Thursday, May 31, 2012

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

Avenging Spider-Man #6:  And we're off!  I have to say, I've been looking forward to reading this cross-over event for a while now.  I loved the recent Daredevil/Spider-Man arc and, although I'm not really a fan of the Punisher, I do enjoy seeing him bring out a side of Spidey that we don't usually see.  Rucka highlights their tense relationship here, showing Spidey aggressively pushing his "no one dies" mantra on Frank.  I thought that Rucka did an amazing job maintaining the distinct voices of all three characters, putting Daredevil firmly in the middle of Pun and Spidey.  I felt like I could actually hear them arguing!  Spidey's plan seems pretty solid, though, I have to say, I'm not 100 percent sure what the end goal is.  I thought that it was for Reed to download the information in secret and then have Daredevil destroy the Drive, leading Megacrime to think its secrets were safe when, in reality, the superhero community now had them.  But, Punisher, at the end, comments that destroying the Drive would leave him with nothing.  I'm not sure if he means him personally (because Reed, not he, would control the Drive) or if the plan is not to download the information first but actually destroy the Drive with the information intact.  I guess we'll see.  At any rate, it should be a fun ride, with Daredevil, Punisher, Punisherette, and Spidey taking on four cartels in one night!

The Punisher #10:  OK, so, after this issue, it appears that the plan was to destroy the Drive without first downloading the information.  Honestly?  I'm not sure I quite buy that.  Daredevil says that it's because no one person should have that information, because it would put too much power in his hands.  OK, I get that.  But, as Spidey says, the Avengers?  S.H.I.E.L.D.?  I guess after "Civil War," we're not supposed to trust that these organizations would be able to do the right thing with this information, and I can't say that I necessarily disagree.  But, Daredevil's premise that the only option was for one person (as opposed to an organization) to control the Drive or no one seemed faulty to me.  Also, given that I was unclear last issue on what the goal of the plan actually was, it seems odd that it's presented so clearly here.  Of course, everything doesn't go to plan when the Punisher appears to shoot Daredevil just as he's going to destroy the Drive, allowing Punisherette to make a grab for it.  (Spidey was right!)  It sets up the battle royale between the various criminal organizations and the good guys, plus another one between the good guys and the good guys.  It should be pretty epic.  (NB:  I'll also note that I'm a little confused about how the Omega Drive got the information on the criminal organizations in the first place.  Do we know who assembled it?  No one is mentioned here as its creator, so either it's already been covered in detail in "Daredevil" or we don't know, which seems to be an odd loose-end to be left unaddressed.  Shouldn't we be trying to figure out who assembled this complete collection of data on the most powerful criminal organizations in the world, particularly since this person can also turn unstable molecules into a hard drive?  They seem like the type of person the good guys would want to get to know.  If it's already been addressed in "Daredevil," I feel like someone should've probably recapped that, since it's a pretty obvious question.  Who cares if you destroy the Drive if someone out there still knows the information?  If it hasn't been addressed, I feel like someone should've probably noted that the next step, after destroying the Drive, is finding its creator.)

Daredevil #11:  Damn it!  I really wanted to like this event.  Instead?  I have no idea what actually happened.  Well, I mean, I understand that nothing happened:  Daredevil began the series with the Omega Drive, some stuff happened, and Daredevil ended the series with the Omega Drive.  It's a net neutral.  But, I'm still not really sure what Daredevil planned to have happen.  In the first issue, I thought that the plan was to distract Megacrime while Reed Richards downloaded the information from the Omega Drive and then destroy it in front of Megacrime so that they'd stop hounding Matt.  In the second issue, I thought the plan was to destroy it without downloading the information because no one should have that much power.  In this issue?  I'm not sure.  Spidey talks about helping Matt destroy it, but Matt comments that destroying it was all for show.  I can't say that the authors were successful in telling their story if I'm left at the end of the series confused by what the plan was in the first place and annoyed that it didn't matter because the plan didn't change anything in the final accounting.  Looking beyond the plot, I guess that I'm supposed to have made some sort of emotional connection with Cole after Daredevil's inspiring speech, but I really just found the whole thing eyeroll-inducing.  Am I really supposed to believe that a former military official would believe that only someone who lost a loved one would be willing to sacrifice his or her life for a cause?  It seems ridiculous that Daredevil is forced to present her evidence to the contrary.  All in all, it was a disappointing ending to a disappointing "event," something that I certainly did not expect when I began reading it.  The best thing about this event, I will say, was Checchetto's art.  I'd love to see him on a Spidey book sometime soon!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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

Captain America #12:  OMG, viva Gruenwald!  When we last left D-Man, as far as I'm aware, he was part of Wonder Man's "Revengers" team in the "Avengers"/"New Avengers" Annuals cross-over event.  Before that, we saw him in "New Avengers" #7, where he auditioned to be the Cage-Jones' nanny.  In both appearances, he was hurt that Captain America no longer spent time with him (in addition to seeming a few sandwiches short of a picnic).  Although his appearances in these issues were in all likelihood meant to be jokes by the authors, they actually contributed to me feeling like D-Man was a logical choice for the new Scourge.  First, it's part of the Gruenwaldmania! that Brubaker has embraced over the last few issues.  But, most importantly, it's probably going to have a pretty profound impact on Cap that a former friend, who's pretty clearly been in need of a little help lately, has been turned to the Dark Side (if you will), so much so that he was willing to beat Diamondback into a coma.  Given the death of Nomad and the loss of Bucky, in addition to the constant barrage of psychological warfare from Codename Bravo and Queen HYDRA recently, I wonder if Brubaker isn't setting up this reveal to be the one that totally pushes Steve over the brink.  (The arc is called "Shock to the System," after all.)  You can see throughout this issue how on edge Cap is.  He delights in the prospect of beating some information from HYDRA agents, lets them know that he and Dum Dum Duggan are coming when they invade their base, and smashes his fist through the Helicarrier's monitors when he realizes that HYDRA has turned Gyrich into its tool.  Losing D-Man, no matter how much of a joke that he's become, to HYDRA is probably going to have some impact on Cap.  I can't wait to see what it is.

Captain America and Hawkeye #631:  For the fact that this story is about Cap and Hawkeye fighting a breed of creatures that formed when dead saurians merged with Dire Wraiths, Bunn does a remarkably good job of making it easy to follow.  Last issue, I thought that the symbiotes were something independent from the dinosaurs.  But, now, we discover that the symbiotes happened when Stegron attempted to revive the dead saurians, because they had been infected by the genetic code of the Dire Wraiths, the race that originally killed them.  Suddenly, BOOM, dino-wraith-iotes!  With this mystery resolved, Bunn turns to the other mystery, namely who employs Kash and what it wants with the symbiote.  I'm guessing that we'll get an answer to that question next issue.  In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that a story about Cap and Hawkeye fighting a group of dino-wraith-iotes is as good as one would hope it would be!

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Secret Avengers #26:  OK, I'm not a Captain Marvel expert.  In fact, I think the only issue that I've ever read in which he actually appeared alive is "Death of Captain Marvel" (which I own somewhere but haven't been able to find).  As such, I'm not really steeped in knowledge on all things Captain Marvel.  But, I'm pretty sure that Remender could've done a better job making the guy that we see here behave like Captain Marvel if he actually wanted us to believe that he is Captain Marvel.  First, it seems rather bizarre to see him kissing Ms. Marvel upon arrival.  I had to go read her Wikipedia entry to discover that her original appearance in the Marvel Universe involved Captain Marvel, so I guess that makes sense?  Maybe?  It doesn't seem like they previously had a romantic relationship, so Remender seems to be creating that new aspect.  (In fact, if I'm reading the Wikipedia entry correctly, it seems like Carol shares some genetic traits with Marvel, which explains why she felt the connection to Hala that confused me last issue.  But, then, isn't he at least genetically a relative?  Isn't that a little creepy?)  Second, Marvel seems awfully arrogant in his fight against Thor.  I mean, sure, he has his "seventeen thousand dimensional perception streams."  But, Thor is a GOD.  Did Remender forget that?  I assume that Thor has some similar ability to perceive Marvel's attacks in a different way from an ordinary human.  All in all, Remender just really gives us a Marvel who's unlikable, which makes you wonder if he's setting the stage for the revelation that it isn't the real Marvel.

Once I got past my confusion over the portrayal of Captain Marvel, I got to then be confused about the plot.  The intro page tells us that the Kree redirected Phoenix to Hala to help their race evolve.  Really?  Who are these people who think that the Phoenix helps races evolve?  I just don't understand why Marvel is pushing this position, since nothing we've ever seen even remotely supports this assertion.  Phoenix destroys; it doesn't create.  It was one thing when Scott seemed to believe it, because I could just blame it on him being an egotistical asshole who probably thinks that, if he wants something bad enough (like the Phoenix re-creating the mutant race), he can get it.  But, the Kree?  Why would they think that?  If Marvel really, really wants us to believe the Phoenix as something that leaves creation, and not just destruction, in its wake, we need some sort of back story tout de suite to show it.  (Is that maybe what "New Avengers" is eventually going to do?  A little too late, I think.)  I also, by the way, don't understand how the Kree managed to attract the Phoenix.  We saw it bee-line for Hala last issue, but was it going just because of the resurrection of Marvel?  Again, since Marvel was never Phoenix, I don't understand this connection to the Phoenix Force that Remender wants us to believe that he has.

