Sunday, June 24, 2012

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

Captain America #13:  I'm glad that Brubaker makes it clear here that D-Man is under some sort of mind control, just like Gyrich.  As I mentioned in my review of last issue, he's seemed a little "off" in his last few appearances, and Brubaker plays off that here.  He reveals that D-Man appears to be suffering from some sort of degenerative mental condition, and Gyrich (or, more accurately, Gyrich's HYDRA handlers) is keeping him in that situation in order to keep him pliable.  (He seems to have been initially cured of the disorder by Gyrich, though I'm guessing that was done to gain his confidence before Gyrich revealed that he could reverse the cure at will.)  With one issue left in this arc, it's pretty clear that Cap is going to be rocked next issue by the revelation that D-Man is Scourge, and I'm hoping the next arc results in him taking the fight to HYDRA.  It would be nice to wrap up this HYDRA business so we can move onto new enemies.  But, for now, this arc at least works to bridge that gap from the Madbomb business to the full-on HYDRA battle.

Captain America and Hawkeye #632:  I...have no idea what happened in this issue.  Although I praised Bunn last issue for managing to keep the story of how the dinosaurs because symbiotes easy to follow, I have a hard time telling you what happened in this one.  Honestly, I think that I've enjoyed this arc more than most reviewers, but this one just totally lost me.  Part of the problem is Vitti, who I loved on "Dungeons and Dragons," but who uses such odd angles in this issue that it's hard to follow the action, a particular problem given the fact that it's an action-oriented issue.  Basically, Stegron returns with some sort of magical scepter, Cap uses it to do something to the symbiote queen, Hawkeye shoots some arrows, and we never discover who employed Kash.  Disappointing, to say the least.  It was particularly difficult to follow which symbiotes were based on humans, who were saved, and which ones were the dinosaurs, who were destroyed.  At any rate, I think I've already over-thought this issue.  Time for Iron Man!

Winter Soldier #6:  Damn, this issue is tense.  Brubaker effectively uses the secondary narrative -- of Leo's time after he was unexpectedly awoken -- to show how unstable Leo is, making you aware of the threat that he's going to pose to whomever he turns his attention.  By the time he appears at Fred Davis' apartment, you know how it's going to end badly, both for Davis and Bucky, his real target.  I thought the brilliance of that moment is that Brubaker has clearly been planning it for months, given that he re-introduced us to Davis in "Captain America and Bucky" #625-#628.  He made us care about him, showing him as a guy wrestling with his past as Bucky and coming to terms with the hero that he was.  By doing so, Brubaker makes his death here all the more profound.  It could've just been the death of a character that some long-time readers might've vaguely remembered, but, instead, Brubaker, ever the planner, sets up a story in another title months earlier to make sure that we feel the emotions that he wants us to feel here.  He's just that good.  By giving Davis' death that sort of impact, Brubaker lets us know that this next arc is going to be a big one.

The whole point of this title is Bucky making amends for the actions he committed as the Winter Soldier.  It's usually him righting a wrong based on his knowledge as the Winter Soldier, such as he did in the first arc, where he kept the other sleeper agents from instigating a world war.  But, here, it's someone else righting a wrong that Bucky as the Winter Soldier committed against him, with Leo seeking revenge for Bucky leaving him stranded in stasis.  We've seen this sort of story previously -- such as the Professor Chin saga from "Captain America" #43-#48 -- but it somehow didn't dawn on me that this title could very well oscillate between the two types of stories, Bucky saving the day with his knowledge from his Winter Soldier days or Bucky paying from crimes that he committed as the Winter Soldier.  In so doing, Brubaker continues the espionage theme that I hoped this title would have and continues telling stories that make me eagerly awaiting this title every month.

New Comics!: The "Earth 2" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Earth 2 #1:  I have to say, something is rotten in the state of Denmark when I like the alternative version of the Justice League's battle with Apokolips more than the original version.  Robinson and Scott provide a truly epic re-telling of the Justice League's battle with Darkseid's minions, managing to convey more emotion and tragedy in just one issue than Johns and Lee did in six.  I mean, sure, it's partly because they kill DC's the Trinity (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) in just a few pages, so you're inherently going to have some emotion and tragedy involved, no matter how well or poorly the issue is written or drawn.  But, Robinson manages to give you enough insight into these versions of the characters and their lives that you feel like you know them, even though they're not the heroes that we do actually know.  He also avoids the trap in which almost all the other DCnU authors have found themselves entangled, somehow highlighting the differences between these characters and their counterparts without making it feel excessively expository.  Superman struggles to stay focused as the destruction around him reminds him of the fall of Metropolis and the death of Lois.  Wonder Woman tries to channel her rage over the loss of Paradise Island and the death of the Roman gods into fighting off the parademons.  Perhaps most impressively, Robinson has Batman finally soften in the last moments of his life, wishing his daughter, the Huntress, a good life as he saves the world.  All these moments feel organic to the story.  Rather than just having Superman inform us that Lois is dead, Robinson frames her death as part of Clark's struggle to stay focused.  Same with Diana and the Amazonians.  This gambit succeeds in no small part because Scott manages to convey real emotion on the characters' faces while at the same time showing the horrific scenes that surround them with appropriate grandeur.

Similar to "Amazing Spider-Man" #545, the issue that launched "Brand New Day," the story doesn't end as it reaches its climax.  After Batman's sacrifice saves the world, we fade into the present, where we begin to see, for the first time, the world as it is now.  Jay Garrick and Alan Scott are completely rebooted and, I have to say, I'm a fan.  Until my return to comics, I only intermittently read DC (and, when I did, it was mostly "Batman"), so I have a weak understanding of its history, particularly when it comes to the Multiverse.  As such, I never really understood the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern and how they fit into the former DCU.  This lack of knowledge makes life easier here (ignorance is bliss!), because I'm not saddled with comparing Jay and Alan with their DCU counterparts.  It's enough that I like the characters that they are here.  Robinson sets up Alan as an analogue to Tony Stark, but it's his work with Jay that most intrigues me at this point, portraying him as a somewhat shiftless twenty-something whose college girlfriend harshly dumps him because he has little potential.  It's a great scene, and I particularly liked the following scene where he sits on a hilltop drinking beer contemplating how right (but still cruel) she was.  Robinson really manages to convey the confusion of someone at that transitional moment in his life, and it's hard to imagine who wouldn't pick up the second issue after the final scene.

I admit to subscribing to this series after the announcement that Alan Scott is going to be gay, because, as a gay comic-book fan, I felt guilty after I dropped "Batwoman."  But, I may have come for the gay, but I'm staying for what Robinson and Scott do here.  Of all the "New 52!" I feel like this one is the most successful launch.  In fact, right now?  This issue is up there with "Avenging Spider-Man" #5 and "Batman" #5 in the "Issue of the Year" competition.

Earth #2 2:  First things first.  Robinson does a great job setting up the coming challenges that the new heroes of Earth 2 will face, particularly given that he does it on multiple fronts.  First, he establishes, through the video screens that Mr. Terrific encounters when he suddenly appears in downtown Manhattan, that Steppenwolf is still at large.  I meant to mention it in my review of "Earth 2" #1, but I was really impressed with the way that Robinson and Scott made Steppenwolf, Darkseid's Pro-Consul, if you will, a large-than-life villain in just one issue.  I mean, the guy only appeared in three panels, but you knew that he was a bad-ass.  You could feel Superman and Wonder Woman's fear of him when they mentioned him, something in and of itself that gave you a sense of how dangerous he was.  But, his appearance in those three panels -- brutally murdering Wonder Woman, coldly commenting as Superman dies -- really upped the villain factor.  The fact that he wasn't killed with the parademons is exciting.  First, it raises all sorts of questions.  Why didn't he die with the parademons?  Is he still connected to Darkseid?  But, it also gives what seems likely to be Earth 2's future Justice League a pretty hard-core arch-nemesis before it has even formed!  You know that the League is going to have to address that loose end at some point.

