Monday, April 30, 2012

2099 Unlimited #3: "Water God"/"Spare Changes"

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
A nuclear explosion in America's "interior states" (where "fuel companies pretty much own the government") sends a wave of a hundred thousand refugees fleeing west to "that fabled land where the environment is supposed to be protected, where the poor are supposed to be taken care of -- California."  Instead, they discover that California is now an island, separated from the rest of America by a canal that also serves as a moat.  The refugees attempt to swim the canal but are attacked by robotic buoys that open fire on them.  As one buoy takes aim at a mother and her two children, the Hulk attacks at it, saving them.  He then helps get the survivors and wounded to the shore.  When the mother asks why California wants to be an island, the Hulk responds that the canal was created by eco-terrorists trying to save precious resources, like water.  However, California's "bosses" now use it as a border fence to control immigration, getting enough cheap labor without having "hordes of unhappy poor people."  When the mother asks why the Hulk helped them, he responds, "Maybe I just figured a crooked state could use a little new blood."  Then, suddenly, a wave washes over them and a gigantic humanoid figure made from water threatens them for trying to "drain the homeland dry."  Calling himself the Water God, he attacks, forcing some of the refugees back into the water to escape.  The Hulk tells them to stand their ground and takes on the Water God, but struggles to land a punch, given that the Water God is, you know, made of water.  The mother's youngest son tries to help, but the Water God smacks him away, making the Hulk realize that he becomes solid (and hittable) right before he strikes.  The Hulk asks who made him as they battle, and the Water God exposits that he was created by the eco-terrorists behind the Great Monkey-Wrench of 2076.  The group detonated eastern California's earthquake faults, letting the Pacific join the Colorado.  The government killed the "monkey-wrenchers," but, before they died, they dropped electromagnetic transformers into the water that gave the Water God form and power, with the mission to protect the water.  The Hulk suddenly realizes how to defeat the Water God, looking to the desert mountains and heading towards them, telling the Water God that he knows another way to get the refugees into California.  The Water God follows in pursuit (while the refugees fear that the Hulk has left them) and the Hulk brings him higher and higher until he freezes, since his creators never thought to teach him about the cold.  The Hulk then shatters him and returns to help the refugees into California, carrying the little boy who the Water God injured to help him get medical attention.

Spidey and the Public Eye are in pursuit of a hijacked weapons van that "has enough fire-power to hold a small city hostage."  The Public Eye's blasters are bouncing off the van's armor and the lieutenant in charges tells the officers to also try to nail Spidey, who's hanging off the back of the van via a Web-Line.  Spidey rips open a side panel and enters the van, taking down the hijackers and setting the van to auto-hover.  He sens a message via the van's communicator to the lieutenant, telling her that he has no intention of fighting the, and she lets him go.  Meanwhile, at an Alchemax subsidiary named Helix, Miguel's colleague Anna is waiting for him, since he's over 30 minutes later to a briefing with Ms. Benoit, an annoyed Helix official.  Benoit decides to start without Miguel, telling Anna that she would like to give her a tour of Helix before discussing why Alchemax is there in the first place, the high-speed DNA scanners that Helix has developed.  Spidey arrives at Helix, changes into Miguel, and finds Anna and Ms. Benoit to join the tour.  Downtown, Mutagen has hacked into Helix's net to learn more about the DNA scanners, realizing that they would allow him to make decisions about who to eliminate on the spot and he would not have to resort to hospital computer files.  He changes into his costume and heads to Helix.  Meanwhile, 100 feet below ground level, Benoit brings Anna and Miguel to Helix's experimental labs, showing them the cryonics lab and a globe that traps ambient solar radiation.  Impatient, Miguel asks to see the scanner and Benoit leads them to that lab, explaining that Helix projects billions in revenue, since the scanners with cut diagnosis time in half.  She is interrupted by a call, informing her that they're having problems "topside" with a costumed individual before the call is cut and Benoit tells the caller to handle it.  Topside, Mutagen has killed the security staff and hacks into a computer to learn the location of the scanners.  In the sub-basement, the group hears the screech of metal and goes to investigate.  Benoit attempts to open the elevator doors, but is killed when Mutagen blows through them.  Mutagen tells Anna and Miguel that he won't hurt them; he's just there for the scanners.  Miguel tells Anna to let him pass and Mutagen, hearing her name, suddenly realizes that she's the sister of the woman he tried to kill in the hospital (in "2099 Unlimited" #1).  Since her sister has a blood disease, Mutagen decides that she might have that genetic disorder as well.  Before he can attack, Miguel threatens Mutagen, wondering how to extricate them from the situation without revealing his identity to Anna.  Mutagen punches Miguel across the room and Miguel loses his shoes and grasps onto the wall with his talons, exposing his identity.  He attacks Mutagen and changes into his Spidey costume, telling Anna to run and webbing Mutagen's eyes.  Mutagen pulls off the webbing, punches Miguel, and then knocks out Anna.  Infuriated, Miguel swears that Mutagen will pay "in blood" if Anna is hurt and knocks them into the cryonics lab.  Mutagen immediately starts to adapt and he suddenly realizes that he's surrounded by the "genetically flawed" who wish to stay alive to perpetuate their diseases.  Before Mutagen can attack the frozen people, Miguel amps up the cold to see if he can overload Mutagen's adaptation powers.  However, it has no effect, except to make Miguel even slower.  Mutagen tries to convert Spidey to his cause and, when Spidey asks what the benefits package is (heh), Mutagen redoubles his attack in anger for being mocked.  Seeing an opening, Miguel belts Mutagen into the solar-radiation globe, where he burns.  Miguel grabs Anna and leaves before the flames consume the lab and, in the lab, Mutagen's hand appears to grab the DNA scanner.  That night, at the hospital, Anna is fine, but reveals that she can't remember the last hour before the fight.  Anna asks if they ever found Mutagen and Miguel informs her that they didn't, nor do they know if he got the DNA scanner.

The Review
Unlike last issue, it's the Spidey story that gets this issue a three, with the Hulk story weighing it down.  (I'm not even going to mention the oddball last stories anymore, because, yeah.)  The Hulk story was surprisingly a mess, given how strong Jones has been over the last two issues.

The Good
1) A lot of the 2099 world shows what would happen if certain political and economic arguments from the 1990s were taken to the extreme, and Jones manages to combine the militant environmentalist movement with harsh immigration policies, in a great example of being on such extreme sides of the political spectrum that you loop to the other one.  Although I have some issues with the Water God plot in the Hulk story (as you'll see below), I thought Jones raised some interesting points about how California's separation from the rest of the U.S. as a result of the eco-terrorists (and, later, California "bosses") had left it a harsh, cold place.  In previous issues, Jones has shown how John's "friends" are all trying to get him fired so they can take his job and here he tells the mother that people in California only have need of family if they can make money from them.  Jones makes the argument that bringing in new people with different approaches will help shake up the status quo, something the Hulk, who is in the process of realizing how morally bankrupt California society is, clearly supports.  It, of course, overlooks some of the downsides, like how you manage all those "unhappy poor people" and their need for scarce resources like water.  But, it's not like I expect Jones to solve a problem that currently bedevils politicians.  I thought he did a great job in just raising the issue and showing how 2099 California became the dystopia it is.

2) As I mentioned in my review of "Spider-Man 2099" #14, I need to give Skolnick more credit than I have for essentially being the only one focusing on Miguel fighting crime.  In the main title, we've really only seen Spidey act as a vigilante in the S.I.E.G.E. issue (#11).  But, even that fight is part of his larger fight against Alchemax (as were his fights against Venture and the Specialist).  It's been Spidey's fight against Mutagen that shows him helping the common man and building the reputation among the people that David seems to be hinting that he's developed in "Spider-Man 2099."  In addition, we see Spidey taking down the hijackers, helping the Public Eye and implying that, in so doing, he might even be creating admirers within it, with the lieutenant ordering her men to let him go.  I've been hard on Skolnick for some of the plot holes in his previous work (and this issue), but I have to give him credit for giving me more of the stories I want to see. 

3) Speaking of Mutagen, I though the applicability of the DNA scanners to his "work" was a clever development.  It's rare that you so clearly understand a villain's motives beyond just doing something "evil."

The Bad
1) Why was Hulk 2099 at the border in the first place?  Last we saw him, he was obsessed with finding Gawain.  Was Gawain out there?  Did he find him?  I find it weird that Jones would have us believe that the Hulk just patrols the borders looking for fleeing refugees.  How often does that happen?  If it's a lot, maybe I understand why the "bosses" used the canal the way that they did...

2) I'm not quite sure that I follow the geography?  How exactly did the explosion connect the Colorado and the Pacific in a way that created a border around California?  Wouldn't that actually just cut off California from Baja California in Mexico, or, if it broke higher, Southern California from Northern California?

