Friday, August 31, 2012

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

Somehow, in my three-month absence, Peter David managed to crank out five "X-Factor" issues.  Let's get started!

X-Factor #238:  Talk about a lot of ground to cover.  Peter David proves that no one can run so many interesting plots at the same time as he can.  We've got Rahne taking Rictor and Shatterstar with her to find her son, Havok and Theresa going to upstate New York to investigate why a woman with sonic powers is killing people associated with a particular family, and Jamie deciding to investigate the death of Far Sight.  David makes me wish that he were writing three separate "X-Factor" titles, since I'm anxious to see where all three of these plots go.  We also have Longshot awakening from his coma and the return of Jezebel, the woman who we've previously seen conspiring with the Isolationist and is now in cahoots with the aforementioned woman with sonic powers.  Along the way, we also get, as usual, great moments of characterization.  I loved the team banter related to U.S. towns named after Irish cities.  I just love that David always finds a way to make sure that you have fun reading his comic.  Some authors (***cough***Bendis***cough***) make these interactions feel forced, but David always finds a way to make it seem like the natural conversation that would happen between people who've known one another a realy long time.  He includes some great character-to-character moments as well, like Havok talking about his relationship troubles with Theresa and 'Star referring to himself as Rahne's baby's "fake weird uncle."  I thought the conversation between Alex and Jamie was particularly brilliant, because it showed what a command of the characters David has.  Each one said things that you'd expect them to say, like Alex noting that Jamie just sort of blunders into solving the mysteries that he's investigating or Jamie questioning Alex's loyalty given the time that has passed since he's been on the team.  David is not dropping any balls in his juggling act, and it's, as always, a pleasure to watch.

X-Factor #239:  This issue is odd.  The main story begins with Havok and Theresa interviewing a guy related to the people killed by the mysterious woman with the sonic scream.  We eventually learn that the woman is a banshee (who refers to herself as the Morrigan) and the man's daughter accidentally summoned her while trying to put a curse on her cousin's girlfriend.  (Her cousin was the security guard killed by the Morrigan last issue.)  I could buy all that, but David leaves a lot unexplained.  We never learn why the Morrigan turned on the girl in the first place, deciding to go after her family members rather than the aforementioned girlfriend.  We also don't really learn how the Morrigan learned enough about Theresa to be offended by her calling herself Banshee.  The Morrigan knew enough about her to grab her when Theresa has the girl summon the Morrigan in her bedroom, but how did she know about Theresa?  Was she aware of her in whatever place she lives when she isn't being summoned to Earth by tween girls?  David seems to imply that the Morrigan manipulated the situation to have the girl summon her so that she could go after Theresa, but he doesn't actually connect those dots.  Why couldn't the Morrigan just go after her on her own?  Why did she decide to go after Theresa now?  Did she just learn about her?  Did Jezebel tell the Morrigan about her?  I'm surprised that someone who normally doesn't drop a ball left so many questions unanswered.  Along those lines, why did Jezebel help Theresa defeat the Morrigan?  Did she orchestrate the whole sequence just to remove the Morrigan for the playing field?  I'd buy that, because we're never really been asked to accept Jezebel as anything other than truly villainous.  David casts doubt on that portrayal, but not in as artful of a way as he usually does.  Instead, she just spouts some mumbo jumbo about the coming of new gods and serving two masters.  In so doing, David seems to be tying this story to the ongoing subplot of Jezebel's arrangement with the Isolationist, so we might be getting answers in the future.  But, the lack of any clues on that front and of information on the Morrigan made the issue pretty frustrating to follow.  All in all, it was a rare miss for Peter David in my book.

X-Factor #240:  All right, so, Layla's ability to see the future makes my head hurt under the best of circumstances.  But, since saving Guido, her ability to see the future is even less clear, and David attempts to explain why in this issue.

The good news is that he does a pretty decent job of it.  I was never really clear how Layla knew that, by causing one path to happen over another one, she wasn't making matters worse.  In other words, when she acted to divert a path to prevent an outcome in the future that she knew would happen, how did she know that she wasn't creating a path that she would like even less?  Here, David explains that, when her older self gave her younger self her memories, it re-wired her brain so that she was able to see all possible paths.  It wasn't just a choice of choosing between one of two paths; it was the choice of choosing between all of the possible paths.

The bad news is that I can't say that I full believe this explanation.  How exactly did older Layla giving younger Layla her memories of her specific future allow her to know all of the potential futures?  Even if that were true, how could Layla really see all of the potential futures given how many variables are involved?  As we see here, even a small misstep could completely change the future, so you'd imagine that, at any given moment, an almost infinite number of potential futures may hang in the balance.  Can Layla really see them all?  I'm also not sure that I buy that Layla would know that the woman whose life she saved would one day invent a cure for a disease that Madrox would get.  Did she take down the girl's name and, 15 years later, just happen to recognize it as the person whose life she saved?  What if the girl's name had been Jane Smith?  How would she have known?

But, at the end of the day, I'm willing give David a break, since his explanation is at least consistent with the way that Layla has been portrayed throughout this series.  She has always seemed to know not only how to avoid a certain path but how to make a certain path happen, which implies that she hasn't just been trying to change paths willy-nilly to avoid a possible future without understanding what other future she might be creating.  In other words, I don't totally buy it, but I buy it enough to go with it.  (Still, between this issue and the last one, I feel like David hasn't quite been as on the ball as he usually is, having left a lot of details unclear.  I'm hoping "Breaking Points" goes a little more smoothly.)

X-Factor #241:  Occasionally, one of the drawbacks of "X-Factor" having ten cast members and being on its 15th issue of the year is that it gets difficult to remember the exact details of all the various plots and sub-lots.  This issue presents a case in point.  Although I remembered faux Dormammu, Death-cap, and Vanora coming to our dimension from their own dimensions after they fought Madrox, I'm surprised to see the alternate Mr. Tryp also here.  In fact, I sort of remember this Tryp not really being a bad guy in "They Keep Killing Madrox."  He just seemed confused by Jamie's presence more than anything else.  As such, I thought that it was odd that he was not only in our dimension, but that he had the clear intention of using the three villains to do harm to X-Factor in this issue.  I mean, sure, our Tryp would do the same thing, but I thought this guy was a different Tryp.  Were they the same?

But, it actually appears that the answer to that question is more or less irrelevant, since Mr. Tryp and the three villains appear to have been nothing more than a MacGuffin.  Whatever Tryp's plan was after Dormmamu used Alex, Jamie, and the other two villains to bolster his power, we don't see it realized thanks to Strong Guy stopping Dormmamu mid-spell.  The possibility that it will happen in a later issue seems remote, given that Polaris killed Death-cap and the mysterious figure killed Dormmamu.  (I wonder whether Alex and Lorna are going to fight over her killing Death-cap.)  As such, it's clear that the advent of the mysterious figure was the real purpose of this issue.  (Though, I love how David manages to use Tryp and his friends as MacGuffins to advance one plot and, at the same time, tying up loose ends. Death-cap?  Check.  Faux Dormmamu?  Check.  Now, we just need to find Vanora.)

Therefore, the real mystery of the issue isn't what Tryp's plan was, but who the mysterious figure is and what he wants (hence why it's a mystery).  Was he the one telling Theresa to drop the bottle?  Maybe.  But, that person had a Scottish accent and the mysterious figure didn't appear to have one, so maybe not.  I guess we'll see.  In the meantime, David makes it pretty clear that the Guido situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.  If all that wasn't enough, we of course still have the real Rahne out there looking for her son.  I was disappointed with the last two issues, but David seems to be righting the ship here a bit.  We'll see where it goes.

X-Factor #242:  To repeat the same thing that I said at the beginning of the last review, the problem with "X-Factor" having ten (well, now nine) cast members and being on its (now) 16th issue of the year is that it occasionally gets hard to follow all the plots and sub-plots.  Although I vaguely remember Darwin's Western-themed issue from "X-Factor" #213, I didn't remember him fighting Hela in that issue.  A quick trip to Wikipedia reminded me that they fought in the Vegas arc and that preceded issue #213 and that it was his inability to adapt to the changes to his powers (and possibly his soul) that came from his battle with Hela that led him to leave X-Factor in the first place.

However, despite serving as narrator, Darwin plays second fiddle in this issue, with Rahne and Tier serving as the central characters.  Their emotional reunion is, I'd argue, as satisfying of a moment as you're going to find in comics.  You can just feel their mutual relief at finding each other, Rahne realizing that she no longer has to carry around her guilt at abandoning her child, Tier realizing that he's no longer as alone as he's been.  I have to admit to being more than slightly annoyed by the fact that we didn't see Rahne, Rictor, and Shatterstar fight their way through Hel to find a way to locate Tier, but I accept the fact that David is trying to wrap up loose ends as quickly as he can.