But, Robinson doesn't just establish one potential villain, but two more.  First, we've got the "world's smartest man," Terry Sloan, making pretty quick work of Mr. Terrific just seconds after his arrival in Manhattan.  I'm not sure who Terry Sloan is, though I'm guessing that he may be someone that more long-time DC readers than I am recognize.  Robinson makes him a pretty powerful character, giving him the ability not only to recognize when Mr. Terrific would appear on Earth 2 but also to take over Mr. Terrific's technology to use against him.  Robinson also builds a less-specific third villain, the unnamed darkness that Mercury informs Jay is a greater threat than Darkseid.  It's the reason why Mercury gives Jay his powers, to help prepare the world for its coming.  Seriously, how much worse can you get than Darkseid?  The fact that Robinson establishes a current threat (Sloan), a hidden threat (Steppenwolf), and a potential threat (darkness) in one issue is pretty impressive.  I mean, talk about a second issue!

But, Robinson also pays attention to building his characters, not just his villains.  At first, I found Mercury's praise of Jay as a potential hero almost eyeroll-inducing, but Robinson manages to sell it with this line:  "You claim to lack a future?  Let me give you one."  I mean, OK, I can buy how a god could see into the soul of a human and know that he's a hero, but Robinson makes it clear that Mercury isn't saying that Jay is a hero right now.  He's still going to have to prove it, to grab the brass ring.  Robinson makes it easy to see because he's already shown us some moments of heroism from Jay.  We saw Jay instinctively try to help Mercury, not fleeing from the scene, not stopping his attempt to convince Mercury to let him call for help.  We also see him save the couple from "apocorats" just minutes after getting his powers.  Jay's obviously going to confront greater challenges that will make him question whether or not he can really embrace the future that Mercury portends here, but Robinson uses the moments of heroism in this issue to underline Mercury's assertion that Jay possesses a hero's soul (even if he's a directionless slacker).  (On an art note, I though Scott did a great job with Mercury here.  He's not the golden god we saw in the first issue, but a faded remnant of who he was.  The cracks that appear across his body as he talks to Jay were a great touch in underlining his descent.)

Robinson also gives us more info on Alan.  I loved that he had the driver call Sam "his friend."  I can't tell you how many people still call my partner "my friend."  The driver using that term somewhat reproachfully just felt pitch-perfect to me.  It shows why Sam was eager to leave Hong Kong, because it really captured that sense that I think a lot of gay couples feel that you can only really be yourselves when you're outside the glare of the public eye.  I know that Robinson isn't gay, but, man, he really got that.  But, rather than just focus on the personal, Robinson throws us an enormous curveball here.  I mean, I did NOT see the train explosion coming.  First, we have no idea why it exploded.  Is someone trying to kill Alan?  Or, did he just happen to be on the train?  Second, it raises all sorts of questions.  Is Sam going to survive?  I'm actually guessing that he won't, just because it's difficult for heroes to be in relationships, and a dead fiancĂ© is a pretty good back story.  Third, did anyone else notice that flash of green in the train in the middle of the explosion?  I can't wait for the next issue to see what happens.

Finally (then I'll stop raving), Robinson starts moving some other pieces on the board.  As I mentioned, we're introduced to Mr. Terrific here, but we also get a brief introduction of Hawkgirl, who seems to know a lot about the events happening in this issue that anyone else.  We also get other hints about the world around us, like how Tylerchem (the company for which Jay's girlfriend, Joan, went to work) bought Waynetech.  Seriously, I bought this title on a whim and it's fast becoming one of my favorites.  If only "Justice League" were this good!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #10:  Since the start of the Court of Owls arc, Snyder has been building a story that promised to change our understanding of Batman, hinting at truths that we (and he) did not yet know about him.  Snyder has strongly hinted that we would learn that the Court of Owls had been responsible for the deaths of Bruce's parents and, as I've previously mentioned, he has so excelled at carefully weaving the Court through Gotham's history that I actually think I would've believed it, as if Kane himself had intended this version of Batman's origin story to be told one day.  Instead, Snyder goes somewhere else in this penultimate issue of the ongoing saga, summoning a brother "from the other side of the mirror."

I am cautiously optimistic about this turn of events.  We could be seeing the birth of a new Simon Hurt or Thomas Elliot.  A lot depends, however, on where Snyder goes from here.

All of the comments and questions that follow underline the most interesting thing about this issue, the fact that Snyder essentially shifts this story 180 degrees.  The Court of Owls suddenly goes from the primary antagonist to a simple MacGuffin, a means to getting us to the end, the revelation of Lincoln as the brother of Bruce.  Snyder pays lip service to the Court's importance, hinting at a larger conspiracy, other chapters in other cities.  But, it's Lincoln who steals the show.  March is essentially Hush with a soul, carrying a lament against Bruce that comes from a more emotional (and less sociopathic) place.  But, for Snyder to sell me this story in a way that doesn't feel like a cheap ret-con, even with all his talent, he needs to address some issues.

Let's discuss the questions he does answer first.

He seems to answer (though not explicitly) question #2 from my "On the 'Night of the Owls'" post, namely, whether or not the Court knew Bruce's identity.  Here, we learn that Lincoln figured out the fact that Bruce is Batman after he successfully survives the assassination attempt in issue #2.  I have to applaud Snyder for tweaking the age-old device, where heroes in their normal civilian identities are forced to engage in amazing physical feats to save a loved one, and the loved one decides, after the dust settles, that it was just an uncharacteristic athletic display inspired by the situation.  Instead, Lincoln does, in fact, realize that regular ol' Bruce Wayne could not fight a Talon as they entered a several-storey free fall, coming to the conclusion that he's Batman.  Snyder also informs us that the Court thought that killing Bruce would be easy, which seems to imply that the Court also didn't know.  As such, it seems feasible that, after Lincoln deduced Bruce's identity, he informed the Court, inspiring it to send the plethora of Talons after him in issue #8.  Snyder might do more to clarify this issue, but, if he doesn't, I'm still going to consider this question resolved.

He also seems to wrap up the Waynes' relationships with the Court (question #3, for those keeping track at home).  Snyder finally portrays the Court in this issue as the elites of Gotham who are using the Court as a way to remain the elite.  It's been implied previously, but we see it the most clearly here, with Batman's confrontation with the wealthy woman in her penthouse apartment.  It's pretty clear that the civic-minded Waynes wouldn't be part of any such organization, and, in fact, Snyder uses Martha's fight with the Mayor, who's pretty clearly allied with the Court, as a way to underline this point.  After all, the Court presumably went after Bruce (before it learned of his identity) because of his plans to change Gotham, so it's obvious that the Court has long viewed the Waynes as a thorn in its side.  I'm going to give Snyder credit for answering this question, despite the fact that I think we still need to hear more about it, particularly as it relates to the Court's relationship with Lincoln March.

OK, so, let's address Lincoln March.  I'm going to add two questions to my list that need to be answered for me to buy this story (and anoint Snyder as the greatest comic-book author of all time):

4) If Martha gave birth to another child when Bruce was a toddler, then why did Alfred and Bruce not know about him?  Lincoln pointedly notes that Bruce was old enough to remember his mother's pregnancy, and Jarvis explicitly mentions Martha's pregnancy to Alfred in his letter in this issue.  (Even if the letter didn't make it to Alfred, it seems pretty reasonable that, at some point, Alfred would've learned that Martha had been pregnant with another child.)  The only reasonable explanation is that Martha and Thomas led everyone to believe that he had died.  It's unclear what problem afflicted Lincoln (more on that in the next section), since he only refers to the fact that he was "born hurt."  Snyder is careful to go to great lengths not to paint Bruce's parents in too poor of a light, stressing that they sent him to the WIllowwood Home, the "satellite hospital for children suffering from mental illness and neurological disorders," and funded it to ensure that it was, in Lincoln's own words, "a premier children's hospital."  Now, the Waynes could've obviously still lied about Lincoln's existence, despite giving him excellent care.  However, I find it hard to believe that they hid his birth.  First, the whole story turns on the fact that Martha was wearing the WIllowwood pin in her portrait, something that I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have done had she been trying to cover up her child's presence there.  Why call attention to a child that you're trying to hide?  Second, from a practical stand-point, it seems like a stretch for us to believe that the Waynes left no instructions for the care of their second child in the event of their untimely deaths.  I mean, no one knew of his existence?  You'd think someone would've known and been able to inform Alfred that he needed to provide for the child.  Obviously, Snyder has to resolve this disconnect for me to buy this story.  After all, if the Waynes weren't hiding Lincoln's existence, then why didn't Alfred or Bruce do anything about him?  Did Alfred really just let Bruce's brother stay at Willowwod after the Waynes' death, not caring what happened to him?  If Martha had been public about Lincoln's presence at the Home, did none of her friends or associates "remind" Bruce of his brother as he grew older?  Given Bruce's obsession over family, would we really be expected to believe that he never researched him if he had known about it?  Snyder is going to have to be a lot clearer on the mechanics of how Lincoln was hidden, in a way that seems believable (and accounts for the Willowwood pin and the practical questions) for me to buy the story.