3) I'm also not sure what the Water God's deal was exactly.  He was created by the eco-terrorists, but he seems to be fulfilling the mission of the "bosses" who used the canal to create a moat around California.  It seems weird that he would've been programed by the eco-terrorists to keep refugees from entering the water.  Was he just operating under general "keep the water" pure orders?

4) Does Mutagen now know that Miguel is Spider-Man?  Spidey doesn't seem to be concerned about Mutagen seeing him.  I mean, he webs up his eyes, but I'm pretty sure Mutagen saw him use his talons to grab the wall.  Even if he didn't, I think that Mutagen is smart enough to put two and two together when Spider-Man suddenly appears (and Miguel suddenly disappears) 100 feet below ground level.  I mean, sure, he may not know Miguel's name, but I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to discover who the guy on the tour was.  Given the "does he or doesn't he" game that David has been playing in "Spider-Man 2099" regarding whether Tyler Stone or Miguel's brother knows his identity, it's weird that we don't really comment here on the fact that one of his nemeses pretty clearly does.

5) Is Skolnick aware that Miguel has a girlfriend?  We seem to be treating Anna as a girlfriend, but, um, she isn't Miguel's girlfriend.

Spider-Man 2099 #14: "Boiling Point"

 ** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Pardon me, Father.  I'm going to take these sinners out where they can see the light.  Maybe they'll repent."  "Hope springs eternal, my son.  If, however, they continue to harbor thoughts of hostility...kick their shockin' faces in."  "Yes, ma'am, Father."  -- Spidey and Father Jennifer, with the banter

Summary
After going through a portal at the end of last issue, Spidey finds himself in his apartment, standing over a bleeding Prophet.  At Alchemax, Tyler Stone has returned from his meeting with the C.E.O. to discover both the Prophet and Spider-Man gone.  He demands answers from Jordan Boone, but one of the security guards who initially escorted the Prophet responds.  The guard informs Stone that the Prophet escaped (as depicted last issue) and, when the guard opened fire on him with a stun blast, the Prophet "warped the air in front of him" and absorbed the shots.  (The guard says that the Prophet seemed as surprised by that turn of events as the guard.)  The Prophet then leapt through the warp and knocked him unconscious.  Stone asks Jordan to continue the story, which he does, recalling that the Prophet stormed into the lab, demanding to know if Spider-Man was in the portal.  When Jordan confirmed that he was, the Prophet shoved past Jordan, grabbed the mechanical arm as an anchor, and then leapt into the portal.  Jordan says nothing happened until Thanatos' distorted and roaring face appeared the portal.  Panicked, Jordan shut down the portal, just as a massive arm started to come through it.  When the portal was finally closed, the only thing remaining was the now-carbonized arm.  Just as Jordan confirms that neither the Prophet nor Spider-Man returned, Dana enters the room, demanding to know where Miguel is.

At Miguel's apartment, Spidey uses a "heat sealer" to seal the Prophet's wounds (received when Thanatos slashed him last issue), given that going to a clinic would be like "sending up a flare to Alchemax."  Spidey asks Lyla to load up a medical text on wounds, but gets no response.  With the wound healed, Spidey asks the Prophet who he is, a question that the Prophet can't answer.  Meanwhile, at Kasey's Downtown apartment, Gabe learns that Kasey is sick from Raff, who informs him that she's dizzy, tired, and vomiting and that Gabe put her in this condition.  At Miguel's apartment, the Prophet looks at a holophoto of Dana and Miguel together and marvels how much technology has advanced.  Miguel takes off his mask and introduces himself, telling the Prophet that, since they owe each other their lives, they might as well be straight with each other.  He asks the Prophet what happened and the Prophet informs him that he had no interest in being a prisoner so he leapt through the portal to save Miguel, since he somehow seemed familiar.  When Miguel asks how he broke free, the Prophet tells him that he used powers that he doesn't still understand, positing that he believes that he used to have other abilities, but they've somehow changed due to the cross-over or his time trapped in interspace.  He tells Miguel that he had initially wanted to shield himself from harm, but wound up warping space in front of him, creating a field that causes anything to enter it to vanish, except the Prophet and whatever it is that he's touching.  When Miguel asks how he knows that, the Prophet explains that he uses the warp to surround him and Miguel when Thanatos was pursuing them and, realizing that his powers are psionic in nature, instinctively decided to take Miguel and him to the place where Miguel felt the safest.  Elsewhere in the apartment, Lyla appears to answer a call from Dana, lying to her that Miguel wasn't there.  Dana tells Lyla to tell Miguel that she's at Alchemax waiting to hear from him and that she's safe and that she loves him.  Lyla agrees.

Miguel gets the Prophet some clothes, because he's asked to see New York and explore this new world.  As they leave, Miguel tells Lyla to call Dana at Synthia.  Lyla agrees and, meanwhile, asks Miguel if his companion is the "Net Prophet" everyone is discussing.  Miguel asks the Prophet what he wants to see and he tells him that he wants to see the best and the worst.  Lyla tells Miguel that Dana isn't at Synthia, Alchemax (liar), or her apartment.  When Miguel asks if Dana has called, Lyla says no (double liar).  Miguel tells Lyla to tell Dana, if she does call, that he's looking for her, that she should stay put, and that he loves her.  Lyla agrees.  The Prophet grabs Miguel's hand and teleports them to where Miguel has decided where they should go.  Downtown, Gabe proposes marriage to Kasey, assuming that she's pregnant.  Kasey laughs and Raff tells him that she's not pregnant; she's got a concussion from when Gabe shot her (at the end of issue #7).  He asks what Gabe is going to do to rectify the situation and Gabe doesn't have an answer.  Miguel shows the Prophet (who he calls "Proph") Stark Tower, the highest point in the city.  He asks about Thanatos and the Prophet tells him that he doesn't remember much.  He recalls a great battle involving many beings from different worlds.  He wonders about Thanatos' claim that he killed Thor, noting that it's hard to trust the words of "such a creature," and then tells Miguel that "there was a massive flash of white, and...the rest is blank."  But, he reveals that he seems to remember having a daughter and he can feel her like an amputee feels his missing leg.  He realizes that she's long gone by now and asks Miguel to take him to where the "despondent and desperate" are.  Miguel agrees, but notes that he should dress for the occasion and changes into his Spider-Man costume.

At St. Pat's in Downtown, a group of Fenris thugs arrives to steal the church's food stash.  Father Jennifer tells them that they can only enter if they renounce violence.  The lead thug begins to beat her, telling her that her god has no power over him.  He screams to "God" that he is Oguun of the Fenris talking to him in his house and tells him to take his best shot.  At that moment, Spidey and the Prophet arrive.  Spidey apologizes to Father Jennifer for the Vulture "fracas" and seeks to make amends.  The Fenris wonder who's with him and Spidey informs them that it's the Prophet..."and he's real annoyed."  The Prophet then blasts one of the thugs from the room with a newly discovered eye power.  Spidey webs up the rest and takes them outside the church.  The lead thug warns Spidey that "Bloodsword" will get him for this affront.  Spidey tells him that he's not afraid of Bloodsword and announces that St. Pat's is under his protection.  Elsewhere, Kasey, Raff, and Gabe go into the street because "the vine" said that Spidey had returned.  Gabe tries to get Kasey back into her apartment, but she refuses, excited to see Spidey.  She then loses consciousness, causing Gabe to shout her name.  She next awakens at a clinic, where a doctor reveals to her that he's not going to report her gunshot wound to the authorities because Spider-Man asked him not to do so.  Raff reveals that Spidey heard Gabe's scream and took Kasey to the clinic after telling Gabe and Raff where he was taking her.  Spidey, meanwhile, returns to the Prophet, who thanks Spidey for the tour and tells him that, armed with dehydrated food from Father Jennifer, he's going to see the world with his eyes.  He then departs via one of his warps after the two wish each other well.

The Review 
That summary seems really involved, given that, honestly, nothing of real significance seems to happen in this issue.  It feels mostly like a transition issue, wrapping up some of the loose ends related to Thanatos, deepening the mystery of Lyla, and making us wonder where the Kasey/Gabe relationship is going.  Unfortunately, I'm not really pleased with the way that David wraps up the Thanatos plot and the Prophet storyline also had some serious flaws.  It's the first two stars of the series, but, hopefully, it's an isolated incident and we're going to get some higher marks as we move into "Fall of the Hammer."

The Good
I'm really stretching to find something I liked in this issue.  It wasn't that I hated everything, but I found most of it annoying.  I guess the best part, for me, was the Father Jennifer storyline, since I originally hoped at her initial appearance in issue #8 that she would serve as a liaison between Spidey and Downtown.  So far, my favorite stories have taken place in Downtown, where we see Spidey as a crime-fighter and avoid some of the high-concept plots that are starting to get a little dull.  So, hopefully, with Father Jennifer and Spidey starting to work together, we'll see more of those sorts of stories.  That's about all I've got at this point.

