like how Lee, from the start, focused on how clever and smart Peter is.  Along those lines, we also see him build a device to negate the Vulture's ability to fly, having intuited by the lack of sound that the Vulture's device was based on magnetic power.  Dan Slott has re-introduced this sort of ingenuity back into Pete's repetoire, but it's nice to see that he had it back in his first days as well.  I wonder at what point he'll stop making these sorts of devices and just rely on his established equipment.  (It's probably around the time the stories start to stagnate.)  Continuing on the idea of firsts, I think it's also the first time we see the stylized lines above Peter's head to indicate his Spider-Sense (which are still called his "spider senses" or "spider's sense").

The villains in this issue are also top notch.  The Vulture is pretty much the same here as he always is, over-confident and attention-seeing.  I was pretty impressed by him appearing from the sewers to swipe the diamonds.  Also, who knew the Tinkerer started as an alien?  I'm going to have to do some Wikipedia research to see where that story went.  You can see Lee's storytelling getting stronger in this issue.  I was all ready to get angry over the question of how the Tinkerer was getting "special customers" to bring their radios to him to fix, but Lee anticipates that question, telling us how the Tinkerer only charges a dime.  I wish some current authors would re-read these issues and learn what it's like to construct a believable plot...even one with aliens!  I will say, though, that Pete didn't seem all that surprised by the presence of aliens.  You'd think in those early days of costumed heroes, aliens would still get at least a raised eyebrow!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #1: "Spider-Man: Freak! Public Menace!"/"The Chameleon!"

In the first story, Peter wishes he never became Spider-Man as a result of the death of Uncle Ben and worries about how he and Aunt May are going to pay their bills.  He tells Aunt May he's going to quit school and get a job, but she insists he continues his studies, because Uncle Ben wanted him to become a scientist.  Pete ponders turning to a life of crime, but realizes Aunt May would be devastated if he were caught.  Later, he continues his public appearances, but can't get paid because the producer writes him a check for tax reasons and the bank won't cash a check to "Spider-Man" without proper ID.  (His costume doesn't count.)  The next night, the producer tells Pete that he's got to cancel his public appearances, because of an article written by JJJ calling him a menace has turned the public against Spider-Man.  (JJJ tells people they should respect his son, John, a test pilot, instead of "selfish freaks" or a "masked menace.")  Reading the piece, Peter wonders how other superheroes ("like the Fantastic Four and the Ant Man") don't have troubles and "make enough dough."  While trying (and failing) to get a part-time job, he watches Aunt May pawn her jewelry.  He becomes irate when he sees an article about JJJ's son planning to orbit earth, blaming his troubles on JJJ, but decides to attend, "having nothing better to do."  When the launch goes wrong because a guidance unit on John's capsule malfunctions, Pete dons his Spider-Man costume, gets a spare unit from the military officials, and convinces a pilot to fly him to the falling capsule.  He then replaces the unit and John is able to release the chute.  Pete leaves the scene ("I'd just be embarrassed if everyone wants to congratulate me and make a big fuss about what I've done!"), but is later shocked when JJJ accuses him in a front-page "Daily Bugle" editorial of sabotaging the capsule to make a hero of himself by saving John.  The public continues to turn against Spider-Man and the FBI makes him a wanted man.  At home, Aunt May hopes that the authorities "find that horrible Spider-Man."  Peter laments that everything he does with his powers turns out wrong and wonders if becoming a menace is the only option for him.

In the second story, Pete decides to resolve his money problems by joining the Fantastic Four.  After getting caught sneaking into the Baxter Building, he "fights" the FF to prove how fit he is to join, but its members inform him, after the fight, that they're a non-profit organization, with all their money going to create "the most effective super-crime-fighting apparatus."  Meanwhile, Chameleon steals military plans from a defense installation, planning on selling them to an "Iron Curtain" country.  Seeing a TV report on Spider-Man trying to join the FF and a newspaper article on him being wanted by the FBI, Chameleon figures out Spidey is having money problems.  He sends out a message over the radio waves that Pete's "spider senses" can hear telling Spidey to meet on top of the Lark Building at 10:00 pm, saying it will be very profitable for him.  Pete hears the message and makes his way to the building.  Meanwhile, Chameleon disguises himself as an elevator operator to break into the Lark Building and later changes into Spider-Man to steal the missile-defense plans.  Chameleon escapes in a helicopter, and the cops try to arrest Spidey as he arrives on the roof.  Realizing what happened, Pete uses his "spider's senses" to "tune in" on the ship with which the helicopter is trying to rendezvous.  Spidey successfully prevents the ship (a submarine) from emerging by webbing up the hatch and boards the helicopter, capturing Chameleon.  Pete delivers him to the cops, but Chameleon escapes, and another round of confusion follows, with the authorities thinking Spidey is Chameleon dressed as him again.  Pete flees the scene and the cops eventually capture Chameleon, who has changed into a cop costume, after they see his Spidey costume under a tear in his cop costume.  Dejected, Pete sobs that he wishes he never got his super powers since nothing turns out correctly.  Meanwhile, the FF ponder what would happen if Spidey turned to crime, with Sue noting how confused he seems.

The Review
I have to say, I'm really fascinated by the two stories in this issue.  I'm mostly intrigued by the extent to which Lee portrays Peter as struggling for money and considering a life of crime.  In fact, this entire first issue is consumed by it.  In the first story, we first see Peter contemplate robbing a bank to make some cash, discarding the idea only because it would devastate Aunt May if he got caught (not necessarily because it's wrong; I'll turn to that twist in a minute).  Everything goes from bad to worse when he loses his sole source of income, public appearances, because of JJJ's public crusade against him.  This desperation to make money results in him trying to join the FF and, in the second story, falling prey to Chameleon's plan.  Lee also combines this financial desperation with a deeper emotion, namely Peter's frustration over everything he does as Spider-Man not going the way he wants it to go.

In both his depiction of Pete's worries over making money and his frustration over his public image,  Lee shows an amazing insight into the teenage mind.  Lee suggests that it's Peter's frustration over the public constantly accusing him of being a bad guy that might actually drive him over the edge and inspire him to begin committing crimes.  Pete wonders, "must I be forced to become what they accuse me of being??  Must I really become a menace?  Perhaps that is the only course left for me!"  Later, at the end of the second story, after the police try to arrest him thinking he's Chameleon and he's forced to escape, he sobs in the alley, crying that, "Nothing turns out right…[Sob]…I wish I had never gotten my super powers!"  It's a really sad moment, and Lee does a great job of reminding you Pete's essentially just a boy, completely overwhelmed by the adult situations in which he finds himself.  As mentioned above, he discards the idea of robbing banks only because Aunt May would be devastated.  Here, Lee also gives us a typical teenager's world view, where he's not really considering the ethical and moral consequences of his actions, but more the immediate and personal ones.  Lee also underscores Pete's adolescence by showing Sue Storm's concern for Peter in the next panel, having her note what a menace such a strong and confused teenager could be.  Sue, in fact, is probably the only character at this point who has shown any sympathy to Spider-Man.