5) Why did the Court decide to go after Lincoln?  Snyder does a good job making Lincoln's resurrection as the bad guy believable.  It makes sense that Lincoln used the Talon serum to cheat death, as does his decision to turn against the Court, given that it decided to try to kill him.  But, why?  Why did it try to kill him?  What wasn't he doing that it wanted him to do?  It's a key question, because it fuels his eventual rebellion against the Court (and the events of this issue).  It's pretty clear that the Court embraced Lincoln because of his connection to the Waynes.  Why suddenly cut loose that connections?  (Moreover, as a side question, how did they resolve Lincoln's disability, whatever it was?  I mean, if he were so disabled that he had to be raised in an institution, you have to wonder how he suddenly became the strapping man that we've seen here.)

As I mentioned before, one of the problems with this 180-degree turn is that I'm worried we're just going to leave some of the lingering questions about this arc behind.  As such, I hope Snyder returns to my only remaining question from my previous post, namely, what the Court intended to accomplish with the "Night of the Owls."  We see more evidence in this issue -- the Mayor's heavy-handed treatment of Martha -- that the Court has not acted as quietly in the background as we've been lead to believe, adding it to the revelations that several Talons have been exposed over the course of the Court's existence.  The Court clearly blew the lid off the jar with the "Night of the Owls," since it could no longer hide its presence in the city.  Are we supposed to believe that it was the actions of a rogue grouping?  Did the Court hope to so cower public officials that no one would've investigated their actions?  Both seem like serious stretches, and I hope we get some insight into the question.

Of course, in the end, March just might be crazy.  Bruce, after all, refers to him as "old friend" in the Morgue, leading me to believe that he knows Lincoln's identity and it's not his forgotten brother.  Is it Hush?  It could be.  It fits his M.O.  Is it Hurt?  It definitely could be.  Snyder is too careful of a writer to just throw out that sort of comment, so I'm not entirely sold that we've seen the real version of events in this issue.

I'd be remiss, before concluding, if I didn't mention the art.  First, we learn here why Capullo has been drawing March so similar to Bruce, for the obvious reason.  But, Capullo gives us all sorts of beautiful moments.  He truly shines with the owl motif related to the wealthy woman taking the elevator to her penthouse apartment on the first page.  From the necklace she's wearing to the insignia the doors sport, Capullo emphasizes the idea that the Court has been hiding in plain sight all along.  But, he also gives us subtler moments.  I thought he did a remarkable job somehow conveying the warmth between Alfred and Bruce's relationship in the scene in his den.  He gets across the sense of the love and affection that the two men share, but in a way that still keeps them stuffy and uptight like they always are.  It's truly remarkably to behold and reminds you why Capullo is an equal partner to Snyder in this venture.

Taking a step back, it's interesting that Snyder has decided to go this direction.  Given the nefarious organizations that seem to dominate the DCnU, from the D.E.O. to N.O.W.H.E.R.E., Snyder feints with another one, the Court of Owls, only to go down a more personal road, giving us a villain who strikes at Bruce directly.  The greatest tragedy of Bruce's life isn't just that Bruce lost his parents, but the concomitant loneliness that came with their sudden loss.  Writers throughout Batman's history have used that tragedy to create villains who take advantage of it, loved ones who betray him.  You have temporary characters, like Jezebel Jet, whose betrayals are more superficial, because they were an obvious means to an end.  But, you have other characters, like Jason Todd and Thomas Elliot, whose betrayals are all the more devastating for the fact that they come from personal vendettas born from the fact that they were within the small number of people that he has managed to consider his family.  The loss of Jason and the insanity of Elliot plague Bruce, because their hatred of him comes from who he is, not what he could do for them.  I could think of nothing more awful for Bruce than the loss of a brother that he had never known that he had, whose very existence, had it been revealed to him, would've changed the entire direction of his life.  Snyder seems to be creating a villain who strikes at the core of the Batman myth, and it's why I so desperately want him to answer the questions that I've posed here, to make this ret-con work so seamlessly that I buy it, hook, line, and sinker.  We need to know what the Court intended to do with the Night of the Owls, we need to know why Martha and Thomas hid Lincoln's existence (if indeed they did), and we need why the Court cut loose Lincoln (or, put another way, we need to know more about its relationship with Lincoln).  If we get answers to all these questions, this arc will be one of the greatest comic stories ever told.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On the "Night of the Owls"

I like to think of the "Night of the Owls" as the part of a good date that doesn't go so well.  You meet, you have a great time grabbing a drink, you have a fun conversation over dinner, and you decide to keep the date going.  But, it's a bad idea.  You don't really have anything in mind, so you spend some time wandering the streets looking for a place to go.  The conversation dies down a bit as you search, because the first bar was too loud, and the second bar was too quiet, and you start to worry that maybe you don't have as much in common as you thought you did when you were exhanging hilarious anecdotes from your childhood.  One of you mentions that s/he has an early meeting, and you realize that you really need to find a great place to save the date, to have one last drink and one last laugh to make sure that everyone leaves the night feeling OK about it and guaranteeing that you'll make it to the second date.

At this point, I have a morning meeting and Scott Snyder is trying to find that great place.

I loved "Batman" #1-#7.  I thought that Snyder told a gripping story that kept the reader guessing by revealing little information about the central plot itself.  He hinted at dark conspiracies, of centuries' old shadowy organizations, of diabolical intrigue that strikes at the heart of the Wayne family.  He managed to do it without engaging in cheap theatrics to keep the story going in an artificial manner.  It was some of the tightest writing I've ever read in a comic book.

But, "Night of Owls" might have been a narrative step too far.  It has extended the story to the point where the questions about the motivations of the Court and its ties to Gotham need to be answered for anything to make sense.  I've read through my previous reviews, including those for "Batman" #1-#7, and I feel like Snyder, in fairly short order, has to answer these three questions:

1) How did the Court manage to stay in the shadows?  Snyder spent a good part of "Batman" #1-#7 proving that the Court had actually been working in the shadows for generations, but we've never gotten any sort of explanation of how it managed to remain so.  How did it escape Bruce's notice?  Moreover, how did it escape anyone's notice?  We learn that at least two Talons had been seen by other people, as seen in "All Star Western" and "Catwoman" #9, and at least two had to kill a lot of people to cover their tracks, as seen in "Batman:  The Dark Knight" and "Batwing" #9.  Did it really manage to escape detection if so many Talons screwed up their assignments?  I mean, those four Talons probably represent a decent chunk of the last few Talon generations.  It seems like someone would stumble onto something leading to the Court at some point.  Moreover, it raises the additional question of how it intends to stay in the shadows after the "Night of the Owls?"  You have to assume at this point it no longer cares about staying in the shadows, since, even if it killed everyone on its hit list, someone with authority in Gotham would survive to investigate why 40 of its elite citizens were killed in one night.  So, Snyder not only has to answer the question of how it managed to stay in the shadows, but what it plans on doing now that it clearly can no longer stay there.