The Unknown

How did Spidey know the clinic doctor so well that he was willing to risk the ire of the authorities at Spidey's request?  Was it the same place he went in issue #6?  It doesn't seem like it, since this clinic seemed a bit fancier.  I think it's actually David showing that the public has started to be taken with Spidey and supporting him, but I feel like we probably needed that clarified a bit.

The Bad
1) OK, I'm disappointed in David, because I'm just not feeling this Thanatos/Prophet story.  It seems pretty clear that, at some point, it's going to be revealed that they're both characters that we know from the 1990s era of Marvel Comics.  As I mentioned last issue, my problem with this sort of mystery is that I'm just eager to get to the reveal.  The 2099 world has worked best so far when it's avoided playing up its direct connections to the 1990s era.  I'm so much more interested in the 2099 world itself -- with all the discoveries that we have yet to make -- that I can't say I'm all that interested in getting plagued by the baggage of the 1990s era.  I'm not saying that I don't find how the 2099 world evolved from the 1990s era interesting; I do.  For example, I thought the 2099 Vulture in "Spider-Man 2099" was pretty bad-ass and the thirty-mile mall in "2099 Unlimited" #2 was brilliant.  I'm just less interested in seeing direct connections to the 1990s era, characters from that era suddenly appearing in 2099.  It seems to really break our suspension of disbelief somehow, and I find myself just hoping that we learn who Thanatos and the Prophet are in "Fall of the Hammer" so we can get onto more interesting stories.

2) Moreover, I'm still confused by what Thanatos' motivations are.  Last issue, we learned that he wanted to destroy the 2099 world for his host.  Is that it?  I mean, if the guy is powerful enough to have survived whatever bad thing happened at the end of the Heroic Age, does he really care about his host?  I'm not sure I buy that he feels so indebted to him that he's willing to destroy the entire world just to thank him.  Wouldn't he have his own goals?  Why would he want to destroy the world rather than rule it or something?  I mean, if he was powerful enough to kill Thor, you'd think that he'd be powerful enough to rule the world.  (Also, I think the Prophet is wrong here.  I don't think Thanatos said he killed Thor; he just said that he was there when Thor died.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

New Comics!: The "Night of the Owls" Edition #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm posting these reviews in the order in which I read the issues, which winds up having been the exact opposite order in which I should've read them.  One of my pet peeves (though not an official one) is when publishers don't tell us the order in which we're supposed to read the issues of a cross-over event, a service to the fans that, to me, seems like a basic step if you're asking them to buy multiple issues of series that they don't normally buy.  As such, I saw Alfred sending out the call to arms in both "Red Hood and the Outlaws" and "Nightwing," despite not actually seeing the circumstances surrounding the event until I read "Batman" #8.  Annoying.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #8:  Oh, thank effing God!  I have, since the first issue of this series, been desperate for a story that shows us some insight into the state of Jason's relationship with the Bat-family in the DCnU.  Given the soft reboot that the Bat-family was given (and Jason's previous comments about repeatedly trying to kill Dick), it was pretty clear that all his crazy moments, such as "Battle for the Cowl" and "Batman and Robin" #3-#6, still likely happened.  In Jason's conversation with Tim here, we more or less get confirmation that they did, with Jason noting that he wasn't always that nice to Tim (you know, like, when he stabbed him in the chest in "Battle for the Cowl" #2).  However, and this part is key, we also get, finally, someone in the Bat-family stating what should've been the obvious, that Jason returned from the dead after being murdered, and that's a lot to digest.  It makes sense that it's Tim who holds out the olive branch.  After all, he never knew Jason alive (the first time), so he doesn't come to his relationship with him with quite the same baggage that Bruce and Dick do.  It turns into a lovely moment, with Jason somewhat shockingly accepting Tim's offer to stay and have breakfast with him and the two of them bonding over a discussion about how terrible Alfred's waffles are.  (I found the revelation that Alfred's waffles are terrible to be possibly the most shocking part of this issue.)  Given the anger we saw in "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #3, when Jason leaves behind his most cherished memory, of Bruce skipping patrol to stay with him when he was sick, I'm thrilled that Lobdell opens the door to reconciliation one day.  "Batman Incorporated" #6 seemed to be going down that road, before the reboot, when most of us assumed that the mysterious person getting fitted with armor by Batman, who suggested it was this person's chance at redemption, was Jason.  Other than that moment (which, again, wasn't confirmed to be Jason and happened in the DCU), the breakfast scene gives us the first hint that we've seen that Jason maybe is starting to think he might want a reconciliation (or would at least consider one).  He's always been so adamant about his hatred of Bruce for not avenging him, but, as Tim said, he had a lot to digest and maybe he's done some digesting by now.  Tim also raises the idea that the other members of the Bat-family will eventually realize that, too.  At this point, I would've just been happy to know that Jason had Tim as his link and therefore have my hope kept alive that we'll see everyone hug out their emotions soon.  But, Lobdell goes one step further here, and we see Jason take another step towards the Bat-family in agreeing to help with the Night of the Owls.  Now, I have no doubt that, after the dust settles, we'll at best get a tense conversation between Bruce and Jason acknowledging what Jason did in helping with the Court of Owls and what him doing it means in terms of his relationship with the Bat-family.  But, at this point, I'll take it.  Jason deciding to help the Bat-family is a huge step and it gives me hope.  Hurrah!  Moreover, I have to give Lobdell props for finding a pretty convincing reason for getting Jason to come to Gotham, with Suzie Su kidnapping all the kids in the Gotham hospital in order to get Jason to return so she could get her revenge on him.  I'm sad to see Su go, because she seemed to have so much potential as a crazed villain, but she served her purpose here of getting our man to Gotham.  All in all, I'm a lot more hopeful about this series now that we've at least left the All-Caste nonsense behind (no matter how temporary it is) and put our boy back in Gotham.  I'll sleep easier tonight.

Nightwing #8:  Okie-dokie, the "Night of the Owls" has started, with William Cobb coming after his descendant, Dick Grayson.  Higgins gives us Cobb's history here, moving him from a poor boy on the streets of Gotham performing juggling tricks around the turn of the century to a celebrated acrobat in Haly's Circus romancing the daughter of one of the city's elites.  His story doesn't finish here, since Higgins only sets up the betrayal that we'll presumably see turn him into a Talon next issue.  But, Higgins does his best to set up the tragedy of Cobb and make it clear that the Court of Owls has done some pretty terrible things to him.  It's not all about Cobb's past, though, with Higgins focusing on his attack on Mayor Hady in the present day and ensuing fight with Nightwing, who arrives to save the Mayor.  I was initially surprised by Nightwing stabbing him in the eye, but then Higgins reminds us that Cobb -- and all the Talons -- are already dead, making me realize that we're really going to get to see the Bat-family unleashed in this event.  I'm still a little confused, because I thought we last left Cobb in the Batcave, though I'm assuming I'll see how he escaped in "Batman" #8 (despite this issue being labeled a "Prelude" and that issue being labeled "Begins").  But, Higgins really moves us along this issue better than he has in previous installments of this title, a weakness that I'm realizing might have been more related to his need to stall on the reveal of who Saiko was (to conincide with the "Night of the Owls") than any failing on his part.  It gives me hope for the future of this title, and makes me anxious to see how Dick survives three blades to the chest next issue!  I'm also intrigued to continue the Cobb story, since Higgins does a good job humanizing him here, paralleling his story to that of Dick, who also wasn't born "of Gotham" but became as central to the city as anyone other than Bruce could be.  All in all, it's one of the stronger issues of this series.

Batman #8:  OK, somewhat surprisingly, I actually have a few complaints about this issue.  First, the transition between Capullo and Albuquerque in the art department is bizarre.  It seriously, seriously disturbs the flow of the story because, although DC appears to want us to believe that the Albuquerque part is a secondary feature, it's really just the second part of the story that this issue tells.  The first is the Court of Owls' attack on Bruce Wayne in the Mansion, and the second is Alfred's call to the Bat-family while Bruce fights the Talons in the Batcave.  They're really not separate at all.  Second, I'm a little confused why the Talons don't know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, since I'm pretty sure that the Court knows.  I mean, Snyder made a point of the Court not removing Batman's mask in issue #5, to prove how irrelevant his identity was, so maybe it doesn't know.  But, if it doesn't know, why send that many Talons to kill a millionaire playboy?  I mean, they only send one guy to kill the Deputy Police Commissioner, who, presumably (despite being in the bathtub), probably had a better chance of putting up a fight than a guy known for being a bon vivant.  Plus, if the Court is really as connected to the Waynes as we're lead to believe, did it really not figure out the fact that Bruce is Batman?  Really?  I'm hoping Snyder has a better explanation up his sleeve for this part, because, so far, it's a pretty gaping hole in the plot.  (I'm going to have to re-read the last few issues to see exactly what they seem to know.) 