Reading these issues, you realize that Pete really struggles here with issues similar to the ones that lead his enemies into lives of crime.  How many times has Hydro-Man or Sandman or Shocker committed a crime because he desperately needed cash?  I don't think it ever dawned on me that Pete could've turned to a life of crime, but reading these issues you realize what great work Lee does with Pete here in building a hero, by having him consider not being one.

Continuing the discussion of differences between what I thought Spidey's origin was and what it actually is, when we hear Peter in the modern issues discuss his regret over the death of Uncle Ben, it usually centers around him not stopping the thief who would eventually shoot Uncle Ben.  However, in this issue, Pete doesn't actually mention that aspect of the story while he's reviewing the events of "Amazing Fantasy" #15; instead, he laments that he wasn't home when the burglar arrived, because he was busy "showing off" at a personal appearance.  I don't think I knew that Pete was at a personal appearance when Uncle Ben got shot, and it does really add some complexity to the guilty that Pete has carried with him all these years.

Looking at firsts, we see JJJ here for the first time.  We don't really get too much detail on why he thinks Spider-Man is a public menace, other than the fact that JJJ seems annoyed that people would respect Spidey and not JJJ's son, John, the test pilot.  I'm intrigued to see how Pete eventually gets the idea to go work with JJJ, because, in these issues, JJJ is the epitome of everything that goes wrong in Pete's efforts as Spider-Man.  We also see Peter's Spider-Sense, I believe, for the first time, though it's less well defined than it is in modern comics.  He uses his "spider instinct senses" in a pretty standard way in his fight against Invisible Girl, but he later uses them to hear radio waves along certain frequencies.  He also uses them to locate the ship with which Chameleon is trying to rendezvous, but I'm not entirely sure whether it's supposed to be because he hears the radio frequency or something else.  Finally, we also get our first costumed villain, Chameleon.  We don't get much background on him, other than the fact that he's trying to help "Iron Curtain" countries.  But, I have to say, I'm surprised that Chameleon has the honor of being the first costumed villain.  I thought it would've been Doc Ock or someone similar.

As an aside, I loved how Pete's producer had to pay him with a check so he'll have a record for tax purposes and the bank won't cash a check made to "Spider-Man" without proper ID (and doesn't accept his costume as "proper ID").  It's probably the last time such reality entered comic books!

Finally, to do some nitpicking, I'm not entirely sure why John couldn't eject from the capsule in the first place.  Why did he need the guidance unit to activate the chute?  Also, Pete's trouble to get a part-time job comes in part because a manager tells him he doesn't want a boy but "a man" for the job.  Really?  Teenagers didn't work in the '60s?  Pete appears to be applying for a job to be a bus boy, and I'm pretty sure a teenager can wash dishes just as well as someone with more chest hair.  Also, last but certainly not least, who knew that, for an issue, Peter Parker was Peter Palmer!  (Don't believe me?  Check out this link to see it for yourself!  http://comiccoverage.typepad.com/comic_coverage/2009/08/superbloopers-tangled-in-the-web-of-alliteration.html)  But, given that Stan was in the middle of creating, you know, every Marvel superhero, I'll let him off the hook for these errors!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Thanos Imperative #2

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Interesting.  You pretend to be superficial and glib, but you understand."  "I bet you say that to all the boys."  -- Thanos and Star-Lord, bantering

Nova and Quasar continue helping the warships from "a hundred different interstellar cultures" fend off attacks from the Cancerverse creatures.  They receive some help from Silver Surfer, who arrives with Galactus and a horde of Abstracts.  Meanwhile, the Guardians make quick work of the Cancerverse's Defenders, but realize their efforts are for naught given the fact that the Defenders can't be killed.  Thanos regains consciousness and defeats the Defenders (this time, with feeling!), warning the Guardians how immense the task ahead of them is.  They then come face to face with the Cancerverse's Vision.  Meanwhile, in "our" reality, Major Victory is captured by the Revengers and put into a holding cell with the other anomalies, including Namorita.  Nova, Quasar, Silver Surfer, and the Abstracts fight the Cancerverse creatures, only to be awed by the arrival of the Galactus Engine.

The Review
This issue was OK.  It moved pretty fast, given that most of it is dedicated to the Guardians' fight with the Cancerverse's version of the Defenders.  However, although it was a pretty cool fight, it doesn't really do that much to propel forward the plot.  I mean, it's not like it was a bad issue.  I'm just anxious to see where DnA are going with the pretty awesome concepts they're throwing our way, so I'm getting impatient!

The Good

1) Um, the Galactus/Abstracts splash pages were pretty un-freaking-believable.  You could tell Sepulveda had fun drawing it.

2) Holy crap, the Galactus Engine.  It took me a second look to realize that Galactus is in the foreground in the scene, small by comparison.

The Bad

1) Why didn't Major Victory go with the rest of the Guardians?  It seems weird that he was left in "our" Universe, where he was conveniently trapped by the Revengers.

2) DnA refer to Galactus and the other entities with him as the "Abstracts."  But, instead, they look like Celestials, who, if I'm not mistaken, aren't Abstracts.  I don't think it really matters, but it's with noting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Thanos Imperative #1

**** (four of five stars)

In a flashback to the Annihilation War, Peter Quill tells Nova to scream in the face of Death if he ever runs into her or the other Abstracts (Eternity, Death, Oblivion, etc.)  In the present, an enraged Thanos has escaped his bonds and is trying to kill Star-Lord and only stops when Rocket Raccoon threatens to paralyze him and put him in a cryogenic pod, cursing him to endless life.  The Guardians of the Galaxy's telepaths then contain him, but the Guardians' discussions of what to do with him are cut short when they get distress signals from the Kree and Shi'Ar as the Fault explodes.  In the Fault zone, creatures from the Cancerverse attack the assembled ships, sending the Kree, Nova Corps, and Shi'Ar scrambling to repel them.  On a starship later revealed to be Thanos' flagship, Sanctuary, Lord Mar-Vell instructs Evil Quasar to take the Revengers to find the Avatar of Death, which will read as an "anomalous figure."  On Knowhere, Star-Lord and Thanos agree that the only way to save "our" reality is bring death to the Cancerverse.  To that end, they accompany Thanos into Cancerverse, only to come face to face with that Universe's version of the Defenders just as Thanos falls unconscious as he becomes overwhelmed by the amount of life in the Cancerverse.  Meanwhile, Nova and Quasar join the fight on the Resolute Duty (the Corps' starship), though fail to prevent the Revengers from kidnapping Namorita.

The Review

I decided to do full-blown reviews of each of "The Thanos Imperative" issues to commemorate the end of Marvel Cosmic, a series of series and mini-series that have given me great enjoyment over the last few months.  DnA set up a really high-concept story here, with an alternate Universe -- the "Cancerverse" -- threatening to take over "our" Universe.  The characters from "our" reality are essentially fighting for death, since the inhabitants of the Cancerverse has "conquered" death (by surrendering themselves to demonic powers).  Enter Thanos, the Avatar of Death in "our" Universe.

The Good
1)I loved how DnA set the tone for this series with the conversation between Nova and Quill during the Annihilation War.  Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows that "Annihilation" is just about my favorite story of all time, in part because DnA did such a great job showing the relationships between the characters and how those relationships sustained them at their darkest moments.  By starting the series with that flashback, DnA set the stage for a similarly relationship-driven story.  I can't wait!

