Friday, March 30, 2012

Spider-Man 2099 #3: "Nothing Gained"

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "I figure I've got talons, fangs, accelerated vision...web spinners all over my forearms...which beats shooting them out my butt, I suppose..."  -- Miguel, stating the obvious to Lyla

Miguel continues to recount his last few days to Lyla.  When he last left the story he was confronting Venture and here he informs her that their battle was disrupted by a group of Thorites, who arrive to defend the "harbinger of Thor."  Venture easily fends off the Thorites, committing not to hurt them so long as Miguel surrenders.  Miguel attacks him, but Venture parries, using his staff to numb Miguel's right arm.  Miguel decides to surrender to Venture, hoping he can work out something with Alchemax, when a Baldur attacks Venture.  Losing his patience, Venture kills him, inspiring Spider-Man to attack him.  Miguel manages to slide under Venture's staff and land a punch.  Venture shoots at him with his canon and Miguel flees, intending to retrace his steps to his apartment so that it matches the heat signature Venture had been following before Miguel interrupted him.  Miguel flies through his lobby, passing by Gabe (who was leaving after Miguel threw him into the hallway at the end of last issue), who wonders, " can't be...was that...?"  Venture then tears by him, following Miguel's heat signature.  He fires a shot at Miguel as he's departing the elevator shaft on his floor and Miguel makes his way into his own apartment.  Before leaping through the window he broke last issue, he tells Lyla to play dumb to Venture, instructing her to tell him that a "man in black" went through the window.  Venture follows Spider-Man out the window and they engage in a mid-air fight.  Venture manages to wrap him in "molecularly dense body wrap," congratulating him for giving him "the longest workout" he's had in a while.  Gabe enters Miguel's apartment and asks Lyla where Miguel was; Lyla responds he left "five point three minutes ago" and Gabe (ominously) asks what he was wearing.

Venture informs Tyler Stone that he captured Miguel and Stone says that he looks forward to questioning Spider-Man, or, at least, confirming his suspicions.  Spidey uses his talons to escape his bonds and the two begin to fight mid-air again, with Spider-Man slashing one of Venture's jet boots.  Venture grabs Spidey by the arm, causing Miguel to shoot a web in his face, making Miguel realize for the first time that he has that power.  The two drop to the ground and Spidey takes advantage of the fact that his webbing is still blinding Venture by picking up a maglev car and trying to use the like polarity to repel Venture "into the next county."  He only manages to repel Venture's gun and they resume their fight.  Spidey sees his opportunity when he realizes that Venture doesn't notice that his gun, which is magnetized to his back, is coming straight at him (returning from being expelled by the like polarity).  Venture is momentarily stunned when it slams into him and Miguel grabs his staff and jams it into the exposed wiring in his jet boot, causing him to short circuit.  In the present, Miguel tells Lyla that he's been canvasing the city for the last few days to throw off any other heat tracers like Venture.  He logs his powers to Lyla:  talons, fangs, accelerated vision, and web spinners (plus super-strength, which he doesn't mention, but displayed when he picked up the maglev car).  He notes to Lyla that his fiancée is terrified of him, his brother thinks he's sold his soul to Alchemax (which Miguel concedes he might have done), and Venture might be on-line again and after him by now.  As he asks Lyla how things could possibly get worse, Stone arrives at his door, telling him he wants to talk about Spider-Man.

The Review
Looking at this origin arc, I really have to take off my hat to David for writing a real Spider-Man story.  I've mentioned several ways in which David has drawn inspiration from Peter Parker, from the first issue's inverted parallel to Peter's origin to last issue's welcome introduction of Miguel's wit.  This issue sees Miguel using his brains to defeat the villain, another hallmark of a classic Spider-Man story.  Moreover, David has also really gone to town in giving us an introductory tour of this futuristic world, from millennial religious cults to scheming evil corporations.

The Good
1) Aha!  Double tracking over the heat signature wipes out the path!  I trusted David to have some sort of answer to my question from last issue of how Miguel was going to throw Venture off his path.  I figured Venture would have to be destroyed, but it seemed far-fetched to think Miguel would've managed to accomplish that feat on his first mission.  The doubling-back gambit, though, makes total sense.  As I've noted several times in my "X-Factor" reviews, David rarely lets loose ends hang and the fact that he took the time to wrap up this one just shows the attention he pays to his stories.

2) I liked how David had Miguel use his brains to defeat Venture.  Almost all the best Spider-Man stories involve Peter using his genius to find a way to defeat the villain.  (If I wanted to see him win just by slugging on someone more than he got slugged, I'd read "The Incredible Hulk.")  Here, Miguel creates a like polarity between Venture and a maglev car in attempt to repel Venture "into the next county."  It doesn't work exactly according to plan, since he only managed to expel Venture's gun.  However, it works when the gun eventually returns because it was magnetized to Venture's back, knocking him off his feet and giving Miguel his opening.  Smarts over brawn is always more interesting and I'm glad to see David is taking cues from Spider-Man 2099's inspiration, Peter Parker.

3) I haven't talked about the art yet, but Leonardi has a great sense of movement.  This issue is basically one long, protracted battle and Leonardi does an amazing job depicting it, making you feel the tension, particularly of the mid-air battles.  It really made for an exciting issue that didn't feel at all expository, since you were so caught by the action that you barely noticed that you were also learning more and more about the characters.

4) David manage to cram a lot of character dynamics into this opening arc.  We've got the unresolved situation with Dana, the burgeoning conflict with Stone, and the insightful questioning of Gabe.  You can tell nothing is going to get resolved shortly, which'll make the next few issues pretty interesting.  I also liked how David has both Gabe and Stone suspicious.  It's often so difficult to believe the extreme measures authors will employ to make people unaware that, you know, the guy wearing the glasses in front of them is actually as superhero "in disguise."  I love that David starts, right off the bat, with two people having a pretty damn good idea who Spider-Man is.  I'm sure David will bide his time and just use it to add to tension, but it's such a great example of the fact that he respects the reader, something we see all the time in "X-Factor."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Comics!: The "New 52!" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Justice League #7:  Huh.  OK, first things first:  sacrilege as it is to say, I think I like Ha's art even better than Lee's.  He adds a grittiness that I enjoy; I'd love to see him on one of the Bat-books.  Moving onto the plot, this issue establishes the present-day League.  Johns effectively uses Steve Trevor as the lens through which we see the Justice League, making him its government liaison.  The adulation of the public (and the fear of Congress) seemed to be a little heavy-handed, to me, and I couldn't help but think of the "Squadron Supreme" mini-series during the talk of the Justice League taking over government services.  Johns definitely seems to be setting up the League for failure, though it's unclear what form said failure will take because we don't really meet the enemy here.  I mean, we have an immediate enemy for the issue, but it's not the larger enemy of this second arc, since we only see him or her writing in his or her journal about his or her diabolical (but undefined) plans.  Speaking of the immediate enemy, it's probably the aspect of the issue that I enjoyed the least.  I don't understand why the unknown intruder who broke into A.R.G.U.S. to steal the "Orb of Ra" wound up inadvertently exposing Dr. Street to the "spore" virus.  Did he or she bump Street and accidentally cause the case to open?  Johns doesn't really make it clear.  I guess it doesn't matter much since I doubt we'll see him again.  All in all, it's an OK issue.  It didn't set my world on fire, but it didn't make me want to cancel it either.

Superboy #7:  This issue is...odd.  First, I'm not entirely clear on the state in which we leave Superboy.  The Kryptonite ray-gun that Rose used on him disabled his power enough for her sword to slice up his organs, and it's unclear how that situation is going to resolve itself.  He did die in the DCU, so it's not like he's totally invulnerable, and sliced organs seems like it would be, you know, a problem.  Moreover, he mentions that his loss of tactile telekinesis has left him blind and paralyzed.  I would've normally assumed he meant it because he was being restrained by those machines, but he refers to it in context of losing his way of engaging with the world around him.  Is he saying that, without his tactile telekinesis, he would normally be blind and paralyzed?  If so, it seems to me a pretty big departure from how his powers worked in the DCU.  But, in addition to my questions about his powers, some of the sub-plots seemed totally random to me.  Superboy met a cop in a library to whom he entrusts Fairchild?  Wonder Girl infiltrates N.O.W.H.E.R.E. for a re-match?  I feel like I missed an issue.  For the second time in a row for a Lobdell title, I confusedly wound up going to check out older issues, and discovered that the cop development is as random as it feels.  Superboy does spend a lot of time in the library in issue #4, but we don't see any mention of him meeting a cop.  It seems totally weird to me that Lobdell just wants us to buy that Superboy made friends with a NYPD detective while he was hanging in the library and that they became such good friends that he called her to help him rescue Fairchild.  I mean, what did he tell her?  Um, hi, I'm a super-clone with no empathy, do you want to be my friend?  Moreover, given that the Teen Titans are all about escaping N.O.W.H.E.R.E., it seems odd that Wonder Girl just randomly appears at its headquarters, particularly if her goal is to engage Superboy in battle and not free him.  Cassie, in this world, is a reluctant superhero, so why would she bother, either way?  Also, I have to say, I'm not really digging the art lately.  Superboy looks like he's a super-powered twelve year old.   As I said, it's an odd issue.