As such, David brings some closure (for now) to Rahne's storyline.  Do I think she, Tier, and Werewolf by Night are going to live happily ever after in a cottage in Nova Scotia?  Nope.  I give them 20 issues of peace at best.  But, for now, Rahne is more or less settled with as happy of an ending as Rahne is likely to get.  David certainly keeps us wondering about other characters, though.  Who did Tryp flee?  The mysterious figure from last issue?  Darwin, obviously, isn't well, given the "voices" in his head that are convincing him to chase Tier.  Who are these voices?  Are they also connected to the mysterious figure?  Who are these "lords" that Darwin mentions are after Tier?  How the Hell did Vanora survive two blades to the back?  I'm not sure if David intends to wrap up these loose ends by the conclusion of "Breaking Points," but it would be nice to have them addressed at some point.  At any rate, it looks like we're moving onto Havok and Polaris next issue, and God knows that those two kids need some attention.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

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

Batgirl #12:  The only negative thing that I've had to say about Simone's run on "Batgirl" so far is that her villains haven't been all that well formed.  From Mirror to Gretel to Grotesque, they've mostly served as plot devices to bring Barbara to a new epiphany or set the stage for her interaction with another member of the DCnU cast.  But, with this issue, Simone fully realizes Knightfall and her team.  First, we get insight into the motivations of her three bodyguards, moving them beyond the stereotypical henchman category into actual super-villian status in their own right.  Simone also adds another layer of complexity to Knightfall by tying her to James, Jr.  James is smart enough to see a level of crazy in Charise that he would one day be able to use to his advantage, so I totally believe that he helped keep her alive in Arkham.  By introducing a connection between him and Knightfall, Simone makes Knightfall Barbara's first true nemesis, giving them the personal connection that every great adversarial relationship needs.  Simone also makes you feel empathy for the bad guys.  I found myself relieved that Knightfall and her cronies hadn't actually killed Ricky the car thief, and it's hard not to find yourself understanding why the loss of her twins at the hands of a drunk driver drove Bonebreaker to throw in her lot with someone who pledges to rid Gotham of crime.

Simone is no less adept with the supporting cast.  Detective McKenna is totally a woman on the edge here and Syaf does a great job of emphasizing the fact with her disheveled appearance and bugging eyes.  Batwoman's appearance goes better than I thought.  Simone, not surprisingly, avoids the issue descending into a clichéd girl-on-girl fight, with Batgirl convincing Batwoman to stop hitting her long enough to explain why she should help them.  I dropped "Batwoman," so I'm not really sure what Kate's deal with the D.E.O. is at the stage.  But, as Barbara notes, she takes a risk by throwing in her lot with Batgirl and McKenna, given that she was sent to bring in McKenna.

One mystery still out there is what exactly McKenna did for Knightfall.  For example, she tells Batwoman that she helped Knightfall play the D.E.O., but we don't get any more details because Knightfall interrupts the conversation with her call to have Batgirl meet her at the Three Towers.  But, in keeping that mystery alive, Simone keeps us guessing.  This title is really coming into its own, with Simone delivering her excellent characterization with better developed ongoing plots and less one-dimensional villains.  I happily spend $2.99 a month on this book.

Batman #12:  After the Owl saga, I have to say, I was waiting to see what Snyder did with this issue.  I was hoping for something a little less...epic in scope, something that told a pretty simple story about Batman.  I got exactly that.

This issue is one of those issues where you just don't know where the author is taking you.  It's not your stereotypical superhero story.  We don't see any costumed heroes or villains until the second half of the book and, even when they do appear, they're never really the focus of the book.  When Snyder starts the story, you feel like something is inevitably going to happen to its heroine, something that will inevitably result in her ending the issue in a costume as a hero or a villain.  It's just the way that these sorts of things go.  Even an excellently scripted series like "Earth 2" put its heroes into their costumes pretty much within the same issue that they appeared.  As such, you think you're reading a done-in-one origin story.  Except, you're not.  It's what makes this issue frustrating to read, in the very best way, because, after a few pages, you realize that it's not falling into the same pattern as every other story.  You start getting annoyed and anxious until you realize that you're reading something different, something special.

Snyder comes close to falling into the same trap as DeFalco in "Superboy" #12, portraying the young gay boy whose sister, Harper, is at the center of this issue as stereotypically gay.  He's into his sister's clothes, he's trying to score with a straight boy, etc.  But, unlike DeFalco's Bunker, the whole point of Snyder's Cullen is that he is stereotypically gay.  A butch Cullen probably (though possibly) wouldn't invite the scorn of his classmates the way "fairy" Cullen does, and it's this scorn that sets events in motion, as Batman saves Cullen and Harper from said bullies.  In some ways, Snyder provides every gay kid's wish fulfillment here, because we'd all have loved a Batman to swoop into our lives, beat up our enemies, and scare them into not harassing us again.  As such, it's understandable why Batman's actions inspire such loyalty from both kids, but particularly Harper.  Snyder does a convincing job of showing us the burden of responsibility that Harper carries with her every day, so it's no surprise that she's as loyal as she is to someone who helped alleviate that burden by making her little brother's day-to-day a lot safer.

In inspiring this devotion, Snyder shows us why Batman has endured as a character for as long as he has.  Often, we see Batman through the screen of distrust that the police hold for him.  Be it comic books or animated series or action movies, we often see Batman through the eyes of the authorities.  For whatever reason, we rarely see Batman through the eyes of the victims that he saves.  Snyder corrects that perception and delivers us the type of issue that explains everything that you need to know about the Caped Crusader.  It's the type of story that you'd find in an anthology, like the "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" series, because it gets to the heart of who he is.  He not only rights the wrong, saving the kids, but he also insists on working alone, chastising Harper for messing with his electricity boxes and helping against Tiger Shark.  (The revelation that Bruce runs his own grid within Gotham's electricity grid so that he can control CCTV feeds and support the overall grid was genius.) 

It's clear that we haven't seen the last of Harper Row, though I'm not sure if she's going to be the next Stephanie Brown or something else.  Snyder is unlikely to rush his hand.  Other authors in the DCnU have rushed to get through the character's origin story in order to introduce as many new heroes and villains as possible, showing how new the DCnU is.  By taking his time to tell the story, Snyder is in the process of producing the DCnU's first break-out star and, paradoxically, showing how different the DCnU is.

This story is the type of story that I'd like to see more often in "Batman."  After seeing the "Dark Knight Rises," I commented to my boyfriend that the only negative for me was that Batman isn't exactly the type of guy to save cities from neutron bombs.  He is, however, the type of guy to save bullied gay kids from their tormentors and overburdened teenaged sisters from their anxieties.  This story remind us of that.  I can't wait to see where you go, Harper Row!

Batman and Robin #12:  Every time I start liking this series, Tomasi does something to ruin it.  This issue is a case in point.

First, Terminus' reveal is unforgivably convenient here.  Why tell Batman about the warhead?  Had he not told Batman about the warhead, he could've actually achieved his goal, watching Batman realize that he had failed Gotham right before he died.  But, by going all super-villain and telling Batman his plan, Terminus ensures that Batman has enough time to defuse the warhead and save Gotham.  It's WAY too convenient and I can't believe that the editors actually let it pass.

Second, Tomasi knows that the Red Hood is in space, right?  I mean, even if he weren't in space (though he is), I'm not sure that Tomasi got the memo that Jason isn't really on speaking terms with the Bat-family.  Other than his interaction with Tim in "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #8, Jason hasn't directly encountered any members of the Bat-family (as far as I can remember) except in this title.  His appearances in this title feel odd as a result, like Tomasi is telling a DCU story while everyone else is telling a DCnU one.

Third, we never learn who Terminus is!  He hates Batman so much for what he did to him, going so far as to taunt him, telling him to say his name.  But, Batman doesn't know it, and we never return to it before Terminus dies.

Fourth, am I really supposed to believe the Iron Bat armor fits in the Batmobile?

Finally, the "War of the Robins" ends with a whimper.  I was waiting for some great emotionally driven battle between Damian and Dick, where Dick reminded Damian that he didn't have to prove himself.  Instead, Dick just hurls him his escrima stick and makes a crack about Damian being the one wearing the uniform.  That's it.  The whole big emotional reveal of the "War of the Robins" was a tossed stick and a quick quip.

This title just really frustrates me.  As I've mentioned previously, I get it because it's pretty much the only opportunity for me to see Damian, who I enjoy.  But, Tomasi is making it harder and harder for me to justify spending $2.99 when every few steps we take forward we eventually wind up taking back.

Nightwing #12:  The main problem with this issue is one that I've encountered in several other DCnU series, namely, the failure to fully sketch out the goals and motivations of a new villain.  Here, I was specifically unsure if I was supposed to recognize who Paragon was when he took off his mask.  Super-villians generally don't just reveal their identity to superheroes; they usually do it only because they've been driven to crime as a result of something that the superhero did, and, in revealing their identity, they show the superhero how he failed him/her.  (It's what Terminus tried to do in "Batman and Robin" #12, except Batman didn't know who he was.)  However, Higgins never tells us who Paragon was or why, possibly, Dick would know him.  I mean, you'd figure that someone who allegedly mastered thermodynamics and built some sort of reactor before the age of sixteen would be a known property, but, if Dick recognized him, he didn't give any indication.

Moreover, Higgins muddies the waters when it comes to the Republic of Tomorrow.  I had thought that it was essentially a cult of personality built around Paragon, but, after this issue, I'm not so sure.  We learn that Dick apparently saved all the lives of Paragon and the Strayhorn brothers in issue #3, an act that causes the brothers to question their membership in a group that wants to overthrow exactly the type of costumed superhero who just saved their lives.  After they decided to leave the group, Paragon kills them and frames it on Dick to make it into a rallying cry.  I get all that.  But, Paragon says that he "took over the group," which implies the Strayhorns were running it before he killed them.  It begs the question, then:  why did the Strayhorns want to take down costumed heroes?  It seems pretty ambitious for a non-madman, so they had to have some motivation.  But, Higgins doesn't really clarify that part, just like he doesn't really give us Paragon's motivation, including just some vague comment about fighting for what he think Gotham really needs.  I think sometimes that authors forget that not everyone can be the Joker, spreading chaos just to spread chaos. 