2) We need to address whether or not the Court did, or did not, know Bruce's identity.  Let's take the "It didn't know" category first.  First, we have the Talons' clear shock in "Batman" #8 that Bruce was Batman.  However, it makes sense that the Court wouldn't necessarily tell the Talons everything, so I don't think that piece of information confirms or challenges any suppositions.  Second, as seen in issue #5, Bruce believes the Court didn't de-mask him while he was trapped in its labyrinth as a way to prove how irrelevant he (and his secret identity) was.  It's implied there that the Court didn't already know his identity.  However, that argument could pretty easily be dismissed as Bruce trying to ignore the obvious, not believing that the Court knew his identity.  Now, let's review the "It did know" category.  First, it seems pretty clear to me that the Court knew Dick's identity as Nightwing all along, since he was supposed to be a Talon.  In fact, issue #7 contains hints that part of the Court's anger at Bruce is the fact that he denied it its Talon.  I mean, if the Court paid any attention at all to Dick after he came under Bruce's wing, it would know that he's Nightwing and Bruce is Batman.  (If Tim Drake do the math, the Court could.)  Second, as I mentioned in my review of issue #8, I find it hard to believe that the Court would've sent the sheer volume of Talons after Bruce if it didn't know that he was Batman.  Looking at the evidence, I feel that the "It did know" category has WAY too many points in its column for it not to be true, but I also feel that Snyder has cast enough doubt over the answer that he's going to need to definitively address the issue, one way or another, for me to feel satisfied.

3) The identity question may seem like continuity-nerd obsessiveness, but it's not, because at the center of this entire saga is the question of the Waynes' connection to the Court of Owls.  Were they part of it?  Were they enemies of it?  Did the Court kill Bruce's parents?  Was Bruce supposed to be a Talon?  Snyder has in part built the story on the connection that Bruce's family has to the Court, so the issue of the Court knowing his identity (or not) is no small question.

For this saga to be a success, to my mind, Snyder has to answer these three questions.  The "Night of the Owls" proved to be more or less a distraction from getting these answers.  Instead, it was clearly a way for DC to capitalize on the success Snyder had on this title by getting people like me to buy more issues.  Fine.  I accept that.  Let's say that DC is the old college friend who actually just happened to be at the noisy bar where Snyder and I went after dinner.  It talked and talked about the old days, while Snyder got uncomfortable that the friend was going to reveal too much and I got bored listening about their fraternity antics.  We finally left, but then we went to that quiet bar, and now we're pounding the pavement trying to find a place to go where we can try to recover our mojo.  My feet hurt and I really just want to go home so I can get a decent night's sleep before my morning meeting.  But, until the old college roommate appeared, I was having a good time, so I'm willing to give Snyder a chance.  I'm willing to look past 'Night of the Owls" and let Snyder shine again.  But, to do so, he has to answer those three questions.  Then I'll let him take me on a second date.

New Comics!: The "Night of the Owls" Edition #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm starting a new review for this next group of issues, despite having read them at the same time as those issues in the "Night of the Owls" Edition #3 review, because my guess is that we're going to see a shift from the peripherial members of the Bat-family engaging the Talons to the core characters attacking the Court in full, given that we're dealing with two series involving former Robins and two series involving Batman himself.  We shall see, I guess.  To be honest, I feel like it's time to start drawing the event to a close.  Although I enjoyed the skirmishes depicted in "Batman and Robin," "Batwing," "Birds of Prey," and "Catwoman," none of them were really essentially to the plot.  Ten issues into this event, we still really have no idea who the Court is or what motivates it, beyond some vague sense of balancing out power in Gotham.  It's time to get the show on the road.

Nightwing #9:  We get the final part of Cobb's history here, where he reveals that Dick Grayson is the descendant of Cobb's son, who he conceived with the daughter of one of Gotham's elite and who the elite stole from him becuase he was not part of it.  He avenged that rejection by stealing the baby and entrusting it to be raised with Haly's circus, setting in motion the events that would lead Dick to being raised in the circus.  Higgins does an admirable job of making it seem like we're reading the secret history of Dick Grayson that his creators always intended, an echo of what I feel like Snyder is doing in "Batman" by keeping alive the lurking possibility that the Court was behind the murder of Bruce's parents.  However, Cobb's knowledge of Dick again raises the question, for me, of how the Court didn't know Bruce's identity as Batman.  If Cobb knew Dick was Nightwing, the Court knew Bruce was Batman.  Period.  At some point, Snyder is going to have to address this discrepancy because, for me, it's a huge hole in the event's plot.  Otherwise, I have to say that I was confused by the action sequences in this issue.  When we last left Dick, he appeared to have been skewered from behind with three knives.  Here, we see that it was from the front, making it much more likely that his body armor halted most of the knives' penetrations.  However, even with this clarification, it still gets hard to believe that Dick is able to withstand the abuse delivered on him here.  By my count, he suffers four direct stab wounds and essentially falls off a multiple-storey bulding.  I would buy the idea that he barely manages to survive the fight, but, instead, Higgins has him carting off Cobb's body, something that apparently takes little effort from the way Barrows drew it.  It's not the most realistic portrayal of Nightwing, who doesn't have regenerative powers like the Talons (unless we're arguing that he does, thanks to the dental implant).  Overall, like "Batman" #9, I found this issue to drop the ball on a number of important threads that I had hoped it would actually help resolve.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #9:  As expected, this issue also moved forward some plot points.  First, we learn that it was Batgirl who took off the Owlsignal from the Batsignal, explaining why it had returned to normal when Catwoman appeared alongside it in "Catwoman" #9.  Second, we learn that Victor Fries is on the Court's list because he helped it re-animated the dead Talons.  But, perhaps more interestingly, from the perspective of "Red Hood and the Outlaws" and not necessarily of the "Night of the Owls," we learn a little more about Jason's standing with the Bat-family.  As I've mentioned as I've reviewed this series, I've wondered if the DCnU Jason might have committed a bit fewer crimes than the DCU version (in part due to my long-standing hope that everyone will just be able to hug out their anger one day), but Babs' response to seeing Jason confirms that he was, in fact, the homicidal maniac that he used to be.  I think Lobdell, therefore, is just using this event to signify that, at some point, the door may open to Jason's reconciliation with the Bat-family (given his willingness to help in this issue), but we've got a long way before it happens.  I'm OK with that.  Babs is a law-and-order kind of girl, and Tim probably had her specifically in mind when he mentioned last issue that he hoped other members of the Bat-family would eventually understand that Jason returning from the dead was, you know, a lot to handle and maybe sent him to Crazy Town for a little while.  To be honest, Lobdell probably does the best job of any of the authors so far of using the tie-in issue to move forward some plot points in the ongoing series and not just servicing the cross-over event.  He also manages to give us some insight into Jason, since it's not really all that much of a stretch to see the parallels between Jason and the Talons.  (Returned from the dead as an assassin?  Check.)  Jason is facing down his demons, trying to atone for his past (even if he doesn't quite admit it), unlike the Talon in this issue, who just wants to return to his death.  I felt like Lobdell used this contrast to give Jason kudos for having the courage to start trying to deal with his past, rather than simply seeking to escape it, like the Talon is.  Plus, Koriand'r and Roy's battle with Mr. Freeze is pretty damn great.  All in all, it's one of the better installments of this series and the event.

All Star Western #9:  I...don't have the faintest clue what happened in this issue, let alone how it connected to the "Night of the Owls."  Seriously.  No idea.  The narrator in the first story is allegedly someone working with Hex, but, other than the person he kills on the first page (which would presumably make it difficult for him to go on narrating), I have no idea who it is.  I could continue, but the less said about this issue the better.

Batman:  The Dark Knight #9:  This issue raises for me the question that has been nagging me over the course of this event, namely why the Court of Owls is risking exposing itself now.  The Talon in this issue talks about the Court retiring him because he had too often been seen, but, by the nature of this event, the Court is also allowing itself to be seen.  Why is it OK now?  I'll address this issue more in the "Night of the Owls" wrap-up post that I'm writing, but I thought I'd mention it here.  Otherwise, this issue is mostly a study of the Talon sent to kill Lincoln March, not, as the cover would have you believed, a battle between Red Robin and a Talon (hello, pet peeve #2, it's been a while).  As such, I don't really have all that much to say about it, since it doesn't really explore the death of Lincoln March, as it does depict more details about it.