Looking beyond Captain Marvel and the Phoenix Force, I'm also confused by Carol's behavior.  As I expected, more or less, we get a note here telling us that this issue happens before the events of "Avengers" #26-#27.  As such, I'm going to guess that I was right in my review of "Avengers" #26 and the events of this issue and the next one happen off-panel.  It means, then, that something happens to Marvel next issue (probably the revelation that the Kree didn't actually resurrect Marvel, but some sort of Phoenix construct) and that Carol was brainwashed.  She appears back to her normal self in "Avengers" #26 and no one seems particularly angry at her, something you'd imagine that they'd be given that, in this issue, she's trying to help execute Captain Britain, Valkyrie, and War Machine.  As such, if the events of this arc don't have any impact on the main story, then why are we bothering with it?  As I've mentioned elsewhere, we seem to have so many other stories to tell that I'm confused why Marvel would decide to dedicate one of the main tie-in titles to this space opera, particularly when it has no bearing on the main event and the other main tie-in title telling the Space Team's story, "Avengers," seems to be ignoring it.  Of all the tie-in titles, this one is the only one leaving me feeling like I'm reading "Fear Itself" all over again, with its dubious connections to the main event and its surprise events that seem destined to be immediately ret-conned.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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

Superboy #9:  The most obvious problem with this issue is that we're dealing with A LOT of characters.  Between the Legion, Titans, and Crucible kids, we're juggling 18 protagonists.  We also have 13 antagonists, Harvest plus his Ravagers.  Needless to say, keeping track of 31 characters isn't easy.  Lobdell and DeFalco actually manage to make it work, but it comes at the price of the characterizations.  All the characters here, from established ones like Superboy to new ones like Ridge, are pieces being moved across a board, given lines meant to advance the plot with little left to give a sense of who the characters are.  For example, of the Ravagers, only Warblade distinguishes himself as a villain worth fearing in this issue; we know Rose is from previous issues, but we don't really see her achieve much here beside trade insults with Red Robin and Timber Wolf before being defeated off-panel.  The result is a fairly formulaic story with a fairly formulaic script.  Lobdell tries to throw a bone to "Teen Titans" readers by making it clear that the mystery of Kid Flash's past lies in the Legion Lost's future, but he never really has the chance to develop that further.  Hopefully the next issue of the cross-over event, "Legion Lost" #9, will address the mystery of Harvest, since I think it's high time that we get this show on the road.

Legion Lost #9:  Lobdell and DeFalco implied last issue that answers may be forthcoming in this issue, but we never actually get them.  Harvest hints that the purpose of including the Legion and the Titans in this Culling was because he needs even more powerful Ravagers than normal for the "great battle" set to come and Timber Wolf realizes that Harvest's control of 31st century technology has something to do with the Echo organization with which Chameleon Girl is revealed to be affiliated.  Yeah, I have no idea either.  Harvest goes so far as to claim that he manipulated events so that the Legion would get lost in our time, but, as Wildfire himself notes, it's entirely possible that he simply used his telepathic powers to realize that this claim would be the most psychologically distracting to the Legion members.  As such, we still don't know Harvest's motivations, despite his claims that he is working for altruistic purposes, and we still have no idea what his connection to the 31st century is.  The best moment of this issue is Harvest's surprising ability to hack into Tellus' telepathic link; the panel depicting the shock of the members of the Legion and the Titans was priceless.  The worst moment?  It could be Wonder Girl expressing her gratitude over the Titans finding one another in time to take on Harvest.  It seems a weird thing to identify as a "worst," but it seems totally outside Cassie's character for her to make this statement.  Before this cross-over event began, Cassie was perhaps the most ambivalent member of the Titans.  Nothing we've seen here has really done anything to show us why she changed her mind.  I think that we're supposed to believe that she's so repulsed by Harvest that she realized the value of the team, but, given that Lobdell and DeFalco haven't really paid that much attention to Cassie across this event (again, the 31-character problem), it still falls flat to me.  All in all, this issue felt like a filler issue for me, one needed to force "Legion Lost" into the event.  Hopefully, Lobdell will do something in "Teen Titans" to save this event, because, right now, it's done nothing more than convince me that the $5.98 a month I'm spending on "Superboy" and "Teen Titans" is wasted.

Teen Titans #9:  I'd like to say that Lobdell delivers the finale that I wanted here, revealing Harvest's master plan and showing his 31st-century connection.  I'd like to say that.  Unfortunately, I can't.  Instead, we learn that Harvest's "master plan" was merely to get the Legion and Titans to free the kids from the Crucible so that they can sow "fear, chaos and confusion in their wake" and inspire the public to call for the creation of an organization like N.O.W.H.E.R.E.  Um, yeah.  Are we really supposed to believe that Harvest created N.O.W.H.E.R.E. so that the Legion and the Titans could destroy it so that people would eventually come to demand it be created?  Sure, whatever, Scott.  The Titans also call shenanigans on this allegation, an understandable position since Harvest previously claimed that the whole purpose of this exercise was to recruit the Legion and the Titans as his new Ravagers for the "great battle" coming on the horizon.  Lobdell also clearly wants us all excited about this great battle, but I find myself frustrated with yet another comic that expects me to wait for years to see some plot device that isn't as interesting as the author thinks it is to come to fruition.  We also never get an explanation of how Harvest is connected to the 31st century, a sub-plot that really held no interest for me.  Honestly, I just don't know where to go from here.  We seem to have gotten my wish, that Superboy would join the Titans sooner rather than later, but I'm just not sure if Lobdell hasn't already done enough damage to make me drop these series and wait until they get a new writer.

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batwoman #9:  Sorry, Batwoman.  I think I'm done.  As much promise as this series had in the beginning, as much as I wanted to troll Gotham's nightlife with Kate, as much as I wanted to support a gay superhero with her own book, I just can't keep pretending that I enjoy these issues.  WnB give us a more straight-forward issue than we've gotten in a while, with the various disjointed stories having more obvious connections to the other ones than they've had in previous issues.  But, I'm still not entirely sure how D.E.O. managed to get its hands on Sune, even though I'm pretty sure that we actually saw it happen in a previous issue.  I'm also not sure why Falchion and Medusa need more children even though, again, I'm pretty sure we learned why in a previous issue.  I'm all about complicated stories that take time (and several readings) to appreciate.  Even though I find Morrison to be too intentionally obtuse at times, I've always been willing to put in the work necessary to come to that conclusion honestly.  I'm also excited to get home and re-read the first four issues of "Winter Soldier," because I think issue #5 will be even greater when I realize how many previously seen sub-plots Brubaker manages to advance.  But, with both Morrison and Brubaker, I generally had a sense of what happened in a story while reading the issue in my hands.  It might've required a re-reading (or, in Morrison's case, several re-readings) to grasp all the complicated details, but I could at least follow the main plot without help from previous issues.  However, I can honestly say that, even in their most straight-forward issue to date, WnB fail to even manage that much.  I honestly have no idea what plot Medusa is trying to put into effect or why D.E.O. wants to stop it (let alone how it discovered the plot in the first place).  As such, unfortunately, it's time for "Batwoman" to go.  I'm trying to pare down my monthly costs to less than $75, and this series is unfortunately the lowest hanging fruit.  Good luck, Kate.  See you in "Batman."

Justice League #9:  Holy %$&^ing $&%#.  This issue is intense.  Johns pulls a David special here, taking a minor character from previous issues and turning him into a serious villain.  I'm sure that, at some point, we'll learn what deal with the Devil Graves made to gain the powers that he now has, since I'm pretty sure that an ordinary journalist wouldn't have easy access to whatever it is that turned him into the nascent badass that he is here.  I'm also sure that we'll learn why exactly he's seeking revenge on the Justice League.  Johns seems to imply that their relationship goes beyond just him writing books about them, but I'm still not sure why exactly he thought that they could help him cure his cancer (or that, maybe, they were responsible for it).  But, for now, Johns excels in making him a brooding menace, a foreboding characterization made all the more profound by Lee, who shows us the fear in the eyes of the Key and Weapons Master just at the mere mention of his name.  Along the way, Johns also manages to show us some great moments as he breaks the team into smaller groups.  We see Flash trying (and failing) to play bad cop, Cyborg showing that he can play with the big boys, and Steve fraying at the edges a bit before everything goes South.  To me, Johns' use of Trevor as the human lens through which we see the League has vacillated between feeling effective and hollow over the last few issues.  But, it's at its most impactful here, as Steve falls to a very human emotion, protecting his family, as he betrays the Justice League.  Given that it's, you know, the Justice League, I'm pretty sure that it's an acceptable calculated risk to them for Steve to set Graves on them and not his family.  But, Johns and Lee make it clear that it's a decision that's going to haunt Steve for a long time.  This series has been a drag lately, but I have to say that I enjoyed this issue a lot more than I thought I would.

X-Factor #236:  I thought that the most interesting thing about this issue was the fact that David seemingly wraps up the two-issue arc without actually resolving anything.  We still don't know why Scattershot decided to target the X-Ceptionals.  It seems logical to think that he was sent by Jezebel, the woman who told the Isolationist that she was doing as much in issue #234.  However, when I thought more about it, I wondered whether it actually happened that way.  I mean, why would she hire Mojo to send one of his agents to kill the X-Ceptionals?  Wouldn't it be easier to find an Earth-based assassin?  Would you really need a super-powered alien assassin to take out a bunch of non-powered vigilantes?  Did she use Mojo because she specifically wanted to raise the ire of Shatterstar for some as-of-yet unrevealed purpose?  If she didn't hire Mojo and wasn't referring to the events of this arc when speaking with the Isolationist (and Mojo just happened to move against the "superheroes" in Seattle at the same time), then what does Mojo want?  Plus, how is the ghostly (Mr. Tryp-ish) image who appeared to True-Sight connected to the events of this issue?  Is he working with Jezebel?  Or someone else?  We still don't have answers to any of these questions, but David, in his usual fashion, makes the ambiguity work.  He is clearly telling an ambitious story, and this small arc just sets the stage.  It doesn't it well, though I'll note the only off-note to me was the fact that Lord Defender seems a little, if you'll pardon the pun, cavalier in his responses to his dead friends.  By my count, he knows that three of his "colleagues" (the two killed in "X-Factor" #234 and the one killed in this issue) were killed in the line of duty, and all he's able to do is comment on how they deserved better and try to recruit the drug user that he (erroneously) believes that he saved.  (I wonder what his reaction will be to the death of True-Sight.)  Beside that weird characterization, this issue was a good read, whetting our appetite for the story that David is getting ready to tell.

