Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Comics!: The "OMG, Can Hawkeye Get a Decent Mini-Series?" Edition

Avengers:  Solo #5:  [Sigh.]  I really, really wanted to like this issue.  But, so, so much made so, so little sense.  In fact, I can say it's one of the worst comics I've ever read.

First, despite having five issues to do so, Van Meter never really distinguishes the test subjects as individual characters, leaving me pretty much confused by who was who, a problem exacerbated by the fact that the subjects trade time in the Trace suit.  (Even after reading this issue, I'm not sure who was in it.  Jake?)

Second, I'm still not really clear who the villain was and what her/his motivations were.  When we saw Angela Golden in previous issues, she was wrapped in bandages and seemed totally in charge.  Here, she is unharmed and described as a victim of Dr. Forrest.  She claims that she had been motivated by getting a seat on the board, but I actually don't see why she wouldn't just because the test subjects escaped.  I mean, do we really believe that Dr. Forrest had only one set of paper notes?  The company doesn't have any spare copies of his research notes that they could use to replicate his experiments on another group?  After all, the experiment did work; people did develop powers.  You'd imagine the company would be happy with those results.  But, then again, I guess we are assuming that this story takes place in 1980 and he really did only have paper notes.  Speaking of Dr. Forrest, he was allegedly conspiring with Golden to lure the test subjects onto their ship HQ, but this issue makes it seem like they weren't working together at all.  I think Van Meter is saying that he did actually betray them, but she never makes it clear, because we never see the two of them interact.  He just suddenly appears demanding to know how Trace's powers worked.  Wouldn't he already know that?  Didn't her powers develop while she was still being observed?  Also, why would he and Golden just throw two of the test subjects, who they knew had powers, into a cell with the rest of the test subjects, without posting some guards and disabling their powers? I mean, even if Forrest and Golden didn't know they were onto them, they would eventually know that they had been betrayed when Forrest and Golden threw them into the cell?  Wouldn't they assume they'd try to escape?

Third, how exactly did Forrest betray Golden?  It's an important point, because she agrees to provide the authorities what they need to know about Forrest.  But, from what I can tell, all he did was possibly give her a placebo because her powers didn't develop.  Is that really a betrayal?  Also, I thought several of the test subjects wound up having no powers manifest themselves, so how did she know she got a placebo?

Fourth, I still have NO idea what the Hell Van Meter was trying to do with Cap and Iron Man.  Were they involved?  She seemed to be implying throughout the series that we were leading to that reveal on some front.  She never really dismisses it, but then just totally drops it.  Moreover, I just don't understand why Cap and Iron Man treat Hawkeye like an errant teenager.  I mean, Iron Man essentially acts as if Hawkeye were his son and he caught him in the back seat of a car with a girl.  He's not a grown man?  He can't work a case by himself?  Again, Cap knew he was working a case, so he didn't go MIA.

I could keep ranting here, but, unfortunately, I have to say, this mini-series may be one of the most poorly plotted stories I've ever read.  I just have no idea what story Van Meter was trying to tell here.  Moreover, even the Avengers Academy story made no sense!  They were being tested?  WTF?  It's like we skipped an issue.  In fact, in a great example of pet peeve #2, the intro page to the story says that Finesse suspected it was a test, which I don't remember at all from last issue.  Basically, this entire mini-series was a total train wreck.  Can we please get Hawkeye a decent writer and a good series?  Please?

New Comics!: The Bat Edition #2 of 2

Nightwing #6:  OK, honestly?  This Saiko story is not as interesting as Higgins thinks it is.  Unless he pulls some amazing rabbit from his hat, this story looks set to conclude next issue with the revelation that Raymond hated Dick because he left him to die.  It's unclear who exactly tortured and killed him (and, more to the point, who resurrected him), but I can't say I really care.  Higgins hasn't give us any hints that this entire Saiko plot has been anything more than a revenge fantasy, and the supernatural elements to it don't automatically make it interesting.  More to the point, the revenge fantasy itself is difficult to believe.  Raya and Raymond are mad at Dick because...he left the circus...you know, when his parents died?  I mean, it's not like he just quit the circus, told his parents "I don't want your life!" and got some rich guy in Gotham to adopt him.  His parents died.  Rather than blaming Dick for disappearing, did any of them visit him?  I mean, presumably Raya or Raymond could've been, "Hey, you know, our ol' friend Dick's parents died and he lives with some creepy millionaire in a huge mansion.  Maybe he's lonely.  Let's give him a ring."  Again, maybe Higgins has a card or two up his sleeve, but, right now, I don't buy Raya or Raymond's motivations here.  Moreover, even if he does have a card up his sleeve, it's a little late to present it.  I mean, we're six issues into this arc and we pretty much have no information about the killer and his motivations (assuming they're somewhat more nuanced than "revenge").  It's time to bring this one home.  Actually, in writing this review, I'm realizing that it might be wishful thinking that Higgins is going to bring the Saiko arc to a close, given that it looks like he's also framing Dick for murders he's committing, something I guess that could last beyond this arc.  I seriously hope it doesn't.  Honestly, if this title involved anyone other than Dick, I would've dropped it by now.  As it is, Higgins is getting me to consider the unthinkable, that I might drop it at some point, which really starts to speak to how the good will I feel for the character is failing to compensate for the fact that this series is simply boring.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #6:  This issue was a mixed bag for me.  On one hand, Lobdell does a good job of showing us some aspects of Jason's relationship with Bruce and Jason in the DCnU.  It looks similar, but it feels different.  Combined with the end of issue #3, where Jason leaves behind his cherished memory of Bruce, Lobdell seems to be putting forward an argument that Jason, at the end of the day, feels that he wasn't truly loved by Bruce or Dick, and he resents their attempts to pretend otherwise.  It's actually a more nuanced argument than we got in the DCU, where he was fueled almost exclusively by his rage over their failure to avenge him.  His rage is still present here, but it doesn't take top billing; it's that sense of not being loved that does, and, to be honest, it rings more true, to me.  In this way, I think Lodbell is doing some great work with Jason, the type of work that an author handling a monthly comic dedicated to him can do and that Jason desperately needed to move past being a one-trick pony.  I'm not saying it's not difficult to read.  I mean, it's Batman.  I, of course, want to believe that he did love Jason and that he just needs to convince Jason of that.  I really do want Jason to "hug it out" with Bruce and Dick.  But, it's not like Jason doesn't have a totally valid point.  Maybe Bruce is a crazed vigilante who pretended to love him like a son.  I'm pretty sure it might actually be a valid point, and Jason would definitely be the one most qualified to make it.  We may never really see them bridge the gap between them.  But, Jason is starting to put the fact that a gap exists behind him, something that allows him to develop as a character.  In this regard, I felt like the issue really delivered.  (Also, it doesn't hurt that Jason spends the entire issue essentially naked.  But, really, that's just icing on the cake.)

Unfortunately, not everything about this issue made as much sense as Jason's feelings about Bruce and Dick.  For example, I'm not sure why Starfire took in Jason, particularly if she was trying to hide from humanity.  Was it because the naked guy who washed onto the shore looked like Dick?  (I don't really need to know just how much they look alike, though I swear I thought Lobdell was going there.)  Also, we haven't really been told why she was hiding in the first place or why she doesn't remember anything about her past.  Moreover, moving beyond this issue, I still feel like this series, as a whole, is pretty adrift.  I love a good character-development issue, but we've still got the Untitled nonsense unresolved, and I'm pretty sure they haven't decided what they're going to do with Crux.  This book still feels a lot different from the book I hoped I'd be reading, and it's not really a good thing.  I actually want to see more of the team do what Jason was doing briefly at the start of this book -- taking out bad guys -- and less of them fighting demons and monsters.  We shall see.  I'm still here for Jason, and Lodbell so far hasn't made me regret that, even though I wish we were getting better plots.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New Comics!: The Bat Edition #1 of 2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #6:  OK, so, one of the things that bothered me last issue, but that I was giving Simone time to explain, was the idea that Gretel could have brainwashed Bruce Wayne.  As Barbara herself notes in this issue, Bruce has resisted every type of mental attack out there.  I mean, we're talking about the guy who created a back-up personality just in case someone messed with his mind.  But, Simone doesn't disappoint.  She reveals that Bruce was mostly acting for the witnesses, since, to be fair, Bruce Wayne shaking off Gretel's powers might've raised a few eyebrows.  With that lingering question resolved, I was free to enjoy the rest of the issue.  Simone gets a little exposition-y here with Gretel's story, to the point where I feel like, had she taken an extra issue, we might have gotten her origin story more naturally, possibly through Barbara's investigation, rather than three pages of thought bubbles.  That said, I believed this origin story a lot more than I believed the one provided for Mirror.  Moreover, I have to applaud Simone for really diving right into providing Barbara with her own rogues' gallery.  Simone also keeps some of the ongoing sub-plots going, giving us appearances by Barbara's mother (and revealing that James, Jr. does exist in the DCnU) and Detective McKenna, who I'm guessing will eventually become Barbara's own Commissioner Gordon.  All in all, this series continues, for me, to be the best thing about the DCnU.