2) No one does "heroes with their backs to the wall" better than DnA.  I thought they did an amazing job of portraying the panic the Kree and Shi'Ar felt trying to repel the "extrinsic entities" that came pouring from the Cancerverse via the Fault.

3) I also thought DnA did a great job with Thanos, portraying his anger at being denied death.  It's hard to write Thanos as not just a  completely insane nut-job, but DnA manage to treat him with a certain dignity.

4) With the kidnapping of Namorita, DnA seem to be setting up a scenario whereby the people who have returned from death will somehow help in the ritual that the Many-Angled Ones' servants want to perform to eradicate death in "our" reality.  It should be interesting to see how that goes and who exactly will be involved.

5) I loved the Cancerverse's Defenders!  I so didn't see that coming!  (Though, I thought the Cancerverse Iron Man killed the Cancerverse Hulk?  But, then again, if no one can die in the Cancerverse, so I guess that answered my question.  But, if Iron Man didn't kill him, then why did they make sure a big deal about it in "Realm of Kings?"  Why remove his heart?)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Amazing Fantasy #15: "Spider-Man!"

Peter Parker, who the narrator tells us is "far from being the biggest man on campus," tries to get some of his fellow students to go to a science exhibition with him, but they tell him to take a hike.  ("You stick to science, son!  We'll take the chicks!")  At the exhibit, he's bitten by a radioactive spider and soon realizes he's developed super powers, being able to cling to walls and walk on cables "as effortlessly as the spider itself can glide along its web."  To test his powers, Pete dons a mask and enters a wrestling contest with Crusher Hogan.  Defeating him easily, Peter makes $100 and meets a TV producer who tells him he'll be a "smash on Ed Sullivan's show."  Peter constructs his Web-Shooters and gets himself a costume, calling himself Spider-Man.  He then begins to perform in a series of televised events.  One night, after such an event, he fails to stop a thief who ran past him, telling the police officer who asks him why he didn't trip him, "that's your job!"  Aunt May and Uncle Ben later surprise Pete with the microscope he's always wanted and Spider-Man's career continues to go well.  One night, on the way home from a personal appearance, Pete learns (from the same cop, seemingly, who tried to catch the thief earlier) that Uncle Ben has been murdered by a burglar.  The cop tells Pete the thief is hiding in the old Acme warehouse at the waterfront and Pete dons his Spider-Man costume to go get him.  He finds him hiding and realizes that it's the thief he failed to stop the previous night.

The Review
As anyone who's read this issue before knows, despite being the start of the Spider-Man mythos, it's really not all that exciting.  Lee gives us Spider-Man's origin story in just 11 pages.  In fact, Peter doesn't get bitten by that famous spider ("whom fate has given a starring, if brief, role to play in the drama we call life!") until page 3, so the entire origin story really happens on just nine pages.  Pete gets his Spider-Powers, becomes a professional wrestler, fails to stop a thief, and suffers the loss of Uncle Ben.  Talk about concise!

Beyond the origin story we all know, I found certain parts of this issue interesting for being different from my normal understanding of Spider-Man's origin.  First, in my review of "Amazing Spider-Man" #661, I criticize the author for having the Avengers Academy kids gush over Spidey's professional wrestling career, saying that it lasted "five minutes."  Um, I might've been wrong about that.  In this issue, we see several newspaper headlines saying that Spider-Man played to a packed house, won a "showbiz" award, and was slated to star in his own TV series.  Apparently, he really did have something like a career.  I mean, it clearly didn't last for years or anything, but I guess he would've been sufficiently high-profile as a "celebrity" (if not necessarily a wrestler) for the kids to remember him before he took up superhero-ing.

Second, Uncle Ben never says "with great power comes great responsibility."  The narrator does, saying, at the end of the issue, as Spidey silently walks into the night after discover his role in Uncle Ben's death, "with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!"  I assume, at a later date, Lee gives us a flashback of Uncle Ben saying it to Peter, but I thought it was interesting that it doesn't happen here.  Speaking of Uncle Ben, I was surprised to see that he only has two lines in this issue.  That's it.  He wakes up Peter for school ("You're not fooling' me, Petey.  I know you're awake -- and it's time for school!") and tells Aunt May not to feed Peter too much ("Don't fatten him up too much, dear!  I can hardly out-wrestle him now!")  Not bad for a guy who becomes one of comicdom's most beloved figures!  Also, wheatcakes appear in this issue!  It's what Aunt May was feeding Peter (his favorite breakfast) when Uncle Ben tells her not to overfeed him.  Who knew wheatcakes were so steeped in history?

Finally, we have some non-standard depictions of Spidey here.  First, we have the famous Web-Pits, and I wonder when they actually disappear.  But, also, when Spidey is holding the thief, he actually has pupils, which Ditko seemed to add to stress how shocked he was.  In terms of the more standard aspects of his Spider-Powers, we get his ability to stick to walls and his Spider-Strength.  Lee doesn't specifically mention his Spider-Sense, though I think it's implied when he leaps away from the car that almost hits him, the event that makes him realize he can cling to walls.

Looking more thematically, I was surprised just how angry Peter is in this issue, even before Uncle Ben's death.  When he received his microscope from Uncle Ben and Aunt May, he thinks, "They're the only ones who've ever been kind to me!  I'll see to it that they're always happy, but the rest of the world can go hang for all I care!"  He tells the cop who berates him for not stopping the thief, "Sorry, pal!  That's your job!  I'm thru being pushed around -- by anyone!  From now on I just look out for number one -- that means -- me!"  Lee makes it pretty clear just how alone and isolated Peter is at the start of the issue, with the kids (and even the scientists) making fun of him.  (It's pretty bad when a bunch of scientists call you a wuss, which they do when he gets light-headed after getting bitten by the spider and has to leave the exhibition.)  But, I didn't realize just how dark Peter's thoughts were.  In a post-Columbine world, it's an interesting insight to see, and sets up later discussions (particularly in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1) about whether Pete will eventually turn to a life of crime.

I want to note that Lee's narration is really great.  Although the issue doesn't really conform to modern standards of dialogue and flow, it's through the narrative bubbles that we get most of our insight into Peter and the troubles he faces and life he leads.  The narrator tells us that Peter is "far from being the biggest man on campus" and that Aunt May "thought the sun rose and set upon her nephew."  Lee gives us the insight we need to understand just how powerful of a character he and Ditko created.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Going Back to Basics

With this last post, my tour of Spidey's "Brand New Day" saga -- from "One More Day" to "Big Time" -- ends.  This project was actually one of the driving forces behind me starting the blog.  I read most of the issues and wrote most of the posts over a three- or four-month period last year, so it's kind of crazy to me to see it all coming to an end.  At the same time, my other major back-issue review project -- "Nova" and the various Marvel Cosmic cross-over events -- is also ending as I wrap up "The Thanos Imperative."  What's a blogger to do?

I decided to go back to basics.  I bought "Marvel Masterworks Presents:  The Amazing Spider-Man" volumes 1-5 a few months ago, but haven't really had a chance to make my way through them.  I decided what better time than the present.  It's probably going to be a bit more sporadic than my last effort, where I built up a few dozen posts and scheduled posting them in an orderly fashion.  But, I'm excited to be making my way through the ur-texts of Spider-Man.