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

In putting together this review, I realized that my love for the below series is an obvious testament to my sidekick fetish.  All three characters are essentially the grittier version of their more famous counter-part.  This reality obviously lends itself to darker stories, allowing Captain America and Spider-Man to keep the high road as the Scarlet Spider, Venom, and the Winter Solider get the dirty work.  Maybe not surprisingly, in all three cases, I am enjoying their series far more than I'm enjoying their counter-parts', which is saying a lot, since I love "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Captain America."

Scarlet Spider #5:  This issue is a decent stand-alone story, featuring the Scarlet Spider and Officer Layton trying to find a nuclear bomb set by the Watchdogs to detonate in Houston.  Now, it's pretty clear that the bomb isn't going to destroy Houston (though I think some people would argue that Yost is sufficiently blood-thirsty to make it a possibility), so the real focus of the story is Layton pushing Kaine to be the hero that he isn't quite sure that he can be.  Kaine keeps trying to gather up the other members of his supporting cast (Annabelle, Aracelly, and Donald) and leave town before the bomb explodes, and Layton keeps reminding him of his duty to the people of Houston to find (and disarm) the bomb.  It's not the best issue of this young series, particularly since we don't have Stegman's amazing pencils to polish over some of the awkward plot moments.  But, it's a totally fine one.  I particularly enjoyed Kaine and Layton's banter, with Layton keeping Kaine on the high road for most of the issue, but Kaine welcoming Layton to the low road when it comes time to open fire from the Watchdogs.  It's that sort of "we're the good guys, but, you know, occasionally you have to shoot at the bad guys" vibe that really helps keep this series distinct from "Amazing Spider-Man."  However, two things completely overshadowed the issue for me, and they both happened in the same panel.  First, when the %&*# did Daisy Johnson become the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  Second, when the %&*# did Nick Fury become African-American?  Are we really turning him into Samuel L. Jackson?  I will be really, really pissed if we're turning him into Samuel L. Jackson.  On a more positive note, I liked that Yost resurrected the Watchdogs.  They were always a more or less vaguely white-supremacist group during the Gruenwald era of "Captain America," and I think updating them as a group attacking "abortion clinics, homosexuals, [and] pornographers" is a realistic evolution.  They always served a useful niche in the Marvel Universe, giving Cap a more street-level enemy to fight, since they weren't seeking some form of world domination like A.I.M. or HYDRA.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I am thrilled to see some of the elements of Gruenwald's run on "Captain America" appear almost everywhere lately.  But, seriously, WTF with Daisy and Nick?  I'm hoping it's just an error on Yost's part, though I fear it's not.

Venom #16:  With the sucktastic "Circle of Four" behind us, Remender returns to form in this issue, giving us another story where Flash is forced to make heroic compromises that generally let the bad guys win.  He spends the issue trying to keep alive the Human Fly, who he's escorting to the Raft, by fending off Hobgoblin, who's trying to collect on a debt that the Fly owes the Kingpin (by killing him).  But, in the end, he lets the Human Fly escape to save a guard.  Although he doesn't really have a choice (of course he's going to save the guard), his decision is made easier in part because he believes that the Fly is going to go save his son from the Kingpin.  But, of course, the Fly doesn't have a son, as we learn in the end.  It's exactly that sort of twist that gives this series its edge.  It's starting to remind me of the dark periods of Peter's career in the early 200s of "Amazing Spider-Man," where he's seemingly constantly sacrificing his personal life due to his superhero career (from the death of Gwen Stacy to his departure from graduate school).  "Venom" lately has that same vibe, highlighting the sacrifices that Flash is forced to make over and over again with little to show for it.  I mean, he at least started the issue with the Human Fly under lock and key; he doesn't even get to finish the issue that way.  Turning to the Hobgoblin, I didn't realize that we were dealing with Phil Urich when I saw the cover, assuming instead that it was Jack O'Lantern.  Phil was a welcome addition to "Venom," since his special brand of crazy works well with Flash's unpredictable moments of violence.  I mean, let's face it, Spidey might have to control himself not to go totally bad-ass on Phil when he's haranguing him, but Flash doesn't exactly have the same restriction.  At any moment, I was just waiting for Flash to rip off his head, and it's that sort of tension that really drives "Venom."  Plus, as the cover itself beautifully illustrates, the addition of Phil creates a three-step dance that keeps the issue moving at a brisk pace, since you're never really sure who's going to be fighting who in the next panel.  It's these sort of unexpected developments and unsatisfying endings that make this title one of the best ones that Marvel is publishing.

Venom #17:  We all knew Flash's "truce" with Crime-Master wasn't going to last, and we see it fall spectacularly apart this issue.  Since the start of this series, I've wondered how Flash was going to resolve this particular problem and, as we see here, Remender makes sure that it's not as easy as Flash hoped that it would be.  As I mentioned in my review of last issue, one of the things that makes "Venom" great is the fact that Flash is often forced into difficult decisions that really don't wind up having happy endings.  He doesn't get the clear choices that heroes like Spider-Man seem to get.  Here, he decides to take out Crime-Master and Jack O'Lantern, since they know his secret identity.  Let's be honest:  it's not exactly a bad decision.  Flash wrestles with it, because super-heroes don't exactly assassinate people.  However, soldiers often do, and Remender does a great job playing up those competing moral codes, similar to the work Yost is doing with Kaine in "Scarlet Spider."  Office Layton may want to keep Kaine on the high road, but he's also a police officer who knows that deadly force is occasionally necessary (like when extremist groups are shotting at you).  Along those lines, it's hard to blame Flash for his decision here.  I mean, on one hand, I almost wish that he had taken up Hobgoblin's offer last issue to help take down Crime-Master, the Human Fly, and Jack O'Lantern.  As Hobgoblin implied, it's not like the world would be a worse place without them, and it would certainly help Flash.  But, it's this sort of slippery slope that Flash knows doesn't lead to great places.  In the end, though, he feels that he doesn't have a choice, and tries to take out Crime-Master.  Similar to the work Brubaker has done in "Captain America," showing him slowly buckling under the pressure of being the country's top cop, Remender has done a great job here of showing how isolated Flash feels and how that isolation drove his decision, leaving him unable to call in the Avengers for assistance.  In fact, Flash feels that the only way that he can stay an Avenger is to take out Crime-Master and Jack O'Lantern without them knowing.  In other words, he can't ask for help with his problem from his friends, because he only gets to keep his friends if he solves the problem.  It's this conundrum that really shows the tragedy that Flash's life has become, and you can feel the noose tightening around him each issue.  Moreover, in his flight, Flash leaves someone (Eddie Brock) behind, a decision that's going to cost him pretty dearly, I'm sure, in future episodes.  It reminds me of the "American Dad!" hurricane episode, where Francine tells Stan that he's bad in a crisis, and every seemingly good idea that he has makes everything worse.  Flash lives that reality, and I'm guessing the Savage Six isn't going to make it easier on him.

Venom #18:  OMG, yay!  I know, given the way things have been going for Flash, that revealing his identity to Betty isn't necessarily going to work out well.  In fact, given the way things have been going, it'll probably work out the opposite of well.  But, I'm going to enjoy this period of hoping that it actually means that Flash is going to get the support that he needs and stop being so isolated from the people who can help him.  It also really kicks this story up a notch, making me wonder where it's all leading.  I mean, I just don't see how this series can end without Crime-Master and Jack O'Lantern dead.  Plus, even if Flash does wind up killing them, I doubt that Crime-Master hasn't planned for Flash to kill him, leading me to believe that he'll have passed on the information about Flash's secret identity to someone.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  For now, I'm just going to hope for the best, before Remender dashes those hopes!

Winter Soldier #5:  As usual with Brubaker, I now have to go re-read the first four issues of this arc to fully appreciate how brilliant it was.  For example, I hadn't noticed that we hadn't identified the whereabouts of the third sleeper agent or that Colonel Rostov had managed to escape Bucky and S.H.I.E.L.D.  But, even looking just at this issue, I can't say enough times how impressed with this arc I am.  Brubaker brings it all together here, giving us the Doom/Von Bardas smack down that we all hoped would happen and the Bucky/Dmitri grudge match that we all knew was inevitable.  I liked how Brubaker lingers on the aftermath of the Bucky/Dmitri fight, reminding us the long road, emotionally, that Bucky has ahead of him as he tries to right the wrongs from his past.  But, he also gives Bucky a win, if you will, allowing him to take down Colonel Rostov, bringing him at least some sense of closure.  Of course, lest things get too heavy, Brubaker also treats us to the amazing verbal sparring of Doom and Fury, when it seems entirely possible that Fury will endanger the entire mission just to land a punch on Doom.  Brubaker so totally nails the characterizations of both characters -- the arrogance and egotism that they both embody -- that it makes me hope that he one day writes a mini-series that winds up forcing the two of them to work together.  All in all, this first arc of this new series gives us everything I hoped we would see, from great fight scenes to intriguing plot twists to nuanced character development.  Bucky might be a street-level hero, but Brubaker manages to make him trying to prevent a crazy cyborg from launching nuclear missiles like something totally within his wheelhouse.  Needless to say, I can't wait to see where we go from here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers vs. X-Men #4:  OMG, I love the fact that Hope, too, decided that Logan was the only person thinking straight!  I mentioned in a comment on X-Man75's blog that I thought that Logan is the only person, at this point, with a plan.  Cyclops has yet to articulate a way to help Hope handle the Phoenix Force and Cap doesn't seem to have any idea how to protect her from it.  I might not agree with Logan that killing Hope is the only option, but he's the only one with a plan that addresses the issue.  It seems that Hope herself acknowledges that here.