Despite the failings of the villain, Higgins does a pretty decent job with Dick's supporting cast.  I'm glad to see Detective Nie make some progress here.  After the somewhat stereotypically gay portrayals in "Batman" and "Superboy" #12, it's nice to see an adult gay man playing a role that has nothing to do with his sexuality, similar to Alan Scott in "Earth 2."  I'm hoping that we see more of him.  I'm also hoping that we see more of Sonia Branch, whose "relationship" with Dick continues to intrigue me.  To be honest, I'm reading this series much more for these insights into Dick's private life than I am his antics at Nightwing at this point.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #12:  Lobdell delivers possibly his strongest issue to date.  Finally.

I liked several things about this issue.  First, I like that Lobdell lets Roy get the win.  When the cover identified a "red knight to the rescue," I was pretty sure that it was referring to Jason rescuing Roy.  Instead, it's Roy rescuing Komand'r.  Second, along those lines, Lobdell successfully pulls off a bait and switch, revealing that Komand'r was pretending to cooperate with the Blight to help keep it from destroying her people.  To be honest, I totally buy this reason, particularly because I didn't necessarily know how Lobdell was going to justify Komand'r selling out her people to the Blight.  (I'm not saying that he isn't going to reveal at the end that Komand'r was working for the Blight all along, but, at least for now, I buy this explanation.)  Third, we finally get the characters showing some emotions.  Jason is downright psychologically grounded in this issue and I thought Lobdell did a good job getting him to try to get Roy to take some credit for saving Komand'r.  The "team" has been together enough time to start forming bonds to each other, and Jason acting like a friend, and not just bro, to Roy is a great start.  I'm equally pleased that Lobdell has Koriand'r not just treat Roy as a boy toy, showing real emotions towards him.  It's almost like the three of them are real people now!  Hurrah!

I'm excited about the Koriand'r and Komand'r v. the Blight battle coming in two months.  I really want this title to ditch demons and space, but, as long as Lobdell is telling a good story, at this point, I'm willing to go with it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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

Gambit #1:  Meh.  I like James Asmus a lot, but, by my count, we're now talking about the third time that I'm being asked to buy an ongoing series staring Gambit.  It's a little hard to put in the emotional investment, when, based on past experience, this series is unlikely to hit 25 issues.  But, I gave it a shot.  The premise is a good one, focusing on Gambit as a thief rather than Gambit as an educator, but I just wasn't feeling it.  If you're a die-hard Gambit fan, though, it's probably a better fit for you.  I used to be, but I feel like he's been so reduced to a caricature of himself, or, at least, the self that we first met in the '90s, that I can't say that I'm in that camp anymore.  Asmus seems aware of that problem and trying his best to move Gambit past it, but I'm just not ready to follow that journey.  See you in the X-titles, Gambit.

New Mutants #44:  This issue is a pretty inauspicious start to this new arc.  On one hand, any premise that brings together the East and West Coast New Mutants is a good one in my book.  But, on the other hand, DnA used some pretty obvious plot devices to move this story forward.  First, the Defenders just happened to appear before the New Mutants in time to help them fend off demons from Limbo?  Really?  It's not a huge deal, since it's not all that consequential to the plot, but it did make me roll my eyes.  But, more importantly, it makes no sense that Dani insisted that the New Mutants get a shot at tackling the threat alone or that Dr. Strange allowed them to do so without giving them more information.  If I were Dani, I'd want heavy-hitters like Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, and Silver Surfer on my side if I were going against some sort of cosmically significant supernatural threat.  If I were Dr. Strange, I'd want to make sure a team of young adults with no sorcerer in their ranks had the resources that it needed to combat such a threat.  Even if Dr. Strange wasn't sure what the threat was, he could've at least offered that the Defenders would work to define the threat while the New Mutants tried to identify it in their own way.  But, instead, he and the others leave more or less in a huff, like they know what the threat is, but their feelings are hurt so they're not going to tell anyone about it.  It read like the forced plot device that it is, and it unfortunately overshadowed the issue for me.  (The "disturbance in the Force" crack from Bobby was a highlight, though.)  The art also didn't help.  Fernandez draws some truly bad faces; at one point, I swear that Nate was missing a nose.  All in all, it was a pretty disappointing issue, but we'll see where we go from here.

New Mutants #45:  OK, this issue is a lot better than the last one.  Although DnA might've used some overly forced plot devices to set up this arc, they stay more grouned here as we get to the heart of the matter:  namely, the arrival of future Cannonball and Karma.  DnA tell a tight time-travel story, and I thought that future Sam's revelation that they had to remove present Sam and Shan from the present to avoid creating ripple effects was particularly innovative.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Doug being a super-villain, despite the fact that his latest incarnation has always seemed to have the potential to go that way.  But, I love the fact that DnA are using past events of this series to move forward the plot.  It was pretty clear when Doug came into contact with that metal box with the alien ship in "New Mutants" #36 that it was going to have some serious impact in a later story, and here we are.  DnA don't reveal their hand yet, but we do learn that Doug introduced modified Warlock technology to the New Mutants' costumes at some point and then used this technology to control them.  We also don't know the scope of Doug's control yet, either.  For example, does he run the world, or is he just a super-villain?  I guess we'll find out next issue.  

In the meantime, DnA heighten the impact of the story by focusing on the emotional ties that the New Mutants have to each other.  I've loved this title and its predecessors because they've always focused on a small group of characters.  As opposed to the Avengers and the X-Men, with their huge rotating rosters, we've really gotten to see these characters build relationships with each other over the years.  DnA use these relationships to make the stakes at play higher.  We see a great future where they've moved past some of their current awkwardness and uncertainties to become the family that they've always wanted to be.  But, we learn that Doug used exactly these connections to take control of them, and we feel that betrayal all the more because we felt those connections in the first place.  I can't wait to see where DnA go with that.

New Mutants #46:  Huh.  This issue isn't terrible or anything, but, other than establishing Doug as a future menace, I'm not really sure what it accomplished.  Sure, we have the inevitable slugfest with Doug, allowing us to see just how powerful he has become.  (Shunting the group outside the time stream seems pretty damn powerful.)  But, DnA don't really make it clear what power the metal box gave him.  Improving his ability to control the transmode virus and controlling the space-time continuum seem to be pretty different abilities.  DnA seem to pin it on Doug's ability to "speak the language of dimensions," which unfortunately seems like yet another forced plot device.  Is the transmode virus a dimension?  I could see where that power would apply to the time stream, but it seems a bit much to imply that it extends to the transmode virus.  DnA also don't show how this power enabled Doug to become the world's dictator, as he seems to have become.  How did it help him create the "closed system?"  We never get answers to those questions, since, instead of defeating future Doug, they just return him (and future Cannonball and Karma) to their own time.  The ending is ominous, with Dani and Sam pledging to keep an eye on Doug, but, other than that, it's hard to tell what this story brought us.  I mean, it's clear that DnA will return to the idea in the future, but I still feel like we've been drifting lately.  When DnA took over the series, they re-focused it to create a team that addressed the X-Men's loose ends.  But, between the "Exiled" cross-over event and this arc, it's been a while since we've actually seen them do that.  (In fact, this arc is a soft cross-over event of sorts, given that we saw the Defenders in issue #44, even if they, oddly, never appeared again.)  Finally, I really just don't like Fernandez's art.  Although he had some decent moments early in his run, these last few issues have been incredibly sloppy.  It's bad when it's almost impossible to tell Amara from Dani, or Bobby from Nate.  I found myself wishing that cover artist John Tyler Christopher had been given the reins.  All in all, it's been a disappointing few issues, even if we had some good characters moments in issue #45.

New Mutants #47:  DnA decide to keep us in a time-travel story here, revealing that the New Mutants didn't return to their own timeline when they sent future Doug to his, instead entering one that only looked like it was.  I really dislike time-travel stories and I wasn't a fun of the previous feeder arc, but DnA do a pretty good job with this issue.  They don't rush the story, so it's a surprise when Kitty discloses that the schism between Cyclops and Wolverine didn't happen, raising the team's awareness that something went wrong.  We eventually learn that the New Mutants aren't in a different timeline, but one that shouldn't exist in the first place, though DnA are going to have to elaborate on that theme in later issues if I'm going to end this arc satisfied.  (Did Doug create it to isolate them, giving him time to consolidate his power in the future?)  If nothing else, I enjoyed the return of Cannonball to the fold, and DnA made a good decision splitting the team into two separate groups, using it to build the drama slowly.  In a way, the whole issue turned on Dr. Strange:  for me, it was DnA's excellent portrayal of him as a broken man driven almost insane by knowing that he was right when everyone else was wrong that sold the issue for me.  I'm excited to see where we go from here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

New Comics!: The Winter Soldier Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Winter Soldier #7:  As usual, Brubaker takes us on a brisk, action-packed ride from the opening scenes to the last page, with rogue Soviet agent Leo managing to take a former Red Room psychologist and the Black Widow captive in the span of the issue.  I liked how Brubaker has Bucky note that he and Natasha were walking into a trap when they decided to confront Leo, making it clear that they were doing so because they didn't really have any better options.  More so than any other comic, this title just constantly finds its protagonists thrown into situations with limited information and trying to make the best choices that they can.  It's what makes it more exciting, because they're not idiots bumbling into a situation without thinking, but professionals who know that sometimes you don't have the luxury of knowing what you're doing.  Brubaker really got that theme across well here, which explains why Natasha found herself flat-footed against Leo.  It still seems a bit of a stretch that Natasha would be so succeptible to a sneak attack, but I guess that you have to believe that even the good guys occasional have an off-moment. 