Otherwise, it's a pretty straightforward story, with both Snyder and Capullo showing us a Bruce who hasn't been this broken, both mentally and physically, since "Knightfall."  While knitting from the wounds inflicted on him while he was stuck in the Court's maze, Bruce realizes what a fool he's been not to have seen the Court's role in Gotham all along.  As I said in my review of last issue, Snyder has done a brilliant job of showing that the Court of Owls has manipulated Bruce' overconfidence in his knowledge of Gotham to stay in the shadows.  At some point in this series, we should learn how it managed to do so, and how that answer is tied into the Wayne family's past.  Did it know that it was escaping Bruce's notice, or did it just happen that way, as part of its general goal to escape everyone's notice?  (Moreover, again, this manipulation speaks to the fact that I'm pretty sure that it would've known Bruce is Batman.)

At any rate, I'm not thrilled with this issue, but, given the amazing job that Snyder has done with this arc, I'm definitely willing to reserve my judgment and see how the main event progresses.

Spider-Man 2099 #13: "Prophet and Loss"

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
The man who emerged from the inter-dimensional portal last issue asks how long he's been trapped in there.  Spidey answers that it's 2099, and the man seems confused (and asks Miguel why he's wearing a mask).  Two figures (maybe Public Eye officers) whisper about the possibility of him being the Prophet of Thor, following Spider-Man, the Harbinger of Thor.  Thanatos overhears the conversation and tells the two figures that Thor is dead, because he was there.  The Prophet recognizes Thanatos, though he can't place him as anything more than a creature of evil.  The Prophet tries to take out Thanatos, but only manages to create some light around his hands.  Thanatos informs the Prophet that his "internal powers have run dry," though stressing that, even at full power, he wouldn't have been able to defeat him.  Thanatos tells the Prophet that he used to be formidable, but that Thanatos won't allow him to remember it.  Meanwhile, Dana speeds towards Alchemax, worried that Miguel would be concerned about her after seeing Thanatos burst into her office last issue.  She wonders briefly if Miguel would've just been happy that her plans with Tyler Stone were ruined, but then stops herself, assuring herself that Miguel would've been worried about her, even if he wanted to see Stone harmed.  On her way, Dana notices that Alchemax is crawling with Public Eye officers and expresses frustration when her car is slowed by the traffic authority to "ensure proper traffic flow."  At Alchemax, Spidey defends the Prophet against Thanatos while Stone escapes the room, telling the Public Eye to take down the guy "with a brush on his head," save the "silver-haired one" for questioning, and hold Spider-Man for him.  In the lab, Spidey is stunned when his talons don't penetrate Thanatos' skin at all.  Thanatos further surprises him when he confirms that they don't and that he read Miguel's mind to know it was what he was thinking.  He then punches Miguel across the room.  The Prophet tries to intervene, but Thanatos, telling him that his transition to the 2099 world has either robbed him of his powers or mutated them being his understanding, slashes him.  Thanatos observes to no one in particular that he could've disemboweled the Prophet if he had wanted to do so, but that leaving him bleeding profusely was sufficient.  Thanatos then asks Spidey if he recognizes him, telling him that "we set you up."  Spidey is still dazed from the punch and Thanatos is poised to throw him in the portal when the Public Eye opens fire and blasts both of them into it.

Elsewhere, Kasey has a dream where she blows up Alchemax and is subsequently saved by Spider-Man.  She tells him that she can't stop thinking about him and he reveals that he's Gabriel, who expresses frustration that Kasey had feelings for Spider-Man, even though he's him.  The dream is interrupted by a knock.  Elsewhere, Miguel is falling through a blank space, seeing images of people in his life.  He hits bottom and, looking around him, observes a sky made of "a zillion colors."  He begins walking until he hears voices and realizes that he's walking on his own enormous (costumed) body.  A voice tells him that the crowd surrounding the body (the source of the voices) is mourning his (though not Miguel's) passing.  The voice informs him that he's in "interspace," which is everywhere at once, "one stop removed from the nexus of all realities."  The voice is revealed to be a giant-sized Thanatos, who tells him that interspace is his second home and that he's been marooned on Earth since the end of the Heroic Age, existing as a discorporated, powerless entity who was awakened when the virtual-unreality portal came on-line a few weeks earlier.  He used the energy coming from the portal to possess the body of a "newly deceased vessel..one whose last thoughts were hatred for you, Spider-Man."  Thanatos tells Spidey that, in his host's honor, he will abandon Spider-Man in interspace and go to devastate the world of 2099 to make him pay for whatever he did to the host.

In Downtown, Kasey discovers that the knock was a guy named Raff at her door.  He tells her that she doesn't look so good and offers to lend her money so that she can go to the clinic.  She tells him that she's fine, but then vomits, telling him that, on second thought, she might be ill.  At Alchemax, the division heads meet with the C.E.O. to review their performances.  The C.E.O. threatens to take over Stone's affairs since they seem beyond his control.  Stone says that he can handle them and the C.E.O. tells him to do so, noting that the "nets" are flooded with rumors of the "Net Prophet" emerging from the virtual-unreality portal.  He informs Stone that he doesn't need another hero running around New York and, in fact, notes that it's the sudden rise of the heroes that inspired the meeting.  He says that the division heads need to take out the heroes rather than arguing among themselves.  Elsewhere in Alchemax, the Prophet is being escorted by the Public Eye, muttering to himself that he has to help the "man in black."  The Public Eye tries to restrain him, but he re-discovers his powers, firing blasts at the officers and then throwing up a force field when they fire on him.  Back in interspace, Miguel attacks Thanatos, who then grabs him in his huge fist.  He tells Miguel that he was never in the same league as the original Spider-Man or his foes, like Venom, and that he can ask the original Spider-Man about it when he sees him after he dies.  However, before Thanatos can crush him, Miguel bites him.  Thanatos is paralyzed and Miguel announces that he realized when Thanatos mentioned Venom that spiders inject venom into their prey with their fangs; figuring that he had fangs, Miguel figured he might also have venom.  He then begins to run while Thanatos is paralyzed and sees a hand suddenly appear.  He hears Thanatos screaming behind him and decides to go with the devil he knows, grabbing the hand  The hand pulls him through the portal and Miguel appears in his apartment.  Taking off his mask, he's relieved to be home...but shocked when he realizes that the hand belonged to the Prophet, who's bleeding next to him.

The Review
As predicted, David was just setting up the story last issue, and, wow, he hits the gas in this one!  Although it's a fast-paced issue with a lot of interesting plot developments, I'm giving this issue a three because it remains to be seen where David goes with some of these plots.  I'm assuming it'll be somewhere amazing, but the lengthy "Unknown" section implies that we'll have to wait to see.  I think one of my issues is that Thanatos seems all over the place in terms of his motives, his powers, and his connections.  Once we get a little bit more clarity on that front, I think I'll be a happier camper.

The Good
1) OMG, Aaron Delgato or the Vulture is Thanatos!  I mean, we don't actually know that yet, but I'm pretty sure that it's one of them, given that Spider-Man was involved in their deaths (assuming the Vulture is dead).  As usual, David keeps an old sub-plot -- the fact that Delgato's body was never found after the accident in issue #1 and that we never actually saw the Vulture die in issue #8 -- and makes it a key part of a future plot.  Moreover, David answers almost all the questions I had about Thanatos last issue.  He "knew" about the virtual-unreality machine because it awakened energies that he previously channeled before he was expelled from "interspace," the dimension into which the virtual-unreality machine was tapping.  Although it's a little science-fiction-y, it works as an explanation.  I love how David didn't just leave that question unanswered, since so many other authors would've just made it seem like Thanatos just magically knew about the portal.  Moreover, David clarifies Thanatos' connection to Thor.  He's clearly not Thor, as David seemed to be hinting last issue, given that Thanatos informs the Public Eye officers that he was there when Thor died.  (He also mentioned last issue that he was there when God died.  The guy goes to a lot of funerals.)  David also shows that some of my doubts about whether or not Thanatos really had powers were premature, given that he's able to read Miguel's mind even when he's not in interspace (where, presumably, his powers are even stronger).  David obviously has some huge reveal still up his sleeve, like Thanatos being Loki or something, but I feel better that he started answering some of the questions that I had about Thanatos this issue.

2) OMG, the venom power is awesome!  I did NOT see that coming.

