Friday, September 28, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Reviewing a Doop issue is apparently as difficult as reviewing a Deadpool issue.  But, I will say, for all its silliness, Aaron actually makes a pretty important revelation, namely how Wolverine is using Doop to take care of threats to the school before they happen.  He's essentially Logan's X-Force!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Winter Soldier #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm frustrated with Brubaker, because I just want to see Bucky beat Leo into a bloody pulp!  But, obviously, it's a good kind of frustrated, showing how emotionally invested I am in this series and these characters.  Needless to say, an issue with Hawkeye and the Winter Soldier is all win for me.  Brubaker gives them a great dynamic, with Hawkeye unconditionally having Bucky's back but cautioning him to try to keep a grip.  He's essentially the friend that tells you that it's a bad idea to steal that car, but then comes with you to make sure you don't get hurt in the process.  Bucky, meanwhile, continues to be played by Leo, forced to do his best to read Leo's signs while knowing all along that he's still just playing Leo's game.  Brubaker does a great job of showing Bucky's increased recklessness, like crashing the helicopter into the secret location infiltrated by A.I.M.  After all, if Hawkeye thinks you're reckless, you're probably pretty reckless.  Leo himself continues to be super-creepy, trying to get Natasha to love him just like she did Bucky.  It appears that, next issue, Leo is going to try to convince Bucky to revert to his Winter Soldier programming to complete a mission for Leo, an offer that he'll likely have to accept.  But, as always, I have no idea what that means or where it's going to go.  In other words, it was another riveting installment of this series.

Secret Avengers #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I guess I didn't realize last issue that Hawkeye and Valkyrie were possessed by the Abyss.  It certainly adds some dramatic tension, leaving Ant-Man and Venom holed up in a hotel room  on their own, trying to figure out their next step in trying to stop the Abyss.  Remender plays up this dynamic well, giving it the feel of the middle act of a horror movie where some people have already been killed by the mysterious villain.  By choosing Ant-Man and Venom, Remender is also showing us the two guys with the most to prove on the team.  He's pretty clear on their motivations throughout the event, and they aren't entirely altruistic, since Venom is hoping that saving the world means that Hawkeye will stop ragging him.  However, things go from bad to worse when an Abyss-controlled Taskmaster sends his mindless minions to the airport to board planes for the outside world.  Black Widow tries to call in support, but Captain Britain and Giant Man are busy fighting "Ultravisions" in Malaysia, so she's left on her own.  Ant-Man and Venom manage to stop all but one plane from departing and we end the issue with Black Widow teleporting on board the last one and fighting with Hawkeye over control.  As you can see, Remender keeps upping the ante as we go, taking us from a local threat (Ant-Man and Venom finding themselves in a city surrounded by Abyss-controlled villains) to a global one over the course of the issue.  I'm interested to see where he goes with it next issue, given that Ant-Man and Venom have to get through an Abyss-controlled Valkyrie to have even a hope of stopping an Abyss-controlled Taskmaster. 

As an aside, the cover is an odd example of pet peeve #2.  I don't understand why Adams would put Max Fury in the Serpent Crown, since the whole point of last issue was that:  1) Max couldn't wear the Crown and 2) the Crown had merged with the other two crowns.  Weird.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Captain America and Black Widow #637 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK,  I've had a few weeks to get used to the idea of multiple versions of Kashmir Venemma acting as weapon dealers here in our dimension's Earth (and, apparently, on other Earths as well).  I still can't say that I'm thrilled with it, but I'll at least concede that it's an original idea.  I don't remember Immortus or Kang everyone using their time-traveling abilities to serve as weapons dealers.  However, the problem is that, even if I find the idea original, I still can't say that I care.  We may be dealing with multiple versions of Kashmir, but I still find it hard to view them as separate people, as Bunn clearly wants us to do given the sympathetic approach that he takes to the Kashmir working the controls at Vennema HQ.  As such, I can't help but think, "OMG, Kashmir Vennema AGAIN?"  Also, it doesn't help that both Black Widow and Captain America feel flat to me.  In fact, the only personality that either character showed was when Cap essentially threatened to anally assault two agents with their shivs.  (Yup.  Not kidding.  I'm just going to leave that one there.)  This series just continues to be hot and cold for me.  I really enjoyed the Iron Man version, but the Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Namor versions have all been, to varying degrees, disappointments.  I believe this series is getting canned in Marvel NOW! and I can't say that I'm too disappointed.