At first, I was furious with the idea that Logan would just give up his position that Hope was too dangerous to live and agree to help her see if she could control the Phoenix Force.  I mean, Logan knows that the minute that the Phoenix touches Hope, she's going to be WAY too powerful for him to do anything if she loses control.  So, I was thrilled when Hickman reveals that Logan, in fact, contacted the Avengers.  I mean, I still raised an eyebrow that he decided not to kill her immediately, because I'm pretty sure that Logan's position on the threat that she poses hasn't changed.  Hickman seems to be arguing that he has just backed off his position that she has to die and instead embraced Cap's view that she might be saved.  To be honest, I think it would've been helpful for Hickman to explain why he changed his mind, particularly since we see that he still strongly believes that no one can control the Phoenix Force.  But, overall, I concede that it makes it a little easier that we're now only dealing with two teams and not three (even if Logan was in and of himself a team).

My only real problem with this issue is that the events involving the Space Team don't match the events of "Secret Avengers" #26.  In that issue, Thor recovers in the Avengers' ship while Phoenix redirects to the Kree's homeworld.  So, either we've got a major continuity problem here when we see Thor crash into the moon with Phoenix hot on his heels, or we're seeing events that have yet to transpire in "Secret Avengers."  Either way, it's really an unnecessary distraction.  If it's the former, it makes you lose some suspension of disbelief, since both events can't happen at once.  If it's the latter, it makes you wonder why bother getting the remaining issues of "Secret Avengers" since nothing particularly ground-breaking appears to happen.

On the plus side, Hickman addresses an issue that I mentioned last time, resolving the location of some of the missing Avengers and X-Men.  Quake and Venom are now the only unassigned Avengers (as far as I can tell), and we seem to have a full accounting of the X-Men.  (However, some members of the New Mutants and "X-Men" roster are missing.  We see Nate briefly in this issue, but, as far as I'm aware, we haven't see Cypher, Dani, or Moonstar.  In terms of the "X-Men" roster, I don't think we've seen Pixie yet.)

In terms of where we are in the story, I'm surprised that the Phoenix has presented itself so early.  When Iron Man mentions that it was an estimated ten hours from Earth, I figured we'd have another five or six issues before it actually arrived.  With eight issues left in the main mini-series, I wonder where we're going.  Cyclops himself noted that the X-Men's only goal was to keep Hope free until the Phoenix arrived, which they manage to do.  So, what happens now?  I'm guessing Logan doesn't kill Hope next issue, so either Hope becomes the host for the Phoenix Force or we learn that it always intended to find another host (such as the Scarlet Witch, as numerous people have surmised).  Either way, we still have a lot of issues left!

AVX:VS #2:  I don't really know how to recap this issue.  Cap and Gambit fight.  Colossus and Spidey fight.  It's awesome.  'Nuff said.  Again, it's your call as to whether it's worth $3.99 a month, but I can't say that it isn't fun.

Avengers #26:  OK, I have to say, so far, I've been impressed with how well the various books are connecting with the main event.  "AVX:VS," "Uncanny X-Men," "Wolverine and the X-Men," and "X-Men Legacy" have all managed to flesh out moments that we briefly saw in the main mini-series in a way that gives you a deeper understanding of the overall story.  These stories might not have been essential to understand the main plot, but they definitely give you a better sense of the event as a whole.  For example, both "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "X-Men Legacy" fleshed out Bobby and Rachel's motivations for taking Scott's side; if you were just reading the main title, you'd probably be a little surprised by their sudden defection.  Moreover, "AVX:VS" and "Uncanny X-Men" have given some more "screen-time" to the fights between iconic characters, given a better sense of just how deep the divide between both sides is.  In so doing, no one has tripped on continuity; they've perfectly filled in the events happening between panels, going so far as taking the dialogue verbatim and expanding on it.


Then, we have "Avengers" and "Secret Avengers."

As I mentioned above, I think the scene that we see at the end of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4 actually happens AFTER the entire "Secret Avengers" arc, a supposition that seems to be supported by the editor's note in this issue to see "Secret Avengers" #26-#28...despite the fact that we're only on #26.  However, now, I'm not so sure.  For example, the scenes inside the Avengers' ship seem to take place concurrent to, and shortly after, the scenes in "Secret Avengers" #26.  We start "Avengers" #26 with Thor and War Machine recovering from the confrontation with the Phoenix in "Secret Avengers" #26, but end "Avengers" #26 with Thor taking on the Phoenix Force again, something that hasn't yet happened in "Secret Avengers" (but may happen in issue #27).  Fine.  That part could work, since it's not too much of a stretch to assume that Thor eventually heals sufficiently to take on Phoenix again.  But, it's the Protector aspects of this story that make no sense.  We ended "Secret Avengers" #26 with Ms. Marvel and the Protector encountering a resurrected Captain Marvel.  So, unless the events of "Secret Avengers" #27 happen entirely between panels in this issue, it didn't make sense to me that the Protector appears on the ship examining Thor's hammer when, last I knew, he was sitting on a rock conspiring with Ms. Marvel.  In fact, it seems like all of "Secret Avengers" #26-#28 happens within this issue, not before it.

As such, it seems bizarre that we're dedicating ANOTHER issue to the Space Team.  After all, we only briefly saw the various Avengers teams confronting the various X-Men teams in the five locations where Hope might've been in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4.  "AVX:VS" #2 expands on some of these fights, as I think "Uncanny X-Men" #12 will.  But, I feel like we had enough story there to get the "Avengers" title involved as well, particularly since "New Avengers" is in its own little world at this moment.  "Secret Avengers" seemed to be adequately dealing with the Space Team; its inclusion in this series seems to muddy the waters unnecessarily, particularly since they were already muddied in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4.

Uncanny X-Men #12:  OK, right away, Gillen address one of my issues with "Avengers vs. X-Men" #3, which is that we weren't really shown how the X-Men not on the Extinction Team escaped.  Here, we learn that they escaped one by one, rendezvousing with the Extinction Team at a set location.  Cyclops gives a similar set of assignments as Captain America did in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4, and we fully transition to the second round of fights between the two sides.  It's not seamless, however.  For example, how is She-Hulk at Tabula Rasa and Wolverine's school at the same time?  According to the title page of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4, only Luke and Thing should be in Tabula Rasa.  Also, Boom Boom is sent to Wundagore Mountain with Magneto and Psylocke, but, in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4, we don't actually see her there, in the intro roster or the issue itself.  Instead, she's replaced by Angel and Iceman, and, I have to say, I hope we don't just move right past them joining Scott's side.  We had two issues dedicated to their defection ("Wolverine and the X-Men" #11 and "X-Men Legacy" #266), but we so far haven't seen them joining the X-Men side.  They, and Rachel, just suddenly appear in this issue.  Given the number of tie-in issues, you think someone at some point would've taken the chance to show us that moment, because I think one of Scott's oldest friends and his future daughter re-joining his side has at least some potential to be a decent story.  At this point, though, "Uncanny X-Men" continues to serve the same role as "AVX:VS," giving us some more details on the fights that we briefly see in the main mini-series.  Unfortunately, It lacks the fun of "AVX:VS" and some of the drama of "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "X-Men Legacy," so I can't really say it's indispensable.  But, it's not as random as "New Avengers" or as confusing as "Avengers" and "Secret Avengers," so I guess that's a plus.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers vs. X-Men #3:  Given this issue's focus on Cap, it makes sense that Brubaker wrote it.  Anyone reading "Captain America" right now would recognize the Cap that we see here, a guy who's starting to question the world around him and struggling under the pressure of being the America' top cop.  Brubaker underlines the pressure that Cap's feeling by having Tony draw parallels to his time at the top during "Civil War."  Although I was 100 percent on Cap's side during "Civil War," Tony makes a pretty effective argument for why Cap has to stop and consider the black-and-white way that he's seeing the conflict, advice that Cap ultimately disregards.  He can't help but be impatient with both Cyclops and Wolverine for defying him.  Although it's understandable, his inability to control his anger over it forces him to make some questionable decisions.  Brubaker implies that it's Cap's arrogance (or, at least, absolute belief in his position and the belief that other people would eventually come to his side) that leads him not to question Cyclops' surrender, a ruse that Wolverine immediately identifies.  Moreover, it results in him jettisoning Wolverine, a decision that I think will ultimately prove costly to him in the long-term even if it made sense in the short-term.  It's this moment where we see Cap the most unhinged and when Brubaker makes us realize that, between Cap and Cyke, no one is really playing with a full deck in this conflict.