Batman #6:  OK, it was hard for this issue not to a bit anti-climatic, given that last issue was maybe the single best comic book I've ever read.  But, Snyder actually puts the plot a bit on fast forward here, having let the dramatic tension build over the last few issues.  We start to get a better sense of who the Court of Owls are, or, at least, how they operate and how insane they are.  (To be honest, the latter is a sort of reveal, given that it was possible that the Court was a sort of gentlemanly pursuit, albeit a gentlemanly pursuit of the type you'd only find in Gotham.  Instead, it's more of a Black Glove pursuit.)  We also maybe (maybe?) get a clue that the Court of Owls might've really existed around the time of Alan Wayne, given that he appears to be one of the victims whose photos appear on the wall.  Does that mean Bruce was wrong that they never existed?  Snyder relies on the pretty standard Batman denouement here, where Bruce is pushed to the brink of physical exhaustion only to find a last reserve of strength to defeat Talon and reveal his carefully laid escape plan.  However, Snyder is Snyder, and we don't see Bruce stagger into the Batcave to be tended by Alfred, but instead face yet another impediment to his escape.  It might not have been the greatest comic ever written like last issue, but it's still a satisfying and intriguing read.

Batman and Robin #6:  OK, let's address the most obvious problem with this issue:  pet peeve #1.  Bruce and Damian never fight in this issue.  I mention it, because it's one of those covers that throws off the entire issue as you're reading it.  You're kind of moving past important plot points because you're waiting to get to the scenes depicted by the cover (Batman and Robin fighting), but you never get there, leaving you feeling disappointed at the end, regardless of how good the issue was.  And, it was a good issue.  Although I'm not a fan of the device of having Bruce narrate his past with the Ducards for Damian, I felt that the flashback sequences in this issue were more effective and interesting than they were last issue.  We see Bruce almost kill Ducard; we so rarely see Bruce in this sort of rage that it was downright shocking.  Moreover, it seems to set up the next issue, because you can tell Bruce is going into the coming battle with Ducard totally beside himself in concern and rage.  I almost wonder if Tomasi would have Bruce kill Ducard, which goes to show how well Tomasi sold Bruce's emotions in this issue.  Tomasi also doesn't disappoint in the Damian department.  I actually bought the fact that Damian intended to shoot the Ambassador, just as I bought the reveal that he was faking it.  In the end, I'm glad it was the latter, not the former.  As I've said before, I've been annoyed by how Tomasi seemed to discount the work Dick did with Damian, though, here, you can see it shining through the ruse.  Moreover, he also reminds us that Damian is vulnerable; as Bruce himself says, he's the only ten-year-old boy patrolling the streets at 2:00 am.  I feel like we're going to end this arc moving past a lot (though, clearly, not all) of the issues that Tomasi showed Bruce and Damian having.  All in all, it's probably the best issue of this relaunched title and addresses A LOT of the concerns I had about this series.  I can't wait to see next issue's fight!

Batwoman #6:  I feel like you have to accept the occasional experimental and non-linear storytelling techniques when reading Williams and Blackman (can we call them WnB yet?), so I put aside my initial annoyance and kept reading.  I'm glad I did.  If nothing else, WnB (see, maybe I'm making it a thing) manage to show us just how populated of a world they've created, giving six different characters their own storylines.  (OK, really five, since, after all, two of the characters, Batwoman and Kate, are the same person.)  They reveal that Maria's children were killed in order to drive her to suicide, so that a mysterious woman named Maro could trap her spirit before it moved to the next world and use it to harvest children and strike fear in the hearts of Gothamites, making them "start believing in monsters again."  (I'm pretty sure the people of Gotham believe in monsters, though.  I mean, maybe the people of Topeka don't, but I don't see how you live in Gotham and don't believe in monsters.)  They imply that Detective Sawyer has a child, reminding us that we don't know a lot about her, something highlighted by the conversation she has with Kate, who refuses to allow them to discuss their pasts.  They also upgrade Batwoman's armor, a perk of her new alliance with the D.E.O.  I'm still not a fan about the sudden change in her relationship with the D.E.O., but it's a minor point.  Most intriguingly, they drop us in media res of Batwoman's battle with Medusa (or, at least, who I assume are Medusa).  It's a lot for one issue, but WnB pull it off really well, delivering yet another excellent issue.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dardevil #8: "Devil and the Details" Part 2

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "I think this is my super villain origin."  -- Spidey, observing DD and the Cat kissing, with possibly the funniest single line I've ever seen him utter

Summary
Foggy Nelson is at a cemetery demanding answers about shifting earth and unsafe conditions, an inquiry made all the more important given that Dardevil's father's grave is being affected.  Meanwhile, underground, DD destroys the fuse box powering the electrical cables currently electrocuting Spidey and tackles the Black Cat.  She demands to know if DD is in cahoots with Spidey for framing her for the theft of the holographic device, something she thinks Spidey did by putting the Spider-Tracer on her costume because she wouldn't sleep with him.  Pete denies it, saying he didn't put the Tracer on her, and notes that they've both been framed.  The trio head to the apartment of the scientist who created the device and find him in a panic room.  He confesses to "stealing" his own device, and Spidey fills in the blanks, suggesting that he planned to sell it "to a third party for crazy money."  The scientist confirms that he was intending to sell it to a company called Terra-One and that it was the buyers' idea to frame the Cat and turn her against Spidey (so she wouldn't go to him for help).  Just as Spidey is wondering why the buyers let him live to frame him, Daredevil smells poison in his sweat, announcing that he has ten minutes to live.  Spidey takes the scientist to the hospital while the Cat and DD head to Terra-One to recover the device.  DD hypothesizes that Terra-One is a front for a criminal organization, expositing that his possession of something called the Omegadrive detailing the operations of the world's largest crime organizations has made him paranoid.  The Cat and DD split to investigate Terra-One's HQ and DD recovers the device (after easily making his way through a group of holographic villains).  Felicia seduces him on the rooftop while DD ponders two loose ends, namely who implicated the Cat and why?  In a flashback, it's revealed that Felicia, while exploring the HQ, runs into the mastermind, who reveals he's with the Black Spectre criminal organization and arranged the entire frame, hoping to offer her unconditional freedom in order to convince her to steal the Omegadrive from DD.  (Now, he offers her money.)  DD and the Cat continue kissing on the rooftop, which Spidey observes, and move to DD's apartment, where they're interrupted by a call from Foggy, who informs Matt that his father's casket is gone.

The Review
I normally read these cross-over issues and think, "Does [fill-in-the-blank comic-book company] really think I'm going to buy a new comic because of this cross-over event?  Idiots."  Um, maybe they're not that big of idiots.  Waid leaves us all sorts of hints at things to come in "Daredevil," like whether or not Black Cat will steal the Omegadrive, whether he and the Cat will develop a "relationship," and where exactly DD's father's body went.  It's early enough in the series that I can reasonably procure the other seven issues, something I had already been thinking of doing given the praise I've heard for it.  Damn it.  I have a job, Marvel!  I can't read ALL your comics.  [Sigh.]  Anyway, this issue rocked, if you couldn't tell.

The Good
1) Waid shows a real skill here for keeping Spidey and DD distinct.  Whereas (as we saw in the first issue of this cross-over), Peter sucks at the flirting, we see here that Matt rocks at the flirting.  The Cat had always had an advantage over Peter in the flirting department, often leaving him confused and flustered, but she may have met her equal in Matt, who has no problem parrying her thrusts.  (I swear I walked into that one.)  It had never dawned on me how good the two of them could be together, but Waid has totally opened that door.  I demand Cat/DD as the next super-couple!  Moreover, beyond the flirting, they have power sets that compliment one another, so I feel like a certain number of stories probably write themselves.

2) I liked the bait-and-switch here on the villains and their motives.  At first, when we discovered half-way through the issue that the creator of the device simply wanted to sell it to an upstart telecommunications company, I was like, "That's it?"  But, Waid has some tricks up his sleeve, revealing that the company is probably a front for any number of criminal organizations who'd want to get their hands on the device, and that one of said criminal organizations arranged framing the Cat in order to get her to steal the Omegadrive from DD.  All these revelations are really well done.  They never feel forced, like Waid just created them to advance the plot, feeling instead like they were lurking in the background the entire time.

3) I thought it was clever the way Waid sent Spidey to get the scientist to the hospital, opening the way for the rest of the issue to be DD-centric.  It is his book, after all.

The Bad
Did Felicia really think Spidey had turned her into the cops because she wouldn't sleep with him?  Really?  Does that really seem like the sort of thing Spidey would do?  Moreover, I'm still not entirely clear how she lured DD and Spidey underground.  I get that I'm supposed to believe that her bad-luck powers caused the tunnel to collapse, but am I also supposed to believe that they can conjure holographic kidnappings?  I mean, they're bad-luck powers, not wish-fulfillment powers.  I actually almost gave this issue a three because these two points bothered me so much.