On a Format Change

I just thought that I'd post a quick self-indulgent note about a change that I'm making to the format of to the blog.  When I first started blogging, I was living overseas and received my comics via mail.  As such, I was usually a few weeks behind the curve (hence the title of this blog).  At the same time, I was moving my way through 100+ back issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" that I had bought when I decided that I couldn't resume collecting comics and not read Spidey.  But, I realized that I needed to understand "Brand New Day," so I dropped some bank and started reading.  Both factors lent themselves to posts covering multiple issues, as I made my way through various arcs in "Amazing Spider-Man" and bundles of comics that arrived in the mail.

Happily, I now live in the U.S. and am able to get my comics every Wednesday like everyone else.  As such, waiting to post until I read enough issues to make up an "edition" (Avengers, Cap, X-Men, etc.) no longer makes sense.  Instead, I'm going to start posting review one by one, which should also mean more frequent posts.  I'm still going to include longer summaries and reviews for "Amazing Spider-Man" with shorter reviews only for every other series.  At least, if homework doesn't get in the way...

New Comics!: The Spidey Affinity Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Avenging Spider-Man #9:  Awesome.  DeConnick does such a great job here that I'm pretty sure I'm going to wind up buying up all the back issues of "Captain Marvel" when I go to the comic shop today.  DeConnick intuitively grasps the entire point of "Avenging Spider-Man," namely that it's an opportunity for Pete to have some banter with a fellow Avengers while facing a not-so-serious threat.  I mean, if the world is going to end, it's probably not going to be in "Avenging Spider-Man."  You're more likely to get the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man trying to eat the Chrysler Building than Dr. Doom setting off a nuclear device.  DeConnick gets that and it's all the better of an issue for it.

She has a great ear for Pete's personality and voice, so much so that I would love to see her try her hand at "Amazing Spider-Man" after Slott leaves.  For example, I totally believe that Pete would be afraid of flying in a prop plane, even though, as Carol notes, he swings "from spittle off skyscrapers."  DeConnick also manages to be the only author who seems to remember Carol and Pete's mutual attraction.  I've always loved the idea of the two of them together and I'm sorry that I wasn't reading comics when they went on a few dates.  DeConnick delivers some truly excellent flirting in this issue and I am so, so very proud of Peter for climbing onto that limb and saying, "Or, better yet, three minutes in the clo --"  Damn jetpack girl screwing up his line.  Lest you think only Pete gets the winner, Carol delivers one of the best lines of the issue:  "Don't you lady me, son, I'm an Avenger."  Awesome.  DeConnick adds to the impact of these lines by having a sense of comic timing that I don't think I've ever seen come across so clearly in a comic before.

In terms of the plot, DeConnick delivers an initially non-threatening MacGuffin in the form of the aforementioned jetpack-wearing activist seeking to steal money from a bank and redistribute it to the people.  (She decides to call herself "Robyn Hood" after a joke Pete made.)  She's being chased by an overzealous guy in armor who the Boston cops reveal is sub-contracted to the city after the bank "donated" his armor to the city.  (Smart bank.  Donate the armor to make sure your guy is the one to handle your cases.)  My only problem with the story is that he seemed to be WAY too blood-thirsty.  I get the fact that he wanted the bonus, but the fact that he was willing to kill not only Robyn Hood but also Captain Marvel and Spider-Man simply because he was allowed to capture her "dead or alive" really seemed WAY over the top.  Moreover, despite the cops claiming that they had no control over the situation, I'd be very surprised if a real cop would just step aside and let a glorified security guard kill someone, bank robber or no, donated armor or no.  But, the plot doesn't matter so much when you're having this much fun.