Winter Soldier #8:  OK, Brubaker picks up the point from my review of issue #7 right away, showing how Leo's Red Room training enabled him to know exactly how another Red Room operative, namely the Black Widow, would approach a situation, allowing him to get the jump on her.  The rest of the issue is dedicated to Bucky and Agent Sitwell kicking themselves for losing her and trying desperately to find her.  I thought that the best part of this issue was Brubaker taking the time to build a relationship between Bucky and Sitwell.  Brubaker has hinted that Sitwell has more to him than your average S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent #2,068, but he hasn't really explored that line of inquiry.  Here, Sitwell reminds Bucky that he's worked with Natasha for a long time and, after he establishes that he's not in love with her, the two bond over the sense of loss.  Lark and his team do a great job in the panels where Bucky considers this overture and decides to let down his walls.  It really telegraphs the anxiety that he's facing and the difficulty that he has in trusting people.  Of course, he and Sitwell have good reason to be anxious, given that Leo has used Comrade Professor from last issue to brainwash Natasha to her old programming.  Although she doesn't fight Bucky, as the cover of this issue would suggest (pet peeve #2), she does resume her previous career as a ballerina, presumably to draw out Bucky in a pretty spectacular fashion.  Normally, this sort of machination would seem over-the-top, in a 1960s "Batman" TV series kind of way, but Brubaker sells it, given that he's established that Leo is trying to do as much psychological damage to Bucky as possible.  I guess that we'll see how successful he is next issue.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New(-ish) Comics!: The Captain America Edition #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America and Iron Man #633:  Awesome.

This issue doesn't have that complicated of a plot.  Kashmir Vennema, the sketchy scientist from the last arc (you know, the bizarre one with the dinosaur symbiotes), has resurfaced at a weapons expo in Madripoor to get her hands on something called the Harvester Protocol on behalf of her mysterious employer.  Tony has used his connections with the criminals and warmongers at the expo to get Cap into the auction.  Just as the item goes to bid, Batroc the Leaper and his Brigade arrive to extract the item.  Kashmir reveals that she hired them and activates the Protocol, taking out Cap's shield and Tony's armor.  Shenanigans ensue.

The thing is, the plot doesn't need to be that complicated when the issue itself is this awesome.  Bunn delivers exactly the type of espionage story that I expected from this title, a significant improvement over bizarre plot from the last arc.  Bunn holds off delivering the action by instead opening with some playful banter between Steve and Tony.  Although it could've felt forced, it felt organic to me, with Bunn doing a great job  matching their personalities and reminding us how different they are.  (I loved Tony talking about how he was a hero at the expo, and Steve asking him why he didn't, you know, tell anyone that he was regularly attending a "semi-legal gathering of warmongers, criminals and terrorists.")  In fact, Bunn makes the dialogue sound so real that I heard the voices of Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. in my head while reading the issue.  By waiting to let loose the action, Bunn makes it burst with energy when it does happen.  I liked how Batroc and his gang take Cap and Iron Man by surprise even before Kashmir disables their technology with the Harvester Protocol.  Nothing like a sharp kick across the jaw to let you know that you've underestimated your opponent.

I still have some issues with Bunn trying to make Kashmir more interesting than she seems to be.  I can't say that I was all that impressed with her as a nefarious villain in the last arc, particularly since she doesn't seem to be anything more than a middle man.  (I'm worried that she might become this title's version of the Shadow Council in "Secret Avengers.")  I also don't understand why she would reveal herself so clearly as the bad guy by grabbing the Protocol during the melee, given that Batroc and his Brigade seemed to have matters under control and probably could've snagged it on their own.  But, this issue was sufficiently fun that I'm willing to overlook these points (for now) and give Bunn a chance to change my mind about Kashmir.

Captain America and Iron Man #634:  Before we get started, I have to praise the cover.  Awesome.  Andrasofszky can do the covers for this title for as long as he wants in my book.

The plot doesn't get all that more complicated here.  I mean, it didn't take that much imagination to connect the dots that Kashmir was working for A.I.M.  But, Bunn again makes this issue so damn fun that the plot isn't really all that important.  Batroc is as camp of a villain as ever, and Bunn actually hands Cap some decent one-liners, allowing him to hold up his end of the repartee.  But, Bunn also makes Batroc a more difficult threat that he usually is, given that he and his Brigade prove to be a challenge for Steve and Tony.  A lot of authors fall just on the camp side when portraying Batroc, but, by make him both camp and serious, Bunn justifies his inclusion here.  But, it's Cap's banter with Tony that takes the cake, with Bunn perfectly playing Steve as the straight man to Tony's funny man.  Normally, I get annoyed when authors focus exclusively on Steve as a square bore, but Bunn has shown in the main title that he's capable of writing Cap with emotional depth.  As such, I don't mind it here.  In fact, it gives us some really great moments between Steve and Tony, like when Tony tells him to stop trying to be hip because it's "creepy."  I don't know if that sort of oversimplification of their relationship would work in the main title, but it works perfectly for this one.

The best part of the issue, for me, actually has to do with Tony, not Steve.  His cobbled-together armor is brilliant.  First, it reminds us that Tony is, well, brilliant.  The guy can create a kick-ass suit of armor from spare parts found at a weapons convention.  (He even reminds us that he built his first suit of armor in a cave.)  Second, it's effing funny.  I mean, I love the helmet.  I kept thinking it was a smiley face (instead of a target) every time I saw it, and it just made me smile each and every time.  It really helped add to the sense of fun that Bullen crafted for this arc.  But, perhaps most importantly, it also shakes up the usual Iron Man schtick.  Normally, Tony's armor fails just long enough for him to have to improvise during a key moment in a fight.  Here, he loses the armor entirely and has to create an entirely new one from spare parts.  It definitely injects a sense of unknown into the story.  You just never knew what random device Tony was going to use to fend off Bartoc and his Brigade.  I mean, I don't think that anyone really doubts that Cap and Tony are going to be able to lock down the Harvester and destroy A.I.M.'s access to the stolen technology (including Tony's armor).  But, Bunn at least makes it a little less clear how they're going to get there.

Captain America and Iron Man #635:  OK, the highlight of this issue for me was Cap making the crack about A.I.M. being "diehard do-it-yourselfers."  I had exactly the same though about A.I.M. getting into the business of stealing equipment, so I'm glad Cap shared my confusion.  (Usually I complain when authors try to pass off characters questioning motives as justification for the villains having unclear motives, but I'll give Bunn a pass here.)  I also spent most of the issue wondering why Tony was so confident that he was going to save the day in five minutes, so I was pleasantly surprised (and probably the only one who was) when his armor suddenly rebooted and he kicked M.O.D.O.K.'s ass.  (Though, I will miss Tony's juryrigged armor, particularly his crazy helmet.  Maybe he can work that into a new design.)  In the end, Bartoc gets pretty handily dismissed by Cap, sliding down Cap's list of villains despite making a great attempt at breaking into the top ten.  Oh, well.  It was a good attempt, Bartoc.  Better luck next season.

I do have two plot gripes.  First, I'm not entirely sure what Bunn wants us to think about the organization for which Kashmir actually worked.  (I told you that she was a middle man.)  I don't recognize the triangle that she wore on her costume this issue, which appears again on the tower where the two women talk about her (and again on one of the women's wrists).  Given that it involves all women, I would guess Superia is involved, but I'm not sure.  Moreover, I'm not really sure why they had all these destroyed military matériel piled around the tower.  Are they some elaborate demolition grounds?  Second, I was pretty surprised that Bunn allowed this organization to retain access to Tony's armor.  Tony doesn't really let that stuff hang out there.  (I'm old enough to remember "Armor Wars" and "Armor Wars II.")  Tony knows that Kashmir activated the Harvester Protocol twice (in issue #633 and this issue).  He's got to know that his armor's information went somewhere.  After all, Kashmir is wearing one of his gauntlets.  But, he seems pretty nonchalant about it here, focusing just on eliminating the virus from Madripoor's electronic network.  I would be expecting him to track down where the information went, and it's odd to me that Bunn didn't make it clearer that he would be doing that.

Despite these two points, I still thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this arc.  It was much better than the dinosaur symbiotes and really re-energized the whole premise of this title for me.  I'm not a huge Namor fan, so I can't say that I'm that excited about the next arc.  But, at least I can re-read this one in the meantime.

Friday, August 24, 2012

New(-ish) Comics: The Captain America Edition #1

OK, I've got three issues each of "Captain America," "Captain America and Iron Man," and "Winter Soldier" sitting on my stack.  Let the intrigue begin!

Captain America #14:  OK, as expected, it seems pretty clear that the events of this issue are going to lead Steve to decide to take the fight to HYDRA in the next arc.  Overall, I haven't been a huge fan of Codename Bravo or Queen HYDRA.  They've both had some great moments (it is Brubaker, after all), but both of them often have often seemed too cartoonish to me.  Bravo is frequently spouting pretty simplistic political theories that make it hard to take him seriously and, to my recollection, Queen HYDRA hasn't ever really explained why she decided to take up terrorism as an occupation (other than it making her sexier).  Although Brubaker has done a great job of showing how their actions have impacted Cap, we haven't really gotten a great sense of them beyond plot devices.  I'm hoping that the next arc will address that problem.