Amazing Spider-Man #677: "Devil and the Details" Part 1

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Look, I need some legal and extra-legal help and you're sorta my go-to."  "Noted.  And you're my go-to for full-grown men whose voices still crack.  Race you down."  Spidey and DD, with the banter

Summary
Peter is walking through the City, moping over the loss of Carlie, a sentiment made worse by the fact that he appears surrounded by happy couples.  He's distracted by a guy who presumably is committing some sort of crime (though the only reason we know that is he's wearing a ski mask), and Pete is even more disappointed when the "criminal" tells Spidey to tell his wife he loves her.  His mood (Pete's, not the criminal's) is improved when he spies the Black Cat.  He follows her, but she rejects his (awkward) attempts to woo her, if you will.  He tries to get her to tell him where she lives, but she also demurs, noting that he's now a card-carrying Avenger who could lead the police right to her.  At home, she's annoyed when she sees a Spider-Tracer on her costume, and, somewhat prophetically, scrambles when the police arrive at her place to arrest her.  At Horizon Labs the next day, Pete learns that Felicia has been arrested for swiping a holograph device that can send images over cellular networks.  Something smells fishy to Pete, and he finds Matt Murdoch, asking for help.  DD meets him on the top of the Chrysler Building, and Pete informs Matt that Felicia couldn't have committed the crime, since she was with him at the time.  (He stressed that she was with him, not "with" him.)  The two head into the night, with Matt preparing to arrange for bail, while, elsewhere, Felicia uses her bad-luck powers to escape from the police.  Spidey is suddenly distracted when his Spider-Sense leads him to a group of armed men holding the scientist who developed the holograph device hostage.  DD, however, notes that the image itself is a holograph.  Frustrated, Pete notes that his Spider-Sense just doesn't buzz for a reason, and the two head into the tunnel below where the holographic image appeared.  However, in the tunnel, an earthquake occurs.  Reaching for a hand-hold, Spidey grabs a live electrical wire...just as he sees the Black Cat standing over him.

The Review
Yay, Daredevil!  I know, I know.  I just spent an entire blog post complaining about the number of team-up issues we had after "Big Time" and applauding Marvel for shunting them to "Avenging Spider-Man."  But, I should've mentioned that Daredevil is the exception to that rule.  Daredevil can pretty much stop by "Amazing Spider-Man" whenever he wants in my book.  Something about the two of them has always made for greater banter and even better stories, and this issue is no exception.  Add the Black Cat into the mix, and I'm a happy camper.

The Good
1) I loved how bad Peter was at flirting with Felicia.  I'm also glad that Felicia told him to take a hike.  I disliked a lot about the "Long-Term Arrangement" arc from "Amazing Spider-Man" #606-#607, which was the last time Peter and Felicia were, um, together, mainly because Kelly characterized Felicia as being something of a doormat, something that Felicia has never been.  (It wasn't all bad, because Kelly does a better job than almost any other author I remember of showing the more complicated adult side of Peter and Felicia's relationship, and not just the fun sexy banter, which most authors portray.  But, I left the arc feeling like Felicia had been sold short and, as a rule, Felicia Hardy is not sold short.)  Waid does a good job here of righting that characterization by having Felicia insist that, if they're going to be together, it's not because Spidey's looking for a rebound.

2) Spidey and DD's relationship is, of course, what makes this issue.  I like the "older brother/kid brother" vibe Waid uses here.  It's been a while (a decade?  two decades?) since I've read a DD/Spidey team-up arc, and I can't remember anyone necessarily portraying their relationship that way.  But, it totally, totally works, and I hope authors keep using it.

The Bad
It's probably a stretch to identify this complaint as a "Bad," but I thought Spidey was a little cavalier about Matt's identity.  Spidey and DD have worked together for a long enough time that I'm pretty sure Spidey would've known that Matt's identity may be public-ish but it's not something about which he likes to remind people.  As such, it was weird to me that he'd call Matt Murdoch "Daredevil" in front of the Assistant District Attorney.  Given Peter's own secret-identity issues, you'd think he'd be ever so slightly more cautious.

New Comics!: The "Regenesis" Edition #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Uncanny X-Men #4:  Honestly?  I have no idea why this issue exists.  I want to say that it's an interesting meditation on humanity or something similar, but I can't.  It's not only a filler issue, but it's a filler issue that serves as an epilogue for an event that happened almost 20 years ago.  Don't get me wrong:  I loved the "Phalanx Covenant" when it happened.  But, in the fourth issue of this rebooted series, I'm left wondering what exactly this issue accomplished.  I guess it's supposed to show us how Sinister discovered the ability to replicate himself.  But, did we really need that sort of background, particularly when it served as the second of three issues in a one-month period?  I don't think we did. 

X-Men #23:  OK, I have to say, Gischler really delivered a pretty good arc here.  I was kind of meh about it over the first few issues, but, particularly when compared with the opening arcs of the other core titles, it's really the best one.  It told a coherent story, showed details of the X-Men's new status quo, and set up future storylines.  Not bad, really.  I can't say anything really Earth-shattering happened but, again, compared to the other title's mediocre arcs, I'll take a coherent story and be happy.  Speaking of future storylines, can you really blame Jubilee for ditching the squares and going with the dark, mysterious and sexy guy?

X-Men Legacy #260:  This series has been a few issues behind, chronologically and emotionally, from the rest of the X-books, as a result of Rogue struggling over which side -- Logan's or Scott's -- she was going to chose.  (Even the intro page is in the old style.)  To buy her time, Carey concocted the main plot of this arc, saving Ariel from the in-between dimension she created to flee Bastion's attack during "Second Coming."  It's a pretty good distraction, particularly since Carey uses it as a vehicle for the various characters who've featured in this series to address some lingering issues.  (I'm sad to see Korvus go, but I'm hard pressed to think of the role he'd play in the new status quo; Carey at least gives him a great new job.)  In the end, I think it was pretty clear all along Rogue would go with Logan, though I hope Scott listens to her speech, because I have to wonder if she's the only one who's ever understood him.  (Also, a final note:  I'm fairly certain that Dr. Nemesis refers to the "Spider-Man:  Edge of Time" video game, which I'm currently playing, when he says, "Especially if there's a chance of spider-squid-hybrid-phase-beasts showing up."  Awesome.)  I've never been a huge fan of this series, but, given my mild to serious disappointment with the other two core titles, I'm interested to see where they go with it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Comics!: The "Regenesis" Edition #5

I decided to take a little break from making my way through two months' worth of Spidey books to spend some time with the X-Men.  I've left their stack for last in my "Let's read and review three weeks' worth of issues as fast as we can" exercise because my pusher (comic shop) accidentally left out "Wolverine and the X-Men" #4 in my last shipment.  I initially thought I'd get it sooner, so I delayed reading the X-books.  But, it's probably going to be a few weeks, and I've got at least seven books to read before I hit its sequential absence, so I figured no time like the present to start the show.

Generation Hope #14:  First, I loved the pool on how Scott is going to die.  "X-Men:  Regenesis," almost by necessity, has been a fairly grim endeavor, so any sort of diversion from gloom is a welcome one.  (I love that the Cuckoos lost $40 when Scott returned from the Negative Zone.  I was going to give Asmus major props for cross-referencing something that happened in an annual, until I remembered that he wrote it!  But, he still gets minor props, because it was a great way to open the issue.)  Moving onto the rest of the issue, Asmus does a good job telling the main story -- an Asian gunrunner using Sebastian Shaw's unique power-set to cause strife and drum up some business -- while at the same time changing the status quo by giving Martha a body (at least temporarily) and bringing Shaw to Utopia.  I wonder what Emma's game is.  She insists that she didn't lie to Scott about Shaw -- instead, she merely has yet to tell him the truth -- but it seems like her hand is going to be forced next issue.  Why would she let Hope return with Shaw?  It seems like a bad idea.  But, then again, it's Emma, so I guess we'll see.  (The one negative about this issue is the presence of pet peeve #1, because, at no point, does Shaw attack Hope and Kenji.  Sigh...)

New Mutants #35:  It took me a while to realize what DnA were doing here.  By sending Blink and the New Mutants into a concert, it's a subtle reminder that "normal" young adults their age go to concerts all the time.  The New Mutants, however, go to Limbo all the time, so you can sort of see why Dani notes that they'll "try" moshing.  So, rather than this arc being just about some demonic rock band, DnA use said demonic rock band to remind us just how far the New Mutants have to go in terms of the "blending" Dani wants them to do with the rest of the world.  Damn, they're good.  In addition, DnA continue to soften the New Mutants' personalities and interactions.  We got pretty grim during "Fall/Rise of the New Mutants," and DnA are taking us back a step, making everyone like one another again.  I am really just so excited about their tenure on this series!  