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

Batgirl #7:  Simone has really done an excellent job of peeling back the layers of the mysteries at the core of this series at just the right speed to keep you interested and not frustrated (***cough***Bendis***cough***).  For example, Barbara's mother reveals that she left the family because of James, Jr.  It's a pretty clear sign that James, Jr. is still the sociopath he was in Snyder's run on "Detective Comics" in the DCU, but Simone still hasn't shown us proof that he is.  Did he do something in particular that creeped out Barbara, Sr. enough to leave, or was it just her intuition that he would?  Simone advances the plot by more or less confirming that James, Jr. is who he was, but leaves open enough questions to keep us reading.  Similarly, she isn't papering over Barbara suddenly being able to walk.  I thought Simone did great work with Barbara's conversation with Black Canary here, because I think it's understandable that Barbara is going through all the moping she wouldn't allow herself to do when she had no choice but to live with her paralysis.  Moreover, the cliffhanger really brings the issue to a head.  Simone also has other pots on the fire, opening up the question of how Barbara got her equipment (I had assumed from Batman) and who Grotesque really is.  All in all, it's like reading a Peter David story, where you're getting a lot of plot development on various levels at the same time.  (I can't think of higher praise than calling something David-esque.)

In addition to the various mysteries, one of the interesting things about this series is that Barbara isn't doing so well.  I mean, each arc so far has left a body count that resulted, at least partially, from Babs' inability to take immediate action:  she couldn't prevent Mirror from killing Detective McKenna's partner, she couldn't stop the mob boss from killing his sons, and she loses the billionaire here.  I like how Simone is using these events to show that Barbara isn't just having some sort of existential crisis about her mental blocks, but that the blocks are actually preventing her from doing her "job."  If she were performing flawlessly, saving everyone all the time, it would be hard not to just see her concerns as indulgent.  Instead, if she is going to be the superhero she once was, she has to resolve these feelings.  The fact that Simone is matching the rhetoric to the action is probably the reason this series feels as emotionally satisfying as it does. 

Batman #7:  Whoa.  I had to re-read parts of this issue, and I'm still not entirely sure I get everything.  But, the revelation that Dick was being trained to be a Talon for the Court of Owls BLEW MY MIND.  BLEW.  MY.  MIND.  Snyder works it into the story so well you barely notice the impact of it at first.  But, in case you missed it, Bruce highlights the importance for you, noting how he now sees Gotham in an entirely different light.  He implies that Gotham hasn't had its eyes on him to protect its stalwart guardian, as he once thought, but the Court has had its eyes on him to monitor its lost Talon.  Birds v. bats, Robin v. Batman.  Snyder creates a story that works on several different levels, pitting Bruce against the Court, against Gotham, against Robin.  He strikes at the heart of the mythos of Batman in a way that doesn't feel ret-con-y at all, but almost as if this story was planned from the moment Kane started writing the first Batman story.

Moreover, Snyder uses this revelation to go to the core of the question I had earlier in this arc, namely how Bruce could've missed the presence of the Court in Gotham for so long.  Bruce was so insistent that the Court hadn't existed for as long as it implied that it led you to wonder why, particularly when the evidence seemed to show that it had.  It felt odd to me, because it seemed to box Snyder into a corner.  Either the Court was going to be proven not to have existed as long as it was implying, undermining the impact of the story, or it was going to have existed that long, undermining the believability of the story, since you'd have to believe that Bruce somehow missed it all these years.  But, Snyder is too good to write himself into a corner.  He actually has Bruce admitting he was wrong, showing that his overconfidence that he understood Gotham was what led him into the blind spot that the Court used to manipulate him in the first place.  But, usually, it would be hard to accuse Bruce of overconfidence, since he's so careful.  Snyder has Bruce himself note to Dick in "Batman" #4 that he didn't believe in the Court because he had already spent time looking into it.  Snyder reveals here that it wasn't a blinding overconfidence that kept him from finding the Court; it was an understandable overconfidence built on the fact that only Court was good enough to elude him.  As I said in my review of "Batman" #2, I was worried that I would be disappointed by the reveal that Bruce was wrong, because I couldn't believe anyone could pull the wool over Bruce's eyes, particularly not yet another nefarious shadowy organization that we only just discovered existed.  But, Snyder proved me wrong.  His work over issues #5 and #6, showing us how calculating and powerful the Court is, made me a believer.  Without these issues, I don't know if I would buy it, but, with these issues, I fully believe that Court could've eluded even Bruce's notice.

This issue of Bruce not understanding everything he thought he did brings us to the Robin factor.  We learned in issue #2 that the John Doe killed in issue #1 had Dick's DNA under his fingernails because he had grabbed Dick's arm at a public event.  As we learn here, he grabbed Dick's arm because he knew Dick was meant to be a Talon, because Doe trained the Talons.  I will note that I'm not entirely sure how Doe would've been old enough to have trained Dick's great-grandfather.  Snyder doesn't exactly lay out that sequence, and it's really the only part of the story that I felt could've used a bit more explanation, particularly because I don't think we're going to return to it.  The only reasons I could devise were that the Court had re-animated Cobb at some point to get him trained by Doe and then put him back into suspended animation or that Doe only just trained Cobb after he was recently re-animated.  But, neither of those answers are perfect.  If he was re-animated and then re-suspended, why couldn't he be trained in his era?  If he was trained only just after recently getting re-animated, why kill the trainer?  Even if Cobb was "the star athlete," as Dick says, wouldn't the Court need to keep training all the other potential Talons?  Wouldn't that mean that all those Talons that the Court just activated still need to be trained?

The point of the revelation, though, is that it further connects Dick to the Talons (since the trainer knew who he was).  It draws the parallel that the DNA under Doe's fingernails might, or might not, have been Dick's DNA, but it was at the very least a Grayson's DNA.  (Well, a Cobb's, but you get the point.)  It also makes me realize that the whole Saiko business we've been seeing in "Nightwing" might not have been as random as I thought.  I loved Dick's final speech to Bruce, cautioning him from seeing the world in black and white and reminding him that they all get to be who they want to be, not who the past tells them to be.  Given how rooted this story is in both Bruce's and Dick's pasts, it seems like an important -- and prophetic -- reminder.

I can't wait to see where Snyder goes from here.  Remarkably, we still know little about the Court, how it ties into the Wayne family (beyond merely kidnapping Alan), and why it wants Gotham back.  It's amazing that Snyder has told such a gripping story, and we still have so much left to learn.  Moreover, Snyder still hasn't told us how the Court avoided Bruce's notice.  He's simply proven that it did.  I can't wait to discover who really runs the Court, if only because we haven't really had anyone established as first among equals yet.  Even the guy who sends the Talons into Gotham at the end of this issue seems to be just one of the masses.  Is it Lincoln March?  Maybe.  Is it some guy?  Maybe.  Snyder will let us know in due time. 

Batman and Robin #7:  Ugh.  Seriously, ugh.  This  I don't know what was worse, Bruce screaming "You try to murder my son...and expect to live?!" like he's the "Goddamn Batman" or the last scene, with Damian declaring "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned" while he's got his hand implanted in Nobody's forehead.  I haven't felt that Bruce feels anything even remotely approaching love for his son.  Every comment he's made, every emotion he's felt, seems driven more by the fact that Nobody was using Damian to attack him than it was by the fact that Nobody was attacking Damian in the first place.  In this issue, Damian seems little more than a toy at the center of a fight between two squabbling brothers.  I get that this series is going to be darker in tone than the other Bat-books, given Damian's participation in it, but Tomasi's Bruce is almost unrecognizable to me.  I'll give this series one more arc, but, if I'm still getting this Bruce, I'm canceling it. 

Batwoman #7:  This issue is hard to follow, starting, as it does, at the end.  I had some trouble determining whether or not my confusion over who some of the minor characters were (and what role they played) came from failing to remember them or from never getting to know them in the first place.  Sometimes this confusion got in the way of the plot, sometimes it didn't.  For example, I didn't know who Abbott was, but WnB manage to use him, regardless of whether you remember him, to inform the reader that Medusa is trying to force other gangs, such as Abbott's Religion of Crime, from Gotham.  However, I had no idea what happened once Kate de-hooked Hook.  She calls the guy "Rush," clearly knowing who he is, despite the fact that he doesn't seem at all familiar to me.  Moreover, he says that she swore she'd protect him, leading me to believe we haven't seen the sequence yet where they meet.  WnB are equally hot and cold in presenting some of the developments of the overall plot in this issue.  They give us more insight into Medusa, letting us know that it's run by a guy, Falchion, who uses his mystic powers to turn urban legends, such as the Weeping Woman, into real monsters.  However, I didn't entirely follow the exchange with Sune and the guys who appeared to be members of the Religion of Crime but may have been Medusa.  Why would she cover their escape if they're Religion of Crime?  Is she betraying Medusa?  Is that why the D.E.O. thinks it can work with her?  If she is betraying Medusa, why does she give the escapees a message to pass onto Falchion, given that he's the head of Medusa, not the Religion of Crime?  Wouldn't they be running from Falchion not to him?  Moreover, if they're actually agents of Medusa, why are they so sick from the events in the room?  Is it just squeamishness over Croc eating people?  I'm OK with WnB juggling all these characters and plots in the time-jump narrative, but it's only interesting so long as it's not distracting.  Unfortunately, at least in this issue, I feel that it is starting to undermine WnB's ability to tell the story that they want to tell.  If you're constantly wondering who's who, it's difficult to focus your attention on who's doing what.  All that said, the art is great.  Reeder does an amazing job slowly revealing the fact that the hook talks and the Bloody Mary sequence is amazing.  I'm hoping that next issue refines this story a little so we can start getting a better sense of what Medusa is and what its goal is, beyond shoving out other gangs.