Venom #20:  You know, I've been reading comic books long enough to know that "Chekhov's gun" always applies.  As such, when the intro page mentioned Betty's brother Bennett, you'd think that I would've taken notice.  I did, but I noticed the next panel, mentioning Ned.  I knew from a spoiler that Crime-Master revealed his identity in this issue, so I was expecting to learn that Ned had returned from the dead.  I was not expecting it to be Betty's brother.  I'm not really sure how I feel about that.  On one hand, it helps Flash, since I'm pretty sure Betty is going to feel like Flash was chosen as Crime-Master's pawn as a result of his relationship with her and, although it might not eliminate her angry, that guilt will likely remove her ability to be completely indignant.  (I'm going to have to read earlier issues to see how Crime-Master found Flash in the first place.  Even if he didn't know his identity in the beginning and their "relationship" happened by accident, he likely amped up the "relationship" once he knew that it was Flash.)  However, on the other hand, we've got poor Betty Brant yet again being a victim of a man, this time of her brother.  I mean, first, she had her husband go insane (and become the Hobgoblin, since I don't acknowledge the ret-con). But, then, just in the last few issues, she's been kidnapped by Crime-Master, ("Venom" #4), mugged ("Amazing Spider-Man" #665), kidnapped by Crime-Master AGAIN ("Venom" #19), and now learns that Crime-Master is her brother.  I mean, I feel like we're seriously moving past "Women in Refrigerators" syndrome and creating a whole new "Betty Brant in Hell" category.

Meanwhile, Flash totally loses his shit in this issue.  His mother, thankfully, isn't dead (I'm assuming Human Fly ate her dog or something), but, in Flash's attempt to find her, he kills Death Adder (in front of a woman and her young son no less) and cuts off the Human Fly's wings.  Remender makes it pretty clear that Flash is in a head-long rush to find Betty and his mother.  But, it's also pretty clear that he's going to have to find a way to live with what he's doing now when the dust settles.  This series has made it clear that Flash is a little more comfortable with death than the average superhero, given his time as a soldier.    But, the way he killed Death Adder, the way he tortured Human Fly, and the fact that his brother-in-law was killed because of him are all going to be things that will weigh on him later.  Man, can't Flash have a win?

Monday, September 24, 2012

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

New Mutants #49:  DnA really wrap up this arc pretty cleverly, even if time-travel stories make my head hurt.  The alternate timeline in which the New Mutants found themselves last issue was created as a result of future Doug re-writing the past reality to create a new future reality, one where he is no longer a benevolent dictator but an absolute ruler.  His main way of doing so appears to be inserting himself into the new alternate reality earlier than he appeared in the previous future reality.  (I know.  I'm just going to stop trying to explain it.  Suffice to say, it works, if you don't think about it too hard.)  At any rate, after future Doug absorbed present Doug, present Doug spent years trying to find a way to stop his future self.  He realized that he should send the Hellions after the New Mutants at that crucial moment, since their presence would activate Dani's Valkyrie abilities, which she could then use to "kill" his future self.  At that moment, I realized that the genius of DnA is that I'm not sure which idea came first:  did they want to incorporate the Hellions as the team's last villains and so invented the plot to make that happen or did they have the future Doug plot in the first place and realized that they could incorporate the Hellions into it?  Either way, the fact that either option could be plausible reveals just how tight DnA's writing is.  I had actually thought that Doug would stay dead and I had come to terms with it since it's such a better way for him to go than his last death.  But, thankfully, we get to keep present Doug.  For good measure, Dr. Strange removes the effects of the "interdimensional entity" that caused all the problems in the first place.  In other words, all's well that ends well.  The only negative to this issue is the abrupt change in the art.  I'm hoping that we get someone decent for the last issue.

X-Factor #244:  So far, I can't say that I've been all that surprised by the events of "Breaking Points," in part because Peter David has been building the stories that see their denouements here for a long time.  It was pretty clear that Guido wasn't magically going to regain his soul, so his decision to leave the team made sense, given Monet's constant rejection of him.  Similarly, it made even more sense that Rahne left the team to take care of her son.  However, I'm shocked that Terry is leaving.  I've always thought of Terry as the heart of X-Factor, the one that notices the things that Madrox doesn't notice, that makes sure everything and everyone are moving in the right direction.  In fact, it's exactly this trait that sets up this issue, since she asks for a boon from the Morrigan to repair Lorna's fractured mind.