Uncanny X-Men #3:  [Sigh.]  When I read issues like this one, I'm left to wonder just how much control the marketing department at Marvel has over authors.  This issue devolves into an advertisement for "Avengers vs. X-Men," with Sinister essentially having staged this entire fight merely to tell Hope that she'll become the Phoenix and Scott that he'll be more hated than even Sinister, outcomes, I'm left to assume, of this summer's event.  To drive home the point, Gillen is left to have the characters make all sorts of thinly-veiled comments about the Avengers being "obsolete" and the X-Men becoming the "world's premiere superteam."  It's all terribly boring.  I'm honestly left with no real clear idea of why Sinister did what he did, how exactly Emma defeated him, why Sinister stopped doing what he was doing, and why the Dreaming Celestial was involved.  "Disappointing" is probably too weak of a word.  I like Kieron Gillen a lot.  But, this issue just seemed to underline how "X-Men:  Schism" and its successor, "X-Men:  Regenesis," are too overtly a marketing exercise to promote the brand rather than an honest attempt to refresh the titles.  Marvel needs to let the authors spend more time telling a coherent story and less time pitching an impending event.  

Wolverine and the X-Men #3:  Honestly, I'm good with just this exchange between Bobby and Logan:  "There has to be a way to kill this thing!"  "We're all ears, Professor Snikt."  "Rachel, get Hank on the Iine."  Heh.  (Srsly, Professor Snikt.  Heh.)  But, Aaron goes beyond those quips to give us a pretty good story.  I liked Kid Omega saving the day in the end while at the same time not compromising his street cred.  Aaron moves him past the one-note prick he's been for most of his printed history.  I also thought the idea of Krakoa becoming an X-Man was sharp.  In fact, it makes you wonder just how different from Scott and his team Logan and his team are if their first response was to resort to violence when Krakoa attacked.  (Aaron doesn't necessarily draw that line here, but I think it's an interesting point.)  In truth, the kids so far are the most promising part of this story.  I totally dig Kid Gladiator.  I mean, sure, he's kind of a caricature at this point, but he's fun.  Like I said in the "New Mutants" review above, we're leaving behind some pretty dark times in the X-books, so any sort of levity is a good thing.  I'm equally fond of Brod, and I think Aaron will have plenty of opportunities to tell some great stories of Quentin trying to make friends.  The only negative I have to mention is that I thought the deus ex machina of having the inspectors from the Department of Education lose their memories was a little much.  Sure, Hank was charming, but, even if they didn't remember how it got that way, didn't they notice the school was in ruins?  I mean, why bother including this sub-plot if it's just going to be resolved in, like, two panels by a mindwipe?  But, it's early days, so I'm willing to cut Aaron some slack.

Amazing Spider-Man #676: "Tomorrow, the World!"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Remember when you were heading down the wrong path?  You were this close to being a full-on Avenger."  -- Wizard to Sandman, reminding him that he "helped" him in his darkest moment

Favorite Quote #2:  "And when you were probably takin' violin lessons...this's what I learned on the schoolyard. [...] Stupid Know-It-All.  Now here's where I'd pants you...and throw you in the girls' locker room."  -- Electro to the Mad Thinker, at his scrappy best

Summary
At the Sinister Six's underwater headquarters, Electro and Mysterio transfer Doc Ock's body into a new suit that will keep him alive, given that his body has just "died."  Elsewhere in the HQ, Rhino and Sandman engage in some training, with Sandman saying that it'll help them actually win (given that he's tired of losing).  Sandman reveals that Doc Ock has offered to help him get back his daughter if they're victorious, though Rhino declines to say what Doc Ock has promised him.  Their session is interrupted when Chameleon sends a message from the field, confirming that he's infiltrated the Intelligencia and that their doomsday weapon is complete.  In Russia, the Winter Guard attempts to capture the Intelligencia at an abandoned factory, but discover they're not there.  The Intelligencia then reveal their hand, using their doomsday device (the Zero Cannon) to teleport the Guard into space.  At their headquarters (Geo-Base 1 in the North Pole), they celebrate their success, only to be interrupted by the Sinister Six's attack.  Chameleon is revealed to have impersonated Klaw, and shoots out M.O.D.O.K.'s psionic blaster.  Wizard takes down Chameleon, while Doc Ock and M.O.D.O.K. engage in battle.  They decide to move their fight to a "mind versus mind" battle, namely a game of zero-gravity chess, using their men as pawns.  The Mad Thinker sends his Awesome Android against the Rhino, and then fights off Electro by disabling the upgrade he made to him.  The Red Ghost and his apes attack Mysterio, but are frustrated to discover that Mysterio has employed a number of hologram against them.  Sandman and Wizard decide not to fight, given their connection through the Frightful Four.  Wizard offers to help Sandman get back his daughter, but Doc Ock blasts him into space before he can accept the offer.  M.O.D.O.K. attempts to blast Electro, but, after defeating the Mad Thinker with an...ahem...innovative maneuver, Electro tosses him into the portal.  The Rhino does the same with the Android, though Sandman saves him from going through the portal as well.  Someone (Doc Ock or M.O.D.O.K.) sends Red Ghost through the portal (after it's revealed that Mysterio had been in the Octobot the Sinister Six used to crash the HQ the entire time), and M.O.D.O.K. surrenders, acknowledging that Doc Ock has a superior intellect.  When Mysterio and Sandman ask why they bothered saving the world from the Intelligencia, Doc Ock responds it's because he didn't want to get beaten to the punch.

The Review
I'm  honestly not sure how I feel about this issue.  On one hand, I loved that Slott gives us a Spidey-less issue dedicated to an Intelligencia/Sinister Six grudge match.  Slott juggled 11 (well, actually, ten, because we never see the real Klaw) super-villains and managed to keep them distinct, showcasing their different abilities and personalities.  On the other hand, I found the Doc Ock/M.O.D.O.K. chess game down right confusing.  As such, I'm giving the issue three stars, though I'm very much excited about the eventual return of the Sinister Six!

The Really Good
Slott somehow manages to give us better characterizations of all the villains in this issue than possibly anyone ever.  All in one issue!  You could really see the care he gave the issue with the conversation between Sandman and the Wizard.  Rather than just making everyone villainous all the time, Slott shows that some of the members of these teams have some humanity left.  Sandman has been the villain with a heart for a while now, and I'm glad Slott took the time to show how he's different from most of his colleagues.  Along those lines, I was also glad to see Sandman save the Rhino.  Conversely, the Electro/Thinker battle was great, because, if Sandman has always been a bit of an occasional softie, Electro has always been a scrappy bully.  I loved that he solves the problem of the Mad Thinker stripping away his power by kneeing him...you know...there.

The Good
1) I loved that Slott gave us a Spidey-less issue.  I hope Bendis is reading this issue somewhere and realizing that it's a great example of how you successfully set up a future story.  One of my problems with the whole H.A.M.M.E.R. war in "Avengers" and "New Avengers" is that Bendis never really took the time to show us Norman working behind the scenes.  As such, everything seems abrupt.  It's why it's so hard to understand why the public has turned against the Avengers, because it happened suddenly, without any real reason.  Slott, however, is a master of building these sorts of plots.  He did so with the "Infested:  The Road to 'Spider-Island'" secondary features that ran in "Amazing Spider-Man" for months before "Spider-Island" and he does so here.  Bendis seems to think that these sorts of preambulatory stories ruin the surprise, but Slott shows here it doesn't.  Just like we ended "Infested" without really knowing the Jackal's plans, we also really have no idea what Doc Ock is planning.  We just know that he didn't want the Intelligencia to steal his thunder.  It's a perfect set-up story, and it shows how Slott has real long-range plans for Web-Head!

2) Moreover, I was thrilled to see Slott gave the Sinister Six a base!  It's like their own Legion of Doom HQ!  Slott is a genius when it comes to these sorts of simple tweaks (like Pete getting a job at Horizon Labs) that manage to allow the characters to fulfill all their potential.  You're left to wonder why the Sinister Six have never before had a base or trained together (or, really, worked together).  Awesome.

3) Ramos should be required, by law, to draw Spider-Man forever.  Seriously, I love him.  Actually, I love that we get Slott and Ramos on this title and Wells and JMad on "Avenging Spider-Man."  I feel like, for the first time in years, Marvel is finally giving Spidey his due and putting its best talent on his titles.  The Golden Age indeed!