The Unknown
1) Although David answered a lot of questions about Thanatos in this issue, he also raised several new ones.  We still actually don't know Thanatos' plans, particularly what he was going to do with the "full lost power of the Heroic Age."  First, why is the full power of the Heroic Age lost?  Did some sort of even happened that took away the powers of all the super-beings?  Is that what Thanatos was somehow siphoning?  I actually wondered if Thanatos isn't Immortus or Kang, given that he refers to interspace as his "second home."  If it's his second home, where is his first one?  It doesn't seem to be our dimension, since he lamented the fact that he was trapped in it in the first place.  Moreover, what exactly did he plan on doing? He mentions in this issue that "we" set up Spidey.  He seems to be referring to his host as the second person in the "we" since he mentions that he was going to destroy the 2099 world in tribute to his host, because it would pain Spider-Man.  Is that really his motivation, though?  To get revenge for his host?  What would he do after that?  Moreover, why does he not seem to want to just stay in interspace?  He lamented the fact that he was trapped on Earth, but here he seems eager to leave interspace to return to it.

2) Continuing on the Thanatos/Prophet theme, one of the pitfalls of the 2099 premise, as has been discussed in the various letters pages, is that it would be easy to reduce every plot to a guessing game of how such-and-such character or such-and-such event is connected to the current (or, at least, current for when these stories were written) time line.  One of the reasons why David has been so successful so far is that he's avoided doing that, making the world about Miguel and not Peter.  It's why the world is so engaging, because it's not just a reflection of our world.  It also takes on added importance in terms of the fact that I'm reading these issues 20 years later.  They don't feel dated, because, so far, David hasn't tied anything happening in 2099 to an event in the past.  Given the way Marvel has rebooted events over and over again, it would be embarrassing if David made "Bloodties" (the Avengers/X-Men cross-over event that Marvel is hyping in the ads in these issues) into some sort of defining event, as opposed to a forgettable one.  I'm concerned about it in this arc (or the future arc where we learn what's really happening), because David is definitely implying that both Thanatos and the Prophet are present incarnations of past (or future) characters.  Already I find myself just wishing that he'd tell us, another drawback to this sort of story, because it's difficult to just let it take you where it takes you. 

3) Again, in the category of David not letting a plot drop, I like how he continues to show Thanatos switching back and forth when it comes to what he thinks about Miguel.  When Miguel tries to save the Prophet, Thanatos tells him that it's a pity that he threw in his lot with "losers."  But, Miguel (understandably) notes that Thanatos was willing to throw Miguel into the portal last issue, so it's not like, in Miguel's words, Thanatos has Miguel's best interests at heart.  Even after the later events of this issue, I'm not really sure what Thanatos' intentions are towards Miguel.  He seems to know all about Miguel, though it's unclear if it comes from his possession of the host who knew him or some other sort of exogenous knowledge, like he's from a future timeline.  I figure, at some point, David will show why Thanatos vacillates from seeming to be fond of Miguel to wanting to kill him.  Similarly, I'm not sure why Thanatos didn't kill the Prophet.  He tells us that he could've disemboweled him but didn't, despite the fact that he seemed to want the Prophet dead before he could remember who he was (and how powerful he was).  Why not just kill him?

4) I wonder what's up with Kasey.  It seems too obvious for her to be pregnant.

The Bad
Dana doesn't really seem to think much of Miguel.  She suggests in her drive to Alchemax that Miguel wouldn't be all that worried about her when he saw the explosion, suggesting instead that he would've been happier that her night with Stone would've been ruined.  Does she really think that of him?  Really?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

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

New Mutants #41:  This issue is the "Avenging Spider-Man" #5 of the X-books!  I love this issue.  I don't know how you write chemistry, but, as Magma says, DnA depict Dani and Nate having so much chemistry that  you need lab coats and goggles.  Their conversation in the alley is awesome.  I loved Nate fumbling over his words, trying to explain to Dani why he's been in such a bad mood (he was afraid that the events of Paradise Island screwed up where he thought that he was going with Dani, preventing him from saying what he wanted to say to her).  I also loved Dani just reaching for the brass ring and telling him to "shut up and say it anyway."  Don't get me wrong:  I love Sam, and I liked Dani and Sam together.  But, they don't have anywhere near the chemistry that Dani and Nate do, so it's hard to argue that she should stay with Sam, who lives across the country and with whom she has less chemistry, when she could be with Nate, who lives across the hall and with whom she has amazing chemistry.  I'm officially Team Nate on this one, I'm surprised to say.  In terms of the other characters, I hope to God that we saw the end of Bobby pining over Amara, even if we all know that her dating Mephisto is going to end in tears.  I also loved Warlock getting play, particularly given the reaction it inspired in Bobby.  In fact, my only complaint in this issue is that I just don't understand why Lopez draws Doug like he has some sort of facial deformity. He used to be a decent enough looking guy, but he just so is not here.  (That said, I liked that DnA actually made Doug act almost human, if still weird, in this issue.)  All in all, this issue is exactly the type of issue I'd hope we'd see under DnA, portraying the team as not just a team but also a family.  It reminds me when they used to go to the mall in the original series and try to just act like teenagers.  So long as DnA keep peppering this series with issues like this one every once in a while, I'm going to be a happy camper.

X-Factor #234:  Um, I loved the group hug.  Actually, I could just end this review right there.  I loved the group hug.  Done.  Shazam!


But, I'll continue, because the rest of this issue is equally awesome.  I thought Layla's explanation of how her powers work and why she resurrected Guido were both compelling and fascinating.  It was compelling, because it reveals how difficult it must be for her not to try to affect the future on a day-to-day basis.  She says here that she resurrected him because Monet will one day be her best friend and she wanted to spare of her the pain of feeling responsible for Guido's death.  I mean, David really knows how to tug at the heart strings here.  We're left to ponder how painful it must've been for Monet to realize that she was responsible for Guido's death.  After all, it's always seemed that part of her rage at Layla was based on her vague sense of responsibility for his death; when she learned that Layla resurrected him, she had to realize that she did, actually, contribute to his death, since he did actually die and didn't just miraculously survive.  But, David also shows how hard it must be for Layla to live life day-to-day when she essentially lives in the past, present and future; for example, in this situation, she knows that this woman will one day be her best friend but has to face the reality that said woman doesn't even really like her now.  It was also fascinating because it seems to be the first time that we've gotten that good of an explanation of how Layla's vision works.  Since we saw how she got her vision in the first place (after she downloaded her memories in her younger self in "X-Factor" #50), we haven't really explored how perfectly or imperfectly that process worked.  We knew it wasn't perfect, but I don't think we knew that its imperfections were related to how close the event was to happening.  Moreover, now, we're not really sure if it does work anymore, given that Layla has altered the future, resulting in the future in her head becoming an alternative one.  Interesting stuff.

In terms of the rest of the issue, I will say that I'm not particularly interested in Havok and Madrox constantly engaging in a pissing contest, but David seems to imply that's why we have Lorna and Terry who, you get the sense, will more or less really run the show.  I'm totally fine with that, because, seriously, it could lead to some comedy gold.

(Oh, yeah, the Isolationist stuff looks interesting.  I'm not sure who Jezebel is, but she certainly seems like someone who means business, and not just in a stereotypically villainous kind of way, but in a sanely homicidal way.)

X-Men #27:  This issue is pretty bad-ass.  This arc has really picked up steam as it's gone, and Gischler does a good job wrapping up the story, putting Jubilee front and center.  I thought that he used her brillaintly here, showing how she's a tactician, having been trained by Wolverine (and, more recently, Raizo) but how she's also impulsive, deciding to let Lord Deathstrike stab her with his metal sword so that she can get closer to him.  It's allowing him to do that that wins the day, and I thought that it was a clever way for Gischler to really bring her change front and center.  By using her immortality (since only wood works when staking a vampire) to her benefit, Gischler shows Jubilee coming into her own.  It's a nice way for us to say good by to Jubilee, who I'm guessing will be MIA from the X-books for a while (until everyone magically gets back their powers).  It also brings an end to this title for me.  It's been fun for the most part, but it seems pretty clearly geared towards readers who are a little less invested in the X-Men than I am.  As such, adieu, "X-Men."  Thanks for all the fish.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spider-Man 2099 #12: "Death from on High"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Miguel?  Hi.  Look, Tyler and I have some business to discuss so I have to cancel tonight."  "I don't think you can.  The Earth's rotation makes tonight mandatory.  If you cancel it, it'll cause sleep deprivation, screw up the tides, and have many far-reaching consequences."  -- Dana and Miguel, showing that his father's comment in issue #10 about Miguel preferring girls that he can insult without them knowing now maybe seems not so off-base

Favorite Quote #2:  "He better be okay!  The last thing the world needs is another poor jerk who gets weird powers from an Alchemax experiment-gone-wrong!"  -- Miguel getting all meta, as he's holding onto Jordan, who's stuck in his inter-dimensional portal, via a Web-Line