Nightwing #7:  As I said in my review of "Batman" #7, this arc makes a lot more sense now that I know Higgins wasn't just ad libbing the mystery.  In fact, it seems like he was more or less forced to drag out the mystery a little long than he might've otherwise, simply to make sure the reveal -- that Dick was supposed to be a Talon, but the death of his parents and his adoption by Bruce meant the Court of Owls chose Raymond instead -- was timed to "Batman."  It actually gives me a lot more hope for this title, because a lot of my complaining about Higgins' writing had to do with pacing, something I now realize was outside his control.  As such, this issue does a good job of wrapping up Raymond's story and preparing us for the "Night of Owls" event.  The only downside to this issue, to my mind, is the fact that we've already seen 3.5 pages of the 20 pages in "Batman" #7.  Higgins couldn't avoid it, obviously, since the scene in the Batcave is key to both titles.  But, it does throw off the rhythm of the issue.  Otherwise, though, Higgins does a good job wrapping up the loose ends and propelling us into the next mystery, namely who (yet again, seemingly) is framing Dick for murders he didn't commit.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #7:  OMG, I wish Lobdell would just resolve this All-Caste/Untitled business once and for all.  I mean, OK, he at least gives us some insight into who the Untitled are and why Ducra wasn't one of them.  But, he still doesn't explain why she had to protect humanity from them (other than the fact that they were evil), how exactly she managed to do so, and why one of them decided to break the truce and kill her now.  Moreover, I'm not really sure what Lobdell was trying to do with Essence.  For example, she tells Jason that he killed the Untitled responsible for slaying Ducra.  However, the Untitled that Jason killed in Colorado wasn't the one that killed Ducra; Jason was led to her by the actual killer (presumably) for reasons that still haven't been made clear, but imply a civil war among the Untitled.  (To recap issues #2-#5, the Untitled who killed Ducra stole something called the Azar and left a snow globe of Colorado to taunt Jason.  Jason went to Colorado, where he encountered another Untitled, who made it clear she didn't kill Ducra.  Jason killed said Untitled and plans to kill the rest of them, since he now views it as his mission to avenge the All-Caste.)  Why exactly would Essence tell Jason that the Untitled in Colorado was responsible?  Lobdell seems to be implying that she killed Ducra and she's trying to throw Jason off her tail with misdirection, sending Jason to Colorado to kill the Untitled who she hopes that he would view as responsible for the deaths.  But, does she really believe that Jason wouldn't have known he was being tricked into believing that the Untitled in Colorado killed Ducra?  I mean, the snow globe seems a little much.  If Essence wasn't the killer, though, I have no idea what her game was, since she never really gets a chance to tell Jason why she's appearing before him before he attacks her.  I know that Lobdell is using Jason's quest against the Untitled as a way to move Jason past his problems with the Bat-family; Jason says as much this issue.  But, the problem with this approach is that he has to make sure that the new family in Jason's life, the All-Caste, is as compelling as the other one.  He's not really doing that here.  We're seven issues into this series (and essentially six issues into this arc) and we still have very little idea of where Lobdell is going with it.  Moreover, it still feels remarkably different from the stories I think we all assumed we'd get in this title.  It was OK for a few issues, but the more we meander in this supernatural alley, the more I'm wondering why I'm getting this title other than the hope that Jason will appear shirtless.  But, at this point, he could be naked each and every issue, and I think I'd still be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spider-Man 2099 #2: "Nothing Ventured..."

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Otherwise going to the bathroom would be an adventure, and picking my nose would be lethal."  -- Miguel, contemplating a life where his talons didn't automatically retract when he touches his own skin

Miguel resumes narrating his last few days to Lyla, describing his confusion after awakening from the explosion depicted at the end of last issue.  He describes feeling disoriented when he sees Aaron, who panics at the sight of Miguel's fangs and talons.  Fearing Miguel will try to kill him, Aaron pulls out a gun and fires at Miguel, who uses his new abilities to dodge the blasts.  An errant blast strikes a container labeled "DANGER" and the two are thrown out the window from the ensuing explosion.  Miguel manages to land on the edge of the building and grabs Aaron's arm to keep him from falling.  Aaron starts screaming that Miguel is "killing" him, which confuses Miguel, given that he's trying to save him.  Aaron eventually frees himself from his trench coat and falls to his death and Miguel realizes that his newly grown talons had indeed been tearing up Aaron's arm.  At that moment, the Public Eye arrives and, clad only in Aaron's trench coat, Miguel leaps to his death, not wanting to be a freak.  He has a change of heart, though, and uses his talons to grasp onto the building.  Miguel climbs to the top of the building, cursing Aaron for interfering in his efforts to delete rapture's connection to his genetic code.  Anticipating that the Public Eye will come after him shortly, Miguel spots a "Thorite" (a modern-day Thor worshiper) flying by him (using a special glider).  Miguel leaps onto him and the Thorite asks who he is.  Miguel responds, "Easter Bunny.  Santa Claus.  Spider-Man.  Take your pick."  The Thorite celebrates the return of one of the allies of Thor, viewing him as a harbinger of Thor's return.  They crash-land and the Thorite gives him the kite material to mask himself because "Spider-Man must be masked!"

Meanwhile, at Alchemax, someone named "Tiger Wylde" tells Tyler Stone that his assassin failed in his task.  Stone denies that he sent an assassin and Wylde comments that Latveria is willing to give Alchemax a war if it wants one.  At the scene of the explosion, a being called Venture uses his cybernetic implants to investigate.  He enters Stone's office while Stone is threatening to kill the inventor of the suit that was supposed to have protected the identity of Alchemax's spy in Latveria.  Venture shows Stone an extrapolated video of the explosion's aftermath that he created using infrared afterimages and Stone observes the figure climbing up the side of the building, noting, "This has definite potential."  He sends Venture after the figure.  Meanwhile, Miguel awakens to discover that his Spider-Powers weren't a dream and that his talons have ripped up his sheets.  Fearing he'll injure himself at one point, he discovers that his talons retract automatically whenever he touches his own skin, making him wonder if he could do so on command with practice.  Miguel's brother, Gabe (whose holographic image we saw last issue), calls and informs Miguel he's on his way.  Miguel roots through his closet to find a costume made of unstable-molecule fabric that he bought for his trip to Mexico the previous year to celebrate the Day of the Dead.  He also puts on sunglasses to protect his now highly-sensitive eyes.  Lyla notes he's distressed and suggests a change in her appearance might improve his mood.  Her "fashion show" -- of a British punk, a proper butler, and Aunt May, who Miguel orders Lyla to "kill" -- is interrupted by Gabe's arrival.  Gabe is concerned, given what Dana told him about the rapture, and tells him that he knows he's short-tempered because "when you're half Mexican, half Irish, you're not gonna be sweetness and light," but asks him to level with him.  Miguel tells him that he was hooked on rapture, but managed to beat it.  Gabe encourages Miguel to leave Alchemax because "it's a bad place" "with bad people."  As Gabe's decrying the corporate-raider program, Miguel sees Venture from his window and rushes Gabe from his apartment.  Realizing Venture will eventually follow his trail to his apartment, Miguel hypothesizes that Venture doesn't know he's Spider-Man, so, if he appears as Spider-Man, Venture will not know to look for Miguel.  As such, he dons his Day of the Dead outfit, attaches the Thorite's light-weight glider material to it, and leaps out the window.  He attacks Venture, but doesn't know what to do next. 

The Review
This issue is still pretty dark, but David starts to show us Miguel's wit, drawing another parallel to Peter and lightening the mood a little.

The Good
1) As expected, Aaron doesn't make it past the first few pages of this issue.  But, David arranges for him to slough off this mortal coil in a way that advances the plot, using it as the device that gets Miguel to begin to realize that he's changed.  As such, neither his death nor Miguel's realization feels forced.  Peter David, people.  Peter David.

2) Again, in the dark category, I thought it was interesting that Miguel wanted to kill himself when he realized that he's genetically bonded with the Spider-Man imprint.  Maybe it's because most superhero origins I've read come from the kinder, gentler days of the 1960s, but I don't remember reading an origin story that involves the main character almost immediately trying to commit suicide.  I guess Miguel has a bit more of a physical transformation, with the fangs and talons, than Peter did, so it makes sense to an extent that he'd lament becoming a "freak" rather than celebrate becoming powerful.  But, it still contributes to the fairly dark tone of this series so far.  I put it in the "Good" category because I feel like David is really telling a unique story here and I really applaud the editors for letting him do it.  In just two issues, we've had the main character engage in drug use, domestic violence, and attempted suicide.  I've been reading comics for almost 30 years and I don't ever remember anything even remotely similar, particularly in such a condensed time frame!