But, again, Brubaker continues to excel in showing how their actions affect Steve, kicking it up a notch with the death of D-Man in this issue.  He made it pretty clear that Sharon really didn't have choice but to kill him, since it wasn't like he was going to stop his onslaught if she just blew out his knee.  (Can I just mention how nice it was to see Cap as the damsel in distress and Sharon as the knight in shining armor?  I love when Brubaker has Sharon play the bad-ass, and it was great to see her save Cap here.)  In one fell swoop, Bravo and Queen HYDRA have managed not only to rattle Steve with D-Man's death but also inject tension in his relationship with Sharon.  It's clearly this tension that motivates Sharon to comment that HYDRA is winning, a realization to which Brubaker has been building since first issue.  However sad it was to see D-Man go, particularly for those of us who read Gruenwald's run, I can't say that it was a frivolous death.  Brubaker clearly needed something to bring to a head these doubts that Cap has been facing about himself ever since Bravo appeared on the scene, and the death of D-Man seems to be it.  Cap blames himself and it's pretty clear that he's not going to be thinking as strategically as he normally would when he confronts Bravo and Queen HYDRA.  I can't wait to see how that goes.

Captain America #15:  Brubaker and Bunn set up the story here, with Cap's world continuing to deteriorate around him.  We've got Sharon acting jealous of Rachel, a TV pundit calling for Cap's resignation in light his inability to stop recent attacks, and a new group of super-humans (or super-robots, maybe) leading said attacks against American interests in cities around the world.  It's not exactly a great few hours in Cap-land.  Brubaker and Bunn hint at the plot to come, with Bravo and Queen HYDRA implying that they have even bigger plans involving Baron Zemo, Cap learning that the TV pundit has been killed and the guy on TV is a plant, and said plant seemingly calling for the creation of an army of super-soldiers.  All in all, it's a pretty good start to the arc.  I'm still not all that intrigued by Bravo and Queen HYDRA, but we'll see how that goes.  In the meantime, I loved Eaton depicting everyone on their phones in spite of the chaos erupting around them on the first few pages.  Hilariously (and disturbingly) true.

Captain America #16:  First, I have to say that the cover of this issue is awesome, and, as an extra bonus, accurately portrays the events inside the issue!

Moving onto the story, I thought that the revelation that the TV pundit was a robot hypnotizing America to attack Captain America was great.  (Now I know why everyone was on their phones!)  First, it's totally the type of plot that Zemo would orchestrate, thereby making it clear that it's his secret mission mentioned last issue.  Second, Cap would definitely be rocked by average citizens turning against him, so it meshes nicely with Bravo and Queen HYDRA's plan to keep him off his game.  But, adding to the intrigue, Falcon seems to think that it's not just the populace who Bravo and Queen HYDRA are manipulating, given his comments about something being wrong with Steve.  I'm intrigued where that line of inquiry goes.

Beyond the plot, though, I thought Brubaker and Bunn did a great job with Cap's supporting cast.  Over the course of this series, I've often found myself enjoying their antics more than Cap's, and this issue is no exception.  Who wouldn't read a comic dedicated to Sharon Carter, Dum Dum Dugan, and Falcon fighting bad guys?  You've got Dugan carrying around the TV-pundit's head and Sharon deploying her new wings, all with Falcon playing the straight man.  Brubaker has realized that we're not going to buy a Steve Rogers who suddenly gets jokey and risky, so he gives us the supporting cast for that.  It makes for a lot more fun.

All in all, this issue is one of the strongest of the series and I can't wait to see Sharon bring the fight to Zemo next issue.  Although I'm getting tired of the constant focus on Cap doubting himself, I can be excited about the upcoming fight with HYDRA given that I know this storyline is coming to an end.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Hawkeye #1:  A few things to know before I get into this review:

I've been pretty disappointed by Hawkeye's treatment over the last two or three years at the hands of Marvel.  The last really good go that Marvel gave Hawkeye in that time was the "Hawkeye and Mockingbird" mini-series, where Hawkeye helped Mockingbird run her boutique intelligence squad while they tried to figure out their romantic status.  However, Marvel pulled the plug before it was really able to find its footing.  Jim McCann kept the fires burning with "Widowmaker" and "Hawkeye:  Blindspot."  Both mini-series were decent, but, because they couldn't guarantee that readers of one necessarily read the other, McCann was forced to tell Hawkeye's origin story over and over again, making me feel like I was going to poke out an eye if I read the word "carnie" one more time.  But, McCann had a good sense of Clint, so I still enjoyed both series.

Then everything went downhill.

First, we had to suffer through the "Avengers:  Solo" mini-series, one of the worst comics that I've ever read.  Honestly, if you want to know more about it, you can read my review, but, seriously, I still think that you'd be wasting your time.  The less said about it, the better.  Then, we've had a series of appearances with other Marvel characters that also focused too much on expository and too little on fun.  In "Captain America and Hawkeye" #629 and "Secret Avengers" #21.1, we see Bunn and Remender, respectively, plumb the depths of Hawkeye's authority figure problems, creating a much more adversarial father/son relationship for Cap and Hawkeye than they've ever had.  In both issues, Cap treats Hawkeye like a rebellious teenager rather than a grown-ass man who lead both the Avengers West Coast and Thunderbolts teams.  It was even worse in "Avenging Spider-Man" #4, where Hawkeye's mostly fun appearance was overshadowed by the fact that Wells felt the need to have Clint constantly monologue about his need to train because he doesn't have super strength.  Between these three issues, you got the sense that Clint walked through the day fighting authority because he was on the verge of tears over his abandonment issues and feeling out-classed because he's just a regular guy.  It just wasn't the Clint Barton that I recognize.  Are those sentiments present in him?  Sure.  But, they're present in him just like the death of Batman's parents' or Spider-Man's uncle is present with him.  They're mentioned occasionally, but we don't hear about them constantly.  They're part of who they are, but they've moved past it (mostly, in the part of Bruce).  But, Marvel suddenly wanted us to believe that Clint hadn't moved past these issues, and it made him a weaker character for it.  It's OK to focus on flaws, but you also have to focus on strengths.

I hoped, when I heard this series was announced, that the author would manage to strike a better balance.  He would keep in mind Clint's flaws, but he'd remember what made Clint Clint.  The charm.  The soft touch.  The sexy.  If s/he hit those points 70 percent of the time and the flaws 30 percent of time (rather than the other authors, who inversed that equation), I'd be happy.

Then, I heard Matt Fraction was writing it.

If you were here for "Fear Itself," you know I fucking HATE Matt Fraction.  I hated everything about "Fear Itself."  To me, it's the low point of Marvel Comics.  Period.  It was a blatant money grab timed for the movie based on a shoddy plot.  It was disrespectful to readers while it was happening and even more disrespectful after it happened, given that they immediately ret-conned all the consequences.  Matt Fraction gave us that.  I did not want Matt Fraction anywhere NEAR Clint Barton.

But, I bought it anyway. 

You guys?  I love this issue.  I love this issue SO MUCH.  I love this issue SO MUCH that I'm tempted never to buy another issue of this series and just call it a day because it is the perfect Hawkeye story and I just don't think anyone could do better ever.  The charm.  The soft touch.  The sexy.  It's all there.

I'm at a loss where to begin.  Fraction has the best read on Clint that I've ever read.  He's the softy who buys a building from a mobster so that his neighbors can pay affordable rent and who tells a veterinarian that he has to fix "pizza dog."  (I'm assuming that he used the money from Baron Zemo at the end of "Hawkeye:  Blindspot.")  He's also the guy who tells said mobster that Captain America might inspire everyone around him to be good, but, unfortunately for the mobster, Captain America isn't there.  Only Hawkeye could somehow use Captain America to amplify a threat of imminent violence.  This guy.  This guy who feeds a dog pizza on the street and beats up the mobsters who hurt him.  This guy is Clint Barton.

Beyond just getting Clint, Fraction also convey a strong voice for Hawkeye.  You can really hear him in the narration.  I loved on the second page, when, in response to the orderly telling him that he can't leave the wheelchair, Clint comments, "God.  This guy."  Awesome.  You could totally hear him say that.

Most importantly, Fraction avoids what I mentioned above:  he doesn't linger on Clint's past or his insecurities.  In fact, he mentions them -- and moves past them -- on the first page, as Clint's falling off a building.  Raised by carnies.  Just a guy.  BAM.  First page.  Moving along.  All I needed to know about this series, I got right there in that moment.

Let's talk about Aya and Hollingsworth.  I don't think that I've ever seen a better looking Clint.  Seriously.  I've read A LOT of Hawkeye stories, and, most of the time, it's hard to distinguish him from Steve Rogers.  He's just another random blond guy.  But, Aya and Hollingsworth manage, with their minimalist style, to make him into his own man, visually.  I loved him at the start of the issue walking in the sun with the bandages and bruises and a smile.  In contrast, I also loved him at the end of the issue in the rain leaning into the cab with a scowl on his face.  Those two scenes show us everything we need to know about Clint.  He's a guy who really just wants to be in the sun or on a rooftop deck knocking over bottles with a quarter with his neighbors, but sometimes he has too big of a heart and he winds up fighting Chinese gangsters in an underground casino or threatening a Russian mobster as he puts them in a cab to the airport.  He's our guy.

Returning to Fraction, the Bed-Stuy location obviously sets up Clint as that neighborhood's Daredevil.  I'm guessing that we're going to veer between Hawk fighting off terrorists somewhere and helping little old ladies get back their retirement savings.  In fact, I'd love for it to be a New York-based "Burn Notice."  (I'm hoping Spider-Woman makes her way into the series soon, a la Black Widow in "Winter Soldier.")  But, based on some clues, I'm guessing that it's going to be more little old ladies than terrorists.  Rather than using Clint's status as a regular guy as some sort of negative, Fraction puts it front and center and focuses on the day-to-day problems of a superhero.  I mean, how often have you seen Cap wonder whether lying will get his Avengers HMO membership canceled?  Plus, the way that Hawk tells the crowd in the vet clinic not to worry because he's an Avenger?  I mean, it's not like he's screaming "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!" as he takes on the God of Fear.  He's just a guy telling everyone around him to trust him.