Batman Annual #1:  Holy effing crap.  This issue is as amazing as everyone said it was.  The revelation that Nora was never Fries' wife was nothing short of brilliant.  It is, to my mind, the best change in the DCnU that I've seen.  For most of this issue, I kept wondering why Bruce was so adamant in denying Fries the opportunity to help his wife.  Bruce seemed (forgive the pun) remarkably cold when dealing with Fries just before his accident, refusing to allow him to leave with Nora after firing him for pursuing his own research.  Bruce isn't that type of guy normally, and I was wondering if Snyder wanted us to believe, as Bruce himself asserts in his initial meeting with Fries, that it was just his poor social skills from too much time abroad that made him so cold.  But, the revelation that it had nothing to do with Bruce's social skills, but it was instead Bruce trying to keep Fries from stealing a woman who wasn't, actually, his wife, made perfect sense.  It shows Fries' psychosis, putting him on the same level as the Joker and Two-Face.  Yes, he "loved" his wife, but he actually just loved the idea of a wife frozen in the cold.  Mr. Freeze has always been the tragic hero, driven to crime (and his powers) from his devotion to his wife.  Snyder and Tynion don't changet that motivation here, but instead tweak it to make it actually make sense.  One of my problems with Mr. Freeze in his DCU iteration is that it always seemed a stretch that Freeze so quickly embraced murder and theft as part of his devotion to Nora.  Snyder and Tynion actually correct this flaw, showing that Freeze is, at heart, a psychopath, explaining why the killing and stealing was necessary.  They also manage to work it into the "Night of the Owls" more flawlessly than other tie-in issues of this cross-over event, explaining that Freeze's motivation was to use the Court's resources to find a way to reanimate the Talons and, in so doing, develop a cure for Nora.  "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #9 didn't go into this detail, but it's an important (and brilliant) one.  Moreover, Snyder and Tynion show the scene at the end with Fries' mother to show us how Fries often acts from a sense of moral purpose, even if it's misguided.  He's helping his mother here, even if he's killing her.  He's trying to save his wife, even if she's not actually his wife.  It shows that something's wrong with him, but still gives him a moral compass that maintains the sense of tragedy that his character has always had.  The only negative I can think of mentioning about this issue is that I'm not 100 percent sure what happens with his mother at the end.  Why did she have the two goggle-esque cuts on her hand?  Did she do that?  At any rate, it's a brilliant issue and I think I'm going to have to read it again to let it wash over me!  (Plus, we get a brief but awesome reunion of Nightwing and Robin, which alone makes me a happy camper.)

New Comics!: The "Night of the Owls" Edition #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #9:  This issue is a bit of a mixed bag.  In the plus column, Simone gives us the clearest expression of the Court of the Owls' goal for the "Night of the Owls," using a Court member's conversation with Commissioner Gordon to stress that the point is that Gotham won't have a savior to rescue it.  In the "I'm not sure how I feel about it" column, I thought Simone gave us a controversial portrait of Gordon, showing him initially bowing to the Court's instructions not to take any action against it as it strikes against Gotham's elite.  Thankfully, Simone has Gordon eventually dismiss those instructions when he first starts learning of the assassinations and the Court itself notes that it didn't really expect him to abide by them.  (In fact, it was planning on him not doing so, so that he would eventually illuminate the Owlsignal.)  But, I think that it's pretty easy to argue that his initial inaction cost the lives of several of the prominent persons, since Gordon probably had enough time to put protection on them.  Simone portrays the conflict between his daughter and his duty well enough to make it work, but I think that it's still a stretch to imply that Jim Gordon would allow political leaders to be assassintated under any circumstances, regardless of the personal consequences.  (Moreover, given that it was probably likely that Gordon would go to the Batsignal once the assassinations began, even if the Court hadn't manipulated him into doing so, it seems a little odd that the Court would decide to expose itself.  The only reason I can think of Simone using to justify the Court approaching Gordon is that it was part of a psychological attack against Gordon.  By getting him not to use the Batisgnal (and knowing that he would do so anyway) through its threat against Barbara, the Court made Gordon wait, throwing him off his game as the guilt in him built as the chaos started to erupt around him.)  On the negative side, I'm still not really sure where Simone was going with the Talon not killing Barbara when they first fought.  I'm particularly confused about the scene at the end where someone -- I think the Talon, but it could be Barbara -- writes about understanding because she, too, has a mask.  If it was the Talon, am I supposed to believe that she's bucking her training?  Because, I'm pretty sure, if she was alive enough to scrawl out that message, she's alive enough to re-engage Barbara in a fight.  All in all, it's not a terrible issue (particularly given some of the other "Night of the Owls" issues), but it's not a particularly good one, since, as I did in "Batman" #9 with Bruce's decision to save Jeremiah Arkham over Lincoln March, I'm left questioning the characterization of a major character (Bruce there, Gordon here).

Batman and Robin #9:  So far, to my mind, this issue and "Batwing" #9 have done the best job of addressing the main point of this cross-over event, namely showing the Bat-family members going about the task of protecting the prominent people on the Court's hit list to the best of their ability.  Whereas "Batgirl" and "Detective Comics" swerved into odd moments of characterization, this issue and "Batwing" presented fairly accurate portrayals of their protagonists.  Damian essentially takes over an entire battalion in order to keep Gotham's Adjutant General safe.  Tomasi does a good job giving us some background on the Talon sent to kill the general, developing the idea that Talons are eventually deactivated in favor of another one.  I think, before this issue, I assumed that the Talons that the Court activated were future Talons that had yet to be activated, not past Talons who were lying in stasis.  Tomasi presents this important background in a way that doesn't distract from the action sequences or raise unnecessary questions about the overall cross-over event's plot.  Just like "Batwing" #9, this issue isn't essential to "Night of Owls," but I think it does a good job of really capturing the spirit of it.

Birds of Prey #9:  I think I'm missing something with this issue.  Why was the Talon after the Birds of Prey?  I'm not sure who Katana or Starling are, but I'm pretty sure that neither Canary nor Poison Ivy ranks on the hit list of Gotham's elite.  Why attack them, then?  I mean, this issue does a fine job, like "Batman and Robin" and "Batwing" #9, of giving us an engaging fight with a Talon, but I feel like Swierczynski needed to do a better job of letting us know why they were targeted.

Catwoman #9
:  Like "Birds of Prey," this issue falls a little short of the "Batman and Robin"/"Batwing" seal of approval due to a question I have about its tie to the larger "Night of the Owls" event.  At the very end, Selina drops off the body of the Talon next to an illuminated Batsignal.  The problem, however, is that, last we knew, the Batsignal had been changed to an Owlsignal (as depicted in both "Batgirl" and "Batman" #9).  As such, either that particular problem has been resolved, which is entirely possible since the events of this issue happen at 2:03 am, or Winick goofed.  I'm guessing it's the former, but it leads me to wonder why exactly DC wanted us to read this issue in this order.  Beyond that problem, though, it's a perfectly fine tie-in issue.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wolverine and the X-Men #11:  I've previously mentioned how impressed I've been with how well "AVX:VS" and the three X-books have taken ideas and plots first introduced in the main mini-series and expanded on them in a way that blends together the main series and the supporting series perfectly, going so far as using the same battle sequences and dialogue bubbles to show where the tie-in issues fit into the main mini-series.  Aaron perfects that approach here, filling in the gaps of Hope and Wolverine's journey from Antarctica to the Moon that we first saw in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4.  Their battle with the Shi'Ar death commandos feels like something that easily could've happened between panels ub "Avengeres vs. X-Men" #4 and shows why Wolverine decided not to kill Hope, a question that I felt that issue didn't really address.  Here, we see that it's because he comes to realize that he can't kill a child.  He mentions that he used to be able to kill anyone anywhere, but he realizes, given his dedication to the students at the school, that he's just not that guy anymore.  It's a totally believable reason, showing his character's growth over the last few years.  It explains why he hesitated in killing her in Antarctica and why he felt the need to call in the Avengers after the battle with the Shi'Ar.  In fact, I feel like Aaron manages to show Logan's reasoning here better than he did in "X-Men:  Schism," and it's always a thrill from me to see comic-book characters acting on sound human responses rather than complicated plot motivations.  If you're only intermittently picking up tie-in issues, I'd highly recommend this one, because it really helps develop an important aspect of the ongoing plot of the main series.  Aaron gets two thumbs up this time!  (Yay, I like an issue of this series!)