3) Continuing on this theme, Miguel's suicidal impulses and panicked responses speak to his not-great mental state right now.  He's gone through this dizzying amount of changes -- from the drug addition, the power metamorphoses, and the fugitive status -- with no real time to catch his breath.  Within essentially a day of getting his powers, he finds himself leaping from his window in a costume fighting a villain.  Talk about a day!

4) However, as mentioned above, David starts to lighten up the issue a little with some humor.  Miguel breaking the Fourth Wall by deadpanning to the reader after Lyla employs the Aunt May persona (and then ordering her killed)?  Hilarious.  Seriously.  Other writers and artists might not pull off this scene so well, making it feel gimmicky, but I feel like David and Leonardi really sell it here.  Similarly, Miguel falling and waiting for his glider material to catch an updraft while saying, "The updrafts should catch the light byte cloth right!  I said...right!"  I said..." was a great moment.  Even if it was your standard hero-figuring-out-his-powers moment, it was still funny and still helped lighten the tone of this issue.  For a moment or two there, it felt like Miguel was essentially going to just burst from his apartment as a fully formed hero, given that he had his costume essentially pre-made.  (See below.)  I'm glad David took the time to remind us that wasn't the case with this scene.  Similarly, I love how he decided he needed to engage in trash talk with Venture to distract him from how scared he was, but could only summon, "Hi."  Again, it's a great parallel to Peter, who also used his banter as a distraction.

5) If you didn't get the message that Alchemax was the bad guy last issue, it's made pretty clear in this one.  Between Tyler threatening to kill the scientist whose suit design for an Alchemax assassin failed to the fact that Alchemax employs someone like Venture, it's pretty evident that Alchemax could, to quote Harry Potter, "solemnly swear [it] is up to no good."

The Unknown
1) As I did last issue, I end this issue wondering if someone is going to survive into the next one, namely Venture.  Although Miguel's plan to throw Venture off his trail by appearing to him as Spider-Man was a sound one, it stands to reason that, if Venture survives the fight, he might consider returning to follow the heat signature...right to Miguel's apartment.  Of course, I guess it's possible that Miguel will distract him long enough for the signature to disappear, but I think it's equally likely he's going to kill him by accident, due to his lack of control over his powers, like he did Aaron in this issue.  We shall see.

2)  Also, when I was thinking about Alchemax, I suddenly realized that we never really established how Alchemax wound up getting its hands on Peter Parker's genetic code.  It certainly implies that someone in Alchemax knew who he was, but I guess it's a story for another day.

3) I had forgotten about the Thorites!  I don't have much to comment about them, other than the fact that I thought it was really cool that the 2099 editors created a religious cult around Thor.  Millennial religious cults are a tradition in science-fiction literature, since they usually hearken to older lo-tech eras and serve as a counterpoint to "modern" high-tech worlds.  Giving the 2099 world its own such cult really helps imbue it with that science-fiction vibe that the editors and authors are so far doing a great job cultivating.

The Bad
1) Why did Aaron have a gun in the first place?  Given how tightly controlled 2099 society seems to be, it seems weird that people can still have guns.  I don't mean that in a "guns are bad" way necessarily, but more that an entity like Alchemax would want a monopoly on the use of force.

2) OK, I'm stretching to call it "Bad" but I thought Venture's powers were a little oversold.  Can he really reconstruct whole scenes with just his infrared vision?  Of course, Joey noted in last issue's editorial page that people always question technology in science-fiction stories, so I'm not going to make too big of a deal of it.  But, it did make me raise an eyebrow.

3) I'm a little disappointed in how Miguel gets his costume.  I mean, I totally buy that, in 2099, people would be able to buy "Day of the Dead" costumes made from unstable-molecule fabric, but it was a little anticlimactic just to see Miguel pull his costume from the closet, seemingly a ready-made superhero.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spider-Man 2099 #1: "Spider-Man 2099"

**** (four of five stars)

Some kids joyriding in a flying car above the city discuss whether or not they're going to get caught by the authorities, but one of them insists that they're fine since the "flyboys" never come so high because of the crosswinds.  However, the kids are stunned to see Spider-Man hurl over their car with the Public Eye, on flying cycles, in hot pursuit.  As the officers pursue Spider-Man, one of them exposits that Alchemax wants Spider-Man alive.  They're surprised when Spidey leaps onto one of their cycles, taking down the cycle and its rider.  Spidey lands on the ground with the rider and takes him into a crowded space, where he ditches the officer and blends into the crowd (presumably after having changed into his civvies).  Later, someone named Miguel returns to his apartment at the Babylon Towers, where his holographic servant Lyla informs him of the time and temperature.  She also notes that his "personal bio readings" indicate he's recently exerted himself and then plays his holographic messages for him.  The first message is from "Tyler," who tells Miguel to come to him to work out "something," noting that he knows Miguel needs "the drug."  The next is from "Gabe," who tells him that the "corporate raider program" on which Miguel is working is a nasty piece of work, and the following one is from "Dana," a girl with a bruise on her face who notes that she was scared when he was "strung out on the drugs" the other day.  Lyla informs Miguel that the next three messages are also from Dana.  She expresses her concern that his present behavior is "not within normal programming parameters" and notes he hasn't made an entry in his journal for five days.  On that cue, Miguel begins to discuss his previous few days.

He begins by recalling a conversation he had with someone named Aaron, who appears to have some position of authority at Alchemax but who resents Miguel for being the golden child brought into the company to head up a particular genetics program.  Miguel cracks wise at Aaron's expense and informs him that his experiments altering the genetic structure of test animals had gone well.  He also shows him photos of the original Spider-Man and explains that he's Miguel's inspiration for the corporate-raider program.  Meanwhile, "Tyler" is revealed to be Tyler Stone, a big wig at Alchemax.  He enters the lab and informs Miguel that he wants to see some results from his experiments.  Miguel cautions that they can't rush the project, but Tyler presses, providing him with a convict as a test subject.  Miguel stresses they're not ready for human tests yet, but the convict says he volunteered for the project in order to avoid getting forcibly aged (the punishment for his crime).  Miguel agrees to conduct the experiment to give the guy a chance of surviving, focusing on just giving him extra strength (and not using the Spider-Man imprint program, as Aaron offered as a possibility).  The experiment goes wrong in Miguel's eyes, since the convict emerges from the genetic-sequencer machine as a "mutated freak" who almost immediately dies.  However, Stone is pleased since the convict did, in fact, gain accelerated strength.

Later that night, Miguel tries to quit Alchemax in protest, but Stone tries to convince him otherwise, noting that he's been groomed for Alchemax just like his father.  Miguel stands firm and Tyler slips "rapture" into his drink, a drug that becomes instantly addictive and that only Alchemax (legally) distributes.  Stone notes how much more difficult it is to fight the drug than submit to it and how nasty the withdrawal symptoms are.  He then expresses his hope that Miguel will "be a member of the Alchemax family for some time to come."  Miguel returns home, where Dana, revealed to be his fiancée, is jazzercising with Lyla.  When she notices how terrible Miguel looks, she tries to comfort him, but he shoves her from him, giving her the aforementioned black eye.  He apologizes and tells her that Stone slipped him the drug as "incentive" to stay at Alchemax and he's been trying to fight it.  But, since fighting it makes its effects worse, he's been hallucinating, seeing monsters everywhere, which is why he struck her.  Dana tells him that she has friends who can get him the drug on the black market, but he furiously asks her if she wants him to be a drug addict his whole life.  She hugs him, saying she just wants him well.

Later, he goes to Alchemax, wiping the security system of his presence and putting himself in the genetic sequencer in order to write over his genetic structure with a copy he had made before taking the drug.  (Rapture bonds with its users genetically and Miguel happened to have a copy of his pre-rapture genetic sequence because he had been using it for his experiments.)  He gets into the machine, where he's observed by Aaron, who starts screwing with the inputs in an attempt to kill Miguel.  He winds up including the Spider-Man file into the genetic sequence being written over Miguel's genetic code and the machine eventually explodes.  Aaron expresses shock when Miguel emerges unscathed and tries to play innocent, threatening Miguel with telling Stone about how he destroyed the equipment in a tantrum.  However, when Miguel looks at him, Aaron is shocked to see he has fangs and talons.

The Review
Drug use, domestic violence, genetic testing on human beings:  talk about a dark origin story!  I had totally forgotten that David wrote this series and was obviously super stoked when I realized it, given how much I love his work on "X-Factor."  I was not disappointed.  This issue creates a fully fledged, fairly damaged character in the form of Miguel O'Hara, who veers more towards the anti-hero side of the superhero spectrum than his present-day counterpart, Peter Parker.  After delivering one of the most compelling and best presented origins in recent history, David leaves you wanting to know so much more about Miguel and his world.