I'm not really sure what I think about the developments in this issue.  First, I had a lot of questions about the Morrigan and her motives when she first appeared.  She seemed to be aware of Theresa before Theresa was aware of her, and, after reading this issue, I'm wondering if she had already identified Theresa as her successor before the events of issue #239.  Although it makes sense if you don't think about the details too much, it doesn't if you remember that the whole reason that the Morrigan attacked Theresa is that she wanted her to worship her, not become her.  Moreover, in terms of this issue itself, how did the Morrigan know to start appearing to Theresa before Lorna actually went insane?  Is she omniscient?  (In issue #239, I also questioned how she knew that Terry called herself Banshee, which was in theory why the Morrigan originally went after her, since she was offended at Terry for using the name).  David doesn't really answer any of these questions related to the Morrigan.  Whether she just spontaneously decided to surrender her divinity or had been planning it for a long while, I guess we're not going to know.  All we do know is that Theresa has now ascended to some form of godhood and, based on her conversation with Jaime at the end, we're unlikely to see her again any time soon.

Terry's departure definitely leaves a hole in the group.  I'm assuming that we'll see Layla step into her role, particularly as Layla has become more human as a result of her decreased ability to "know" the future.  But, it's still sad to see Terry go.  It's really hard to predict how these departures will change the series, since David has so carefully paid attention to each character's interaction with other characters.  In most books, a character is just how s/he is and everyone usually responds to her/him in the same way.  David is such a great writer (usually) and has written these specific characters for so long that he has developed a more nuanced set of group dynamics.  Everyone interacts with everyone else differently.  Without Terry interacting in her specific way with Jaime or with Monet, it's difficult to tell how they'll each be affected, not to mention the team as a whole.

As a side note, I actually thought the most poignant part of this issue was Alex's confession to Lorna.  Alex gets incredibly short shrift from Marvel so it was nice to see him in a quiet moment.  I particularly liked how he wasn't in costume, perhaps for the first time since he re-joined X-Factor.  It seemed to accentuate that he was just a guy trying to figure out a way to lead a team, deal with a girlfriend who needs help, and figure out his own needs and priorities.  Given that Alex is going to be in "Uncanny Avengers," I'm guessing that he's going to leave "X-Factor," which is a shame.  His dynamic with Jaime has been excellent and I feel like Rick Remender isn't going to approach him with the same care and insight as David would.

Onto the next depressing day...

X-Men Legacy #273:  Blah, blah, blah, cats and dogs, living together, blah, blah, blah.  I'd say more, but, really, this whole arc has been so tortuously over-written that I'm just glad to see it done.

New(-ish) Comics!: The Spidey Affinity Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, so, I'm current with most of my titles, but I'm still making my way through the backlog of Spidey books that I accrued during my move.  The cover date of this batch is June.  Yup, we have a long way to go.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #39:  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm not a huge fan of time-travel stories.  They're used way too often and usually contain so many logic inconsistencies that it's hard to focus on the plot at hand because you're too busy trying to figure out the various implications of the Butterfly Effect.  For example, we never really get an explanation why Uncle Ben is able to recall who Peter is but no one else can.  If I'm reading between the lines, it's because Uncle Ben is actually in Heaven, so he exists outside the normal constraints of the time stream.  But, we never actually get confirmation of that (probably because it's a bit of a ridiculous premise from the start).  Moving beyond the inconsistencies problem, I feel like this issue is cursed by using another plot device that's been used way too often recently, namely, bringing back Uncle Ben from the dead.  Maybe I've just read Spider-Man for too long, but we seem to have gotten to this well a little too much lately.  Reed actually did better than most in conveying the emotion that sort of moment would provoke in Peter, but, I have to say, I've read this sort of story too often for it to have any emotional impact on me.  Finally, are we really supposed to believe that the only positive contribution Pete made to the world was accidentally saving Anna Watson from getting hit by a car?  This issue seems to be more portraying a nightmare that Peter would have where, despite all his sacrifices, the world is demonstrably better without him in it.  I mean, if you look at a recent example, wouldn't everyone be dead because Peter wasn't there to keep Grady from making the mistake on his time machine?  [Sigh.]  It's not a terrible issue, but time travel combined with Uncle Ben combine with a dubious assertion about Peter's value left me feeling cranky by the end of it.