X-Men Legacy #267:  Gage continues to do the best job, to my mind, of showing the X-Men's side of the story.  In fact, Rogue's troubles in assimilating Moon Knight and She-Hulk's personnas are all the proof that you need to see that Cap is off his rocker.  You send the rage monster and the crazy guy on a delicate mission, with only the Falcon to supervise them?  I mean, sure, as "Iron Man" and Rogue both note, Moon Knight and She-Hulk are more in control of their crazy and their rage, respectively, than Rogue would be, since they've had years to work on it.  But, still, it seems pretty obvious that Cap could've maybe chosen two more diplomatic members of the Avengers roster for a job that, almost by definition, required a soft touch.  I mean, Sam's a social worker, not a miracle worker.  As Rogue says in this issue, the episode at the School shows how the Avengers view the X-Men as criminals, something that Scott has been arguing all along, though I haven't really seen as clear as an example of this position as I do here.  (Though, it does now make me more sympathetic to Scott's assertion that bringing a Helicarrier full of Avengers to Utopia in case he refused to turn over Hope was maybe a little more aggressive than Cap needed to be if he actually considered them allies and not enemies.  Of course, even if the Avengers are wrong in viewing the X-Men as criminals, it doesn't make the X-Men right in viewing Hope as a "savior," something that, at the end of the day, is actually the relevant issue at play.)  Gage continues to do great work with Rogue here, showing her struggling -- and succeeding -- to confront her past as not only a criminal but as a mutant, as someone who couldn't control her powers.  Her victory here not only shows how far she's come, but raises interesting questions about the future.  Has she absorbed the personnas of the Falcon, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk permanently, as she used to do?  Or, now that she's more in control of her powers, will she be able to find a way to divest herself of these personnas?  The issue provides some great moments and reminds us that the X-Men are more emotionally invested in this fight than the Avengers are.  All in all, an excellent issue.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New Comics!: The "Night of the Owls" Edition #2

Detective Comics #9:  This issue reminded me how glad I am that I stopped getting this series.  It's a mess.  First, we see that Batman and Nightwing have miraculously escaped the challenges they faced at the end of "Batman" #8 and "Nightwing" #8, with nary an explanation of how they did so.  (I'm reading these issues in the order that DC has recommended, so I feel like it's a valid complaint if the issues don't flow as smoothly as they should.)  But, more annoyingly, this issue only tangentially ties into the events happening elsewhere in the "Night of the Owls."  I mean, sure, it involves Batman saving Jeremiah Arkham from Talons, but the main focus of it is the exploration of the DCnU version of Jeremiah Arkham and his connection to the Black Mask.  We learn here that he "borrowed" the Black Mask from Roman Sionis at some point, making me wonder if we're being lead to believe that Dick's confrontation with Arkham's Black Mask (portrayed across "Batman" #689-#697) is in tact.  I have two problems with this approach.  First, I find it hard to believe that Arkham would be so quickly rehabilitated that Gotham would put him in charge of the Asylum once again.  Second, these stories that focus on changes between the DCU and the DCnU have just not been as interesting as I think DC wants them to be.  I mean, I wanted them to be interesting, too.  But, they just haven't been.  They've proven to be more annoying, because it's a reminder that DC is screwing with us.  For example, I loved Dick's time as Batman, and every time we are reminded of it obliquely, as we are here, I'm annoyed all over again that DC seems intent to sweep it under the rug.  This issue is a classic example of that problem.  I'm left focusing more on trying to piece together the characters' comments to see if they clarify how the DCnU Arkham fits with the DCU Arkham than I am focusing on the story itself.  It's odd to me that Daniel decided to use the "Night of the Owls" cross-over event to address the Arkham situation, given that it forces the event to the background.  As such, we really don't see anything more here concerning "Night of the Owls" than Batman rescuing Arkham, something that, to be honest, seems an odd decision, given that I can't say that I feel like Arkham merited Bruce's personal attention more than Commissioner Gordon or Lincoln March.  In the end, I felt like Daniel had trouble keep all these balls in the air, veering from the exploration of Arkham and his Black Mask past and his stabs at addressing the "Night of the Owls" event.  To me, it was the same problem that I've always had with Daniel's writing, where I just feel like something is a little...off.  At any rate, it's a pretty forgettable issue.  You can tell that it was added to the "Night of the Owls" roster late, and I'm happy to move onto the next installment.

Batwing #9:  It's been a while since I've read anything by Judd Winick, and I forgot how excellent he is at pacing a story.  This issue hits the ground running, spending the minimal time necessary to set up the scenario for the issue and then throwing us right into the action.  Winick also does a much better job than Daniel in explaining why Batwing is saving the person that he's saving.  Although still coincidental, it was perfectly plausible that Batwing was at "Batman Incorporated" HQ to have Lucius Fox upgrade his armor and thus on hand at a gala reception for the "company" later that evening to protect Lucius from the Talons.  I can't say this issue is all that essential to the main "Night of the Owls" story, because we don't really reference anything happening in the other books, other than Alfred's call to the Bat-family from "Batman" #8.  But, it's definitely an enjoyable addition that doesn't suffer the same problems with competing priorities as "Detective Comics" #9 did.  Winick gives us a hint of who Batwing is and what world he inhabits, but keeps the focus on the event itself.  It really serves the purpose of cross-over events, because I have to say that, if I weren't already frequently breaking my comics budget, I would consider picking up this series after the event ended. 

Batman #9:  In my review of "Batman" #2, I expressed my hope that Lincoln March would become the confidante that Bruce once thought that Harvey Dent might become, before his "accident."  That hope dies with this issue, when the Court successfully kills off March.

I'm disappointed with Snyder killing off March for two reasons.  First, I feel like he has succumbed, uncharacteristically, to the apparent prerequisite to have someone die for a cross-over event to "mean something."  Second, it again raises the question I mentioned in the review of "Detective Comics" #9, namely, why Bruce decided to save Jeremiah Arkham over Lincoln March.  To me, Bruce had to have known that he was, at least potentially, facing this "Sophie's choice," and it seems odd to me that he chose Arkham.  First, it's pretty easy to see where March would have had a much more positive impact on the city than Arkham.  Second, as Arkham himself noted in "Detective Comics" #9, he was essentially in a fortress full of guards, where March was just in his office by himself (and pretty obviously a target of the Court as well, given the events of previous issues of this series).  Are we saying that Bruce isn't calculating enough to make the decision between the two of them?  Does Snyder want me to believe that he went in alphabetical order?  I had hoped that this issue would explain Bruce's reasoning, but it doesn't; his decision is merely relayed to Alfred as he speeds from the Batcave.

Speaking of the Batcave, I'm also disappointed in the way the fight ends.  The return of the bats that live in the Cave to take out the Talons is a metaphor that feels overly forced on this issue, again, in a way uncharacteristic of Snyder, who generally employs metaphors much more subtly.  One minute, we've got Bruce in his armor taking out the Talons, the next minute he's suddenly facing imminent death, and then the next minute the bats save him.  Really?

Continuing on a theme, I'm disappointed in how quickly this issue wraps up the overall fight with the Talons.  Other than his odd appearance at Arkham Asylum, we never actually really see Bruce in the mix, with the action happening in the various Bat-family titles.  He fights off the Talons in the Cave, pops into the Asylum, and goes to March, where Alfred informs him that the Talons have been subdued.  I understand that it sets up his fight with the Court, something he pledges to bring to its house at the end, but it's a fairly abrupt end to the fight.  Given that the event has nine issues left and most of those will presumably address the fights that Alfred informs us are already over by the end of this issue, it feels anticlimactic.