A few logistical notes before we begin:  I'm not going to be rating the issues or doing "Good" and "Bad" sections, because it feels more than slightly sacrilegious to do so.  I've made my way through the first few issues, and, looking at my reviews, I'm probably going to wind up focusing mostly on plots and sub-plots that I didn't realize existed, like the first few issues' focus on whether or not Spidey was going to fall into a life of crime.  I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I'm enjoying writing them!

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #37: "The Spider and the Shield"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Well, there was, y'know...my Spider-Sense and...and the bank..and...yelling...and then Sandman hit me."  -- Spidey getting all fan-boy upon meeting Cap

On his way to "The Bugle," Spidey encounters Sandman robbing a bank.  Spidey is in need of some help...and Captain America delivers, with a shield to the back of Sandman's head.  (Sandman had converted to granite to strangle Spidey.)  Cap tells Spidey that he'd been looking for him to thank him for saving his life (in "Avengers" #11 -- the 1963 version, not the new one).  Spidey gets all fan-boy flummoxed.  Just as Cap and the cops slap a power-inhibiting collar on Sandman and bundle him into the paddy wagon, a group of "rogue scientists" teleport onto the scene, declaring they intend to kill Sandman to prevent him from killing 27 percent of the world's population.  Cap tells them he won't allow it; in response, the leader (Darwin) attacks him while Kafka (yup) goes after Sandman.  Spidey grabs Sandman and escapes with him.  Curie irradiates plants on top of a building, which grab Sandman.  Cap and Spidey free and hide Sandman and then engage the rogue scientists.  During the battle, Curie's radition powers irradiate Sandman, causing him to grow.  Sandman declares that, once his growing power overcomes his inhibitor collar, he'll kill 27 percent of the Earth.  Spidey tells Tesla to soup up the collar so it can constrain him, which knocks out Sandman and returns him to normal.  It's revealed that Darwin knew that this eventuality would happen and chose it (rather than one of the easier 17 ways) to impress Curie, which (sigh) works.  The rogue scientists disappear and the next-day papers credit Cap with saving the city.  Cap approaches Spidey about it, offering to hold a press conference to support him, but Spidey passes, knowing that it could drag down Cap and telling Cap that his opinion is the only one that matters.  Cap realizes that, if he could work side-by-side with other misunderstood would-be heroes, he could rehabililitate their reputations, giving him the idea to offer Avengers membership to Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch.

The Review
OK, I'm not a super fan of the "untold tales" type of story, so I'm a bad audience for both the stories in this book.  I only cover the main story here and, um, yeah, it wasn't my cup of tea.  It's fine, in a goofy, annual type of way, but I think a story billing the first team-up involving Captain America and Spider-Man could probably have been centered around something other than a group of rogue scientists deciding to off Sandman so he doesn't kill 27 percent of the world's population.  Sandman's never really been that homicidal, so it made no sense to me when, once irradiated, he announces he's going to fulfill the scientists' prediction.  Plus, the ending -- of Cap getting the idea for including Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch in the Avengers -- is exactly the type of reason I hate "untold tales" stories.  Although it quite possibly could've been true that Cap was inspired by Spider-Man to do so, it seems unlikely, particularly since it's never been mentioned before.  All in all, it's not that great of an issue, but I'll give it a two simply because it's not the worst annual story I've ever read.  (How's that for a back-handed compliment?)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Thanos Imperative: Ignition #1

**** (four of five stars)

Thanos has been resurrected, and he struggles with memories of his past self as he begins to come to consciousness.  He reveals that his resurrection came at the hands of Magus, who recognized Thanos' importance to the cosmic pattern.  Magus had found Thanos' drifting corpse and placed it a cocoon, which the Universal Church of Truth discovered and mistook to contain Magus himself.  Its members took the cocoon to their throne world, resurrecting Thanos, who destroyed said world in revenge.  Thanos awakens at Knowhere, the headquarters of the Guardians of the Galaxy, whose telepaths have been trying to soothe Thanos' mind as he returns to consciousness.  Moondragon advocates to Star-Lord that they should kill him, as does (shocker) Drax.  Rocket Raccoon disagrees, saying that Thanos is too cosmically important for them to kill, noting that Drax may have set in motion the whole range of interstellar events of the past few years as a result of killing Thanos.  At the Fault, Nova is joined in his chase of Evil Quasar by "our" Quasar as the Kree and Shi'Ar prepare to attack the Universal Church of Truth, which has been amassing warships (called "templeships") in the Fault zone.  Worldmind warns Richard that the templeships are full of believers generating belief energy, hypothesizing that the Church is planning something big.  Nova crashes into one of the ships with Evil Quasar, only to be confronted by Magus, who's working with Evil Quasar.  Quasar arrives to fight Magus, who reveals that he's transported not just templeships of believers, but entire planets of believers.  Magus then detonates the planets, killing trillions of people and using the released belief energy to bring the leader of the Many-Angled Ones' army, Lord Mar-Vell, into "our" Universe.  Mar-Vell kills Magus for his failure to eliminate the Avatar of Death, and says that his first priority is cleansing the Universe of death.

The Review
Holy flarking crap, people!  This issue is quite a ride.

OK, first, the most obvious thing I'll note is how well DnA tie in the various cosmic series and mini-series into just this one book.  I've read most of those series and mini-series, so I was familiar with a lot of the past events we see in this issue, such as Drax killing Thanos ("Annihilation"), Quasar discovering the Cancerverse ("Realm of Kings"), and Nova chasing Evil Quasar ("Nova").  However, I was unfamiliar with some events, such as Moondragon and Thanos being resurrected, the Guardians coming into possession of Thanos, Adam Warlock becoming Magus (and aligning himself with Evil Quasar), and Phyla-Vell being dead.  But, even if I wasn't 100 percent clear on when and where the unfamiliar events happened, DnA do a pretty great job of introducing them and placing them within the context of the events that happen in this book.  I mean, I don't really need to know the full back story to know that Magus destroying several planets full of Universal Church of Truth believers so that he can bring the Cancerverse's Many-Angled Ones to our reality isn't a good thing.