The Bad
The Dr. Octopus/M.O.D.O.K. chess game was...confusing.  I'm not really sure why using the Zero Cannon was a proxy for their respective intellects.  How would accurately maneuvering the Cannon prove that someone was more intelligent than someone else?  Moreover, M.O.D.O.K. doesn't really seem to understand how to use the Cannon, despite having invented it.  Doc Ock managed to blink out the Wizard pretty successfully, but M.O.D.O.K. seemingly just keeps the Cannon's portal open, rather than aiming it, allowing the Sinister Six to throw several members of the Intelligencia through it.  Why would he do that?  Based on the green energy field that appears behind Electro while he's fighting the Mad Thinker, it seems like M.O.D.O.K. planned on sending Electro through the portal.  However, once Electro threw the Mad Thinker through it, wouldn't you think M.O.D.O.K. would've closed the portal?  By keeping it open, he allows the Rhino to throw the Thinker's Android through it as well.  Don't you think the "person" who invented the device would've been able to use it more effectively?  Then, I'm equally confused by how the Red Ghost disappears.  Is that Doc Ock's doing?  Was it his turn?  Or, did M.O.D.O.K. accidentally do it?  I know this whole section seems really nit-picky, but I was definitely distracted throughout the issue as I tried to sort out these questions (and a little frustrated when I couldn't).

New Comics!: The Spider Affinity Group Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After reading "Avenging Spider-Man" #2, I realized that it lends itself more to a short-form review than the long-form review I used for issue #1.  I use the longer review for "Amazing Spider-Man" mostly because it involves mainstream Spider-Man continuity, and I spend a lot of time discussing how the current issue fits within the context of past storylines and what I think it tells us about future ones.  This series seems like it's going to be a pretty continuity-light enterprise, so I think these shorter reviews will suffice.  We now have three Spidey books other than "Amazing Spider-Man" ("Avenging Spider-Man," "Scarlet Spider," and "Venom"), so I'll try to review them all in the same post.  Anyway, enough shop talk.  Onto the issue!

Avenging Spider-Man #2:   So far, so great for this title.  To my mind, Wells is on the same level as Slott in terms of banter, and we see some really excellent moments of it here.  I love how Spidey keeps essentially treating Rulk as his abusive boyfriend.  (The "I've heard I'm a cute sleeper" line made me LOL.)  I also thought his interaction with JJJ, Jr. was great.  ("What were you going to say?"  "Never mind!"  "That you knew I had something to do with a subterranean civil war?  Is that what you were going to say?"  "I stopped myself--just drop it!")  But, it's not all fun and games.  Wells and JMad successfully tugged at my heart strings by showing the devastation that the Molans had caused to the Moloid village.  Wells also manages to work the details of the Molans' grab for power into the story seamlessly, so we don't have to suffer any long expository sequences.  Plus, the fight between Rulk and the Molan General was spectacular.  I love that we suddenly find ourselves in some sort of epic "sword and sandals" arena fight.  JMad is as good here as I hoped he'd be.  Spidey's web snapping?  Wells and JMad work together to make you feel Spidey's desperation as he tries to save Rulk, just as they did to convey the tragedy at the village.  The fact that he fails, and we end the issue with Rulk stabbed, was definitely not something I was expecting.  (I know he's not going to die, but I'm still intrigued where Wells will go with it.)  Plentiful witty banter, tugged heart strings, seamless plot exposition, and great action sequences:  this title is rocking and rolling. 

Venom #10:  I noted last issue that I felt that Remender had been forced over the last few issues to engage in some plotting gymnastics to avoid Flash being discovered as bad Venom by his military superiors.  Remender returns us to the military setting in this issue, but we don't really get any clarity into the military's views on Flash's recent activities.  I'm honestly not sure where we stand on some of the original tenets of Flash's use of the Venom symbiote.  Originally, if I'm not mistaken, Flash could only go on 20 missions and could only be in the suit for 24 hours.  But, we seem not to be as focused as that.  We saw in issue #4 that General Dodge decided to let Flash live, despite the fact that he knew that the symbiote was infecting Flash.  Although he hasn't explicitly shown it yet, I think Remender is implying that we're seeing mission-creep on both sides -- Flash and the military.  I'd like to return to that story, eventually.  However, first, Remender decides to return to the Crime-Master sub-plot, and I can't say it's a bad decision.  I liked the addition of a second person (besides General Dodge) pulling Flash's strings, because it really underscores the desperate situation in which Flash finds himself.  (The fight with Captain America in this issue just seems to underscore that.)  We're certainly building to something, both in the short- and long-term.  Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be good news for Flash. 

Venom #11:  You know a comic is dark when the bad guy tells a story about turning a house cat into a nail bomb...and it isn't the darkest part of the issue.  Srsly.  Remender continues to tighten the noose around Flash's neck as he finds himself on the road trip from Hell (more or less literally) with Jack O'Lantern.  In last issue and this one, Flash keeps repeating to himself his plan to get all his enemies in the same room in order to kill them.  But, you can start to tell that Flash knows it's not going to happen, raising the question why he's cooperating with them.  Sure, Crime-Master is threatening Betty and his mom, but, like he says, he could just go to Captain America or Spider-Man and ask for help.  Instead, Remender is making it pretty clear that Flash is addicted to the costume, and we all know that isn't going to end well.  Another spectacular (if a little grim) issue.

Friday, February 24, 2012

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

Avengers #22:  OMG, finallly.  I did not hate this issue.  Hurrah!  Bendis does two things here well:

First, he does what I think he wanted to do with the "Avengers" and "New Avengers" annuals, but didn't quite manage:  namely, present a philosophical discussion about the Avengers and the consequences of their actions.  I thought the White House conversation that starts this issue really got this point across, with the President's advisor noting that Norman Osborn didn't really do anything different than Tony Stark ever did, from a legal standpoint.  Of course, a difference exists, practically.  Both the Avengers and the Dark Avengers work (or worked) for the U.S. government.  However, after the events of "Siege," the U.S. government pulled its support for the activities of the Dark Avengers, leading to Osborn being charged (though, as we establish here, never tried) with insubordination and treason.  Converesely, the U.S. government hasn't, at least yet, pulled its support of the Avengers.  As such, ipso facto, the Avengers maintain the sanction of the U.S. government.  Even if the team does something the government doesn't want them to do (or even explicitly told them not to do), the fact that the U.S. government doesn't punish the Avengers for their actions amounts to tacit approval.  The President's advisor essentially admits as much, noting that the government lets the Avengers do what they want because they have the support of the public.  As such, Bendis highlights what he's been trying to do with this H.A.M.M.E.R. war, getting Osborn to shake the public's support of the Avengers and thereby putting pressure on the government to yank its sanction of the team.  The problem, thusfar, has been that Bendis hasn't shown why the public would pull its support for the Avengers merely based on Osborn's antics and, even if they did, why it would matter.  In this issue, Bendis addresses the latter, in a pretty convincing way, I must say, by drawing a direct connection between the public's support of the Avengers and the government's ability to give them free range.  (I'm still waiting for the former, which, to be honest, is more the key.  More on that in the "New Avengers" review below.)  Essentially, Bendis finally defines the stakes.

Second, Bendis delivers a pretty convincing series of "bad moments" for several Avengers.  Captain America is tortured by Madame HYDRA, Dr. Washington attempts to strip Tony Stark of his armor, Spider-Woman is confronted by her "mom," and H.A.M.M.E.R. tries to get some sort of genetic-material sample from a comatose Red Hulk.  Normally, these sorts of montages can be eyeroll-inducing, because we all know that the heroes are going to escape.  But, Bendis makes it interesting by focusing on more than just the heroes' physical safety, going after their beliefs (in terms of Captain America and Spider-Woman) and their powers (in the cases of Iron Man and Red Hulk).  As such, the heroes have more on the line than just saving their lives; they have to re-affirm their beliefs in the face of opposition and prevent H.A.M.M.E.R. from using their powers to futher its ends.  (Can you imagine an Iron Rulk?)  Moreover, we see Quake and Vision frantically trying to find their teammates; you can feel their desperation as Quake tries to find where H.A.M.M.E.R.'s base is located and Vision confronts Osborn on the lawn of Avengers Mansion.

All that said, this issue isn't perfect.  I still think Bendis has to do more in the way of explaining why the public would take Osborn's side.  For example, when Vision confronts Osborn on the lawn, Osborn comments, "Physical confrontation.  How exactly like you people."  However, Vision hadn't confronted Osborn.  In fact, he shook his hand.  It's Osborn who, without Vision doing anything, attacks Vision and throws him through the Mansion's front door.  Given that Osborn does so in front of the press, don't we think that the reporters would see that Osborn attacked Vision essentially unprovoked?  Depsite the progress Bendis makes here, I still feel like he's not selling why the public would turn against the Avengers in favor of Osborn, particularly with Osborn acting the way he's acting.  (Also, I have to mention pet peeve #1:  at no point does Captain America fight Gorgon, as depicted on the cover.)

In sum, Bendis wins me back a bit, but he's still got some more work to do. 

New Avengers #21:  Ok, the fight with Ragnarok was just about the best fight scene Bendis has ever scripted and Deodata has ever drawn.  First, I loved the fact that it revolved around Spidey saving everyone and deciding who to throw into the fight against Ragnarok.  Awesome.  Over the course of the two Avengers series, Bendis has rarely had Spidey do anything more than issue one-liners.  Here, Bendis lets him step into the leadership role, and it leads to the New Avengers taking down Ragnarok.  Given that they usually get their asses handed to them, I'd say Luke Cage might want to consider giving Spidey some more responsiblities for the way they fight.  Second, Deodata is ON FIRE in this sequence.  The panels of Wolverine fighting Ragnarok were absolutely amazing.