The most interesting part of this issue is the back-up story, where Snyder seems to be laying the groundwork, as I mentioned in my review of issue #2, for the revelation that the Court killed Bruce's parents.  It's not yet clear, but Snyder is (successfully) toying with us as Jarvis, Alfred's father, reveals, in a letter to a young Alfred, that the Court targeted Bruce's parents while Bruce was still a child and claims that it was all Jarvis' fault.

All in all, my thesaurus apparently doesn't have enough recommendations for the term "disappointed."  Given that I think Snyder doesn't successfully sell the fact that he has Bruce chose Arkham over March, the dramatic moment on which this entire event is supposed to turn fell flat for me, taking me outside the story, something that rarely happens in a Snyder comic.  But, with nine issues left, I'm willing to reserve judgment to see how he and the other authors now handle Bruce's now-personal crusade against the Court.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

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

Exiled #1:  OK, as expected, Gillen and DnA (GnDnA?) spend most of this issue setting up the story that they're going to tell over the next four issues.  We learn about the Disir, shieldmaidens of the former King of the Gods, Bor.  He apparently expelled them from Asgard after catching them eating warriors who he had defeated, cursing them to always be hungry but never able to eat.  (I'm not entirely sure why they went all cannibal, but I'm just going to go with it.)  They eventually fell under the sway of Loki, who transferred his power over them to Mephisto in some sort of deal.  GnDnA actually pull off telling that complicated back story pretty well -- particularly since it happens all in the first two pages -- but all that narrative, no matter how successfully it sets the stage, doesn't exactly make for the most exciting of starts.  As the issue progresses, we eventually learn why we care about the Disir:  one of the warriors who the Disir allegedly ate managed to survive somehow and is now living across the street from the New Mutants, watching their every move.  (It seems that they attracted his notice when he observed one of Hela's minions secreting away the Hel-hound that Warlock has been keeping as a pet, though it doesn't explain why he was living across the street from them (and watching them) in the first place.  It appears he might have just been watching them because he's an observant kind of guy, possibly because the Disir have been searching for him.)  When Dani discovers him spying on them, she confronts him and, realizing that she's a Valkyrie, he activates a set of armor that he'd been hiding in his apartment.  In so doing, he brings himself to the attention of the Disir, who break their bonds and flee Hell.  It's pretty clear that we've got a lot of twists and turns ahead of us, but I thought GnDnA did a good job of setting up such an involved story.  Hopefully the next few issues will move a little more quickly than this one did as we get into the fights proper.

Journey into Mystery #637:  First, the intro page was awesome.  Since comics and Dungeons and Dragons overlap significantly in my Venn diagram of nerdiness, I loved the use of Dungeons and Dragons terms to describe the events of the first issue.  But, most importantly?  "Adventures in Babysitting" is probably my favorite movie of all time, if I'm being honest.  I mean, sure, I'm supposed to say that it's something like "Germinal," but, it's not.  It's "Adventures in Babysitting."  As such, this comic is FULL OF WIN not only for giving us the Thor-as-a-mechanic scene but acknowledging that said scene comes FROM "Adventures of Babysitting."  FULL OF WIN!  (Sorry, I just had to repeat that, to accurately portray my excitement.)  The minute Thor appeared on the New Mutants' doorstep as a mechanic, I was like, "OMG, 'Adventures in Babysitting.'"  But, I lost my %&^* when he actually referred to it!  Well effing done, GnDnA!  Well effing done!  Of course, the reason why Thor appears as a mechanic is because Sigurd apparently cast a spell when he went to his armor at the end of last issue and wiped clean the memories of all Asgardians near him.  Apparently, when he recognized Dani as a Valkyrie, he panicked that he had been discovered by the Asgardians and deactivated the shield that hid him from the Disir.  He did so in order to attract them to him so that he could use a spell that Loki gave him to erase their memories.  (Loki apparently gave him this spell when he was Adult Bad Loki and not Kid Mischievous Loki.)  The good news is that the Disir have, in fact, forgotten who they are; they form an eating-disorder support group.  The bad is that all the other Asgardians who had assembled to fight the Aesir when they noticed them convening on Sigurd have also forgotten who they are, which is why Thor suddenly finds himself fixing the New Mutants' car.  Besides the Thor bit, GnDnA play up this premise for yucks (Volstagg runs a bakery, Fandral owns a bar, Hela is a recycler screaming, "Bring out your dead!").  For me, it works.  It probably only works for this issue, but GnDnA make it pretty clear that they're not going to ruin it by dragging out the joke too far, since the New Mutants already remind Kid Loki who he is by the end of the issue.  Based on the ending, where one of the Disir realizes that she can eat whatever she wants (namely, a cat), I'm guessing that Loki and the New Mutants are going to find a way to revive the other Asgardians' memories fairly quickly lest the Disir eat most of San Francisco.

New Mutants #42:  OK, so I'm a little confused by what happens at the end of this issue.  For most of the issue, the New Mutants go about gathering the materials necessary for Kid Loki to cast a counter-spell to undo the spell that Sigurd cast, allowing the Asgardians to remember who they are.  (I'm not entirely sure what was supposed to happen with the Disir, since I'm pretty sure that Sigurd and the New Mutants wouldn't want them to remember who they were, since they would beeline for Sigurd.  But, as you'll see, that becomes a moot point.)  Kid Loki is under the gun because reality is reasserting itself against the spell that Sigurd cast; if he doesn't cast the counter-spell in time, reality will cause Sigurd's spell to snap, killing the Asgardians.  The Asgardians, including the Disir, begin to remember vaguely who they are.  (I think the Disir remember more quickly as a result of finally being able to eat.)  As predicted, the Disir come gunning for Sigurd, and the New Mutants and the recovering Asgardians have to protect him (and the rest of San Francisco).  I get all that.  (I mean, you know, more or less.)  But I didn't get the part about Kid Loki not being Kid Loki.  Are we really supposed to believe that he was just a kid living down the street from the New Mutants, who happened to have Hela as a foster mom?  Without the Hela connection, I might have bought it, but I'm pretty sure that the Hela connection makes it a non-starter.  So, did the spell that Kid Loki cast misfire and make himself forget all over again?  I'm hoping next issue gives us some clarity on that.  I'm also assuming that the Asgardians remembering who they are is really bad, since it means reality must be seriously fighting the spell and ready to burst.  But, no one seems all that concerned about it here, though, admittedly, the New Mutants have a lot on their plate at this point.

Journey into Mystery #638:  OK, so, the twist here is clever.  The shieldmaidens didn't eat the warriors that Bor defeated; they slept with them.  He cursed them with "desiring flesh" after they had, you know, desired flesh, thought in a different way than we were originally led to believe.  Seriously, I so didn't see that coming.  It was unclear from the start of this arc how exactly Sigurd had escaped the shieldmaidens (when it seemed that he had escaped from being eaten) and why the shieldmaiden still hunted him, but here we learn that it's because the curse that Bor put on them stipulated that they had to either kill or marry Sigurd to become their former selves.  (Yeah, I thought it was kind of odd as curses go, too, but at least we got the cannibalism explained.)    But, I still have a bunch of questions that I don't feel like we've seen answered yet.  First, how did the shieldmaidens escape Mephisto in the first place?  Hell isn't generally the type of place you can just leave if you want.  Given that Mephisto obtained the shieldmaidens through a deal with Loki, I'm guessing that it's some sort of detail of their deal.  In re-reading "Exiled" #1, it appears that Loki is on the hook to round up the Disir and return them to Mephisto, lest his role in giving them to Mephisto in the first place is revealed to the other Asgardians.  I'm assuming this issue isn't done (particularly given Amara's, um, connection to Mephisto).  But, in addition to the details of the Loki/Mephisto deal that (presumably) would allow the shieldmaidens to escape once they sensed Sigurd, I'm also a little unclear on what Loki got from the deal with Sigurd.  Sure, he gave him the spell to use if the shieldmaidens ever found him, but what did Loki get in return?  Loki doesn't really just make one-sided deals where he doesn't benefit.  (Also, how did Loki come in possession of the shieldmaidens in the first place?)  I wonder if DnAnG are going to manage to answer all those questions next issue.  Also, it seems that we're no longer worried about the snapping of the spell.  By the Disir marrying Sigurd, does that undo the spell, saving the rest of the Asgardians?  That seems implied here, but I feel like it probably merited DnAnG mentioning it specifically.  Since they didn't, we did seem to suddenly branch into a totally separate plot (Sigurd and his relationship with the Disir) without really addressing the one that had been driving most of the arc (undoing his spell before it broke and killed the Asgardians).  I will say that it still read as a fun issue, but I think I'll be a little disappointed if we don't address some of these outstanding issues in the last issue.