The Really Good
I thought David did an amazing job in creating Miguel, giving us a conflicted, interesting character right from the start.  Miguel becomes Spider-Man thanks to two related events:  1) his arrogant haranguing of Aaron Delgato and 2) his moral conflict with Tyler Stone over human testing.  His "good" stand is the reason why he finds himself in the genetic sequencer in the first place:  he's trying to erase his addiction to rapture, something induced by Stone to keep him at Alchemax despite his protest over testing on humans.  His "bad" stand is the reason why he gets himself imbued with Spider-Man's powers:  Delgato is seeking revenge on Miguel for his haughty behavior.  David lays this groundwork so cleverly, going beyond the stereotypical "accident" in building Spider-Man 2099's origin.

However, each "stand" is more complicated than just "good" and "bad."  For example, while he's firing up the genetic sequencer, Miguel comments that he spent so much time talking like "Mr. Over-Confident" that he actually became over-confident, leaving himself open to Stone's manipulation.  It raises the question why he felt like he had to be "Mr. Over-Confident" in the first place and implies he's not as arrogant as he first appears.  Moreover, he knew that he was working on Alchemax's "corporate-raider program," but only drew a line when Tyler was willing to test his findings on the convict.  Essentially, he was OK with corporate espionage, but not human testing.  I'm not saying corporate espionage and human testing are on the same level of the "morally wrong" scale, but his comfort with one and not the other shows that Miguel is not as black-and-white as most superheroes we see, particularly not in the first issue of their series.  His overconfidence is a minus, but David hints that it comes from a place that might make him a more sympathetic character.  His moral stand was laudable, but it came after being OK with other less morally objectionable (though still morally questionable) actions Alchemax asked him to take.  It's really a testament to David's skill that he's able to present such detailed and layered anti-hero in the first issue!

The Good
1) I also thought that David deserves plaudits for making the origin story for Spider-Man 2099 match the tenor and tone of the original Spider-Man's origin story.  On some level, they're mirror images of one another.  Peter got bitten by the radioactive spider partly because he was a good kid (a science geek), but his emergence as Spider-Man came because of a moral failure, opting not to stop the burglar who would later kill Uncle Ben.  Miguel actually gains his powers because of his moral failure, harassing Aaron Delgato to the point where he felt the need to exact revenge, though I'm guessing it's his moral stand against Tyler Stone that will wind up inspiring him to become Spider-Man.  One gains his powers through innocence, the other guilt; one uses his powers from guilt, the other innocence.  Only David could have been this clever and it's why this story, from the first page, feels likes a Spider-Man story.

2) I thought the drug plot-device was an interesting and clever twist.  It goes beyond just setting up the typical scenario of a superhero gaining his powers in a lab accident by also establishing the central conflict that will likely be the plot of the first few issues at least, since I assume it'll be revenge on Alchemax that motivates Miguel to put on his Spider-Man costume for the first time.  For anyone who works for a large organization and often feels trapped by it, it really gives you an incentive to root for him!

The Unexpected
I don't think I've ever used this term, "The Unexpected," before, but I wasn't sure how to classify the subject of Miguel hitting his fiancée, Dana.  I've mentioned the "Life of Reilly" blog a few times on this blog; it's a detailed history of the "Clone Saga" that includes commentary from the people who created it.  In one of the posts, the editor discusses the reaction to "Spectacular Spider-Man" #226, an issue in which Peter Parker hits Mary Jane.  First, he defends the scene in the sense that he notes Peter doesn't actually hit Mary Jane; he accidentally strikes her while she's trying to keep him from pummeling Ben Reilly.  Second, he notes that said defense didn't really work and Marvel was shy to show anything approaching violence against women for years.  (I guess they didn't notice Chuck Austen's "misogyny is fun!" arc in "Avengers" #77-#82.)  I'm intrigued if this issue garnered a similar reaction, given that the incident is somewhat similar:  Miguel accidentally hits Dana because he's hallucinating that he's being attacked by monsters.  Both Peter and Miguel hit his significant other without meaning to do so and the incident is used to show how crazy he is in that moment.  But, we've all known Peter Parker for years; we, in theory, know it's not something he would normally do.  Conversely, it's a little stark when one of the first things we see Miguel O'Hara do is hit his fiancée.  Again, we're definitely in anti-hero territory here.

The Unknown
I wonder how David is going to address the fact that Aaron essentially knows that Miguel has Spider-Powers.  He sees the fangs and the talons, so it's probably not going to be too much of a stretch (regardless of how dumb Miguel thinks he is) for Aaron to put two and two together when Spider-Man appears on the scene.  My guess is that Aaron might not be long for this world, but what (and who) exactly eliminates him remains to be seen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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

Before we get to the individual issue reviews, I thought I'd comment on a general theme that's been bothering me lately with the X-books.  It came to a head in this review because I happened to receive all four core books on successive days, due to a somewhat erratic shipping schedule.  It seems odd to me that, among the core books, so many authors are using the same characters.  For example, Iceman, Marvel Girl, and Wolverine are appearing both "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "X-Men Legacy," making up half of both teams.  (Beast, Husk, and Shadowcat round out "WatXM" and Cannonball, Frenzy, and Gambit round out "X-Men Legacy.)  Similarly, Colossus, Psylocke, and Storm appear both in "Uncanny X-Men" and "X-Men."  It's a little less of a big deal given the enormous cast in "Uncanny X-Men," but, again, they're half the "X-Men" team.  It seems weird to me that, given the number of X-Men wandering around the School and Utopia, we can't bring some other characters into the mix.  Maybe Scott's "Extinction Team" could lose Colossus, Psylocke, and Storm as members, becoming a more reasonable six rather than nine.  Maybe rather than crowding "X-Factor," Havok and Polaris could've stayed on Rogue's team with Marvel Girl, giving us a team with a little continuity, something none of the other teams have.  What happened to Dazzler and Northstar?  Given the fact that we're talking about the franchise with the deepest bench in Marvel Comics, why are we seeing the same characters over and over and over again?  It really undermines the sense of team dynamics that you usually associate with a specific title, leaving the only real differences between the titles to be the skill of their respective authors and artists.  Honestly, I think it's why so many of these stories have been so boring, because you feel like you're just reading them again and again.

Uncanny X-Men #8:  I've noted in my other reviews of this arc that the Hope/Namor and Colossus/Magik pairs have essentially been ignored.  Oddly, Gillen decides to give us here an entire issue dedicated to their adventures, rather than having interspersed them throughout the rest of the arc.  As a result, this issue feels like a somewhat awkward addendum.  The Hope/Namor moments were actually amusing, and I think this arc would've been more enjoyable had they been spread over the other issues, breaking up the dry material that comprised most of the Tabula Rasa story.  The Colossus/Magik story?  I have no idea why it was included.  I get that Gillen was addressing the darkness that Colossus is increasingly trying to fight, but why include it here?  Is it because it gave him the opportunity to have Colossus murder a bunch of aliens, rather than humans, in order to bring about his soul searching?  I'm guessing so, but it doesn't make it feel any less of a random sub-plot.  Finally, the main plot at hand ends in a way I don't understand.  Was the Savage returning to Tabula Rasa?  I totally didn't understand his conversation with Storm at all, despite the fact that Gillen clearly thought it was deep.  Unfortunately, Gillen seems inexplicably to have adopted the Bendis school of thinking, confusing "deep" with "obtuse."  Besides the Hope/Namor moments, the only other interesting incident in this issue is Magneto and Psylocke's conversation at the end, which implies that maybe, just maybe, Magneto is not as cowed as he's been depicted as being for so long.  Honestly?  I'm really disappointed in Gillen.  I've found this arc to be incredibly boring, and, given that it comes on the heels of the lackluster Sinister arc, I can't believe that I'm reading the guy who used to be the only author to portray a Scott Summers that I didn't want to smack.  I'm almost happy to be distracted by "Avengers vs. X-Men" at this point, because at least I'll be able to avoid the difficult decision about keeping this title or not.

Wolverine and the X-Men #7:  First, I love Bobby and Kitty.  Love it.  They're two of my favorite X-Men, and they've both been relegated so often to incredibly boring star-crossed relationships.  I love the idea that they might get together, but, knowing the two of them, I'm ready for the long haul before it actually happens.  Second, I'm really concerned about Broo, and I hope that someone at the School actually acts like a teacher and talks to him about his moment of violence rather than just picking diamonds growing on trees (but we'll get to that in a minute).

Otherwise?  I really disliked this issue.  First, the "X-Men in Kitty" sub-plot just went on way too long and eventually just wound up being a contest to see if Aaron could out-gross himself.  "Beast says cover your ears."  "What now?"  "Not much.  I think he's just about to blow up Kitty's uterus."  Really?  Aaron thinks that's funny?  I mean, I can tell that he's trying to keep a certain light tone in the book, but suggesting that blowing up someone's uterus is just the sort of thing the X-Men do on an average Thursday seems really callous.

Second, the badass alien isn't a badass...but a professor?  Really?  That revelation just seemed like a totally abrupt -- and somewhat bizarre -- shift in tone from where we had been going.  Does this professor go around the entire Universe eliminating "threats" to the natural order?  Wouldn't he therefore have to kill, um, everyone, since everyone evolved from something else?  Is he against evolution?  He seems to be arguing that, but it seems like a hard thing to stop on, like, a universal scale.