Bendis also gets to the point of the last few "New Avengers" issues, showing how the New Avengers' attack on the Dark Avengers would help Osborn sway public opinion in his favor, given that they attacked just after the Dark Avengers saved Miami.  OK, I get that.  I appreciate that Bendis is trying, given that I take him to task so often for doing a poor job on this front.  But, I'm still not buying it.  So far, the sum of public disapproval of the Avengers is the "Occupy Avengers Mansion" protestors outside the Mansion and the assumed disapproval of those people who watched the New Avengers beating up the Dark Avengers after saving Miami.  I mean, it doesn't really seem like a sufficient swell of anti-Avengers sentiment to justify the government taking over Avengers Mansion.  After all, Nitro had to destroy a school full of children to provoke "Civil War" and Loki had to manufacture the destruction of a stadium full of people to lead to "Siege."  I get that Bendis' argument is that these events haven't been forgotten, particularly not on the heels of "Fear Itself," so it's easier to get people to turn against the Avengers.  He's probably right.  But, he's also got to prove that they'd not only turn AGAINST the Avengers, but that they'd turn TO Norman Osborn.  It still seems like a stretch.

Don't get me wrong:  I liked the idea of the New Avengers when they were operating outside the law during "Dark Reign."  But, they've moved past that role.  Bendis still hasn't done anything here that makes me feel like we're not just seeing a repeat of "Dark Reign."  Even if the result of the H.A.M.M.E.R. war is the government revoking its sanction of the Avengers...we're still just re-doing "Dark Reign."  Bendis has hinted that Osborn actually isn't looking to do what he did last time, but it's probably time he shows us some of Osborn's cards.  Ultimately, it's how he differentiates this story from "Dark Reign" and whether he finally convinces us that the public would turn against the Avengers so quickly that will determine how it's remembered.

Winter Solider #2:  OK, I have to say, I love the fact that Brubaker gave us a gun-toting, jet-packed, 800-pound gorilla in this arc.  A series about Bucky making amends for his past could be a dark, dark time.  By having Bucky and Natasha fight said gorilla, it injects a certain sense of comedy into the series, a sign from Brubaker that it's not all going to be Bucky fighting back tears as he remembers the evil deeds he committed as the Winter Soldier.  Usually, Brubaker uses Bucky's relationship with Natasha to lighten the tone, so it was fun to watch him (successfully) take a different approach here.  In terms of the plot, Brubaker is a master of these several-issue arcs.  He gives us just enough information here to keep it interesting, without spoiling the surprises he has in store or keeping us guessing about too much.  (I'm looking at you, Bendis.)  Bucky and his allies are starting to put two and two together, but Lucia von Bardas and the Red Ghost are a few steps ahead of them.  This series continues to deliver on its promise, and I still feel like pinching myself that Marvel actually gave us back Bucky.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #675: "Great Heights" Part 2

** (two of five stars) 

Summary
Carlie and Spidey break into the 18th Precinct's Morgue (thanks to Pete's Spider-Powers) to examine the bodies of the teenagers who mysteriously fell to their deaths over the previous few days.  Meanwhile, at the Wake nightclub, the Vulture informs his "angels" that he wants them to hit a helicopter carrying back a rare-coin collection that had been smuggled outside the city during "Spider-Island."  Vulture intimidates Michael, the newest angel, by telling him a story of a bird who fishes on behalf of a fisherman and gets one fish for its troubles.  He then sends the crew on its way.  As they walk through the nightclub, Angela informs Michael that his reward for being an angel isn't just getting to fly, but also getting to be a king at the Wake.  When he eyes Glory again, Glory's boyfriend threatens him, prompting Angela to attack him, in front of Glory and MJ.  At the Morgue, Carlie uses Pete's new ultra-violet Spider-Signal as a forensics lamp, discovering that all three bodies have "M" or "W" tattoos on them.  She also discovers that the bodies carry a strong magnetic charge, prompting Pete to suggest they head to the rooftop to look at the case from a different angle.  Meanwhile, the angels attack the helicopter and steal the rare coins, but not before Michael pockets two of them.  On the rooftop, Pete informs Carlie that magnetism smacks of the original Vulture and hypothesizes that he's using the kids as his henchmen.  The two consult a map, realizing that the burglaries happen around the same places where "suicides" happened.  Carlie gets a call from a colleague informing her of the mid-air heist and Pete gets a call from MJ describing the Glory's boyfriend's confrontation with the angels, particularly the strength Angela displayed.  (Carlie is mad when she realizes MJ knew Peter was Spider-Man.)  Putting two and two together, Pete heads to intercept the angels on their way from where the heist happened to where the club is, with Carlie in hot pursuit (after he told her not to follow him).  The Vulture gets there first, though, revealing that he knows how much each angel weighs and, as such, that he knows Michael is heavy by two coins.  He turns off Michael's magnetism, but Spidey saves him mid-fall.  Spidey engages the angels in battle, but Carlie arrives and reminds him to use his magnetic webbing to interrupt the signal the Vulture uses to power their wings.  Before Spidey can take down the Vulture, the Vulture reveals he now has gravity-manipulation powers, and throws a water tower at Carlie.  Spidey saves Carlie, letting the Vulture escape.  In the aftermath, the Police Chief threatens Carlie, who we later see going to MJ for advice on how to handle Pete's identity as Spider-Man. 

The Review
To be honest, I tried to give this issue three stars.  But, then, I started writing up the "Goods" and "Bads" and found I had more "Mehs" and "Bads" then "Goods."  So, I'm being honest and giving it two stars.  It wasn't the worst arc ever, and I certainly cut Slott some slack, given that he must be exhausted after "Spider-Island."  But, I'm glad it's over and we're moving onto the Sinister Six.  Please, please let it involve the Octahedral from issue #653! 

The Good
1) Despite my overall displeasure with Carlie and Pete's interaction here (see below), they did have some funny moments.  For example, I liked when Carlie had Pete put back on his mask, telling him that it was like someone Photoshopped his head onto Spider-Man's body. (That's about it.  I'm trying.)

2) I am very pleased to have back the old Vulture.  I understand from the Internets that the Punisher killed the new Vulture.  He wasn't a terrible character, but the old Vulture is an excellent character.  As I mentioned in my review of last issue, I just re-read his original story as I'm making my way through the original "Amazing Spider-Man" issues, and he's always been a great villain for Spidey.  I'm glad to see him return better than ever.  The Vulture is dead!  Long live the Vulture!

The Meh
I found Carlie and Peter's interactions to be somewhat forced in this issue, meaning that they seemed to act the way they did more to forward the plot than to reflect how they would likely act in such a situation.  I bought Slott having them "meet cute" in the coffee shop last issue in part because he made a pretty convincing case about why they could help one another, given each of them having "access" that the other didn't have.  We see that in practice here, with Spidey using his powers to break them into the Morgue and Carlie using her skills to examine the bodies.  I was (and still am) cool with that.  I also thought some of their banter in the morgue was funny, as I mention above.

But, my main lament is how Carlie is responding to the revelation that Peter is Spider-Man.

First, I'm having problems feeling sympathetic to Carlie' rage that Peter didn't tell her in the first place.  I mean, they only started dating in issue #647.  It's been just short of 30 issues, so we're talking about, what, three weeks in comics time?  Maybe two months at the most?  I mean, it's not like I gave out my ATM PIN # to every guy I dated once we passed the two-months point.  Is Spidey really supposed to just tell Carlie who he is after a few weeks?  She even seemed annoyed MJ knew, despite the fact that he dated her for years (even in comics time).

Second, given what a straight shooter she is, Carlie seems oddly resentful of the time she now realizes that Peter spent as Spider-Man and not with her.  When Peter tells her how much time he spent creating his new Spider-Equipment, she comments, "So that's why we missed the last Harry Potter movie."  I know, Carlie.  Peter's totally a dick for finding a way to improve himself as Spider-Man to save more people rather than taking you to a movie.  What an asshole, he is.  [Eyeroll.]  One of the main results of "Spider-Island" was that Peter's family and friends understand what a burden his responsibilities as Spider-Man are, and how amazing it is that he handles them as well as he does (most of the time).  Given that Carlie was all about busting crime when she had Spider-Powers, it seems odd, as I said above, that she is furious with Peter for doing so, given that he is, you know, actually Spider-Man.

Slott is unfortunately seemingly reverting her to the character she was before he took over "Amazing Spider-Man," a confusing and erratic character of whom I was really, really not all that fond.  I'm not moving this complaint to the bad section, yet, but, if we see this characterization continue, it could get there.  Hopefully, MJ will talk some sense into her. 