In addition to doing an excellent job getting the reader current on all the various cosmic series' events and setting up the upcoming cross-over event, DnA actually also deliver a good story.  You can feel Nova and Quasar's desperation in trying to stop Evil Quasar from making it to the Fault.  You also get the sense that the Guardians of the Galaxy are really scrambling to figure out something to do with Thanos before he regains his strength.  By the end of the issue, when Magus detonates the planets, you realized just how grand of a story DnA are planning here.  (I mean, you don't just kill a few trillion people for the heck of it.)  I'm exciting to see the band back together again, if you will, even if it doesn't promise to be the smoothest gig they've ever played.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nova #36: End of the Road

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "You're not the hot-headed human rocket I fell for.  And, in my timeline, I only fell for him yesterday, so this is extra weird for me."  "I'm sure I can help you through the transition."  "I'm sure you can get a room."  -- Namorita, Nova, and Darkhawk, in banter that makes me all the sadder that I'm losing this title

Favorite Quote #2:  "Rider!  It's critical you pay attention at this time!  I've got a sudden spike on the exotic energy source, I've restored contact with Darkhawk...and let's not forget I've got your long-lost girlfriend Namorita right here on the ship with me!  Now is probably not a good time to be kissing self-confessed A.I.M. spy Eve Necker." -- Worldmind, with pretty sound advice, actually

Darkhawk and Nova have flown to Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. after receiving an automated message saying that it was sealed until further notice.  Nova speaks with Quasar, who explains P.E.G.A.S.U.S. quarantined itself after his return from the Fault to be sure he hadn't brought back anything from his scouting trip.  He also reveals that he learned nothing new from said trip.  Rich notes that the two of them share an emphatic bond as a result of his time as Quasar when Wendell was in his head...and informs "Quasar" that he received a message from "our" Quasar the previous night.  Dark Quasar, realizing Nova has seen through his ruse, attacks Nova.  Meanwhile, Darkhawk is in Sub-Vault #77 exploring a mysterious energy source that Worldmind detected; he discovers an enormous creature, who looks like the creature that comprises Dark Quasar's Universe, as seen in the "Realm of Kings" one-shot, sticking through a portal and a possessed Dr. Gruenwald, who orders the Guardsmen to kill him.  In a flashback, Worldmind plays the distress call from our Quasar, who warns Rich that the demonic versions of Earth's superheroes are coming to take over our Universe.  In the present, Nova uses Darkhawk's command-override code (from his days as P.E.G.A.S.U.S.' security chief) to shut down the Guardsmen and encases a possessed Dr. Necker in a grav bubble, taking her with him as he flees Dark Quasar.  The grav bubble kills the creature Dark Quasar used to control Dr. Necker's mind, and she warns Nova that whoever sent Dark Quasar is something deep inside the Fault and coming to our Universe to take it from us.  Worldmind directs Nova to Sub-Vault #77 to help Darkhawk; Eve tells Rich that Dark Quasar was using the Project's facilities to construct a detection instrument he called the "horrorscope."  Upon arriving at the Sub-Vault, Dr. Gruenwald attacks, and Nova also puts him in a grav bubble to break Dark Quasar's control.  Nova joins Darkhawk in battling the creature trying to enter via the horrorscope, but Dark Quasar appears and zaps him.  He informs Nova that the horrorscope found what it was built to find and that Nova can either fight off the creature or stop Dark Quasar from returning to his world to inform the Many-Angled Ones of his discovery.  Nova fights off the creature, instructs Eve to get Chris (who was so rocked by the Dark Quasar blast that he's reverted to Chris), and chases Dark Quasar.

The Review
As sad as I am to know that I just read the last issue of this series, I'm excited that it was a great issue.  After my initial confusion over the fact that "Nova" #32-#35 had nothing to do with "Realm of Kings" (despite carrying its name on their covers), I was glad to see some of my questions following the "Realm of Kings" one-shot addressed in this issue.  I thought DnA did a great job of ramping up the excitement for "The Thanos Imperative" event, once again using the palpable fear that "our" reality's superheroes feel in facing the other reality's "superheroes" to convey just how serious of a threat they are.

Final Thoughts:  Rather than going through my usual review, I'm going to take this chance to reflect on how great this series has been.  From its initial issues in the wake of "Annihilation" to great arcs like the Knowhere story, DnA have shown, to use a cliché that really fits here, Richard's growth from a boy to a man.  Moreover, by having other characters note it (most recently, Namorita and Mr. Fantastic, but also, previously, Darkhawk and Iron Man), DnA have improved Nova's standing in the superhero community.  He's not the hot-headed kid he was, trying to use his powers for no greater purpose than to get into the Avengers.  I can't really think of any similar series that organically changed an established character so successfully and thoroughly as this one.  (Dan Slott is currently trying to engineer something similar in "Amazing Spider-Man," but he hasn't totally gotten there yet.)

Moreover, DnA leave us wanting more.  One of the best parts of "Nova" and the other cosmic series is that they've resurrected from obscuirty characters I loved in the '90s, like Darkhawk, Nova, and Quasar.  I have ever issue of "Quasar," and I think it serves as a good foil for this series.  I remember one of my frustrations with"Quasar's" ending is that it just ended.  Sure, we got a wrap-up issue, where Quasar said his good-byes to everyone on Earth before heading into space, but it felt more or less forced.  Plus, it was a seriously depressing ending:  a defeated Wendell heads into space by himself to save his loved ones from getting hurt because of him, particularly given the sense of guilt he felt over leaving Kayla abandoned on the "New Universe" Earth.  He essentially leaves Earth with no connection to anyone who appeared in the series' sixty-issue run.

This ending couldn't be more different.  Over the course of this series, Rich has always flourished more -- personally and professionally, if you will -- in space than on Earth.  Moreover, he's not in space alone; he's got a full (and awesome) cast of characters with him, from the Nova Corps group (Worldmind, Philo, and the probies) to allies like Darkhawk and the Guardians of the Galaxy.  Moreover, as opposed to losing a girl at the end, like Quasar did, he gains one.

As such, I'm wondering if DnA knew that "Nova" was going to be canceled after this issue.  The status of Darkhawk, particularly given the events of this issue, and Namorita are left in the air.  We don't really get any clarity on where Darkhawk stands vis-a-vis the Fraternity of the Raptors or the Shi'Ar Imperium.  In fact, I'm not entirely sure Chris is alive at the end.  We also just got a sense of which Namorita were getting; she mentions "just" falling in love with Rich, so I'm guessing we're dealing with the version of her we saw in the early days of the "New Warriors."  Unfortunately, I doubt we're going to get too much clarity on them in "The Thanos Imperative," since I'm assuming DnA have bigger fish to fry.  Plus, as I've mentioned before, the Nova Corps group presents such great potential for stories that you got the sense that DnA had a lot more arcs planned.  For example, they (somewhat shockingly) introduced Garthan Saal (Supernova) in issue #31, a character for whom I assume they had some serious plans.  But, again, I doubt he's going to appear in the upcoming cross-over event, so why introduce him if they knew the series was going to end in five issues?  So, although it's still a better ending than we got in "Quasar," one full of hope and possibility, I'm still disappointed that Marvel couldn't find a way to keep it going.  I'm going to have to try to enjoy all my Nova time during "The Thanos Imperative."

In the end, though, I want to thank DnA for taking one of my favorite characters and making him awesome.  The bottom line is that, if you didn't read this series when it was first published, like I didn't, it is seriously worth the investment, particularly if you're even remotely a fan of cosmic stories.  DnA turned Rich Rider into one of Marvel's greatest heroes, and it is a fantastic journey to follow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #647: "Another Door" et al.

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "I never liked you, Vin.  You're close-minded and uncurious and you don't laugh at my jokes."  -- Harry, to an unconscious Vin.