Finally, diamonds growing on trees?  I mean, seriously, it was funny at the end of "Dodgeball" when they rolled out the treasure chest emblazoned with the words "Deus Ex Machina," but, seriously?  Diamonds growing on trees?  I had a hunch that whatever resolution Aaron had to the X-Men's money problems would never again be mentioned after they were resolved here, but I really didn't expect it to be so assinine as "diamons growing on trees."  (Plus, in a little economics lesson, the X-Men aren't going to be able to sell all those diamonds at once.  You flood the diamond market with that sort of supply, and you're going to see prices fall pretty shortly.)

[Sigh.]  I wish we had more than one decent X-title.

X-Men #26:  Meh.  This issue is OK.  It's not great, but it doesn't suck.  Deadpool is always a fun addition and I'm honestly shocked Marvel didn't spoil the surprise on the cover.  I also thought Gischler did a good job reminding us about Storm's, um, "history" with vampires.  I had honestly forgotten about it and had wondered why she was so unreasonable (and un-Storm-like) for most of the issue.  Gischler and Molina deliver on the promise of this series, continuing to give us stories that are light on plot but heavy on action.  I probably would've dropped this title by now if I actually liked more than one of the other core titles.  As it is, between this series, "Uncanny X-Men," and "Avengers," I already feel like I'm in some sort of long-distance relationship with Storm. 

X-Men Legacy #263:  Speaking of the decent X-title, Gage wraps up his excellent initial arc on this title here.  Color me seriously, seriously impressed.  As Rachel said, everyone acted eminently reasonable.  Rogue gave Wolverine's team enough time to stop Exodus, but alerted Utopia that he was coming to make sure Scott's team had time to prepare.  Wolverine didn't want to call Utopia for fear that Scott would dispatch a team full of teenagers.  When it became clear that said team full of teenagers would be needed to stop Exodus, Wolverine allowed it and even allowed the team to return Exodus to Utopia, the only place where he could be held.  But, despite, everyone acting reasonably, it feels like a loss.  Dust and Surge make fairly compelling cases for why Rogue and Wolverine are deluding themselves into thinking they can even remotely protect the students at the Jean Grey School.  But, Rogue has an equally compelling rejoinder.  These issues have provided the most nuanced and thoughtful meditations on "X-Men:  Schism" despite (or, maybe, because of) the fact that they weren't written by anyone involved in it.  Gage doesn't seem to be interested in writting a humorous title like Aaron or a serious title like Gillen; instead, he's writing a realistic one.  In my book, it's the best core X-book on the market.  I can't wait to see where he goes next.

New Comics!: The Captain America Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America #9:  Sharon Carter is a serious badass.  For reasons that I fail to understand, however, she's often dismissed as little more than Cap's girlfriend.  For example, I was confused why Sharon had to leave the Secret Avengers when Cap left.  Was she only a valid member so long as she was there alongside Steve Rogers?  Hadn't she proven that she could hold her own on the team?  She's often, even by Brubaker, reduced to the traditional female role of getting captured so that a concerned Captain America can come rescue her.  The cover of this issue even seems to imply that, with Sharon looking seriously threatened while surrounded by mocking images of the Machinesmith.  Thankfully, however, Brubaker lets Sharon be the badass we all know she is, showing not only her ability to go one-on-one with the entire Quincarrier arsenal, which Machinesmith had at his disposal, but also to devise a clever plan that traps Machinesmith into telling her what she needed to know.  I hope it's a sign that we're going to see more of this "agent in control" Sharon and less of the "damsel in distress" Sharon.

Interestingly, though, thinking about Sharon got me thinking about Cap and his current situation.  Unlike pretty much everyone else around her, Sharon doesn't have any special abilities or powers.  She's just a regular Virginia girl who happens to be a trained S.H.I.E.L.D. operative.  She doesn't have the Infinity Formula or the Super-Soldier Serum or any other formula coursing through her veins.  But, she's out there.  Conversely, Steve, when stripped of his Super-Soldier Serum, is reduced totally to the sidelines.  Brubaker is trapped in this regard by Simon's origin story for Cap, that he was a 98-pound weakling who volunteered to get the Super-Soldier Serum exactly because he was stuck on the sidelines.  It's a story particularly housed in the Second World War era, where any able man was assumed to be willing to go fight for his country.  As such, during that era, Simon was clearly forced to take the totally acceptable literary license and make Cap so weak that he couldn't fight in the War, which also conveniently made the change into who he becomes thanks to the Super-Soldier Serum all the more dramatic.  Today, though, it's a little awkward.  Beyond the fact that Cap basically got his powers from steroids, artists generally struggle, and fail, to keep him from looking like a Holocaust victim; Davis is no different here.  By making the dichotomy so great, though, we lose the opportunity to see Cap fighting without his Super-Soldier Serum.  As a 98-pound weakling, he looks like he can barely hold up his head, let alone try to do what Sharon accomplishes here.

It winds up being an interesting dichotomy on gender roles:  Cap had to be a 98-pound weakling in order to be forced onto the sidelines, and Sharon has to be as capable as she is to finally get off the sidelines.  Had Cap been, say, a 150-pound weakling, we might've been able to see him strap on a gun and say, "Screw the Secret-Soldier Serum, let's take down Bravo."  But, again, he instead had to be justifiably emasculated, to Holocaust-victim proportions, to prevent that from happening.  Even Brubaker can't write around it, because, to ret-con him to a 150-pound weakling, would leave open the question why he didn't get into the Second World War under normal circumstances.  It would essentially indirectly question his patriotism.

So, Cap is stuck on the sidelines and Sharon fights to get off them.  Cap is the man in distress and Sharon gets to save him.  It's like 60 years of gender relations in one issue.

Winter Soldier #3:  As usual with Brubaker, he manages to give us enough information to move along the plot but still keep us guessing.  Also, as usual, I had to re-read the first two issues of this arc to remember all the details.  I haven't been thrilled with Brubaker's work on "Captain America," but this series so far is the Brubaker I know and love.  Maybe he's just better writing Bucky than he is Steve.  Regardless, he's really telling an exciting spy story, exactly the type of story I hoped he'd tell in this series.  In particular, the introduction of the Doombot is genius.  Pretending to assassinate Doom so you can blow up the U.N. with a Doombot and make him claim credit since he's too egotistical to admit he lost control of it?  Genius.  Genius, on the part of Lucia Van Bardas, who Brubaker shows is a force with which to be reckoned, and genius on the part of Brubaker, for understanding Doom well enough to know it's exactly what he would do.  Moreover, Guice and Breitweiser combine to make the art amazing, a creepy blend of pencils, inks, and colors that vividly conveys the shadowy world in which Bucky and Natasha are operating.  I'm really loving this series so far.  I mean, how ballsy was it to start with Dr. Doom?  I can see a future where I'm not getting "Captain America," but I'm getting this series.

On Spider-Man 2099

I've always remembered "Spider-Man 2099" fondly and I think my decision to drop it after issue #25 was more money-inspired than comic-inspired.  I didn't particularly like "X-Men 2099," the only other 2099 title I read, but I've always retained the sense that Miguel O'Hara was a great character.  I had that sentiment affirmed in the two most recent Spider-Man video games, "Spider-Man:  Shattered Dimensions" and "Spider-Man:  Edge of Time."  Two of my favorite comic-book authors -- Dan Slott and Peter David, respectively -- wrote the games and Miguel plays a significant role in both of them.  In "Spider-Man:  Edge of Time," David really excels in portraying Miguel as a darker, though still heroic, version of Peter Parker and I wasn't surprised at all when I re-discovered that he, in fact, originated the character.  It was this portrayal that got me thinking of picking up the series again.  So, I spent some time collecting the issues I missed and, thanks to the Comic Book Database, I think I've actually managed to amass every one of Miguel's appearances.

I'm a few issues into the series already and my "Summary" sections tend to be a little...involved, because David really covers an incredible amount of ground in the first few issues.  It's full-on world creation in the best tradition of fantasy and science-fiction literature.  After the initial three-part origin arc, you feel like you know Miguel and his world and it leaves you wanting more.  I'm going to post the reviews in chronological order, more or less as listed by the Comic Book Database, including Miguel's appearances in books like "Ravage 2099" and "2099 Unlimited."  I'm excited to take this trip back to the future, though I think I'm going to wind up frustrated that he's not around any more and become one of those people organizing Internet campaigns for Marvel to bring back his character.  Viva Miguel!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Avengers:  The Children's Crusade #9:  Wow.

OK, on the face of it, Heinberg wraps up everything here almost too neatly.  Ant-Man returns, Stature's death and Vision's murder are the catalysts for Iron Lad stepping on the path to becoming Kang, Wanda is off the hook, the Young Avengers partially disband, and the remaining members are accepted into the Avengers fold.  But, it didn't feel like it was "too neatly."  It all felt real, with each event, no matter how neatly it advanced the plot, flowing logically from the emotional reactions that the heroes had to preceding events.