Fraction manages to weave all this together in a dizzying issue.  It's perfect.  Issue of the year contender.  Matt Fraction, you and I are OK.  "Fear Itself" officially forgiven.  We're bros now.

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers vs X-Men #10:  Until now, Cyclops has seemed to be managing the Phoenix Force pretty well compared to his fellow members of the Phoenix Five.  Whereas everyone else has had the darkest parts of their soul amplified by Phoenix, Scott has held a pretty firm line on the fact that the Phoenix Five were trying to help the world.  He refused the entreaties of other members of the Phoenix Five to take a more aggressive approach with the Avengers, insisting that getting aggressive would only serve to help the Avengers paint them as the bad guys.  That plan goes out the window in this issue when he decides to stop being Mr. Nice Guy to get his hands on Hope.

At this stage, I have two major questions that I would like to see answered before this series ends.  First, why does Cyclops care about Hope?  In the beginning, before he even conceived of himself as playing host to Phoenix, he needed Hope since she was the obvious avatar of the Phoenix Force and, therefore, the person who could use Phoenix's power to bring about the rebirth of the mutant race.  But, he now possesses 1/2 of the Phoenix Force's power and, based on the cover image of issue #11, might soon possess all of it.  As such, why does he still need Hope?  Does he plan on surrendering his power to her?  It doesn't seem like it, particularly given comments that he previously made to her (I think in issue #6) about Phoenix not wanting her anymore after Hope rejected it.  Does he want her simply so that the Avengers can't use her against him?  I think that's the real reason, but he doesn't seem to think about it that way.  I think that it would be helpful to see him explain why he wants Hope.

Second, what's Cyclops' plan, exactly?  In the beginning, he wanted Hope to use the Phoenix Force to restart the mutant race.  But, we haven't seen any indication, since coming into possession of Phoenix's power himself, that he or any other member of the Phoenix Five have done anything to make that happen.  Is his plan simply to rule?  Is that, again, why he wants Hope?  Does he want her not so that she can become the avatar of Phoenix, but so that she doesn't become a rival to him?  Again, I think that the last two issues probably need to address his plan at some point, particularly if he does defeat Emma and becomes the sole Phoenix.

Looking beyond the larger plot, this issue is tense.  It didn't surprise me when I looked, after I read it, and saw that Brubaker wrote it.  Brubaker has excelled in telling these sort of tightly scripted thrillers in "Captain America" and "Winter Soldier," and this issue is no different.  He initially portrays Scott as a benevolent dictator whose patience with his wayward subjects finally comes to an end.   Slowly but surely, however, as Scott makes his way through K'un Lun, Brubaker makes it clear that Scott is just as despotic as Emma, who we see here subjugating the rest of the X-Men on Utopia.  Brubaker scripts this issue like a horror movie, giving us a disturbing Cyclops roaming around an empty K'un Lun calling out Hope's name.  "Come out, Hope.  I'm not here to hurt you."  Sure, you're not, Summers.  Sure, you're not.  Brubaker uses small moments to show how far gone Scott is, like the petulant comment that he makes after taking down Hawkeye, Thing, and Thor:  "How's that for clobbering time?"  But, Brubaker also excels when focusing on the other side, showing us a terrified Hope fleeing from Cyclops.  Brubaker implies no shame in her fear, since, after all, it's pretty understandable that anyone, let alone a teenaged girl, would be pretty damned frightened if a demi-god was coming after her.  Hope runs into the arms of the Thunderer and the Scarlet Witch and Brubaker uses the moment to show the adults doing their best to do right by her.

In the end, though, it's Hope's show.  Brubaker's contribution to this series is to draw back the story, which has wandered over the course of Act Two, to the core conceit, namely Hope's relationship with Phoenix.  As I hoped last issue, we see her kick Scott's ass here.  It's a satisfying moment, but the decision (seemingly) to activate Hope's Iron Fist powers raised some questions in my mind.  One of the authors' odder decisions has been tying the powers of the Phoenix Force to those of the Iron Fist and Scarlet Witch.  Tony Stark has spent almost the entire mini-series trying to find the connection between the three entities, and I've been trying to be patient (even though it's pretty hard to imagine the Iron Fist connection being in play had Bendis not resurrected him from obscurity in his run on Avengers).  After ten issues, though, I'm still not entirely sure why we needed to involve the Iron Fist AND Scarlet Witch in this endeavor, particularly when, as we see here, Hope's connection to the Phoenix Force continues to be the most interesting.

With the return to focus on Hope's relationship with Phoenix, I'm hoping we make some quick progress in the next issue.  We seem to be missing quite a few potential players on the board (Cable, Jean Grey, Professor X, Scarlet Witch beyond her random whack-a-mole-esque appearances over the last few issues).  Although the authors have done a great job of adding plot twists without making them seem just like diversions and misdirections, it's time to address the issues that I raised above, namely, what's Hope's future and how does it impact the mutant race.  I'm worried, though, we're going to focus next issue on the manufactured connection to the Iron Fist energy and the Scarlet Witch's powers and the last issue is going to be a mad rush to the finish.  We shall see, I guess.

Avengers #29:  OK, if you're read my last few posts, you'll know that "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12 has been the biggest thorn in my side when it comes to this event, given that it didn't seem to fit in continuity.  After all, I wasn't sure how Hope could be in K'un Lun in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #7 and "New Avengers" #27 while also being in Indonesia in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12, essentially at the same time.  Here, we learn that it's because she wasn't.  "Hope" in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12 was Professor X.

First, can I just say, because I rarely get to say it, OMG, thank you, Marvel, for resolving a continuity question!  OK, sure, we still have the problem that Giant Man was allegedly captured in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12, but never actually appeared in captivity after that.  Fine, whatever.  I can live with that.  Sure, Quicksilver forgot that he was captured in that issue for two issues of "Avengers vs. X-Men," but he eventually remembered, so, you know, no harm, no foul.  But, it made no sense that Hope was in Indonesia.  I mean, none.  Why would the Avengers risk her being in Indonesia, where the X-Men could find her, and not in K'un Lun, where she was safe?  They wouldn't, which is why it didn't make sense.

But, this issue doesn't just resolve that continuity point.  It also essentially brings Professor X into the game, or, put another way, explains why he hadn't been in the game yet.  Even now, we're only seeing him start to get involved.  He helps the Avengers break out their people in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #9 and I'm guessing that he's going to respond to Magneto's plea for help big time in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #11.  But, here, we see why he hasn't been involved, namely, because he couldn't handle taking up arms against his "children."  Ever since Cyclops expelled Xavier from the X-Men after the "Vulcan incident," if you will, he has vacillated between accepting Scott's leadership and feeling unnecessarily dismissed.  Here, I get the sense that we're seeing his last moment of disengagement, because he seems bound to play a key role in stopping Scott.  Moreover, given Scott's behavior over the course of "Avengers vs. X-Men," it's pretty clear that he no longer will have the moral superiority over Xavier that he thought that he had.  All that points to a renewed presence by Xavier after the event ends.  But, here, Bendis gives us one last look at the Xavier we've seen over the last few years and prepares us for his next iteration.  Although it's an Avengers book, it's definitely worth a read for an X-Men fan.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Comics!: The "Wait, Isn't AVX Still Happening?" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Secret Avengers #29:  OK, let's start with the obvious.  It's a little hard, in the beginning, to follow the story, because you spend so much time thinking, "Isn't Hawkeye a prisoner in Utopia or Limbo (depending on who you ask)?" or "Isn't Black Widow lying in a gutter in Indonesia?"  In other words, it's hard to know how to place this issue given that it does its best to avoid mentioning "Avengers vs. X-Men."  Did it happen before the event?  After it?  It's unclear.  But, Remender does a pretty good job of making that irrelevant fairly quickly in the issue by throwing us immediately into the matter at hand.

After the occasionally-brilliant-but-mostly-ridiculous Descendants arc, Remender returns to this title's original bad guys, the Shadow Council, and its as-yet-unrevealed (if I'm not mistaken) plans for the Crown of Serpents.  Remender uses a number of clever devices here, from using John Steele as our insight into the operations of the Council to creating a sovereign nation that essentially serves as a "Bar with No Name" on a massive scale.  Steele has been a compelling character since his debut, so it's sad to see him die here.  But, Remender handles it well, and, when Hawkeye eventually realizes that he has also lost Eric O'Grady, it leads you to wonder how the deaths of two members of his team are going to weigh on him.  (Speaking of O'Grady, Remender seems to open the door to the possibility that he isn't dead, exactly, though reborn somehow.)  But, it's the re-imagined Masters of Evil as a nation that really takes the cake here and makes you quickly forget about that other event.  By putting the Council at the head of the Masters of Evil, Remender creates an evil empire that could seriously challenge the Secret Avengers (heck, all the Avengers combined) as they try to determine what exactly the Council plans on doing with not one, not two, but three crowns.  But, before we get there, we're apparently going to be treated to a fight between Taskmaster and Venom.  I'll admit that I was planning on canceling this arc after "Avengers vs. X-Men" ended and, when I got this issue home and realized that it wasn't a tie-in issue, felt like I had been swindled.  But, I loved this issue and can't wait to see where Remender goes from here.  How's that for a happy surprise?

X-Men Legacy #271:  OK, to be brutally honest, my first thought when reading the first few pages of this issue was, "Really?  Lost in space?  Again?"