Summary
Tyler Stone pays a surprise visit to Dana at Synthia and asks if she's interested in "supping" with him to discuss future projects.  Dana informs him that she was supposed to go to dinner with Miguel but, given how many times he's canceled on her, it would serve him right for her to cancel to "sup" with Stone.  She hypothesizes that he's probably at work and maybe forgotten about her altogether.  At that moment, Miguel is walking the halls of Alchemax, contemplating where to take Dana.  He decides that it has to be somewhere special given how much he's been ignoring her lately when he wanders past the virtual-unreality lab just as it explodes.  He helps guide out people as the extinguishers start putting out the fire.  Someone mentions that Jordan is still in there and Miguel enters the lab.  He helps Jordan to his feet and asks about the device that he's wearing on his arm, hypothesizing that it's a "sympathetic armature device, for remote manipulating a mechanical arm."  Jordan confirms that it is and Miguel notes that it's lucky that it was the mechanical arm and not Jordan's arm in the now-smoking portal in front of them, since the mechanical arm was destroyed below the elbow.  Miguel comments that "whatever you virtual unreality boys have been kicking around with in there, it looks like it decided to kick back" and insists that Jordan tell him what they were doing.  Jordan declines.  When pressed, he thanks Miguel for saving him, but tells him that he's not feeling particularly cordial given that two years of work just exploded in his face.  Above the Synthia campus, "Omega" from last issue is using some sort of X-ray vision to observe Stone talking to Dana.  Entering his office, Miguel receives a call from Stone.  Without looking, he comments that he had nothing to do with the virtual-unreality explosion and starts to blame Jordan.  Tyler cuts off his rant and tells Miguel that he's with Dana.  Now paying attention, Miguel listens as Dana tells him that she has to cancel their date.  Miguel delivers the quote above, but, when Dana notes that he's upset because he's using "bigger words," Miguel insists that he's not because "business is business."  Before they can come to a resolution, "Omega" bursts into Dana's office, declaring that he's there for Stone.  Stone tries some bravado, but Omega opens fire, destroying the vidphone in the process.  Omega then marches them to his ship.  The Public Eye tries to save them, but Omega blows the officers from the sky.  Before they board, Spider-Man arrives, telling Omega to free Stone and Dana.  Omega declines, calling Spidey an ingrate, given that he saved Spidey from S.I.E.G.E.  Spidey successfully convinces Omega to allow him to take Dana's place, guessing that Omega needs hostages for whatever it is that he's planning on doing because, if he had intended to kill Stone, he would've already done so.  As they leave, Dana stammers that she has to call Miguel.  At Miguel's apartment, Lyla is listening to all sorts of depressing news reports and has some sort of breakdown due to "unprogrammed emotionality," dissolving into nothingness.

In a holocommunication with Alchemax, Omega informs the company that, if Spider-Man and Stone are to remain unhurt, he be given complete access to Alchemax for one hour when they arrive.  Miguel asks why Omega just doesn't storm Alchemax and Omega, who now calls himself Thanatos, tells Miguel that he has no interest in "wasteful displays of firepower."  The trio arrive at Alchemax and Winston (Stone's assistant) refuses to answer Thanatos' question about cracking "interdimensional barriers," apparently the lost work of Reed Richards.  Stone insists that he tell Thanatos and Winston says that the C.E.O. has stated that all such requests are classified.  Thanatos puts his gun to Stone's head and Stone tells Winston that Thanatos already knows.  Winston confirms that it's the virtual-unreality program.  At said program's lab, Jordan is trying his experiment again, despite his colleagues thinking that it's too soon.  Jordan feels something, and he uses the mechanical arm to pull through a truly bizarre looking creature.  He demands that the lab be quarantined so that it can be scrubbed for alien spores.  However, at that moment, Thanatos and company arrive.  Thanatos marvels at the success of the project, though notes that Jordan doesn't understand the energies that he's (barely) controlling.  When Jordan is snarky to him, Thanatos throws him into the portal; he's saved (again) by Miguel, who grabs him with a Web-Line.  Thanatos begins absorbing the power of the portal and strikes down Stone when he tries to flee, telling him that he can send Stone to all sorts of places once he's "acquired the full lost power of the Heroic Age."  Miguel tells one of the lab guys to shut down the portal and Thanatos threatens to send Spider-Man through it.  Miguel pulls out Jordan, but he's not the only one who emerges from the portal:  a being enters, declaring "I...I did it...I'm back.  I'm back!!"

The Review
This issue is OK.  It's not quite as gripping as some of the previous issues, but I get the fact that David has to spend most of his time here setting up future issues in this arc.  I considered giving this issue two stars, if only because it wasn't quite the same level of work that I'm used to David doing on this title.  But, given that I've given less great authors three stars for less great work, David earns the three here.

The Good
1) I loved that Stone was clearly trying to put Dana in front of him when Thanatos attacked.  Hilarious.

2) I thought the secondary meaning of Dana and Stone's conversation when Spider-Man arrived was brilliant:  "T-Tyler!  Do you know who that is?"  "Yes.  I do."  David continues to toy with us about whether Stone and Gabe know who Spider-Man is.  It seems unlikely that someone as smart as Stone would not have figured out his identity, particularly given his sudden arrival to save Stone and Dana.  Miguel himself is worried that Dana recognizes him, noting that he has to keep his voice "low and nasty."

The Unknown
OK, Thanatos is interesting.  He seems to be connected to Thor in some way, particularly with his reference to being a pallbearer at God's funeral.  I assume that we'll learn more next issue about what exactly he meant by the "full lost power" of the Heroic Age and what he intends to do with it.  I've also got some questions that I'd like to see answered.  For example, like Miguel, I wondered why someone as theoretically powerful as Thanatos couldn't just storm Alchemax to get what he wanted, having instead to resort to hostage-taking.  Also, how did Thanatos know that Alchemax was, essentially at that moment, perfecting the inter-dimensional portal?  Does he have a mole in Alchemax (or does he work for Alchemax) or is it, you know, because he's omniscient? David definitely raises all sorts of questions about Thanatos and I'm excited to see where they go.

The Unsure
1) I didn't really get why Miguel was so surprised that Jordan wouldn't share his secrets with him.  I mean, sure, he works at Alchemax, but, given what I know of 2099 culture, it doesn't seem like the type of place where you just openly share secrets, particularly not with rivals.  Given that Miguel works in an entirely different field, it doesn't seem like he had any sort of professional interest in what Jordan was doing.  I think that it's actually David just showing that Miguel is a bit of an asshole at times (see also "Favorite Quote" #1 above), but I wasn't sure if he actually wanted us to believe that Jordan was being an asshole for not telling Miguel about it.

2) I didn't get why Thanatos threatened to send Miguel through the portal.  He seemed to like Miguel, even offering to allow him to kill Stone after their hour expired as a "gift."  Does he know more about Spider-Man than he originally implied and intended to send him through the portal all along?  Or, did he decide Spider-Man was too much of an uncontrollable variable and intended to get rid of him?  In that case, wouldn't it be easier to just shoot him, since, you know, people who go through inter-dimensional portals rarely just disappear in the Marvel Universe...

The Bad
Honestly, I do not understand why Dana would spend time with Stone.  I get that Stone is running some sort of deep game when it comes to the attention that he's paying to Dana but I don't for the life of me get why Dana is playing.  What about getting your boyfriend hooked to rapture makes Stone the type of guy with whom you want to spend a lot of time?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Justice League #8:  OK, after eight issues, I have to say, I feel like Johns has missed the boat.  Despite the sass both showed in their initial appearances (in issues #2 and #3, respectively), Superman and Wonder Woman have been reduced to complete non-entities.  Clark appears to be an extreme form of the Boy Scout that I've always found to be crushingly dull and Diana appears to be a lobotomized version of her former self.  Aquaman and Cyborg do little more than mutter to themselves, though Aquaman at least gets to add "mildly threatening" to his attribute list after this issue, given that he and Green Arrow appear to have some sort of (not-so-friendly) history.  Johns essentially leaves all the character interactions to Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern, but this interaction unfortunately is as one-dimensional as Superman and Wonder Woman's portrayals, consisting of Hal being a jackass and Batman and Flash responding to his jackassery with outright disdain to mild amusement.  You can see why it's hard to understand the assertions in this book that the Justice League are such super friends.  They barely seem to like one another, let alone trust one another.  Johns somewhat wisely choses to play up the humor in Green Arrow's appearance this issue, and it makes it more fun than this series has been in a while.  However, I'm left wondering what exactly Green Arrow brings to the table if he's just going to be another Hal, overconfident and snarky.  I honestly don't think that I've ever read a comic with Green Arrow in it, so I have to say that I'm not entirely sure how faithful this portrayal is to his DCU character.  But, he seemed really, really Hawkeye to me here, something that surprised me, given that I thought he was supposed to be all brooding and lefty.  Johns has now essentially wasted two issues where he could've (and should've) been showing us how the team works together in the present, instead of focusing on the way the world views the team.  Johns has everyone tell us that the Justice League are heroes, but he needs to actually show us that.