Let's take Iron Lad.  I ended last issue hoping against hope that Heinberg would find a way to keep him on the team.  But, instead, within the first five pages, Heinberg makes him into the villain we all feared he'd one day become, and that transition feels real.  Heinberg so nailed the emotions that Iron Lad would be feeling -- his rage at the Avengers and Young Avengers not letting him take Cassie into the future to heal her -- that he leaves no question that Nate has crossed the line.  By killing the Vision, he goes so beyond redemption here that you aren't left wanting him to join the Young Avengers anymore because you realize he can't.  I've rarely read a more powerful sequence in comics than this one, and if you would've told me that Heinberg would've managed it in five pages, I wouldn't have believed you.

The aspect that was the most convenient was Cyclops letting Wanda off the hook for M-Day.  But, I'm hard pressed for Cyclops to have found any other way.  I'm glad Heinberg has Cyclops acknowledge the Billy was right, in his awesome tirade from last issue, that killing the Scarlet Witch wouldn't result in any justice being had.  Moreover, lately, it's almost laughable to think of Scott as anything approaching a moral authority.  This series, I believe, happens before "X-Men:  Schism," since Iceman appears at Cyclops' side, so Scott at least had some measure more authority, in terms of speaking for mutant-kind, than he does now.  But, it's still hard to follow his logic that the Scarlet Witch should be punished, but Magneto, who's part of his "Extinction Team" shouldn't.  Heinberg successfully made that argument last issue, which is why it was fairly easy to accept the fairly manner in which the Scarlet Witch's future was resolved.

But, Heinberg goes beyond the conflict about Wanda's future and actually, for once, makes it about her.  I loved the part where Wanda rejects the offers of Cap, Simon, Magneto, and Quicksilver to take care of her, finally (FINALLY) deciding that it's time she becomes her own person.  I've always been annoyed by the way that various "Avengers" authors have treated her as a fragile tool, a history Jamie Madrox himself notes when he comments on the likelihood that the Avengers will try to find her the next time Dormammu or Mephisto attacks.  She's always just been the powerful character who quietly saved the day, but whose fragility was what made her a sympathetic character.  Wanda appears to be playing a significant part in the upcoming "Avengers vs. X-Men" event, and I'm really intrigued where Marvel is going to go with her character, one who might finally be freed from her days as nothing more than a helpless pawn.

Lest we forget whose book we're reading, Heinberg brings us home in the end.  I almost got teary during the scenes of the five remaining Young Avengers sitting on the High Line.  I thought Heinberg did an amazing job with Eli here.  We actually see a superhero take real, honest accountability for his actions.  I thought it was a great speech, having him note that he's only seventeen years old and that he didn't want his mistakes to hurt anyone else.  Kate's comments were equally moving, talking about the loss of Cassie, the death of Vision at the hands of Iron Lad, and her lack of powers as reasons for her to leave.  But, it's Billy, who's always been the emotional core of the group that delivers the coup de grace, deciding that he was the enemy all along.  No one believes that, but Billy does, as we see over the next few pages as Heinberg and Cheung give us a play-by-play view of the last few months' of events in the Marvel Universe, as seen from Billy's window, where he's been licking his wounds.

But, heroes are heroes, and Heinberg doesn't leave us there.  Teddy and Billy's conversation is lovely, and, OMG, thank God they finally get some.  But, it's Cap's call to the four of them -- Billy, Kate, Teddy, and Tommy  -- to come to the Mansion to see the statue dedicated to Stature and the Vision (and someone else, who I didn't recognize) that really got me.  Again, from a narrative perspective, it's convenient.  Heinberg has pared down their roster and brought them under the auspices of the Avengers.  I wonder if they're going to appear in "Avengers Academy" or in their own back-up stories in "Avengers."  But, the important part is, again, Heinberg makes it feel real.  It doesn't feel triumphant.  It doesn't feel the way that they probably thought it would feel.  But, it feels real, because it's sad.  As Billy said, "There are no happy endings.  But you show up anyway."  'Nuff said.

I had some qualms with this mini-series.  It went on too long, lost its way a few times, and involved too many characters.  Heinberg doesn't really clarify how Dr. Doom manipulated Wanda into causing the events of "Avengers:  Disassembled" and M-Day or how he used the portal she and Billy opened to gain more power, not less power (as originally intended).  In fact, despite being the villain of the series and possibly revealing a major ret-con, Doom is totally absent here, meriting only a brief mention as the heroes debate where or not he actaully manipulated Wanda as he claimed.  I'm also not sure why Heinberg decided to swap out Stature for Ant-Man, who, I have to say, wasn't exactly such an amazing character that the masses were clamoring for his return. 

But, this issue was one of the best issues of any comic I've read in a long time, so we're good.  It's all good.  In the end, Heinberg used this mini-series to have our team mature and grow.  They learned some pretty hard lessons, but they also faced down the Avengers, Dr. Doom, and the X-Men, and won.  They kept the moral high road and they saved the world.  What more do you want from your heroes?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #5: "Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!"

JJJ, Jr. uses his own money to sponsor a TV program "in the public interest" entitled, 'Spider-Man...A Force for Good or Evil?"  The teenagers from Pete's high school are watching the program in a bowling alley, and one of them remarks that JJJ, Jr. is only doing it for publicity for his magazine.  Flash defends Spidey against Peter, who's saying JJJ, Jr. might be right in an attempt to throw the kids off his trail, and tells Peter to leave.  Jameson offers a thousand-dollar reward for Spider-Man's identity, something that piques the interest of Dr. Doom, who's also watching the program.  Doom decides that Spider-Man might be able to help him fight off the Fantastic Four and creates a device that uses an imprisoned spider to transmit a message to Spider-Man via "his own wave-length."  Pete does indeed "hear" the message and travels to its source, finding Dr. Doom in an abandoned warehouse.  Spidey confronts Doom, but Doom invites him to fight by his side, noting they're both outcasts.  (Thinking to himself while making his pitch, Doom exposits that he'll use Spidey to get what he wants and then "destroy with without a second thought!")  Spidey notes that JJJ, Jr. would "really have something to howl about" if he joined Doom, but rejects Doom's offer and instead tries to capture him.  However, he discovers that Doom was actually using a Doombot, and the real Dr. Doom opens a trap door underneath Spidey.  Pete manages to leap before falling into it and, in the ensuing battle with Doom, is thrown from a window into the water next to the warehouse.  Doom commits to finding out Spidey's secret identity to use him as bait for the Fantastic Four and escapes the warehouse, destroying it, before Spidey can return for Round #2.  Pete snaps some photos of the burning building to sell to JJJ, Jr., who buys them, but exhorts Pete to get photos of Spider-Man.  During this conversation, Betty Brant defends Spidey to Jameson, saying that some readers think he's jealous of him.  Pete comments (to himself) how he never realized how pretty she was, and Jameson dismisses the accusation, saying he's just trying to sell papers.  Meanwhile, across town, Flash tries out his Spider-Man costume, which he plans to use to scare Peter.  At his new HQ, Dr. Doom devises an instrument to track down Spidey via his Spider-Sense.  It does lead Doom to Pete, who happens to be walking on the other side of a fence from Flash, who's dressed as Spider-Man.  As such, Doom grabs Flash, leading his friends to wonder why he didn't scare Peter when they see Peter walking along the sidewalk normally.  A few minutes later, Doom takes over all local TV stations with a message for the Fantastic Four, showing an imprisoned Spider-Man who he commits to killing if the Fantastic Four don't respond in an hour.  Liz calls Pete worried, telling him that Flash disappeared after buying a Spider-Man costume to "play a joke on somebody..." and Pete puts two and two together.  After considering leaving Flash at Doom's mercy, Pete heads into the night to find him.  However, Aunt May refuses to let him go due to all the dangerous people on the streets, forcing Pete to remove the master fuse from their fuse box in order to force her to allow him go to buy a new one.  He changes into his Spidey costume and searches for a building with the power necessary to help Doom hijack all the local TV stations.  He finds Doom in an abandoned factory and, after a prolonged battle, manages to delay him until they hear the Fantastic Four's arrival.  Doom realizes he can't fight the Fantastic Four and Spidey at the same time and, despite having Spidey on the ropes, flees.  Pete also leaves, fearing for Aunt May, who he figures is beside herself in worry, leaving the Fantastic Four to rescue Flash.  The next day, JJJ, Jr. derides Peter for failing to get "one measley photo" and the day after that Pete is treated to hearing Flash tell everyone he held off Dr. Doom. 

The Review
We have a brief return to a fairly vicious Peter Parker here.  First, when Flash teases him on the opening page, Pete menacingly warns Flash in his thoughts to be careful, because one day he'll go too far and never know what hits him.  Just in case we misunderstand the threat, Peter ads, "There's even a limit to Spider-Man's patience!"  But, things get even darker when Pete is at first willing to let Dr. Doom kill Flash Thompson, seeing it as his way to rid himself of the bully.  He, of course, decides against it, but we're still seeing a Peter walking dangerously close to the Dark Side.  It almost makes you wonder if JJJ, Jr. didn't have a point about him.