On a negative side, for the anal-retentive reader like me, it becomes pretty apparent in this issue that the authors of the main mini-series will abandon the attempt to keep all the characters in play.  For example, here, we see Cyclops and his Extinction Team leave Utopia, but we never really address where the rest of the X-Men are.  For example, what happened to Domino, Magma, Psylocke, Sunspot, and Warpath?  We saw them in action against the Avengers in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #2, but they disappear here.  Did the Avengers actually capture them?  (In addition, we never really got an explanation why they were in play in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #2 but other members of "New Mutants" and "X-Men" weren't.)  In terms of the Avengers, we've got three active Avengers teams fully engaged, but we definitely drop some members as we go.  By my reckoning, the following people are assignment-less after Cap's role call in this issue:  Black Widow, Daredevil, Mockingbird, Quake, Thing, and Venom.  I'm assuming Cap was including Daredevil, Mockingbird, and Thing in the "and his team" part when he said that "Luke Cage and his team" would be going to Tabula Rasa.  But, given that other members of Luke's team -- like Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Man -- are assigned other tasks, it's not entirely clear who Cap meant to be on Luke's team.  Moreover, we still don't get assignments for Black Widow, Quake, or Venom, who seems like the type of folks that you'd want fully deployed in this scenario.

In the "Unknown" category, Brubaker raises the possibility that the X-Men (and, by extension, the Avengers) could suffer another schism after the dust settles.  Rachel working with Scott is probably not going to sit all that well with Logan, particularly given his hostile reaction to Rogue calling Utopia for help during the Exodus arc.  I think that we're likely to see a number of defections and, um, refections, but Brubaker makes it pretty clear that Marvel intends for a number of relationships to be strained as a result of this event.

At this point, I'm still intrigued where we go from here.  One would presume that the events of "Secret Avengers" will, at some point, start to appear in the main mini-series, particularly as the Phoenix gets closer and closer to Earth.  Moreover, with the initial skirmish between the Avengers and the X-Men over, I'm assuming that "Uncanny X-Men," "Wolverine and the X-Men," and "X-Men Legacy" are going to start playing a more vital role in the event than they have at this point.  Fingers crossed that it's a good one.

New Avengers #26:  I'm...not exactly sure what happens here.  We continue to see more of this Hope-of-the-past, with the confusing addition of Leonardo da Vinci, faux Hope's successful evolution into the Iron Fist, and the imminent arrival of the Phoenix Force added to the mix.  Bendis appears to be wrapping up this arc next issue (given that Hope and Spidey appear on the cover), so hopefully we'll learn why we care that the Phoenix once approach an avatar who looked like Hope at some point a few hundred years ago.  Given that Cap assigned members of the New Avengers' regular cast to four of the five teams created in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #3, I have to say that I'm hoping Bendis has a good reason for taking us on this journey to the past and not setting up the adventures of one of these teams, other than giving Marvel the ability to slap an "Avengers vs. X-Men" banner on the front cover.

Wolverine and the X-Men #10:  OK, at some point, someone needs to tell us WHY SCOTT THINKS THAT PHOENIX IS GOING TO SAVE THE MUTANT RACE!  He AGAIN says here that he believes that the Phoenix gave the mutants Hope.  Given my theory that Phoenix created Hope, I don't disagree with him.  But, I think Phoenix did it to help it build power to destory the Universe.  Why would he think it had anything to do with saving the mutant race?  Destiny's prophecy said that Hope would save mutantkind...or destroy lives.  At this point, we've seen no reason why Scott thinks it's the former and not the latter.  Given that Scott isn't exactly a blind optimist, it's really hard to believe that he's banking on Hope being a savior and not a destroyer just because he wants to believe it.  Without that explanation, then we're all left to believe what Logan says here, that Scott merely wants a weapon of mass destruction in his pocket to scare the world into respecting mutants.  As such, is it any wonder that so many of us are having troubles taking the X-Men's side?  It would be a little easier to see the X-Men's point if we knew that Cyclops had a reason for believing Hope held the potential to restart the mutant race.  Without it, it's hard not to agree with Logan that it's a power play.
One of the drawbacks of this issue is that it felt excessively talky to me.  Aaron tries to cram a LOT of conversation into one issue, from Scott's confrontation with Logan (which weirdly happens as they roam around the school) to Bobby and Rachel's defection at the end (upping the possibility that, whatever happens, the post-"Avengers vs. X-Men" world isn't going to look like it does now).  He might've been able to make it work had he not also crammed in the odd Angel/Genesis sub-plot, which I assume was needed to get Angel to go with Bobby since he'll play some sort of future role in this event.  At some point, I just started reading as fast as I could just to get to the end.  Given that it was my eighth "Avengers vs. X-Men" issue of the day, I acknowledge that it could've just been event fatigue.  But, something about the issue lacked heart to me, feeling more like a story that came from Aaron's need to make sure the characters ended the issue in a certain place than one that showed the characters reaching a decision organically based on the events of the issue.

X-Men Legacy #266:  I shouldn't be surprised that Gage gives us the most nuanced view of the Avengers/X-Men conflict, given the great work that he's been doing on this title lately.  First, he clarifies why Scott thinks that the Phoenix can save mutantkind.  At some point, in one of the other issues reviewed here (though I don't remember which one), someone mentioned that Rachel was able to control the Phoenix Force, something Rachel herself notes in this issue.  Gage makes it clearer than I think other authors have that i'ts the issue of control that forms the core of the dispute between the Avengers and the X-Men.  The X-Men say she can, the Avengers say she can't.  The problem is that it still doesn't convince me that Cyclops is right.  Sure, Falcon and his team are dicks here, essentially treating the Institute faculty as potential criminals despite the fact that they had already decided not to get involved in the ongoing conflict.  Sure, Cap might've been too quick to confront the X-Men in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #1, arriving with a helicarrier full of Avengers ready to kick ass.  I'm not saying that the Avengers are totally blameless.  But, I've got two problems with the X-Men's position.  First, particularly in this issue, we see people like Iceman and Rachel frame the dispute in terms of their struggle for respect.  However, even if Hope rekindles the mutant race, it's not likely to be any stronger than it was before Wanda reduced its population to 200.  Given that they weren't exactly treated well before Wanda did so, why do they think that everything is going to be magically OK once they're reborn?  Second, and most importantly, at the end of the day, the X-Men are still willing to bet the lives of everyone on Earth -- including the mutants -- that they're right.  If they're wrong, it means that Hope can't control the Phoenix Force and will likely destroy the entire planet, including the mutants who live on it.  How is that supportable behavior?  I mean, sure, Rachel managed to control the Phoenix Force, but Jean couldn't.  We've basically got a 50/50 track record when it comes to red-heads controling the Phoenix Force.  But, the X-Men are willing to bet the Earth that a 15-year-old girl can manage it?  Bobby and Rachel still frame their departure from the school in terms that ignore this problem, deciding to embrace belief over reality.  When you strip away the discussion of the X-Men as the disrepected minority, the complaints about the Avengers as the aggressive majority, you're still left with the X-Men taking an irresponsible position that seems likely to have disasterous repercussions.  I'm increasingly worried that Marvel is going to make Hope a savior, and we're going to have to live with the X-Men being insufferable about it for a long, long time.  Returning to the issue at hand, Gage infused their issue with the heart that I felt that "Wolverine and the X-Men" #11 was lacking.  His characters act in ways that I'd expect them to act, from Frenzy provoking Moon Knight to attack her to Rogue in the end deciding not to be a pushover.  After "Avengers vs. X-Men," I can easily see this title being the only core book I actually get.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, we're getting deep into "Avengers vs. X-Men" at this point, with a number of tie-in issues appearing to supplement the events of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #2.  Of the issues reviewed below, I would say that only "Secret Avengers" did anything to advance the plot of the main mini-series, though it's still unclear what impact, exactly, the events depicted in that issue will have on the event's central plot.  "AVX:VS" and "Uncanny X-Men" just serve to flesh out some (mostly unnecessary) details of some of the fights that we briefly see in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #2.  "New Avengers" could get interesting, exploring the connection between the Iron Fist and the Phoenix Force, though the jury hasn't quite reach a verdict yet.  Other than "Uncanny X-Men," I did at least enjoy the issues, so, even if the story is a little muddled at this point, we're at least not in "Fear Itself" territory yet.

AVX:VS #1:  I considered this issue a win once I read the likely tribute to Troy McClure on the first page:  "Name's Tony Stark.  You may know me from such things as routinely using my amazing intellect and unparalleled resourcefulness to save the entire world."  But, like the intro page says, this issue doesn't really have a plot, so it's a bit hard to review.  The fights are fun, but, considering you're spending $3.99 for an issue without a plot, they better be fun.  But, again, at least Marvel admits that $3.99 isn't buying you anything more meaningful than seeing the Thing insult Namor, so I can't really hold the obvious lack of plot advancement against anyone.  As a completionist, I'm probably going to buy all six issues of this mini-series, but, if you're not one, it's pretty easily skipped.