New Mutants #43:  DnAnG actually manage to deliver a fun issue here, even if they don't really address a lot of the loose ends.  I thought it was interesting that they introduced dramatic tension by having Dani rebel against the paternalistic nature of the wedding vows.  I was wondering going into this issue what they were going to do to make this issue interesting, since it wasn't like I was going to be on the edge of my seat reading 20+ pages of Sigurd complaining about getting married.  (That said, I loved that they paired up Sigurd and Sunspot.  When Sigurd first appeared, I actually confused him for 'Berto, so it seemed fitting that they were all buddy-buddy here.  I'd totally buy a buddy comedy mini-series featuring the two of them.)  I thought having Dani rebel was remarkably clever, and it set up the much more satisfying conclusion of Hela and Loki essentially forcing Bor to free the Disir than watching them marry Sigurd.

Although I go into more detail below about the loose ends that GnDnA don't resolve, they do manage to wrap up some of them in this one.  We don't actually ever learn the nature of their deal or how the Disir managed to escape Hell in the first place, but we do get confirmation that Loki was, in fact, on the hook to round up the Disir for Mephisto; his failure to do so is clearly going to cause him problems in the future, I assume in "Journey into Mystery."  (I will say, in terms of "New Mutants," I thought it was weird that we seem to end the Amara/Mephisto relationship so quickly.  As Mephisto himself implies here, I assumed that he (and DnA) had much greater plans for Amara in the future, so it would be weird to just see this sub-plot disappear.  Maybe they felt that they couldn't really go where they wanted with it?  I can't say that it was a sub-plot that felt like it belonged in this title, but it was probably worth at least another issue or two.)

Final Thoughts:  OK, I'm going to go with the dreaded numbered list to address some of the sub-plots and existing threads that, so far as I can tell, never got fully resolved or were dropped completely:

1) As mentioned in the review of "New Mutants" #43, we never do get an answer on how Loki got the Disir in the first place or, as mentioned in "Journey into Mystery" #638, how they managed to escape Hell so easily.

2) As mentioned in the review of "New Mutants" #42, we never really get an answer why Sigurd just happened to live across the street from the New Mutants or, as mentioned in "Journey into Mystery" #638, what Loki got from his deal with him (where he delivered him the spell that wiped away the Asgardians' memories).

3) Perhaps most disappointingly, we never really discover what happened with the spell.  It was the major driving force of "New Mutants" #42 and seemed to be the real focus of the arc, but it essentially gets dropped as a pressing issue in "Journey into Mystery" #638.  In "New Mutants" #43, after the Disir become Valkyries, we learn that the spell was broken, even though, as far as I understood it, the spell really had nothing to do, specifically, with the Disir.  For example, it's not like the spell broke the minute that the Disir remember who they were; that happened in "New Mutants" #42, but, as we saw in "New Mutants" #43, the other Asgardians still didn't know who they were when they were at the church.  So, it's pretty clear that the implication is that the breaking of the spell had to do with the resolution of the Disir/Sigurd situation, even though the spell didn't seem to have anything to do with the breaking of the curse itself.

I actually enjoyed this arc.  The writing was sharp, the banter was witty, and the turns were twisty.  But, I don't think you can leave this many loose ends on the table and feel like you're leaving your audience satisfied.  I could see if they left just enough loose ends to get people to pick up the series that they weren't reading; although I'm not intrigued enough by Mephisto's vow of revenge against Loki to pick up "Journey into Mystery," it's pretty clear that it's what Marvel was hoping would happen.  Instead, these loose ends are central to the plot of this arc itself, but they never get addressed.  We're supposed to just accept Loki one day found the Disir and gave them to Mephisto.  We're supposed to just believe that they suffered his torment for millennia for fun, since, apparently, they could've left Hell at any time.  We're supposed to just believe that rent on Mission Street is so cheap that every superhero and Asgardian inevitably will move there.  Finally, we're just supposed to believe that reality-altering spells crafted by Asgardian demi-gods just stop the minute that they're no longer helping advance the plot.  Unfortunately, I can believe one of those things, but not all of them.  If I were giving this arc a rating, I'd desperately want to give it a three, but would probably have to give it a two.  [Sad trombone.]

Saturday, June 2, 2012

New Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avenging Spider-Man #7:  I am absolutely, totally, and completely a sucker for a madcap museum caper.  One of my favorite stories in "The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" is the one with the Mayan (I think) death mask, and I'm pretty sure that part of the reason that I love the Black Cat is that she's always pilfering something from a museum.  As such, this issue was right up my alley.

Immonen does a great job of really embracing the witty banter that this series appears to be emphasizing.  Some choice moments here: 

"Great!  I can be your wingman!  I love Egypt!"  "You love a buffet."  -- Spider-Man and She-Hulk, as Pete tries to talk Jennifer into taking him to her work event

"Right behind you.  Well, not right behind you because, you know, right now that's not really, I don't want to...tail-gate."  -- Spidey, risking his life by making fun of She-Hulk for her newly grown tail

"I'm not about to start punching kittens!"  "Okay.  For the record?  You went there.  Not me."  -- She-Hulk and Spidey, in an exchange that speaks for itself

"I didn't have time to find a crocodile and learn how to nurse it!" -- something I honestly thought I'd never "hear" Spidey say

Immonen manages to throw in great non-banter moments throughout the issue as well.  Examples?  Spidey trying -- and failing -- to keep from commenting when She-Hulk suddenly grows a tail.  ("It's SO cute!")  Spidey shouting "BEGONE!" while trying to use She-Hulk's (fake) "Eye of Ra" necklace to dispel the cats.  Spidey striking the "Walks like an Egyptian" pose while talking to Bastet.  Immonen comes close to portraying Pete as the buffoon that less experienced authors (***cough***Bendis***cough***) often make him, but manages to avoid it, using his geekiness to save the day.  In fact, it's one of the more subtler uses of Pete's geekiness, a reminder that his banter often masks his social anxiety, something that comes from his geekiness.  It's interesting to see us go there again, after it was so brilliantly done in "Avenging Spider-Man" #5, though from a more personal angle in that issue.  Here, Immonen reminds us that it also has practical applications, and it works well.

In fact, Immonen actually works in some serious moments in this issue, even if they're the type of moments that you could easily miss if you weren't paying attention.  I thought one of the best moments was when Spidey talked about Uncle Ben taking him to the Egyptian rooms when he was a kid.  She evokes the great image of a bored Uncle Ben happily taking his excited nephew through the museum's Egyptian rooms.  Similarly, she reminds us that Spidey is a young New Yorker by showing us his favorite gyro place, since all young New Yorkers should have a favorite gyro place.  (I'm pretty sure Batman doesn't have a favorite gyro place in Gotham.)  They're small moments, sure, but they're the type of moments that I hope authors remember to include.  "Avenging Spider-Man" isn't supposed to be a continuity-focused series.  But, Immonen wisely realizes that it doesn't mean that it's supposed to be a characterization-light series.  All in all, this issue is exactly what I think that we all hoped to see when this series was launched.

Finally, I have to give total props to Caramagna.  From the hearts around Spidey saying "It's so cute!" about She-Hulk's tail to the bold-faced type when he yells "BEGONE!" (not to mention the hieroglyphics curse when She-Hulk yells, "You unbelievable pain in the $&%#!"), Caramagna uses the thought bubbles and word boxes to convey emotions better than I've seen in a long time, possibly since the early days of "Brand New Day!" when they created an entire type-set for Spidey.

All in all, another great issue of a series I'm happy to keep paying money to get.