Actually, Flash has a number of...colorful moments in this issue, calling Pete a "panty-waist" and telling him to leave the bowling alley because it's not a "knitting parlor."  He's a real gem of a guy.  In fact, pretty much all the teenagers are assholes in this issue, with everyone excitedly waiting for Flash to scare Peter half to death.  Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Pete after all...

Speaking of JJJ, Jr., I wonder when "NOW Magazine" eventually disappears from his resumé.

I thought the switcheroo between Flash and Spidey was really, really cleverly done.  Seriously, I know these sorts of devices were used frequently in the '60s, but Lee really pulls it off beautifully.  Dr. Doom could've just happened to be by the school when Flash happened to be dressed as Spider-Man.  In fact, any number of writers, classic and modern, probably would've arranged for the issue to turn on that coincidence.  Instead, Lee has Dr. Doom create a device that tracks Spider-Man via his Spider-Sense.  It's a brilliant display of Dr. Doom's intellect and Flash Thompson's douchiness.

I also thought it was a great move to have Spidey use his webbing to convey the electrical current that Dr. Doom was using to electrocute him to Doom himself.  It shows how Lee never forgot how smart Peter is, something later authors often did.

This issue marks Peter noticing how pretty Betty Brant is.  Dun-dun-dun.  Betty also comments how, even though she's "only" JJJ, Jr.'s secretary, she thinks Pete's "wonderful."

"Let's face it!  You've struggled through one of the longest introductions you've ever read!"  Seriously, Stan's narration of these early issues are almost the highlight.  One more for the road:  "And now, settle back and prepare to witness the gol-dangest, ding-bustedest, rip-shortin'est super-characters fight you've ever seen!"

In terms of drawbacks or nitpicks, I'm not entirely sure how Dr. Doom knew Pete had a Spider-Sense.  It plays a key part in both his ability to contact Pete initially and to later track him, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't public knowledge at this point.  Also, why would Liz Allen call Peter Parker about Flash disappearing?  I mean, as Pete himself notes, it's not exactly like they were close...

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Comics!: The "OMG, Can Bendis Stop Writing the 'Avengers' NOW?" Edition

Avengers #24:  OK, let's just get this thing done, shall we:

On some level, this issue was fine.  It has an OK action sequence and, for the first time, Bendis actually uses the flashback device in a way that doesn't totally disrupt the story's flow.  The Avengers themselves have some bland Bendis-esque banter and the central conflict's resolution -- the assembled Avengers discovering a way to defeat a powerful Osborn -- made sense, even if it was pretty predictable.  If it were just a one-and-done issue, I'd probably give it two of five stars, maybe three of five stars if I were feeling generous.

But...'s not a one-and-done issue.  It's the culmination of seven "Avengers" issues and eight "New Avengers" issue.  It's the last arc of "Architect" Bendis's run on two titles he's controlled for years.  It was supposed to be the coup de grace in which we all ask Marvel to stop publishing Avengers stories because "Architect" Bendis has written the greatest, most amazing Avengers story of all time and we should just consider the Avengers done as a franchise.

Needless to say, it wasn't any of that.

First, let's talk about Osborn.  Bendis has been playing this "OMG, why does Osborn have super-powers?" game throughout the series, and it's never rung true to me, given that Osborn possessed most of the powers Bendis has had him exhibit (super strength, most notably) previously, through his exposure to the Goblin Formula.  It's not like Norman Osborn has armor-based powers, like Iron Man, even if he did use the Iron Patriot armor for a while.  His powers have always been tied to his exposure to the Goblin Formula and, as far as I know, he didn't lose them when the authorities sent him to the Raft after his role in "Siege."  As such, the reveal that Osborn gained the powers of the Super-Adaptoid felt flat to me.  Um, OK.  He has some more powers.  Whatever.

But, this revelation goes from bad to worse because of how obvious its resolution becomes.  The minute we learn that he has Super-Adaptoid powers, we know that the Avengers are going to defeat him by overloading him.  Done.  Did anyone really think it was going to end any other way?  That he and Captain America were going to have some sort of heroic struggle?  That he and Iron Man were going to engage in a battle of the minds to save or destroy the world?  That he and Spider-Man were finally going to hash out Gwen's death?  No.  No one did.  We all knew that they were going to defeat Osborn by overloading him, since Bendis essentially has Dr. Rappaccini TELL US IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.  Osborn tells her that he doesn't want a suit to give him power.  (Let's ignore that he doesn't need to have a suit to give him power, because he already has power.  Let's just ignore it.  I'll concede it.  Fine, he doesn't have power.)  But, why wouldn't he have a suit to help him control his new power?  Couldn't A.I.M. construct a suit that would address the obvious flaw in the plan, letting Osborn regulate how many powers he absorbed?  If I can think of that, couldn't Bendis or, at the very least, one of his editors?  Again, we're supposed to believe Osborn is SO smart, but he so easily walks into this glaring hole in his plan?  Really?

Moreover, I was truly infuriated by how easily he's defeated:  three panels that take up roughly a sixth of a page.  In fact, the entire battle with the Avengers, the one that directly results in his defeat, takes up just three pages.  Osborn's entire comment before he literally melts?  "Oh, no."  Genius, "Architect Bendis."  Genius.

Also, before I rant more about the plot holes, I need to pick a bone with Bendis about his portrayal of Captain America.  During Chuck Austen's awful "Lionheart of Avalon" arc in "Avengers" #77-#82, he had Captain America find himself emotionally incapable of comforting a little boy who lost his mother, despite the fact that Cap also lost his mother at a young age and, you know, inspired AN ENTIRE GENERATION OF ALLIED TROOPS during the Second World War.  In this arc, Cap asserting that he's not good at public relations also felt ridiculous.  As Obama says, the man wears a flag for his costume.  He can inspire AN ENTIRE GENERATION OF ALLIED TROOPS on newsreel after newsreel, but he can't go on a Sunday morning talk show and explain, in clear and unequivocal terms, why America needs the Avengers?  Bendis built this entire arc around the idea that Osborn used modern forms of communication against the Avengers, inserting doubt into the minds of the public.  Although I didn't buy it for a minute, Bendis wanted us to buy it, despite never actualy selling it.  As such, Cap's refusal to address the issue that Bendis wants to us to believe was the Avengers' greatest weakness makes him seem old and obsolete, like trying to get your grandfather to join Facebook so you don't have to keep sending him huge e-mails of photo files of your new puppy.  I absolutely reject this idea that Captain America can't adapt to the modern era, and I'm stunned Marvel let Bendis treat one of its flagship characters this way, particularly given that it's the character who's supposed to serve as the whole moral backbone of the Marvel Universe.  If Captain America can't explain to America why he and the other Avengers are needed, then who the $%^& can?

Finally, because the quicker that I can forget this arc the better, we continue to have serious coordination issues.  I felt like I was missing an issue throughout this issue, that this whole arc just ended abruptly, partly because I was missing an issue.  We learn here that the New Avengers took down the Dark Avengers, which I'm assuming happens in "New Avengers" #23?   For the life of me, I don't understand why we couldn't get a note to that effect on the intro page.  Marvel keeps using these intro pages, and they waste four paragraphs recapping a plot we already know, but not one sentence about something we don't necessarily already know.  Why do they feel the need to only address these pages to people who seemingly just decided to pick up a comic for the first time?  Can we not get ONE sentence noting that we should read "New Avengers" #23 first?  The same thing happened with "Secret Avengers" #23, and I absolutely don't understand it.  I end this entire arc not knowing fully what happened, because Marvel either couldn't get its publishing schedule in order or couldn't be bothered to care about me knowing what happened.

Final Thoughts:  Honestly, I don't even know what my final thoughts are (particularly since they're not my final thoughts, because I have another issue to read).  We began this arc having it be all about Osborn manipulating the Avengers via the media and end it with Osborn melting after essentially trying to defeat the Avengers in hand-to-hand combat by himself.  The most glaring problem with this arc is that we never actually discovered what Osborn intended to do.  It appears, in this issue, his only goal was to fight the Avengers.  Bendis spent this entire arc pretending that Osborn was playing some long game...and it appears all he wanted to do was punch some people.  We're left with all sorts of questions.  Why exactly did Osborn try to convince the President to put him in charge of the national-security apparatus, as we saw last issue?  What would he have done if the President had done so?  If his plan was merely to fight the Avengers, why didn't he just attack them in the first place?  Why go through the elaborate public-relations campaign?  Was the goal of the public-relations campaign to weaken the President so he accepted Osborn as the head of the national-security apparatus?  Why assemble his own Dark Avengers if he were so convinced that he could take on both Avengers teams by himself?  I'm rattling off these questions without even reading my other posts to see if I missed anything.

I just don't know.  Honestly, this entire arc has been a train wreck and I just don't know what to say, other than the fact that I can't believe I have to segue straight from the "H.A.M.M.E.R. War" to "Avengers vs. X-Men."  From the future arc to the Infinity Gems to "Fear Itself" to the "H.A.M.M.E.R. War" to now "Avengers vs. X-Men:"  I wonder if I'm ever going to like this series that I spend $3.99 a month to get.