New Avengers #25:  OK, this issue, for me, seems to portend the beginning of tie-in issues whose connection to the main mini-series seems like a stretch.  We get an extended flashback sequence of a Kung Fu master named Yu Ti having visions of a red-haired girl displaying the power of both the Phoenix Force and the Iron Fist.  Disturbed, he takes to walking through the city of K'un Lun until he discovers a red-hair girl living with a local family and declares her to be the next Iron Fist.  Bendis does a pretty good job of making the story more or less accessible to the casual reader, though I think that you'd enjoy it more if you knew a lot more about Iron Fist lore (particularly who, exactly, Yu Ti is).  But, Bendis makes the point of his involvement pretty clear by drawing a fairly obvious parallel between Yu Ti taking in the red-haired girl and Cable taking in  Hope.  To me, it raises the possibility that Hope is actually some sort of anomaly created by the Phoenix Force as a avatar, upping the ante on my bet that we're going to discover that she was never actually real at all.  After all, she (or someone like her) appeared mysteriously a few hundred years ago in Asia, a place not exactly known for its red heads, just like she appeared mysteriously in Alaska.  I'm starting to think of Hope as Buffy's little sister, Dawn, who was given human form in an attempt to hide her from an evil god who wanted to use her ability to create dimensional portals to cause a ruckus.  It's unclear what the goal of the Phoenix in creating Hope would've been, but we still have some time to get an answer.  Marvel is clearly not rushing the reveal, and Bendis is obviously making it all the more unclear by creating this Iron Fist connection.  However, it's this connection that made me start to question the applicability of this story to the main mini-series.  After all, if Bendis hadn't put Iron Fist on the New Avengers, would we be seeing this connection?  Doubtful.  As such, this issue feels more like Bendis and Marvel grasping at straws to find a way to connect another secondary title to the main event than it does developing a sub-plot that's going to have a significant impact on the main event.  Even if it's a well written issue, it's always this unstoppable proliferation of tenuous connections that dooms events for me.  "Fear Itself" is, like, the ultimate example of that for me (like "A Bridge Too Far" proving the Caine/Hackman theory in "PCU") and I worry that we might've seen the first incidence of it in "Avengers vs. X-Men" with this issue.  I'm willing to reserve judgment, since, again, Bendis clearly has more up his sleeve (and this issue was mostly enjoyable and not completely incomprehensible as it could've been, given that it's written by Bendis).  But, consider an eyebrow raised.

Secret Avengers #26:  This issue has a lot happening at the same time, so I'll try to break it down a bit as I review it.  First, Remender quickly answers the main question I had before starting this issue, namely how exactly eight Avengers are going to defeat a cosmic entity like the Phoenix Force.  We learn within the first few pages that the Secret Avengers intend to employ a device created by the Beast that will either contain the Phoenix Force or, if it fails, send information to Tony Stark on Earth so he can try something else.  It was probably the only plan that would make sense in terms of why you'd send a team against the Phoenix, and it left me with high hopes that the "Secret Avengers" tie-in issues will constructively add to the events happening in the main mini-series.  Remender also introduces three sub-plots here that could get interesting, though I'm a little unclear on some of the key details at this point.  First, the Kree have apparently resurrected Captain Marvel with the intent to use him in some grand plan (see the next point), though I'm not sure exactly managed to do so.  They appear to have summoned his body from the White Hot Room, but, since I'm pretty sure only former Phoenixes dwell there, I'm not sure why he would've been in there.  (Moreover, I'm pretty sure that Phoenixes only spiritually, not physically, reside there.  If not, are we supposed to believe that Jean Grey's body is in the White Hot Room and not buried at the Institute?)  If I'm going to believe this resurrection, Remender is going to have to clarify how exactly it happened in a way that doesn't seem excessively convenient.  Second, as I just mentioned, the Kree resurrected Marvel to implement some sort of plan that they believe is part of their cosmic destiny, but we never learn why they believe that.  One of the Kree mentions that they were "instructed by the Universe to light the way," but how exactly did the "Universe" instruct them to do so?  Is it some sort of heretofore unmentioned prophecy?  Did the cosmic forces like Eternity approach them?  Moreover, it's unclear what exactly the plan is to "light the way," other than the fact that it involves Captain Marvel and the Phoenix.  The Phoenix obviously responds to the Kree, since it leaves its battle with the Secret Avengers to head for Hala, but, again, it's unclear why.  Finally, I'm not entirely sure why Carol, who isn't Kree, feels a biological compulsion to help the Kree.  I mean, sure, she used to hang with the Starjammers as Binary, but it didn't make her Kree.  I'm willing to reserve judgment on all these questions since, again, Remender did such a great job with my question about how the Secret Avengers were going to confront Phoenix that I trust him to have equally reasonable answer to them.  So, just like "New Avengers," my eyebrow is officially raised and I'm going to need to see some answers that make sense before I buy what Remender is selling here.

Uncanny X-Men #11:  To be honest, this issue doesn't really give us anything that we hadn't already seen in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #2, except possibly for the transformation of Colossus into a demonic version of himself.  Sure, it gives us some more details on the fights that happen in that issue, serving a similar role as "AVX:VS" #1 did.  But, after paying $3.99 for "AVS:VS" #1 and $3.99 for this issue, I can't say it was really worth it.  At least "AVS:VS" was fun.  This issue isn't, particularly given that it ends with Scott's whiny-ass letter to "humanity."  If "Uncanny" continues to serve the same role as "AVS:VS," but manages to be less fun int he process,  I think it'll prove to be even more skipable.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Punisher 2099 #13: "Fall of the Hammer" Part 5 ("All for One")

** (two of five stars)

Summary
The four "heroes" -- Doom, the Punisher, Ravage, and Spidey -- remaining on Valhalla agree to band together to stop Alchemax as they're attacked by the Berserkers, a group of "genetically created warriors, a first wave designed to weaken the enemy...destined to die gloriously!"  Spidey saves the Punisher from getting stabbed by a berserker and the Punisher tells him that he owes him one.  During the melee, Doom informs the group that he's found a way to save New York and Valhalla.  Doom instructs Ravage to accompany him to the anti-gravity chamber where they'll remove the stasis field from the long-wave generators and Ravage will destroy them just as Doom re-routes the city's power to his "null-g warp matrix."  Before Doom can assign roles to the Punisher and Spidey, the CEO (aka Avatarr) appears.  He taunts Doom, telling him that he never thought that he'd walk straight into his web.  Ravage leaps at him...and through him, revealing him to be a hologram.  The Punisher chastises him for not realizing that it was a hologram, but Doom uses the momentary disruption of the holo-field to get "a fix on Avatarr's 'transmit and focus' frequency" and dispels the hologram.  Before he disappears, Avatarr notes that the Aesir are on their way and Doom asks the Punisher to list his weaponry, which, needless to say, impresses.  Doom resumes giving instructions, sending Spidey with the Punisher to confront the Aesir.  Heimdall and Baldur (finally!) arrive and the four "heroes" engage.  Spidey asks what the Punisher's beef with the Aesir is and the Punisher responds that it's personal.  Privately, he thinks about how his brother was named Baldur and how Alchemax killed his girlfriend, taking down Baldur while he does.  He returns the favor from earlier to save Spidey from Heimdall's sword, which cuts through the Punisher's armor.  Spidey webs up Heimdall and Baldur resumes his attack, telling Heimdall that defeating the Punisher and Spidey will help get the "common herd" to follow them by getting its attention.  The Punisher's conscience (really his "alter-ego") tries to convince him not to kill them with his plasma-gas cannon, telling him that he's not a murderer and that he grew up a Thorist so he can't kill a god anyway.  Spidey tells him to pull himself together and pull the trigger, punching him to disrupt his reverie.  The Punisher resumes control of himself and destroys Baldur and Heimdall.  Spidey looks below Valhalla and realizes that they're right above New York.

Below, Ravage takes out the generators and, as planned, the power shunts to Doom's matrix, stabilizing Valhalla and making it navigable.  At that moment, Thor arrives, declaring that "there must be a Ragnarok!"  He uses his hammer to strike something (possibly the matrix), causing unfocused energy to pour into the sky.  Thor declares it the "Midgard serpent" and rides the wave of energy through the ceiling, appearing before the Punisher and Spidey.  They grab onto him and Spidey warns him that millions will die.  Thor declares that it will be a cleansing that will allow Asgard to rise from its ashes.  Arriving topside, Ravage instructs the Punisher to grab his hammer and Doom tells him to throw it at the head of the vortex to "ground the power back into the city."  Thor decries the plan and the Punisher recognizes Thor's voice as that of his parish priest.  He tells him that he's Jake Gallows and the revelation makes Thor remember that he's Cecil McAdam.  Spidey uses Thor's confusion to strike a blow, allowing the Punisher to wrest the hammer from Thor's grip and throw it into the energy stream.  Thor chases it and he's destroyed as the Midgard serpent disperses.  Avatarr appears again, in holo-form, telling the heroes that the "chessmaster" doesn't die when his players are swept from the board.  He tells each of them that he will have his revenge against him in his own time.  The Punisher asks (a totally valid question) why Avatarr bothered with the Aesir and Valhalla in the first place when he could've just gotten rid of them (the heroes).  Avatarr responds with another chess metaphor, saying that the player cannot become one of the pieces; a Grand Master "influences events from above."  He departs threatening the Punisher first, saying he'll use his molecular disintegrator on him.

The Review
OK, at the end of the day, we still never really learn what the CEO had in mind when it came to the Aesir and Valhalla.  I go into much more detail below, but the failure of the authors to really clarify the CEO's intentions left me feeling disappointed with this arc.  I get that the CEO is supposed to be all mysterious, but I feel like the authors fell into the usual trap (paging Morrison) of confusing "intentionally confusing" with "interestingly suspenseful."  The CEO looks more like a crazed idiot than a brilliant strategist, which is definitely going to impact how I see him when he appears in the future.  On the plus side, the event does what I think it was actually intended to do, getting the heroes to interact with one another and creating a more tightly woven 2099 tapestry.  I now have a better sense of the other battles Alchemax has been fighting in the other series, making my understanding of the 2099 world all the deeper.

The Good
1) Spidey reminding the Punisher to kill someone:  2099 is a weird, weird world indeed!

2) Answering my questions in "Doom 2099" #14, Mills and Skinner seem to confirm here that personal ties successfully override the Aesir's programming.  Just like Tiana's transformation in "Ravage 2099" #15 when she saw Ravage, we see the Punisher successfully shake Reverend McAdam from his programming, at least for a moment, when he makes him remember their other selves' personal connection.