First, before we get started with the issue, I think it's weird that this issue also doesn't focus on "Avengers vs. X-Men."  However, I think the decision is all the odder given that we really haven't seen much in the way of the rank-and-file X-Men's response to the advent of the Phoenix Five (then Four, now Two).  Act Two of the event has focused almost exclusively on the Five.  The main mini-series has dedicated only sporadic moments t0 Magneto, Psylocke, and Storm, generally as a group, and "Uncanny X-Men" has focused on Sinister, almost exclusively.  "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "X-Men Legacy" have been the exceptions, but the former has focused on almost too many characters and the latter has focused only on Frenzy and Rogue.  How about everyone else?  In particular, I feel like Iceman and Rachel have been given short-shrift in this Act.  Their defection from the School was a major plot in the tie-in issues associated with Act One.  But, in Act Two, they've been essentially been reduced to occasional moments, such as Bobby's three- or four-panel appearance in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #9.  Rachel did manage to get an entire issue focused on her, in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12, but it doesn't explain why she suddenly quit the cause with Bobby, as we saw in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #9.  I really think that someone could've showed us that story, to give us a better sense of how the rank-and-file members feel.  (I mean, Bobby and Rachel actually aren't really even rank-and file members.  How do the New Mutants feel?  They were in the first few battles in Act One, but they've disappeared in Act Two.  Gambit?  He was part of a group conversation with Storm and some other mutants in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #9, but you couldn't even tell which comments were his.)  All in all, I can't help but feel like the authors putting together this event missed a serious chance to give us some color commentary about the Phoenix Five from the perspective of their closest allies.

Focusing on the issue itself, Gage delivers a pretty formulaic "lost in space" story here.  Rogue arrives on alien planet in the middle of a war, makes a deal to help one side defeat the other to return home, and loses her powers at an inopportune time.  How many times have we read that story?  Gage doesn't really add any new twist to it, other than maybe the comedic bit when Rogue refuses her alien allies' offer of concubines.  I mean, it shouldn't be that transparent that the authors didn't know how to fit Rogue into the story so they expelled her to an alien dimension, but it totally is.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers vs. X-Men #9:  After not much really happening to advance the overall plot in the last two issues, Aaron regroups, giving us a character-driven issue that manages to move us to a new status quo and remind us why Dr. Strange said of Spidey in "Amazing Spider-Man" #641, "The boy is truly the best of us."

Before I get to the plot, Aaron resolves (more or less) one of my main gripes with the last few issues by specifically identifying the Avengers who've been captured by the Phoenix Five (now Four).  It appears that Black Widow was captured in Indonesia in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12, despite no one actually mentioning that she was at the time.  However, despite Rachel saying Giant Man was captured in that issue, he apparently wasn't, since he appears injured in this issue.  I had thought that Emma Frost captured Thor in "AVX:VS" #4, but he appeared free in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #8.  Here, we learn that he was captured, but by Colossus and Magik.  Quicksilver was allegedly captured in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12, but forget that he was for "Avengers vs. X-Men" #7 and #8.  I guess he remembered here.  Even though Aaron resolves the issue, I'm still annoyed by such a level of narrative sloppiness since, as I've often said, if I can keep track of who the Phoenix Five have imprisoned, someone who gets money to produce and edit these stories should also be able to do so.  But, by drawing a line under the issue and telling us definitively who's been captured, Aaron at least lets us find our own ways to reconcile these annoying discrepancies (reality warp?) and moves past the awkward contradictions.

To begin, I think that it was a great decision to establish Spider-Man as our lens for this issue.  After reading this issue, I realized that the problem with the last two issues is that they tried to cover too much ground and juggle too many characters.  In doing so, they actually managed not to cover all that much ground and to treat the characters as virtually indistinguishable from one another.  In the first instance, the Avengers are still on the run from the X-Men with no real idea on how to change the game; they mostly just bemoan their circumstances.  In the second instance, when Ben Grimm noted at the end of last issue that the Avengers expended all their energy against Namor but barely defeated him, his words easily could've been uttered by virtually any other member of the team.  Even Captain America has been reduced essentially just to barking orders, with no real effort to give us an insight into his thinking.

By putting Spidey front and center, Aaron is able to move us through the events that happen in the issue much more quickly, since he's not burdened by having to also provide other characters' perspectives at the same time.  Moreover, by focusing on just one character, we get that emotional connection to the story that we've been missing.  He builds off the work that Bendis did with Spidey in "New Avengers" #27, making us initially think that his role in this issue was going to have something to do with inspiring Hope.  It does, in a way, but not in the way you think.

I've read Spider-Man a long time, and I have to say that Aaron writes a pretty great Spider-Man.  Some authors treat Peter's sense of humor as a sign that he's not serious, but Aaron gets that his quips are his way of expelling nervous energy.  As such, he uses Pete's inner monologue to show his more serious thoughts.  Here, Peter realizes that he has a responsibility to show Hope what he meant about waiting for her moment.  It's classic Spidey, because he's driven not only by his responsibility as a member of the Avengers, but also his responsibility as a mentor to Hope.  As such, beyond just saving the Avengers, I'm hoping that we see it inspire Hope.  (Speaking of the quips, though, can I just say how please I was with the "Karate Kid" reference?  I mean, I know that it was obvious, but, the minute that I saw Hope balancing those buckets, I just knew Spidey was going to make a "Karate Kid" joke.  Thank you, Jason Aaron, for making that happen.)

In addition to writing a great Spidey, Aaron also manages to do a better job than some of the other authors in setting the mood.  You really got the sense of desperation that is driving the Avengers at this point.  We see Captain America commething that he estimated that the Avengers only had a week or so before the Phoenix Four would defeat them and Spidey taking his action in Limbo because he thought that they weren't going to survive.  It's pretty seriously grim.  As I previously said, at this point we had mostly just seen the Avengers bemoaning their circumstances.  Here, Aaron makes their worries a lot more real.  On the other side, he's also the first author in the main title to show us the Phoenix Four really cracking under the strain.  I have to say that using Colossus and Magik against each other was brilliant.  "Wolverine and the X-Men" #14 really set up this conflict well, given that we've already seen Peter succumb to his darkest impulses.  It's not hard to see where Magik was going to be negatively influenced by Phoenix.  It makes sense that the two of them were ready to go after each other to get more power.  (I mean, how creepy was Colossus giving whales legs?)  The fact that Aaron has Spidey be smart enough to play them against one another was just icing on the cake.  Moreover, although we've seen Emma acting particularly...Emma over the last few issues, Aaron makes it clear that it's much worse than we thought and humanizes her by making her realize the same.

Part of what makes the prospect of next issue so exciting is realizing the extent to which the authors have turned our expectations on their head.  When we started this series, I assumed that it would be everyone fighting Hope.  But, when Cyclops arrives in K'un Lun, you can see Hope replay the words Peter that said to her in her head.  As a result, I really, really want her to decide that her "moment" has come and to beat Cyclops to a bloody pulp.  It's not where I'd thought we would be at issue #9, and I really tip my hat to the authors for making it feel organic.

Between the doom and gloom, Aaron includes smaller moments of hope, though, like Logan still being sure that Storm wouldn't sell out the Avengers by leading them into a trap and Professor X throwing in his lot with the Avengers.  It's the first moment when you realize that the Avengers and the X-Men might survive this experience with their relationship in tact.  It's clearly not going to be perfect, but, with the X-Men starting to defect from the Phoenix Four, it'll at least be something.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Comics!: The "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avengers vs. X-Men #8:  So far, I've been pretty impressed with how well the various authors have done in keeping all their details straight, particularly in terms of coordinating the main mini-series with the tie-in issues and other co-authors' issues.  The wheels, unfortunately, come off the bus in this issue, weighing down the entire story for me as I tried to reconcile some fairly major inconsistencies.

First, we have the location problem.  Whereas Hope has been in K'un Lun since "New Avengers" #27 (an issue associated more or less with "Avengers vs. X-Men" #6), she just arrives there in this issue of the main title.  Presumably, Spider-Man's tutelage of her doesn't begin until after this issue (since he also just arrives in K'un Lun in this issue), making it a little odd that the events of two full issues of the main title (#7 and #8) pass before the events of "New Avengers" #27 could even remotely happen.

Then, we have what I'll call the "prisoner problem."  For example, Thor and Emma battle in "AVX:VS" #4.  Emma defeats him and, in "New Avengers" #28, someone mentions that Thor has been captured.  Yet, Thor appears here with no reference to him having been captured.  Moreover, Quicksilver also appears, despite the fact that he was specifically mentioned as captured in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12.  However, I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12 is a total outlier.  Both Giant Man and Quicksilver are identified as captured in that issue, but they both appear in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #7.  Moreover, Hope never appeared to have time to go to Indonesia with the Avengers, as she does in that issue.

I mention these problems not only because they annoy me, but because they compound the problem that you already have under the best of circumstances with these sorts of events, trying to fit the stories happening in the main mini-series into some sort of continuum with the tie-in issues.  Beyond the "prisoner problem," I've got a slew of questions about when the events in some of the tie-in issues happen.  For example, when do the Phoenix Five fit in going after Mr. Sinister, particularly if they're the Phoenix Four by the end of this issue?  When you start getting the authors directly contradicting each other, then it starts becoming really problematic, because it's hard to stay in the story.