The Bad
1) The Vulture really knew that the kid had two extra gold coins on him?  Really?  What happens if one of them had a cheeseburger on the way to the crime scene?

2) A lot of the events of this issue turn on lucky coincidences and odd characterizations.  For example, Pete gets the call from MJ about the Vulture's angels just as Carlie gets a call about the helicopter heist?  I was particularly annoyed by the Vulture's angels, since they seemed pretty damn indiscreet for incipient super-villains.  (Even the "Daily Bugle," on the recap page, draws a connection between the "large, humanoid vultures" flying around town and the high-rise burglaries.)  Why would Vulture let them take the risk of walking through his night club in full uniform?  In fact, it's exactly this action that leads to their undoing, because Mary Jane sees one of them using her powers and calls Pete to let him know that they appeared "super villain-ish."  Vulture's a pretty smart guy who's been in the game a while, so I'm pretty sure he'd avoid that rookie mistake.  (Plus, why mark them with "W"s?  Has the Vulture become the Riddler?)  Moreover, MJ only saw the fight because of Glory's crazy jealous boyfriend, who, when he was first introduced last issue, seemed like a pretty mild-mannered guy, but turned into a jealous rage-monster.  At the end of the day, I think it's why this whole issue rang hollow to me, because people acted in ways that either seemed against previous characterizations (like Glory's boyfriend) or against common sense (like the Vulture's angels), all to obviously advance the plot.  Again, I don't blame Slott for some lazy plotting after the amazingness that was "Spider-Island," but it doesn't mean it was that fun to read.

3) I really didn't like the art here.  Something about Camuncoli's faces really bothers me.  I think it's the fact that everyone seems to have enormous eyes that bulge from their heads.  At any rate, at some point, it became a serious distraction for me.  (I mean, I barely recognized Pete in the last panel.)  Part of the blame also goes to the colors.  Is Peter blond now?

4) The Police Chief is officially a caricature, not a character.  Seriously, how could someone so mentally unstable be Police Chief?  Mayor, sure.  Police Chief?  Not so much.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America #8:  OK, so, initially, I didn't remember that Machinesmith appeared as the villain in "Steve Rogers:  Super-Soldier."  It wasn't until a fair amount of Google research that I "discovered" that, despite having read (and enjoyed, if I remember correctly) that mini-series.  Clearly, it merits a re-read, since Machinesmith looks like he's going to play a prominent role in the next few issues.  (To be fair, Steve mentioned in a recent issue that Machinesmith was behind the loss of his powers in that mini-series, so I probably should've taken Brubaker's hint and re-read it between that issue and this one.)  At any rate, I thought Brubaker did a great job setting up the reveal, making it seem like Sharon was in cahoots with someone as she's locking down the Quincarrier, but, in the end, revealing just how talented of a spy she is by having her be the only one to realize Machinesmith was still acting behind the scenes.  The only off-note in this issue to me was the Bravo sub-plot, in that I'm not really sure why King Cobra and his new Serpent Society robbing a bank would serve as a distraction from Baron Zemo trying to spring Bravo from the Raft.  I mean, it wasn't like the Raft guards were involved in foiling the robbery or like Cap and Sharon do nothing but guard Raft prisoners all day.  Overall, between my Machinesmith confusion and the Bravo sub-plot, I spent most of this issue confused, an unusual occurrence for a Brubaker book.  But, I'm willing to reserve judgment about this arc for another few issues while Brubaker continues unfurling the story.

Dungeons and Dragons #14:  I almost have to stop reviewing this comic because it's so good that I just can't stop raving about it.  Adric noting that it's a good rescue when Khal and Danni kiss?  Varis shooting Khal a look when he learns Khal has referred to him as his "sidekick" in his letters to Danni?  Bree wondering why villains never flee "to our lair at the pub?"  Rogers continues to deliver great moments in this title.  But, this issue starts to get us somewhere on a number of plots as well.  The immediate plot -- rescuing Danni -- thickens when it's revealed that her "colleagues" are actually foulspawn, serving a beholder who's waiting for some sort of celestial event to happen, for reasons that aren't quite yet clear.  But, it also serves as Khal's origin arc, given that we're learning more about him and his motivations.  Rogers also has Tisha start quizzing Varis about why he was exiled (something unusual for elves to do), implying (I think) that we might get some answers on Varis' origin story soon.  This arc so far has been tighter than the first few arcs of this title.  Although they were enjoyable, they blended together in a way that often got confusing, particularly when it came to getting down everyone's origin story.  By the end of this arc, we'll have wrapped up Khal's origin story and hopefully set the stage to move onto some of the other characters', including Varis'.  I'm excited to see where it goes.  (Also, we have still left hanging the mystery of Philomena and Justin, who Rogers implied in issue #7 would return after possibly coming by some trouble.)

Dungeons and Dragons #15:  We get a pretty great conclusion to Khal's origin arc here.  I loved Adric breaking the summoning circle, forcing the beholder to flee the now-unbound demon it had summoned (the whole point of the celestial event for which it was waiting last issue).  But, I was particularly impressed by Rogers' use of Tisha here.  He had mentioned in issue #12 that tieflings created kruthiks, but, here, we see why that comment was relevant, with the kruthik queen recognizing Tisha as her "maker" and bestowing upon Tisha her egg.  In so doing, the queen essentially gave Tisha control of the kruthik horde, which would do anything to protect the unhatched egg, which Tisha uses to rescue the team.  As he did with Varis last issue, Rogers hints at the stories about Tisha we don't yet know, particularly those that explore the darker side of her tiefling heritage.  But, for the meantime, I like how he uses that heritage to help her be the hero.  I mean, even Bree Three-Hands promises not to complain about Tisha being evil anymore.  It sounds like we're going to delve more into Adric's back story in the next arc, and I think that's a story I can't wait to hear.  All in all, good stuff. 

Secret Avengers #22:  I can honestly say I have absolutely no effing idea what happened in this issue.  Remender does an OK job establishing the changed roster for this title.  His main challenge, though, is that the previous authors used a pretty rotating set of characters in their stories.  Besides Captain America (and Sharon Carter, who apparently cannot exist independently of him), we're only really missing Moon Knight and War Machine, both of whom were pretty incidental to most plots anyway.  In their place, we get Captain Britain and Hawkeye.  Captain Britain now seems to be a member of a Green Lantern-esque organization that protects the Multiverse (rather than just the Universe, as GL does), something that you would think would keep him sufficiently busy.  But, instead, he joins the Secret Avengers.  Hawkeye's addition was covered in the most recent .1 issue.  Fine.  It's not the most eloquent "Look, we changed the team!" issue I've ever read, but it works.  But, then, it all goes to hell.  The Secret Avengers conveniently get a distress call from Pakistan on their first day of school, and they deploy...to do something?  From what I can tell, a Pakistani woman displays the ability to swallow in order to protect her and her son from a suicide bomber (because all Pakistani men are suicide bombers blowing up villages...in Pakistan...).  This event "activates" some other...people...around the world, who exhibit their own powers and have catchy names like "the Urn" and "the Swine."  Everyone converges on this woman's location, and one of the...people...creates "diminutive" Avengers?  Maybe?  I'm not entirely sure.  I think she does.  At any rate, a battle ensues (shocker) and the...people...take the woman and, unknown to them, Ant-Man.  In the end, it's revealed that some dude is manipulating events, sitting at the head of a table that includes the likes of Dr. Doom, Jocasta, a Kree Sentry, Lady Deathstrike, Nick Fury, Vision, a cyborg Wasp, and some other guy.  I'm guessing it's not really them, but, um, maybe it is?  Basically, as I said, I have no effing idea what the hell happened and I've half a mind not to buy next issue to get some answers.  I will, but, seriously, I need to see SOME answers if Remender is going to keep me reading this title.