Vin has been sprung from jail.  Peter and Carlie are costume shopping for Aunt May's Halloween/good-bye-Harry party.  Carlie is worried about going since Vin -- the man she put in prison -- will be there.  Peter tells her he really wants her there so Harry can see the whole gang together, provoking a rant from Carlie about how Peter needs to decide what he wants from her.  Meanwhile, Overdrive kidnaps a socialite, prompting Peter to go after him in a costume-version of his actual costume.  Peter saves the socialite and defeats Overdrive, but has to flee in his skivvies after Overdrive used the Spider Buggy's web cannon to web him to the socialite.  (He had changed the socialite's limo to the Spider Buggy, natch.)  Michele and Peter get Vin from the diner where he's waiting for them after being released.  Vin goes to see Carlie and asks her forgiveness, bringing her to Aunt May's party.  Vin reveals that he's converted to Norman Osborn-ism in prison when he tells Harry that his father says Harry better take good care of Stanley (the baby).  MJ tells Peter that he has a right to be happy and he finds Carlie, telling her that he wants her to be his girlfriend.  They kiss.  In one of the additional stories, Harry follows Vin on his walk home, Tazes him, and then beats him, telling him never to threaten him or Stanley again.

The Review
Meh.  As I'll detail in the next post (a reflection on "Brand New Day"), I low-ball this issue because I'm annoyed with the fact that, after everything, Peter essentially ends "Brand New Day" where he started it, making me wonder why we had to lose MJ in the process.
The Good
1) Peter Parker in his faux Spidey mask and boxers was just about the sexiest thing I've ever seen.

2) Carlie as Felicia?  MJ as Jackpot?  Harry and Stanley as Dr. Octopus?  All awesome.

3) The Vin-as-disciple-of-the-Green-Goblin thing was interesting, but I'm not sure where it's going.  Are we going to see Vin become the Goblin maybe?  It was unexpected, since I thought we were going to begin the Vin redemption arc, but, instead, he's worshiping a super-villain.  I mean, Vin can't possibly construe Norman Osborn as a hero, so I'm assuming that we're clearly seeing him place himself firmly on the "bad guy" side.  Also, Harry wailing on Vin was intense, yo.

4) Oh, the Spider-Buggy.

5) I teared up a little at the Flash story.  It was really nicely done.  (I could remark that Peter knew that Flash was inspired by Spider-Man, since Flash told him that once, in "Amazing Spider-Man: Extra!" #3.  So, it doesn't make a lot of sense that Spidey only started following Flash when the article mentioning he was inspired by Spidey was published, since Spidey already knew that.  But, it was a nice story, and I'm not going to nitpick.)

The Bad
1) Overdrive was arrested back in the last arc.  He was in the web ball with Diablo and, I think, the Spot that Spidey threw into the police station.  Peter goes on a whole speech about capturing him for the first time, but he already did so in the last arc.  Plus, not much time elapsed between this issue and the last arc, since Pete's costume was still drying from him having washed it to get off the sewer stink.  So, did Overdrive escape from prison?  Or, more likely, did the editors forget to tell Van Lente he got captured in "Origin of the Species?"  You decide.

2) So, is Aunt May over the Mr. Negative corrupting touch or not?  Did she shake herself from it when she comforts Peter at the end of "Shed?"  I ask because it's still a little unclear here.  She actually makes two bitchy comments about Peter and gives him the stink eye when she sees him at the door of her house, but, at this point, God only knows what her motivation is.

3) I'm over Carlie, which sucks, because we're not going to get rid of her any time soon, clearly.  Van Lente writes her as a doormat here:  one minute, she's telling Peter never to speak to her again (which she's done at least once before, in the "Mind on Fire" arc), but the next minute she's kissing him in the kitchen when he asks her to be his girlfriend.  What the hell?  She also suffers from being featured in such close proximity to Mary Jane, who gives Peter amazing advice BECAUSE SHE'S THE ONE HE LOVES.  The last shot -- of Peter kissing Carlie -- felt like a punch in the gut, underlining that, as "Brand New Day" ends, the whole point of it was to delete MJ.  I have to hope that, now that Carlie is going to be Pete's girlfriend, we see an end to her occasional tirades about him not asking her on a date and we get to see her be cool, like she was during "Shed."

4) I'm disappointed we didn't get a really Harry/Peter send-off here.  Harry has been alternatively a central character and a totally ignored one over the course of "Brand New Day," but we could at least have gotten something close to an emotional good-bye with Peter.  I mean, we spend more time on Carlie here than we do on Harry, and that's just wrong.

5) Speaking of Harry, it's weird that we drop his oxycodone addition in this arc.  We had just seen, in "Amazing Spider-Man Presents:  American Son," his addiction more clearly presented than we had previously, with Harry lying to Norah about getting better.  But, here, it's not mentioned at all, probably because it would've been a little iffy to have a drug addict taking his newborn son into the night.  But, it's still weird that, just as the sub-plot was getting somewhere, the editors wind up dropping it.  It makes me wonder if sending Harry into the night wasn't something of a last-minute plan, so they never really had time to address some dangling plot points.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #642-#646: "Origin of the Species"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Listen, please, I need your help!  I have no idea what I'm doing and I'm so tired, and you know how it is, right?  I just -- a diaper or some formula or --"  Spidey trying to convince a lady on the street to help out a surrogate dad

A mysterious figure convenes a meeting of almost all of Spidey's street-level nemeses, telling them to secure a package.  The winner will receive that which he most needs.  Betty Brant convinces Peter not to sell his camera equipment at a camera convention and loans Peter $50 for his date with Carlie.  Peter goes home to discover that Michele is selling his clothes to compensate for his lack of paying rent, so Peter winds up wearing a fairly bizarre sweater (in the middle of summer) for his date.  When he meets Carlie at the Coffee Bean, Harry and MJ are there, and they proceed to tell Carlie all Peter's embarrassing stories.  The fun is interrupted when Lily crashes into the Coffee Bean in labor, being chased by the Shocker and Tombstone.  Doc Ock is exposed as the mysterious figure and takes Lily's baby, wanting it to study the biological advantages the first child born of two Goblin-serum-ed parents would have.  Spidey grabs the baby and escapes, becoming the subject of a city-wide obsession as he's tailed by news helicopters and inquiring police.  (JJJ, Jr. has, of course, decided Spidey kidnapped the baby.)  Electro, Sandman, the Vulture, Freak, and Mysterio all try to get the baby, whereas the Rhino just wants to kill Spidey.  Meanwhile, Mary Jane takes Lily to the home of her producer, who has a panic room, and Carlie stays at the Coffee Bean to try to find a missing Peter.  Harry appears, and Peter gives him the baby, while throwing the Vulture and Freak off his trail.  Harry tells Spidey the baby died, and Spidey goes into a rage, swearing vengeance on all the villains involved, furious that, amidst all the tragedy that's occurred over the last few weeks, he couldn't save one little life.  Carlie tracks down Lily and MJ, but inadvertently leads Tombstone there; Lily proceeds to take out Tombstone with her glider.  Spidey learns of Doc Ock's location at the Kravinoff Mansion from the Shocker; once there, he finds the Chameleon, who was revealed to have been "Harry," who tells Spidey the Lizard stole the baby.  Doc Ock has also discovered that the Lizard has the baby, and the two go into the Lizard's lair.  While Doc Ock and the Lizard battle, Spidey escapes with the baby, who Spidey finds (taking up the Lizard's research, which he can't complete) doesn't have a trace of Goblin serum.  Lily departs, saying she's a threat to the baby, and Spidey calls Harry to Avengers Tower.  He takes a blood sample from Harry and reveals the baby is Harry's, not Norman's.