Putting aside my anal-retentiveness, the other problem with this issue is that it really just seems like a stalling device.  I mean, sure, Namor loses the power of the Phoenix and the Avengers have a pity party over the fact that it took everything that they had just to knock out a member of the Phoenix Five.  But, nothing really substantially changed from the end of last issue.  I mean, it takes Hope and Wolverine half an issue just to step through a portal!  Instead, we get Professor X appearing suddenly furious at the end.  I don't really understand why he was mad at Scott, since it's not like Scott destroyed Wakanda.  I mean, I'm not really a fan of Scott's at this point, but it's pretty hard to blame Namor's rogue actions on him.  But, Professor X just seems totally enraged, despite the fact that, the last time that we saw him, in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #6, he was just concerned.  I'm getting almost all the tie-in issues (except, I think, "Avengers Academy") so I'm 95 percent certain that we haven't seen the reason why he went from concerned to furious in those issues.  As such, it just feels like an arbitrary plot device to move us to the next mini-plot of the series.

I'm not really sure where it's all leading.  We still don't have a clear sense of Phoenix's motives; at this point, it seems to be allowing the Phoenix Five to do what they want, but it's pretty clear that approach is going to change.  I'm also confused why the X-Men are more focused on changing the world than changing mutantkind.  Shouldn't they be using their power to restart the mutant race?  Offering to return powers to mutants de-powered on M-Day?  Phoenix's (purported) power to restart mutantkind is, after all, the whole reason the two sides are fighting this battle, since Cyclops believes it outweighs all the potential danger.  Why isn't he using it to do that then?  It's unclear to me whether it's part of Phoenix's plan (so it's manipulating Cyclops to feel less urgent in his need to address the issue) or if the authors' have just gotten distracted by other parts of the event.  

Either way, the lack of attention paid to the issue is just one of the reasons why this issue felt like a massive attempt to stall.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  The battle with Namor was epic and the Avengers have a point that they don't have a whole lot of hope if it took all of them just to take down 1/5 of the Phoenix Five.  But, in the end, this issue and issue #7 probably could've been collapsed into one and we wouldn't have been worse for it.

Avengers #28:  I complain throughout this review about the fact that the coordination of tie-in issues with the main mini-series has taken a hit lately, but Bendis is the exception to the rule here.  He does a really great job inserting this story between panels of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #7.  He also wins applause for telling a story that makes sense, because I totally believe that General Ross would take it upon himself to try to assassinate Cyclops.  The story flows smoothly and Ross' narration works well, getting us inside his head and showing us the sacrifices that he's willing to make to advance the cause.  (I thought his most interesting comment was about Wolverine not being able to bring himself to assassinate Cyclops.  I've always appreciated the fact that Bendis has often given Logan credit for a greater level of humanity than other authors have.)  All in all, it's a pretty solid showing that does exactly what a tie-in issue should do, developing a plot that the main story doesn't have time to explore.  It reminded me of Hope and Wolverine's adventure in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #11, another example of a tie-in issue filling in the blanks between panels.  It's also the type of story that I expected to see from "Avengers" during this event, so it's a welcome relief from the recent Space Team plot, which seemed totally unnecessary given the competing story being told in "Secret Avengers."  My only real complaint is the fact that Cyclops decided not to lock up Rulk.  Personally, I'd prefer to have a guy who Emma Frost herself notes went toe-to-toe with the Silver Surfer locked far, far underground.  Why bother locking up Luke Cage, Giant Man, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Spider-Woman if you're going to let Rulk go?  But, I understand that Bendis is working under editorial constraints, so it's not really his fault.  Overall, it's worth a read if you're looking for a story that makes a lot more sense than Thor swinging a hammer at a cosmic entity in space. 

Uncanny X-Men #16:  The main problem with this issue is the fact that it's hard to be too worried about the outcome given that we know that the events depicted in it happen before the events of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #8, since Namor is still a member of the Phoenix Five in this issue.  So, whatever Sinister is planning to do to the Phoenix Five, he clearly doesn't succeed, because they're all intact by the start of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #8.  This issue is a great example of how that increasing lack of coordination negatively impacts the story that Gillen is trying to tell here.  Is it still fun to watch Sinister to score some points against the Phoenix Five?  Sure.  But, in addition to knowing that they all eventually regain their powers in time for Namor to attack Wakanda, Gillen doesn't really explain how the Madelynes manage to siphon off their powers in the first place.  They just sort  You'd think Phoenix, who chose the Five, after all, would have some sort of say.  All in all, it's not a terrible issue, but the lack of suspense and clarity drags it down a lot, a disappointment in light of how strong issues #14 and #15 were.

Wolverine and the X-Men #14:  OK, Jason Aaron wins the prize for author of a tie-in issue who most successfully uses the main event to advance his series' ongoing storylines.  In the love-triangle department, we've got Kitty firmly rejecting Peter and essentially instructing Bobby to ask her on a date.  We've got the revelation that Toad is (creepily) collecting Husk's discarded skins and using them (creepily) to create life-sized models of her so that he can (creepily) serve them tea.  (I told you it was creepy.)  We've even got hints of Paige's ongoing problems with her powers, since I don't remember her leaving behind full-sized skins in the past.  Seriously, I've enjoyed "Avengers vs. X-Men" so far, but this issue was the first one that made me wish it would come to an end soon so we could resume exploring the interesting storylines that Aaron reminds us are brewing in this title.

In terms of "Avengers vs. X-Men," Aaron furthers the plot significantly.  Colossus is arguably the first member of the Phoenix Five that we see totally crack under the pressure.  I mean, sure, Namor attacked Wakanda, but, frankly, it's pretty much within Namor's personality to go off half-cocked and attack a country.  It is not, however, in Peter's nature to threaten Kitty or destroy schools.  At several points during this issue, Aaron has us fear that Colossus is going to hurt Kitty, an idea so ridiculous that Aaron successfully uses it show you how far gone Peter is.  (You know that it's going to go down hill quickly when he tells her early in the issue, during their dinner between the sea, that he has everything but her.)  Molina and Lee do a great job of showing Peter vacillating between sanity and rage.  One moment, his eyes are laughing at the thought that he might be under the possession of Phoenix; the next, they're burning with the idea that he could destroy existence as we know it.  They really manage to accentuate the message that Aaron is trying to convey, making it all the more powerful for it.  By the end of the issue, when Colossus tells Kitty that he could kill her and resurrect her, you realize just how quickly everything is deteriorating.  But, before Colossus can do anything that he'd later regret, Aaron makes Colossus realize how far gone he is as well, as he's standing in the ruins of the statue of Jean Grey.  It's a poignant moment, all the more so for reminding us of Jean's notable absence throughout this event.  (I also thought that Kitty made a great point telling Colossus that she's treating him differently than Jean because Jean didn't round up people who disagreed with her.  Given that the X-Men essentially viewed Jean, before the Phoenix Five got their powers, as weak for failing to control Phoenix and implied that a teenage girl could do it better, I'm glad that someone is giving her props.)

Also importantly, we see Bobby finally have enough when he's forced to "arrest" Thing.  He and Rachel return, a defection (or refection) that seems to portend the start of Act Three, particularly because I'm assuming Rogue will come to a similar conclusion in the upcoming issue of "X-Men Legacy."  It's also unclear what Colossus is going to do, as we seem him end this issue contemplating his actions as he walks across the Moon.

I've often felt frustrated with this series because Aaron has by and large ignored Kitty.  But, we see a lot of the old Kitty here.  For example, her response to Bobby and Rachel's return is a great moment.  She's been trying to hold the School together for weeks, and it's pretty clear that the less she knew about the events happening outside the School, the better.  As such, she refuses to engage Bobby on the subject, instead instructing him and Rachel to start teaching classes and serving lunches.  ("Rogue's gym class and Beast's advanced biology are still open.  I taught both of them at the same time yesterday.")  Combined with the fact that she easily defended the School against Colossus, it shows the grit and determination that we used to see from Kitty.  I hope that we see more of it in the future.

This issue only had two small downsides for me.  First, in terms of the ongoing coordination problems, it seems odd that Ben was suddenly in New York when, last I checked, he had been spirited to K'un Lun with the rest of the Avengers in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #8.  Moreover, I wish we would've seen more about Rachel's decision to return to the X-Men.  I get why Bobby defected, but I feel like we needed some sort of explanation behind why Rachel did.  She was a lot more committed to the cause than Bobby was, believing that it was her way to help prevent her future from becoming a reality, not to mention her desire to support her father.  Although we saw hints of her disquiet in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #12, I didn't really think that she was on the verge of defecting.  It would've been nice to see what got her there.

But, all in all, for the advancement of several "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "Avengers vs. X-Men" storylines as well as the great moments of characterization for Kitty, this issue is one of the best of the bunch.  To mention one last moment, one that really defined the issue for me, I thought Aaron got across his message loud and clear with the "X-Men" who confronted Colossus.  Kitty, Deathlok, Doop, Husk, Toad, and Warbird.  A-Team, it was not.  But, there they were, drawing a line in the sand in front of the School, even when faced with a Phoenix-powered Colossonaut.  It was perhaps one of the few moments when the X-Men felt like the X-Men of my youth, a misfit band of mutants trying to do the right thing, no matter how overpowering the opposition.  Thanks, Jason Aaron, for giving me that.

X-Men Legacy #270:  As expected, Rogue pulls up stakes here, realizing that the Phoenix Five have gone around the bend when she sees Magik's demonic prison.  The rest of the story is a well-written standard prison-break tale, with some nice moments between Carol and Rogue that pretty definitively move them from the "adversary" to "friend" category.  For those scenes alone, it's worth the read.  Like Rulk in "Avengers" #28, the final disposition of Rogue seems a little difficult to believe, since, personally, if I were the Phoenix Five, I'd be a lot happier with Rogue and Rulk in Magik's prison.  But, given that other authors are guilty of the same trick, I'm not going to blame Gage for it here.  Overall, it's a strong issue and a good sequel to the previous one, bringing Carol and Rogue's story full-circle.