Venom #9:  Um, wow.  First, I was excited about this issue before I even opened it, because, on top of Rick Remender writing the issue, we were getting the great Stefano Caselli to draw it.  Awesome.  I haven't been a huge fan of Fowler's art, so I found it a welcome change.  But, then, I read the issue, and, wow, I'm even more impressed than I thought I would be.  I mean, innocent people die.  I mean, not just people:  a small child dies.  To be honest, I can't remember the last time I read a comic where a small child died.  It's rare enough to read a comic where an innocent person dies, but, to have a small child died?  Don't get me wrong:  I'm not celebrating the fact that innocent people die.  In fact, I'm celebrating the fact that an author actually shows how awful deaths connected to costumed shenanigans are, given the fact that we usually only see heroes and villains die, only to be resurrected six months later.  Remender really hits you with a one-two emotional punch here, using these two deaths to remind us that not everyone gets resurrected and to drive Flash totally over the edge.  I mean, Flash doesn't even just kill "The Hijacker:"  he tortures him.  He breaks off his finger, drives him to terror, makes him beg for his life, and then bites off his head.  (If you haven't guessed, this issue isn't for the squeamish.)  I'm intrigued by where Remender goes from here, particularly since the end banner of this issue promises that next issue will be a "new beginning."  First, Flash clearly is falling deeper and deeper into a sociopathic well, and Remender compounds this tragedy with the fact that Flash knowing he's falling doesn't mean he's able to stop himself.  You have to wonder what hitting the bottom of the well is going to look like.  Second, if I'm not mistaken, the military has some way of knowing when Flash turns into Venom (the bad one).  Are we going to see some sort of repercussions?  I mean, Remender seems to have engaged in some gymnastics to keep Flash's moments of losing control hidden from his superiors.  At some point, someone is going to put two and two together.  It's all very interesting.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Comics: "New Avengers" and "Avengers" Annuals Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

New Avengers Annual #1:  OK, this issue isn't terrible, but I have some troubles with it.  I like, in theory, what Bendis is trying to do here, having a former Avenger make the argument that the Avengers do more harm than good.  It's a valid argument, or, if not valid, at least one the Avengers need to consider (and generally don't).  But, I have two main issues with the way Bendis goes about it:

First, I'm not sure I buy Simon's reasons for why the Avengers do more harm than good.  I remember, in "Avengers" #2, Simon telling Captain America that he felt the Avengers were to blame for a lot of the destruction the Earth had experienced in the last few years, but he never really gave examples beyond "Siege."  Although you could draw a line to "Siege" from the "Civil War," we never saw Simon do that.  He just randomly attacked the Avengers a few issues later, only to disappear.  However, we do get his explanation here.  He details the five "worst things that ever happened to the world" and then pins them on the Avengers:  Ultron, Scarlet Witch, Civil War, the Incredible Hulk, and the Dark Avengers.  First, I'm not sure I'd list them as the five "worst" things, but, honestly, trying to rank the last 30 years or so of Marvel cross-over events in some spectrum of "worst" to "less worse" makes my head spin, so I'm willing to concede him the point that these five events are the "worst."  But, only one event is really the Avengers' fault:  Civil War.  He's totally an absolutely correct about that one.  In fact, if he had just hung his hat on "Civil War" and drew the line straight to "Siege," I would've been with him more than I was.  (I still would question whether those events negate ALL the good the Avengers had done, but it would be a debatable point.)  Instead, he includes four other events that seem pretty tenuously connected to the Avengers.  Two events -- Ultron and the Dark Avengers -- are specific Avengers' faults -- namely, Hank Pym and Iron Man -- but they're not the Avengers' fault, at least as Simon explains them.  The other two "events" -- the Scarlet Witch and the Incredible Hulk -- aren't the Avengers' fault at all.  Simon seems to be blaming the fact that the Avengers didn't kill either of them on the Avengers, which seems extreme, to say the least.  You can feel that Simon is really stretching here, and, as such, it makes his anger almost totally impossible to place.  As such, it undermines his argument, making you feel like you missed a mini-series or something detailing how he got to where he is.

Second, the team that Simon assembles is merely presented as accepting his offer, with no explanations of why they decided to do so.  First, Century, D-Man, and Goliath are all former Avengers.  Shouldn't we get some sort of explanation why they agree with Simon?  I mean, I assume in Goliath's case it's because he was killed (a valid reason), but we don't get to see him make that case.  Is D-Man mad at Cap for ignoring him, as he seemed to be in "New Avengers" #7?  Second, isn't Anti-Venom kind of...crazy?  Did Simon just pick him to counter Spider-Man?  How did Simon even know he existed?  Why would Anti-Venom agree to take on the Avengers?  It seems outside his wheelhouse.  Third, the other four characters -- Atlas, Captain Ultra, Devil-Slayer, and Ethan Edwards -- are totally new to me.  (I'm surprised I'd never heard of Ethan Edwards, given that he appears to be Superman.  You'd think I would've heard of someone this powerful before.)  I mean, I do have a gap of a few years in my comic collecting, but, still, you'd think Bendis would have done a better job of explain who these guys are and why they joined Simon's team, given that I'm pretty sure none of them were Avengers.  Again, this failure to clarify the motives of the other members of Simon's team makes it hard to buy what Bendis is selling here.  By making them feel like set pieces, it just furthers the notion that Simon's whole lament over the Avengers is just a plot device hatched by Bendis for some purpose we've yet to see, rather than an argument that grew organically from previous stories.

For these two reasons, I spent most of the issue thinking, "WTF?"  I'm hoping Bendis takes the time to flesh out the concept next issue, though it seems a tall order, given that he's only got one issue to do it. 

Avengers Annual #1:  OK, Bendis goes a long way to improving my opinion of this arc in this issue.  It still has some flaws, unfortunately, but it at least ends soundly.  A minus, a plus, and a question:

First, I wish Bendis would stop writing arcs where you spend 90 percent of it completely confused.  I don't see why he couldn't have given us the individual Revengers members' motivations in the start of the first issue in this arc.  By leaving them for the very end of this issue, Bendis repeated the mistake he made in the Mockingbird arc in "New Avengers," where we had to wait until the last few pages to discover what happened over the course of the previous five issues.  By the time we got there, I was so frustrated with the lack of details that I had almost canceled the book.  I wound up loving the ending, but it didn't negate the fact that most of the arc was not a pleasant reading experience.  I feel like Bendis writes almost exclusively for the eventual TPB editions, forgetting that his preference for saving all the reveals to the end makes for a terrible monthly comic.  We need something to keep us returning every month, but often we don't get it.  For example, here, we have to wait until the end of the final issue to discover why the Revengers joined the team and, even then, the reveals were pretty lame, to be honest.  Two of them (Atlas and Captain Ultra) are mad the Avengers didn't want them, another two of them (Ethan Edwards and Goliath) are avenging (heh) dead family members (I guess it wasn't the original Goliath), and another two (D-Man and Devil-Slayer) seem totally insane.  The only two with interesting reasons are Century, who feels he owes Simon, and Anti-Venom, who actually agrees with him.  In retrospect, I think Bendis might've been trying to make a point about Simon's argument by having it be these guys as the only ones Simon could muster.  Maybe Simon could've made a convincing argument to Falcon or She-Hulk had he been sane, but, instead, he just grabs the closest eight guys he can find.  Had we seen these motivations earlier, maybe we would've question them -- and Simon -- earlier, and the revelation at the end that he was mentally unstable wouldn't have seem as random.


Second, I've been annoyed lately with Bendis' depiction of the media in "Avengers" and "New Avengers."  I don't believe that the media have fallen so far as to forget that Norman Osborn was a bad guy.  However, I felt like Bendis does an amazing job in this issue really portraying how I think the media would've reacted to this sort of event.  First, the media would, in fact, go crazy over Captain America not talking to them, because they hate nothing more than being ignored.  As such, you could see how quickly they would turn on the Avengers just because Steve Rogers wasn't making the rounds of the cable-news programs to justify his actions.  Second, this anger leads the media to raise valid questions about why the Avengers get to sidestep standard judicial processes simply because one of their former members attacked them.  Does being a member of the Avengers mean you waive your right to trial by jury if you ever cross them?  Probably not.  This point supports Simon's allegation that the Avengers are beyond control.  Third, as they raise these questions, the media are also clearly thinking about other ones, given that they're also promised the possibility that the Avengers are hiding some dark secrets.  In this way, Simon has succeeded in inserting doubt into the minds of the public, something that we see him celebrate in the last page.

Finally, I'm not sure how I feel about the ending.  Bendis pretty successfully implies that Simon is mentally unbalanced, which somewhat explains his behavior (though undermines the intelligent argument that Bendis could've had Simon making had he given this arc a bit more thought).  It remains to be seen what caused Simon's insanity, though Bendis seems to pin it on his resurrection, either because it didn't fully restore him or he's been driven insane by the metaphysical questions raised by it.  But, I'm not sure where Bendis is going with Simon next.  I'm not sure if it's a trick of the art, but Simon seems to almost morph into someone else before he disappears.  Are we maybe not dealing with our Simon at all?  Even if we are, how could he escape a prison that I assume Tony Start constructed flawlessly?  Does he have new powers? 

Final Thoughts:  As I said earlier, I feel like Bendis really sidesteps a serious discussion about the Avengers and their role in the disasters that they claim to prevent by making this arc more about Simon being mentally unstable.  Bendis was really onto something, given that I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Avengers share a great deal of the blame for the destruction that came from the "Civil War" and "Siege" storylines.  Morever, the Avengers accusing Simon of being mentally unstable for suggesting they share the blame could've been interesting, because Bendis could've shown how it reflects just how far the Avengers will go to protect their own self-image.  Instead, Bendis goes for the easier route, implying that Simon is, actually, mentally unstable.  It's a shame, because it seems to needlessly reduce Simon to the status of crazy villain rather than allow him to be a tragic Cassandra.  In some ways, the arc seems to be a classic Bendis tale, raising some interesting philosophical questions, but then claiming that it didn't mean to raise them at all.