The Review
This arc tells a pretty solid Spidey story.  It's funny, with its "Three Men [or, at least, One Spider-Man] and a Baby" schtick, but it also gets dark, with Spidey striking fear in the hearts of the villains who were involved in the kidnapping of Lily's baby.  It had tons of twists and turns, making it a definite page-turner.  It also has the benefit of moving quickly, which is a departure from the last two arcs ("Grim Hunt" and "One Moment in Time"), which had a lot of narrative to process.

The Good
1) Holy crap, I didn't see a pregnant Lily bursting through the front of the Coffee Bean coming.  At first, I was immediately skeptical about why Lily would be flying on her glider in labor, but, fair enough, Waid gives us a good reason, in the form of her being chased by the Shocker, Tombstone, and Dr. Octopus.  On top of that, the whole sequence was funny while also menacing (heh).

2) OMG, finally, a villain invented a Spider-Tracer!

3) Mysterio's Goblin Baby was awesome.  I mean, it would've been awful had they actually made the baby into a Goblin Baby as I initially feared, so it was all the more awesome when it was revealed to be a ploy by Mysterio.

4) The Chameleon as Harry!  I didn't see that coming AT ALL.  Twists and turns, people, twists and turns.

The Bad
1) The main problem with this arc, and the reason why I'm only giving it a three, is the art.  I like Azaceta normally, but everything here feels really rushed.  Most of the time, the characters are almost more sketched than drawn, making it occasionally hard to tell who's who.  For example, in the first issue, I couldn't even tell it was Peter and Betty at the camera fair.  Had the art been more consistent, this arc would've really been a home run.

2) ARGH!  Michele is crazy again!  ARGH!  Why is she selling Peter's clothes without telling him if they had a truce?  Why?

3) Wasn't Freak dead?  If I cared more about Freak, I'd go research that, but, I'm pretty sure, when we left things with Freak, he was dead.

4) Why does the Lizard hate Osborn?  He says he does, but why?  It's not for something that happened during "Brand New Day," and I don't remember any reason for him to hate Osborn back in the pre-re-numbering days when I was still reading "Amazing Spider-Man."

5) Wouldn't Harry's first "kick into adulthood" have been his, you know, existing son? 

6) Despite being seen at Octopus' meeting in the beginning of the arc, we don't see Hammerhead, Mr. Negative or Morbius appear again in the arc.  We actually only see Diablo, Overdrive, and the Spot when Spidey sends the web-ball of them flying into the police station.  It's fine, I guess, but why include them in the scene if you're not going to use them, particularly since other villains who wind up appearing in the arc (like the Rhino and the Vulture) aren't in the scene?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Realm of Kings #1 and Nova #32-#35

*** (three of five stars)

Quasar volunteers to enter the Fault on behalf of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova Corps, and Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. to gather more information about the event.  Upon arriving in the Fault, he finds himself corporal again in an alternate -- and devastated -- version of Manhattan.  He is attacked by an enormous creature emitting gamma radiation (guess who it is?), only to be saved by a demonic version of the Avengers.  They defeat the creature, who's revealed to be Bruce Banner (shocking, I know).  Captain America then orders Iron Man to kill him, which Iron Man does by ripping out Banner's heart.  Quasar is imprisoned, after the Scarlet Witch deduces he's not their Earth's Quasar, who was also dispatched into the Fault to gather information.  Quasar learns that this Earth's heroes serve the Many-Angled Ones, a group of gods who imbued the heroes with power in return for their adoration.  The gods want to expand into new Universes, and both sides realize that their Earths exist at opposite ends of the Fault.  Quasar refuses to divulge information about how to get to his Earth, but the Scarlet Witch reveals that she can track his "quantum-phasic energy."  After the other Avengers depart to plan their attack, Quasar speaks with the Scarlet Witch, who reveals that she fears the Many-Angled Ones and has been housing Vision within her.  He decides to reveal himself and free Quasar because he cannot allow another Earth to suffer the same fate as his and fends off Ms. Marvel as Quasar escapes.  Quasar rockets past Iron Man and Thor to the outskirts of this Universe, only to realize the entire Universe is a giant, twisted beast trying to metastasize in our reality.  Meanwhile, the other reality's Quasar arrives at Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S.

In "Nova," Darkhawk and Nova survive the destruction of the Outworld Shard and awaken to find themselves seemingly in the Egypt of the 1920s and at the mercy of the Sphinx.  Darkhawk tells Nova they should attack, but the Sphinx appears to ignore him, telling Nova he brought him "here" and asking if he's ready to play his part.  Before Nova can get an answer from the Sphinx about playing his "part," the trio are attacked by a sandstorm full of djinn.  During the battle, the Sphinx disappears, telling Nova he had expected more of him, and Nova destroys the djinn with the Nova Force.  Darkhawk and Nova journey through the land, only to stumble across an archeological dig led by Reed Richards, who has apparently also been brought "here" but from several years earlier.  Richards informs the pair that he's been investigating a "chronal accelerator" he found "here," designed to rewrite the time stream, and hypothesizes that the Sphinx is attempting to undo the damage to himself that he caused by constantly re-writing his own history.  Darkhawk and Nova realize that the Fault also exists "here" and attempt to investigate it, with Darkhawk passing an invisible barrier that Nova can't.  Nova awakens a little later in time to see the arrival of a much younger Black Bolt carrying a mummy.  Darkhawk returns, showing the results of a scan he initiated of "here," revealing that it's not Egypt of the 1920s but a magical construct.  The mummy is later revealed to be a younger -- and alive -- Namorita.  A younger Sphinx then attacks the group and the group takes refuge in the pyramid (a.k.a. "chronal accelerator").  They're then zapped by some energy, and all of them -- save Darkhawk -- enter dream states where they see the world as they wish it were.  Darkhawk wakes up the group and they realize they're on one of two floating Sphinx platforms engaged in battle with one another.  They find an old Sphinx, who reveals he's fighting his younger self after his younger self refused to allow him to take advantage of the Fault and avoid the mistakes that left him in such a decrepit state.  He tells the heroes he recruited them because they had defeated him in the past and he wants them to defeat his younger self.  However, his younger self appears, announcing he refused the older Sphinx's offer so he could take advantage of the properties of the Fault and secure two Ka stones, becoming a God.  He also brought with him his own set of champions, a group of villains who engage in person-to-person combat with the heroes.  Basilisk kills Black Bolt, but Darkhawk, Mr. Fantastic, and Nova all defeat their counterparts.  (Meanwhile, it was revealed that the Sphinx ignored Darkhawk because he hadn't expected him to be there; he had only summoned Nova, but Darkhawk had been caught in his spell because of their proximity.)  The older Sphinx gains power from his champions' victories and takes control of Darkhawk, who disables the younger Sphinx and steals his Ka stone, giving it to the older Sphinx, who begins ascending to godhood.  The heroes -- and the younger Sphinx's champions, who are confused about where they are -- attempt to combat him, but they soon begin to fall beneath his notice.  The older Sphinx winds up eating the younger Sphinx (yup), which Richards announces is impossible.  But, Nova notes all sorts of impossible events are happening, like the younger Black Bolt dying, since he's alive for the Kree/Shi'Ar War.  Richards begins to scold Nova for telling him that, but then realizes that, if Richard remembers it, it didn't happen in the outside reality.  They realize that the Sphinx was in the process of gathering his power to alter the outside reality so that it could house two Ka stones, but he had yet to reach that level of power.  As such, Nova opens a stargate (based on Reed's back-of-the-envelope calculations) and sends the Sphinx into our reality, which can't accept him yet and destroys him.  The pocket reality disintegrates and everyone returns to his or her respective realities...except Namorita, who Richard grabs before leaving and brings into our reality with him.  Darkhawk warns him of the repercussions of his actions, but Nova tells him he doesn't care.