The Unsure
1) Isn't it weird that the X-Men 2099 motored?  They were all for saving New York from Valhalla, but, when the going got tough, they got going.  Really?  I mean, I get that they originally left to evacuate people, but no one returned, not even Bloodhawk, who had the means (his wings) and motivation (his environmentalism)?

2) I think we got the answer to my question about Tyler sending Miguel to the opening of Valhalla on purpose or on accident (see "Spider-Man 2099" #15).  I'm guessing that it was by accident, since the CEO seemed not to have planned to have the heroes on board.  More on this subject in the next section.

The Bad
1) OK, as mentioned above, I'm confused by the CEO's motivations.  Originally, I figured that the CEO planned on having both groups -- the Aesir and the heroes -- on board Valhalla when it crashed into New York, discrediting both of them with the common people.  The Aesir would've caused the disaster and the heroes would've failed to prevent it.  However, in this issue, it seems clear that the CEO hadn't wanted the heroes on board Valhalla when it crashed into New York.  It seems like he just wanted the Aesir to be involved.  However, as I mentioned in my review of "Doom 2099" #14, I don't see how killing millions of people in New York would rally people to the Aesir's side.  Wouldn't they be more likely to blame it on the Aesir, given that it was their Floating City that crashed into New York?  After all, why believe in gods who can't keep their floating cities floating?  If I'm giving the authors the benefit of the doubt, I can extrapolate that Alchemax seemed to be hoping that Ragnarok would rally people to the Aesir's side by making them fear the wrath of the gods, but it seems to me that only the faithful would see it that way.  (Moreover, I have to note that the authors don't ever really have anyone state that scaring people into believing in the Aesir was Alchemax's plan; I'm just gleaming that motivation from comments the CEO and Thor made.)  As the Punisher himself notes here, though, it seems like a lot of work to crash Valhalla in New York if all he wanted was just to get rid of the heroes.  So, if he didn't want to get rid of (or, at least, discredit) the heroes and he didn't want to rally people to the Aesir's side, what was the CEO planning in crashing Valhalla into New York?  I think Marvel would argue that we don't necessarily need to know what the plan was, since the heroes stopped it from coming to fruition.  But, by not clarifying it, it makes it all the more difficult to take the CEO seriously as some sort of brilliant nemesis, since he couldn't even reasonably predict that the heroes would try to stop Alchemax from crashing the Floating City into New York.

2) OK, I generally give the authors of the 2099 world a pass on technology stuff (like the "null-g warp matrix") but I don't see how Ravage jumping through the hologram of Avatarr let Doom triangulate his position or whatever it is that he does to dispel the hologram.

3) The ending is...odd.  First, as I mention in the "Summary," I'm not exactly sure what Thor hit to cause the "Midgard serpent" to appear.  The "null-g warp matrix?"  Second, I'm not really sure what the Midgard serpent was.  It seemed to be the unfocused power of the Floating City, but Mills and Skinner weren't totally clear on that.  Finally, I really don't understand how throwing the hammer into the energy stream would "ground the power back into the city."  I'm no physicist, but I'm not sure how a free-standing hammer would "ground" anything, let alone some immensely-powerful energy stream.  I felt like Mills and Skiller really rushed the ending, which, combined with my questions about the CEO's motivations, left me disappointed in the overall arc.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

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

I didn't think I was terribly behind the times, but two issues each of "Captain America" and "Captain America and Hawkeye" seems to prove me wrong.

Captain America #10:  Brubaker wraps up his "Powerless" arc nicely here.  As a result of making a deal with Machinesmith, Sharon learns that Bravo, while he was holding Steve captive, injected him with a nanotech virus designed by Machinesmith to shut down Cap's powers whenever his adrenaline began to pump.  (I don't quite remember when exactly Bravo had Cap captive.  Was it the first arc of this series?)  Machinesmith designed the virus to mimic the appearance of red-blood cells when scanned, anticipating the tests that Tony Stark would run.  I thought Brubaker played up this plot twist rather well, using it to showcase the characters.  We see Tony acting like Tony, appreciating Machinesmith's genius despite its evil purposes.  It's a nice contrast to Cap, who would just be horrified by someone doing something evil.  We also see Sharon at her best, getting the information about Steve by releasing Machinesmith.  But, she neutralizes him as a threat, introducing her own virus into his system that eats his memory banks.  I thought the most interesting characterization moment came at the end, though, when Steve rails against the media for telling lies and then berates Sharon for making a deal with Machinesmith.  Although Steve's power fluctuations might not have come from him doubting himself, as Bravo and Machinesmith led him to believe, it's pretty clear that they did succeed in getting him to doubt himself and the world around him, from the state of the American media to his faith in Sharon herself.  Brubaker actually managed to save the Bravo character a bit for me, because it's clearer now where Brubaker's going with him, getting him to serve as the device that shakes up Cap.  It reminds me of the circumstances that led Cap to adopt the "Nomad" and later "Captain" personas.  Brubaker is a student of Cap's history (and seems particularly fixated on the Gruenwald era lately), so I wonder where he's going with it.  I don't think Cap will give up being Cap, but Brubaker could be building to something similar here.  We shall see, I guess.  At any rate, for a somewhat ho-hum arc, it was a pretty solid ending.

Captain America #11:  OMG, Diamondback and Scourge!  I've previously mentioned how happy I was with the return of the Serpent Society, but I'm all the more thrilled with the return of Diamondback and Sourge, since it seems that Brubaker plans on totally reviving Gruenwald's legendary run on "Captain America" from the mid-80s to mid-90s.  Crossbones can't be far behind!  I liked how Brubaker hinted that Diamondback could be the leak, but made it clear that Steve didn't seem to be remotely concerned that she was.  (It was very Dumbledore/Snape.)  I'm also intirgued that HYDRA seems to be behind the new Scourge (and equally pleased that Brubaker didn't use it as an opportunity to foist Bravo and Queen HYDRA on us yet again).  I haven't been super-thrilled with the last few issues, mostly because of the focus on Bravo and Queen HYDRA, but Brubaker seems to right the ship here by changing the focus to a more street-level threat (and a less direct involvement of HYDRA) while maintaining his excellent use of Cap's deep bench of supporting characters.  As a result, I'm very excited about this arc.

Captain America and Hawkeye #629:  OK, I really hope that, one day, I won't have to mention the following complaint EVERY TIME Hawkeye appears with Captain America outside the "Avengers."  But, today is not that day.  I don't understand why we have to have the now standard "Cap and Hawkeye fight about their different styles" scene EVERY TIME that they appear together.  They've worked together for years; they get it.  They can still jokingly refer to it, like Cap does here when he tells Hawkeye how it's always good to get constructive feedback.  But, they don't have to belabor the point.  Bunn (like other authors) disagrees, feeling the need to hammer it home by having Cap scold Hawekeye for treating everything like a video game and Hawkeye telling Cap that he needs to stop treating him like a sidekick.  In almost all of Hawkeye's appearances with Cap over the last few months, they're constantly at each other's throats in this way, at least at the start of the story.  At this point, I really think we can skip that part.  I'd like to see their interactions be more like what we eventually see here, with Cap expressing outrage over Hawkeye noting how fine the Director of Operations for the Damocles Research Facility is, given that he's dating Spider-Woman, and Hawkeye later teasing Cap when said Director hits on him.  It's those moments that show us the charming maverick that Hawkeye is and the boy scout that Cap is.  We don't need to be hit over the head with how different they are all the time.  All that said, the rest of the issue gets pretty interesting.  I mean, Cap and Hawkeye fighting dinosaurs?  Awesome.  Bunn doesn't just make it about the dinosaurs, though, giving us a shadowy organization that didn't report the fact that the dinosaurs were attacking its research facility (or that people were becoming the dinosaurs).  I'm excited to see where Bunn goes with the story, but I hope we can keep the banter between Cap and Hawkeye light and not so adversarial.  Fingers crossed.