On a more positive note, Johns manages to get me to care about the Shazam back-up story, something that he didn't accomplish last issue.  I spent that issue mostly annoyed that I had no idea who this character was, but Johns reminds me in this issue that the beauty of the "New 52!" is that no one does.  As such, I realized in this issue that I didn't need to know anything about the Billy Batson who existed in the DCU (and whose role in "Flashpoint" greatly confused me), because I was getting his origin story in the DCnU right here.  I was able to relax and enjoy the story, which I did, more or less.  Billy's interactions with this caseworker are great, and I'm always a fan of a good redemption story.  So, surprisingly, this back-up story saved the issue a bit for me.


That said, though, I'm not sure how much longer I'm getting this title.  $3.99 is a lot of money to be spending on tepid characterization and boring plots.

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers vs. X-Men #2:  "As soon as we get a messiah of our own, they want to swoop in and take her away."  WTF?  What the hell does Scott mean?  "A messiah of our own?"  Did the Avengers ever have a messiah?  Does Scott not remember that the X-Men already had this messiah and that she ate a few planets before she had to kill herself?  Does he not remember that said messiah was his wife?  I don't understand how we're even remotely supposed to take the X-Men's side.  I laid out most of my complaints about the lack of logic in Scott's position in my review of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #1, so I'll try not to repeat them here.  Suffice it to say that the only way I can approach Scott at this point is to assume that Marvel basically wants us to believe that he has totally and completely lost his mind.  I would like, at some point, for them to explain why he lost his mind, be it Hope manipulating him or him cracking under the pressure of leadership.  But, if you at least approach his actions in the context of him having lost his mind, then his belief that a 16-year-old girl will be able to control a destructive universal force despite the fact that his wife was unable to do so and that said girl will use said force to resurrect the mutant race might actually make sense.  Maybe.

Outside Scott, the rest of the X-Men seem to behave the way I would expect them to behave, taking their years of resentment for being treated, in Scott's words, as "ugly step-children" and venting it on the Avengers.  The problem, of course, is that you figure at some point someone is going to start to question how wise it is to be fighting the Avengers on Hope's behalf, particularly, as we see this issue, when she's perfectly willing to hurt her own people to start using some of the Phoenix's power.  I'd like to think that some of the X-Men, when they stop personalizing the battle and focus on actual events, may begin to realize that the Avengers might've had a point that giving a 16-year-old girl with anger issues the power of a destructive universal force might not have been the greatest idea.  But, Aaron does a good job in showing that we're not quite at the "cooler heads prevailing" point of the fight and allows us to just enjoy the slugfest.  And, what a slugfest it was!  Colossunaut vs. Rulk, Captain America vs. Cyclops, Luke Cage vs. Namor vs. Thing, Emma Frost vs. Iron Man vs. Magneto:  Aaron and Romita really deliver.  I was skeptical about this event from the start, but, between Aaron selling me on the X-Men acting from years of repressed anger at being considered the ugly step-children of the superhero community (and not just blind faith in Scott) and Romita showing the awesomeness of the various battles, I'm game.

Avengers #25:  Despite being branded with the "Avengers vs. X-Men banner," this issue mostly serves to wrap up Bendis' "H.A.M.M.E.R. War," with the Avengers taking down A.I.M. and recovering the genetic secrets of the superhero community.  It wasn't a particularly enthralling issue, but, for Bendis, it was a pretty straight-forward "smash-and-grab" type of story, so at least I understood most of it (a definite plus when it comes to a Bendis story).  Bendis also adds in a psychological element, showing that this win helps to relieve some of the pressure Captain America has been feeling to get a win after a string of losses.

The problem, of course, is that Bendis keeps telling us about these losses, but we haven't really seen them.  Osborn mentions the Red Skull and the Skrulls, but Cap was, um, dead for the Red Skull saga (assuming Bendis is referring to "Captain America" #25-#42 and #49-#50 and "Captain America:  Reborn" #1-#6) and Iron Man was head of national security for "Secret Invasion."  In fact, since Cap took over the nation's security, the Avengers have been involved in the time-travel and Infinity Gauntlet sagas and the New Avengers faced down Agamotto and Superia.  None of these stories really affected anyone outside the superhero community, particularly not to the point that people would be protesting on the Avengers' lawn about them.  The only Avenger/New Avenger story that has affected people outside the superhero community is "Fear Itself," but Marvel has apparently put that story in the memory hole, given that none of the talking heads even mentioned it.  (In fact, when Thor returns, even he and Cap don't discuss it, despite it, you know, being the reason why Thor was gone in the first place.)  All these reasons are why the whole "Occupy Avengers Mansion" protest has seemed so utterly bizarre, because the Avengers haven't really had a loss under Steve's shepherding.  They saved the future and our dimension, took down the Hood and Superia, and defeated the Serpent.  I could see someone making an argument about the civilian casualties during "Fear Itself," but no one actually does.  So, what, they have to go all the way to "Secret Invasion?"  Again, this argument made no sense when Bendis was pushing it during the "H.A.M.M.E.R. War" and it still makes no sense now that he's trying to use it as a referendum on Cap's leadership.  (Also, as I mentioned in "Fear Itself," why don't Cap and the other members of the Illuminati just pull out the Infinity Gems to defeat Phoenix?  Seems to me like the potential destruction of the universe would be a good reason to do so.)

[Sigh.]

At any rate, despite this ongoing problem, it's not a terrible issue, for Bendis, and we learn, in the end, that the Protector (who tracked down A.I.M. in the first place) is really a mole for the Kree Supreme Intelligence and has directed him to trap the Phoenix, regardless of the cost.  If we never have to discuss the "H.A.M.M.E.R. War" again, I'm a happy camper.

Wolverine and the X-Men #9:  "Think of Utopia as a compound full of heavily armed religious fanatics.  And you're the feds butting in, telling them what to believe and how to live.  It won't go well."  Thank you, Wolverine, for making realize that Scott Summers = David Koresh.  I'm glad to at least someone acknowledge that Cyclops has lost his mind (although, as I will continue to note for as long as it bothers me, which will likely be throughout this event, I still would like someone to explain why Cyclops lost his mind and believes that a 16-year-old girl imbued with the Phoenix Force isn't going to destroy the universe).  Aaron does a good job of sketching out why Logan believes that he must take the Avengers side, since he views Hope as a 16-year-old threat, not messiah.  This issue has some other stuff, like Cannonball raising the issue that his sister's powers aren't on the fritz, but it's Wolverine's decision to support the Avengers that makes it notable.

Monday, April 23, 2012

2099 Unlimited #2: "Thirty Mile Mall"/"Remote Control"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Poor girl's nearly killed by walking sewage and right away she wants to get involved with a guy wearing head-to-toe tights?  Maybe I should start wearing thicker underwear with this suit."  -- Miguel, implying why he's so popular with the ladies...

Summary
The Hulk fights a group of "mall-trolls" in a 30-mile mall that was constructed across the San Fernando valley, "in the dying days of the Twentieth Century," by linking a series of existing malls to one another.  Quirk is also there.  In a flashback, John reveals that he used the access to Sweet Dreams' network that he gained last issue to locate Gawain.  Running from his office, he encounters Keisha, who tells him that he can't leave, because they've got a meeting with Audra about the "big green monster" that she wants to be the subject of their next program.  John tells Keisha that he has personal business and leaves.  Keisha, eager to find information that could get John fired so that she could take his place, hacks into his computer.  As depicted last issue, John takes a detour in his search for Gawain and rescues Quirk.  In this issue, he deposits her in his apartment, not revealing that he and the Hulk are the same person.  John tells her that he has to go to rescue another Sweet Dreams victim and Quirk insists on coming with him.  They head to Sweat-Tech, the place that the Sweet Dreams' network listed as Gawain's location.  It's a "virtual reality sports center" and Quirk pretends to be interested in becoming its spokesmodel as the guys fawn all over her.  Posing as her agent, John learns all about their research projects into enhancing human strength, speed, and stamina, in addition to their investments in radioactive fuel and explosives and their leases to stores in the abandoned part of the mall.  He asked for their suppliers' names, hoping it would help him crack their database to find Gawain, but he's surprised when Gawain himself appears, having recognized John's voice.  Gawain loudly denounces him as a murderer and John offers to help him.  The Sweat-Tech guys attack John, calling him as a spy.  John turns into the Hulk and battles the guys, while another set of them bundle Gawain into a car heading to the other end of the mall.  Mall security arrives, delaying the Hulk even further.  After the Hulk defeats them, Quirk grabs onto his mane and they make their way through the mall.  They progress from the upscale part (with great security) to the middle zone (with limited security) to the unsupervised zone (with no security).  Here, the Hulk encounters the "unmeltables," immigrants who refuse to mix with the "L.A. stew."  These refugees scraping out a living in a market are suspicious of newcomers and open fire with stashed weapons on the duo. They flee to another part of the mall, an area that Quirk notes had radiation leakages.  On cue, they're attacked by the aforementioned mall-trolls, who grab Quirk.  The Hulk ponders his situation, realizing that the old him would've let Quirk go and kept his eye on the prize (Gawain), but that the new him has to shoulder his burdens because he's "a man."  He frees Quirk, who stumbles onto a stash of leather shoes, a gold mine for her vintage-scavenging self.  The two flee another round of trolls and find themselves in a department store, where the mannequins attack them.  The Hulk disables the mannequins and Quirk scrambles to find more shoes, finding a trapdoor in the process.  The two descend ("hidden passages lead to the hearts of things") and discover a lab full of test subjects who are "being changed" (possibly into the mall-trolls, possibly into something else).  The Hulk busts through a door to discover the Sweat-Tech guys from earlier threatening Gawain to tell them the secret of the Knights of the Banner experiments.  The Hulk informs them that he can tell them all that they want to know about the experiments and attacks.  The guy holding Gawain informs him that the "Programmers" won't let him take them and, emphasizing his point, the "Programmers" remotely detonate a bomb.  Given the choice between saving Gawain or Quirk, the Hulk chooses Quirk, figuring that the guys would save Gawain.  He tells Quirk that he's going to find them, because he's pretty sure they're trying to create an army of Hulks.