The Review
To start, I have no idea what the "Nova" issues have to do with "Realm of Kings."  I'm assuming the whole "cancer Universe" story is addressed in one of the three "Realm of Kings" mini-series or in "Guardians of the Galaxy," because the "Nova" issues have absolutely nothing to do with anything we saw depicted in the "Realm of Kings" one-shot.  I may take a look to see if Marvel has any of the mini-series or "Guardian of the Galaxy" issues on-line, because I thought the concept was interesting.  In fact, I found myself a little disappointed the "Nova" issues, again, had nothing to do with anything we saw in the "Realm of Kings" one-shot.

That being said, I thought DnA used the Fault to full effect in the "Nova" issues.  In fact, this arc seemed more like an epilogue to "War of Kings," and I feel like I would've been a happier camper if it had just been billed that way.  I enjoyed most of this arc, even though it dealt with a time-travel story (something I generally hate).  However, I did come close to giving this story a two because of the confusion related to some of the time-traveling aspects of the story, particularly the "resurrection" of Namorita.  But, DnA still gave us a mighty enjoyable tale so I'm giving it a three.

The Good
1) [Sigh.]  The Knowhere arc of "Nova" was one of my favorite arcs of all time.  I can't believe that the Guardians of the Galaxy had their HQ there.  [Sigh.]  I cannot buy that entire series, I cannot buy that entire series...

2) Wow, "Realm of Kings" is a dark issue.  It was actually nice to read a Quasar tale again, but, damn, I almost felt as suffocated as Wendell did here.  DnA do a great job of just really delivering us a horrifying place, giving us every reason to believe that Wendell was willing to do whatever he needed to do to make sure that he protected our reality from this reality.

3) Despite my reservations about the time-travel aspect of the "Nova" story (see below), I loved the revelation in issue #33 that the Sphinx had brought Black Bolt, Mr. Fantastic, Namorita, and Nova to the Fault because they had beaten him in the past and he needed them to beat his younger self.  Even given my dislike of time-travel stories,  I have to admit it's a great twist for the Sphinx to have to rely on his enemies to defeat his younger self because they (he and his younger self) are too evenly matched.  It also made sense that he was doing it because the Fault had given him the opportunity to escape the doom he faced as a result of his years of manipulating his own person history.  I also love that the Sphinx is so crazy that his younger self decides to screw his older self just for the possibility of possessing two Ka stones.

4) Along similar lines, the denouement in issue #35 was really well done.  I actually followed everything DnA scripted.  The Sphinx needed time to re-write reality in the outside Universe to accommodate two Ka stones and, by Nova forcing him into it before he was able to do so, he ceased to exist as a result of the "interdimensional equivalent of explosive decompression."  It sounds complicated, but DnA really sell it.

5) I loved the person-on-person combat in issue #34.  It reminded me of the great "Quest for the Shield" story from the old "Guardian of the Galaxy" series.

6) I liked how Rich's dream was basically to prevent everything bad that's happened in the Marvel Universe over the last five years or so:  the Civil War, the Skrull Invasion, the Annihilation Wave, etc.  It shows just how heavily his responsibilities weigh on him, another reminder of how different of a character he is now under DnA than he was at the hands of other authors.

The Meh 
It took me a while to figure out the Darkhawk part of this story.  The Sphinx says to Nova in issue #32 that the events on the Shard "were just a means to bring" Nova to the Sphinx.  He didn't expect Darkhawk to be on it, which meant he wasn't "looking" for Darkhawk in his pocket reality (which is why he couldn't see him at first).  But, Nova was only on the Outworld Shard because of Darkhawk.  It seems weird that the Sphinx could know that Nova was there but not be aware that Darkhawk was as well.

The Bad
1) OK, as you know if you've ready this blog for a while, I generally hate time-travel stories.  I find that they're often impossible to do well, no matter how talented the authors are or how much attention to detail they pay to the plot.  Inevitably, you just wind up having some sort of overarching, "Wait, if it happened in the past, how did they not know the results in the present?" type of question.

DnA wind up not giving us a time-travel story exactly, but I still found it confusing following all the "Mr. Fantastic of 2005" or "Black Bolt of 2000" minutiae.  For one thing, I at first thought that Rich was referring to some incident, possibly related to his captivity during "Secret Invasion," that made Black Bolt look different and older in 2010 than he did in the pocket reality; it wasn't until I got to the end of issue #35 that I realized it was just because the pocket reality's Black Bolt was from 2000.

But, DnA really go a step further into confusion when they raise the dreaded continuity question, since it's implied here that "Mr. Fantastic of 2005" just met Nova, because Rich had just started his superhero career around then.  It raises all those questions inherent when you're dealing with a guy who's been in his early to mid-20s since 1976.  I feel like trying to address this sort of issue is like trying to pull a loose thread from a sweater -- eventually it all unravels.  As such, I think it's better when authors avoid this sort of trap.  (See, for example, the current problem in the Bat-books, where we're supposed to believe that Bruce has trained four, if not five, Robins over only a five-year period.)  Giving us various versions of current characters was bad enough.  Doing it in a way that raises the 35-years-as-five-years issue just makes it all maddening and, ultimately, distracting.

2) To be honest, I'm not entirely sure who the creatures were that were constantly attacking the gang in issue #32.  I assume they're the forces of the two different Sphinxes attacking one another, but I don't know if DnA really ever made that clear.

3) I'm SO over the Fraternity of Raptors.  Talon is still alive?  Really?  DnA at least acknowledge here that Chris doesn't know the origin of the Fraternity, but, OMG, could at some point they actually tell us it?  Given that Darkhawk doesn't have his own series and that Nova's series ends next issue, I'm guessing we still don't know.

4) Although I liked the denouement to the Sphinx dilemma -- pushing him into the real Unvierse before he had suitably altered it -- I'm less thrilled with Namorita being resurrected, because it seems to be inconsistent with what happened to the Sphinx.  The Sphinx exploded because he didn't have time to re-write reality to accommodate for the changes that happened in his pocket reality, namely his possession of two Ka stones.  So, wouldn't Namorita also have suffered "explosive decompression," because reality hadn't been re-written to accommodate her being alive?  Richard says that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so Namorita survived because she was with him.  But, Richard wasn't Vegas; the pocket dimension was.  To give DnA credit, Darkhawk does portend that this decision is going to bite Rich in the ass, but I have to wonder, just like with the Darkhawk conundrum, if DnA are going to be able to really address that story.