Captain American and Hawkeye #630:  Cap gets turned into a lot of things, doesn't he?  I mean, he's been a woman (almost), a wolf, a corpse. I love thinking about the fact that, at some point, someone clearly pitched this story as "Captain America...and Hawkeye...and DINOSAURS!"  The good thing is that the actual story is as good as that fantastic premise sounds.  I'm glad that Bunn clarified the fact that the dinosaurs are imbued with symbiotes.  It makes a lot more sense than it did last issue when it appeared that people were becoming dinosaurs who were becoming symbiotes.  But, I still have some questions left, since Stegron seems only responsible for the reanimated dinosaur humanoids, not the apparent symbiote plague.  Kash seems to know more about the symbiotes, since she refers to a "hybrid" (presumably of the dinosaurs and symbiotes), though I got the sense that she was more studying the combination than responsible for it.  We also don't know why the symbiotes are taking over the dinosaurs and the humans or why they feel the need to attack the Damocles Resarch Facility.  But, Bunn manages to raise these questions as a result of advancing the plot, making them interesting (and not annyoing).  Moreover, he ups the intrigue, since we learn that "Kash" not only knew all about the symbiotes (and didn't tell Cap and Hawk) but also works for some sort of mysterious employer that isn't Archstone, the purported force behind the research facility.  (Given the way the Cap books are going lately, I assume HYDRA is involved.  I mean, Hawkeye even mentions the mythological creature after which HYDRA is named in this issue.)  This series is starting to have a lot more of an "Avenging Spider-Man" feel, a little light on continuity a little heavy on action.  If they keep giving us issues like this one and continue finding fun folks to fill in the "and ..." blank, then I think Marvel will actually justify why we're getting two Cap titles a month.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dungeons and Dragons:  Forgotten Realms #1:  Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I think "Dungeons and Dragons" is one of the best titles on the market.  John Rogers consistently delivers entertaining and intriguing stories that allow us to explore a dangerous and fascinating world through the eyes of a rag-tag band of so-called heroes led by a quick-witted charmer who's a little more serious than his banter implies.  It's an excellent book, from pacing to art, from plotting to characterization.  This new series, unfortunately, is not.  Greenwood seems to suffer from having been too ambitious in his opener.  He spent so much time trying to take us on a sprinting tour of Waterdeep that I'm not entirely sure what happened in this issue.  For example, when we first encountered our main characters, I though they were bumbling bodyguards, only to learn that they were rookie smugglers.  Then, they suddenly decide to become professional kidnappers, conveniently in time to hear of a kidnapping attempt imminently happening near their current location.  The rest of the book is blur of crosses and double-crosses, a problem exacerbated by the fact that Greenwood sprinkles his attention on no fewer than seven other characters, making it extremely difficult to say who was doing what to whom.  I'm perfectly fine with a book filled with sub-plots (just look at my love for "X-Factor") but Greenwood does WAY too much WAY too quickly here.  We never get a chance to figure out the personal motivations of our main characters before we're elbow deep in the kidnapping plot.  Whereas Rogers instills even his least likable characters with a easy personal charm and troubled back story that makes you incapable of disliking them, Greenwood makes exactly no one in this issue even remotely likable.  The main characters seem to be thieves whose only positive character trait is their incompetence, the kidnapping "victim" is a privileged girl who was willing to risk the lives of her dedicated bodyguards for a little excitement, and everyone else other than the girl's parents are either directly and potentially involved in the kidnapping itself.  I'm not saying everyone has to be a hero, but, if it's going to be a story about villains, you want to understand their motivations.  Otherwise, you just get bad people doing bad things to one another, which is as interesting as good people doing good things to one another.  Just like I don't want to watch a 12-hour "Highway to Heaven" marathon, I don't want to read an issue where no one manages to express any emotion other than greed.  Given the upcoming cut to my comic budget, I'm going to cut off this series right now, because I doubt it's going to get any better.  Hopefully this series isn't meant to displace "Dungeons and Dragons" and we'll see Fell's Five return shortly.

Doom 2099 #14: "Fall of the Hammer" Part 4 ("The Anvil or the Hammer")

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
Enraged by the defeat of Heimdall, Thor asks who's responsible.  Loki directs him to the X-Men and Meanstreak tells his former friend to stop playing games, having been the one to give Meanstreak the means to defeat Heimdall in the first place.  Doom appears, telling Meanstreak not to waste his time on the fake Aesir and noting that the real threat is Valhalla itself.  Bloodhawk advocates destroying the Floating City, though Meanstreak urges caution, given the enormity of the structure.  Fitz and Krystalin commit to defeating Thor, who attacks Doom with Mjolnir in fury at having his divinity questioned.  Doom is surprised that the ionic energy-field that powers the hammer is more powerful than he thought.  Loki arrives to warn Doom from attacking Thor directly, observing that Mjolnir is the source of all his power.  Thor attacks Doom again and Doom uses the information provided by Loki to recalibrate his systems and block the flow of power from Mjolnir to Thor.  The pent-up power results in a huge explosion that sends the two of them plummeting to Earth.  Meanstreak tries to stop Loki from leaving, but Loki mutates into his wolf form, telling Meanstreak that he brought him and Ravage to Valhalla to sabotage it.  The storm building outside the Floating City causes it to rock and Loki reveals that the gyroscopes aren't working because the ship's reactor can't maintain its weight at that altitude for that long, something the top officials at Alchemax knew because they designed Valhalla to fail.  Downtown, Alchemax has created a perimeter around an unconscious (or dead) Thor, using a machine to lift him from the crater that his impact created.  Doom watches from the shadows, expositing that he phased his body into intangibility before the crash, which is why the Alchemax workers don't find a second impact crater.

Thor awakens in a lab, disturbed both by the loss of his hammer and finding Sif in a tube.  The CEO appears, informing Thor that the geneticists missed a DNA strand in their reprogramming of Sif, causing her to resist the transformation.  Thor threatens to kill the CEO for "killing" Sif and the CEO orders the computer to revert him to his human form, revealing him to be Revered McAdam, an "unremarkable priest of Thor."  The CEO "reminds" him that he didn't hesitate to take up the mantle of Thor, the god he "jealously" worships, and that, once transformed, he forgot his mortal identity and truly believed that he was Thor.  The CEO gives him a choice and he chooses to become Thor again; the CEO directs him to Mjolnir and sends him to Valhalla.  After Thor leaves, Doom (who followed the workers who brought Thor to the CEO) appears, observing that the Aesir served no real function except to initiate conflict.  The CEO informs Doom that conflict was the point.  Alchemax wanted to create its own heroes to control the effect the appearance of other heroes had on the public.  Doom warns that heroism "is a contagious idea" and the CEO notes that his previous self would've likely considered the Heroic Age to have been a "plague of heroes."  Doom balks when the CEO calls him a dictator and the CEO notes that the Dr. Doom of "legend" would taken down the CEO for such insolence.  He observes that the 2009 Doom has developed a conscience and must instead decide whether to stop Valhalla from crashing into New York or pummel the CEO.  Elsewhere, the X-Men begin evacuating people from the ship as the Punisher and Spider-Man arrive.  The Punisher opines that the people are fleeing because they saw their god plummet to the ground and not return, destroying their belief.  Spidey tries to help corral people, but the Punisher, firing a shot in the air, is a little more direct.  Loki appears, telling Spidey that it's appropriate for him to be there, since his appearance is what first concerned Alchemax's bosses.  Spidey recognizes Boone from his "smug delivery," though Boone is surprised that he recognizes him.  The Punisher attempts to take out Loki, but he disappears.  Reappearing elsewhere, Loki notes that the heroes have challenged the Alchemax gods and, when they take away the others' godhood, he'll retain his power to "spread glorious chaos around the world."  Meanstreak tries to convince Loki to help people evacuate and, when he doesn't, strikes him, resulting in Loki disappearing, telling Meanstreak that he's simply jealous.  The X-Men evacuate with the last ship and Doom approaches Valhalla, expositing that he will save it not from compassion, as the CEO implied, but because he has his own plans for it.  He encounters the Punisher and Spidey, telling them that the Aesir were created to stop them.  Ravage then appears from below, telling Doom that he hasn't been able to fix the engines and he doesn't know how much time they have until Valhalla falls into New York.

The Review
OK, so, this issue moves us along pretty well.  We got confirmation in "X-Men 2099" #5 that Alchemax did in fact turn humans into Aesir, but here we learn that they were willing participants in the process and were made to believe that they were actually Norse gods.  However, we still have no idea what Alchemax's ultimate goals are.  We were led to believe that Alchemax wanted heroes it could control, but, given the fact that the CEO tells Doom here that he wanted Valhalla to fail, it calls into question his ultimate goal.  Why have Valhalla fail if it'll make your Aesir fail?  More on this point below.

The Good
I've been somewhat confused by Jordan's motivations throughout this event, but I guess that he's simply embracing his role as Trickster.  He brought the X-Men to Valhalla to fight the Aesir and encourages Thor to battle the X-Men because he wanted the Aesir and, by extension, Alchemax to fail.  To be honest, it is in Jordan's personality -- arrogant, impish -- to play this role, particularly by doing what he could to make sure that he was the only Aesir (and, therefore, the only special one) left standing.  I'm glad that Moore confirmed the fact that Jordan was playing both sides, because it makes it clear that Jordan was actually motivated by something other than helping further the plot.  Moreover, Moore leaves open the possibility that Jordan might not have been as unaffected by his transformation as he thought, implying that he might've actually been driven at least a little insane in the process.  (He had blown off Meanstreak's questions about the consequences of becoming a "god" in "X-Men 2099" #5.)

The Unknown
1) "They designed Valhalla to fail."  Really?  Why?  The CEO sticks to the line that he created the Aesir because he wanted heroes that he could control.  I get that part.  But, did he want them to fail, too?  I could see a scenario where he'd want to create a catastrophe involving all the heroes timed to the arrival of the Aesir, so that the people turn against heroes entirely, even his Aesir.  But, that doesn't seem to have been the CEO's plan, since he seems surprised by the heroes' presence on Valhalla.  If the point, then, of Valhalla failing wasn't taking down the heroes and the Aesir with it (either figuratively or literally), then why have it fail in the first place?  How could introducing the Aesir and then having Valhalla crash into New York shortly after their appearance in any way help Alchemax?  It's this part that doesn't make a lot of sense to me and I hope we get some clarity on it next issue.

2) We still haven't been told why Hela, aka Tiana, was able to resist her programming.  Jordan made it clear in "X-Men 2099" #5 that he sabotaged the system to allow him to keep his personality, but we don't hear anything from the CEO about why Tiana would've be able to do so.  After all, they were able to predict that Sif would resist her programming, so they "killed" her, but why couldn't they predict the same with "Hela?"  The fact that three of the six resisted their programming was part of the reason why I think Moore had to confirm that the Aesir, in theory, were supposed to believe that they actually were the Aesir.  That point has been muddled throughout the event, since only Thor and Heimdall seemed to really believe it.  But, it still seems hard to believe that half the subjects were "failures," since Alchemax doesn't seem the type to tolerate these sorts of problems.

3) Along these lines, where's Baldur?  Is he playing a role in the finale?