Spider-Man takes down a group of thugs in the process of attacking a prostitute, who offers to become better acquainted with Miguel in return (an offer Miguel doesn't accept).  In a lab elsewhere, someone named "Damian" notes that some simulations look good.  His colleague, "Carmen," tell him that he's understating the success of their three years of hard work, commenting that they're going to be famous for inventing the "first working software that can be fully input right into the brain through the sense of sight."  Damian cautions that it's still untested and that they can't "forget scientific principles in [their] haste to win fame and fortune."  He also warns her that they can't risk drawing the attention of Alchemax, which funds their think tank, Macroware, and which would inevitably claim the project for its own.  Carmen tells him that he's being paranoid, because they swept for bugs just that morning.  Damian broaches the idea that they need a test subject.  Carmen notes that "close-minded people" would work the best and, at that moment, Damian notices that "Mitchell," a former colleague who got him fired from his last job, is working across the street.  Damian realizes that their device is still connected to Carmen's vidphone and sends a virus program to Mitchell, telling him to kill himself.  Mitchell answers the phone...and then runs straight into the plate-glass window.  His secretary hears the noise and discovers his body and Damian exults over the success of their project, telling Carmen, "From now on, I...I mean, we can write our own ticket!"  At an Alchemax control center, a guy at a computer calls over a supervisor, telling her that the Macroware folks have made a breakthrough and tested their device on Mitchell.  He exposits that Alchemax knows that Macroware tests for bugs every day, which is why Alchemax bugs them by "bouncing satellite lasers off their windows."  The supervisor dispatches a team to Macroware.  At the lab, Carmen is disturbed when the cops arrive across the street to investigate what happened to Mitchell, but Damian tells her to ignore it, pondering the applicability of their device to the military and the broadcast industry.  He tells Carmen to collect all their data and equipment so they can vacate the premises and then they can discuss their "split."  Not trusting Damian, Carmen sees a photo of Miguel on her vidphone and notes that she meant to call him that week.  Instead, she sends a virus program to Miguel to get him to kill Damian.  Just after it successfully goes, Damian bludgeons Carmen to death.  Meanwhile, Miguel arrives home and Lyla informs him that he has a message from "Dr. Carmen Lynch."  Miguel tells Lyla that Carmen used to work at Alchemax but transferred to Macroware two or three years earlier.  Lyla tells him that the message is garbled and she plays it for Miguel, who immediately puts on his mask again and heads into the night.  At Alchemax, a team of corporate raiders prepares to take on Macroware, with one of them stressing the importance of the job so that they don't stay second-stringers.  At Macroware, Miguel breaks through the window and attacks Damian, who mistakes him as a corporate raider.  Damian heads to the lab, with the intent to use the device to protect himself.  Meanwhile, Miguel suddenly realizes what he's doing, but can't exert control over himself. At that moment, the corporate raiders arrive and decide to take on Spider-Man, given the bounty that Alchemax has put on him.  Miguel defeats the raiders and heads after Damian, trying to fight the mind-control for fear that it's going to turn him into a killer.  The corporate raiders recover and decide to refocus on getting Damian and the data.  Meanwhile, Damian is setting up the device when Spidey arrives.  Miguel manages to throw himself on an exposed electrical cable, shocking himself to his senses.  He offers to help Damian, warning him the raiders are coming, but then sees Carmen's body and realizes that Damian killed her.  He belts him across the room and the raiders arrive and open fire.  The blasts hit Damian and cause an explosion that Miguel only narrowly escapes.  He realizes that he feels just like the girl whom he saved earlier that night must feel, "violated...helpless," and bids farewell to Carmen, noting that she might be in a better place, since she's "free of a world where...everything's under control."

The Review
OK, I gave this issue two stars, because I feel like the mediocre Spider-Man 2099 and terrible "R-Gang" stories really pulled down the solid Hulk 2099 story.  I'm actually enjoying the Hulk story so much that I'm considering buying up the remaining "2099 Unlimited" issues that I initially didn't buy because they don't feature Spider-Man.  The Spider-Man stories, unfortunately, have mostly been forgettable, if only because they suffer from comparison to the amazing stuff that David is doing in the main title.

The Good
1) I loved the 30-mile mall in the Hulk story.  I used to spend summers in the late 1980s visiting my aunt and uncle in the Valley and I have all sorts of memories of numbly staring out the car window as we passed mile after mile of strip malls and parking lots.  The idea that the Valley would one day evolve into a giant mall feels like a totally logical conclusion to where it was going in the late 1980s.  I loved that Jones added this detail, because it realistically portrays the dystopia that Southern California has become in 2099 by firmly placing the roots of this decline in 1989.

2) Every time I questioned the believability or logic of one of the plots in the Hulk story, Jones had an answer.  For example, I wondered how Keisha could've so easily gained access to John's computer (given what I assumed to be pretty decent computer security in 2099), but John informs us that he was moving "too fast" in his attempt to get to Gawain, implying that it caused him to leave his computer unlocked (or whatever the 2099 version of leaving your computer unlocked is).  When I wondered why the Sweat-Tech guys would give all that information to John, Jones implies that they did it to impress him, hoping that he would allow Quirk to be their spokesmodel.  The fact that I had the questions and then Jones answered them shows how tightly scripted of a story it was.

3) I love that Disney tried to buy Southern California.

The Unknown
I thought the Sweat-Tech stuff was really interesting in the Hulk story, for all the questions it raises.  Sweet Dreams appears to either be working with Sweat-Tech to develop the army of Hulks (providing Gawain to Sweat-Tech to get answers from him) or have sold Gawain to Sweat-Tech (having somehow known about Sweat-Tech's interest in the Knights of the Banner experiments).  I'm led to believe it's the first, because I'm wondering if it's why Audra sent John to investigate the Knights of the Banner in the first place.  Either way, it's not good.  Plus, it's unclear how the "Programmers" are involved.  Jones definitely knows how to keep a guy interested!

The Bad
1) OK, my biggest problem with the Spider-Man story is that Damian goes from cautioning Carmen not to lose her scientific principles in her rush to be rich and famous to killing a former colleague and Carmen herself in his rush to be rich and famous.  It's a sudden, and seriously lethal, change of heart.  I mean, I totally understood why he'd decide to kill Carmen, wanting to keep the money for himself when he realizes that their project was a success.  But, why kill the former colleague?  After all, it just calls the Public Eye to their location.  I think Skolnick was implying that the sudden realization of how much money he could make drove Damian to his erratic behavior, but I think that he could've done more to underline that aspect of the story.

2) I feel like Skolnick didn't make an obvious connection in the Spider-Man story, the fact that Miguel was facing corporate raiders for the first time.  Given that he works on the project, something that upset Gabe deeply in the first arc, you would've thought that Skolnick might've had Miguel realize that he was reaping what he had sown in facing them, since I'm pretty sure he hasn't faced one previously.  (Maybe Venture?)

3) Unless I missed it, Skolnick never tells us why Carmen was going to call Miguel in the first place.  I mean, it seems a minor issue, but, in fact, the whole plot revolves around the fact that Miguel's photo is on her vidphone.  Miguel didn't seem to be all that buddy-buddy with her based on his comments to Lyla, so I feel like Skolnick probably should've clarified this point a little more than he did to make the overall story a little more believable.