Avenging Spider-Man #8:  This issue is in theory an epilogue to "Ends of the Earth," but in reality it doesn't have much to do with it.  It begins shortly after the events of "Amazing Spider-Man" #688, with the Avengers and Spidey searching for Silver Sable's body.  But, then, the Avengers depart to take Doc Ock to the Raft and Spidey recounts a story of one of his adventures with Sable to Cap.  I can't say that I was particularly moved by the story.  In theory, it was supposed to show how Silver Sable was, under her cool exterior, really a big softie, as she helps Dr. Strange and Spider-Man aid a Symkarian princess in avoiding an arranged marriage with Dr. Doom.  (It's better if you don't ask for the details.)  Templeton relies on way too many convenient plot devices to get where he needs to go here; for example, Dr. Strange, for no good reason, apparently neglected to convey an important piece of information to the princess that would've essentially precluded Spider-Man's participation in this story if he had divulged it earlier.  The heroes eventually win the day and we return to the present, where we see Spidey dismiss Doc Ock over the course of two panels.  As expected, we also get hints that Sable might still be alive since, shocker, they can't find the body.  Given how abruptly "Ends of Earth" ended, I had really been hoping that this issue would tie up some of the loose ends.  But, instead, we get a pretty silly story and essentially no actual plot development, other than confirmation that Sable's body hasn't been found.  You can definitely skip this issue, even if you liked "Ends of the Earth."

Scarlet Spider #6:  I love this series.  Yost is doing a spectacular job of keeping his eye on the ball as he takes us on Kaine's journey from villain to hero.  After six issues, a lot of authors would've already discarded some of the original concepts of the series for expediency's sake.  (Remember how quickly "Venom" ditched the restriction that he could only be in the suit for 48 hours at a time when it started getting difficult to believe?)  However, Yost has really stayed focused on Kaine's struggles here.  We don't see Kaine suddenly embrace his superhero responsibilities and he's certainly not suddenly forgiven himself for his past sins.  It's Yost's continued attention to Kaine as he struggles with both his responsibilities and sins that really drives this series.

Yost is smart to separate Kaine's struggles as a superhero from his struggles with his past.  After all, you get the sense that Kaine is starting to enjoy being a good guy.  I mean, he does keep saving people.  If he didn't want to be a good guy, he could just stop saving people.  Plus, a guy bothered by whether his alias is cool enough can't be all that upset about the fact that he has one in the first place.  (I thought his whole "Dark Spider" commentary was great.  Yost has managed to keep injecting these moments of humor into the series.  Given the darkness of the stories he's telling, it's a welcome effort.  It helps you really see Kaine as something more than tall, dark, and grim.  See also Kaine's frustration with Aracely at the dinner.)  In fact, most of the humor in this series comes from Kaine's increasingly ridiculous insistence that he's not a hero.

By contrast, as we see with his conversation with Annabelle and the priest, Kaine is having a lot harder time reconciling his present with his past.  He's worried that Annabelle is going to hate him when she learns who he really is, and that worry fuels the most poignant scene of the series so far when he tells Annabelle to leave him before she gets hurt and she tells him that she's not going anywhere.  Part of the reason why it's so poignant is that Yost isn't rushing anything with them.  A lot of authors would've had them in a committed relationship already or would've annoyed us with forced tension.  Yost isn't playing a "Will they or won't they?" game here.  We're actually just seeing two people get to know each other and starting to trust one another.  It takes skill to show that sort of restraint, and I'm glad that Yost has that skill.

But, it's Kaine's conversation with the priest that really shows us how deep his guilt goes.  I don't think that I had realized that Kaine is not only struggling with his own past, but also with the fact that he's still alive and a "better" man, Ben Reilly, isn't.  It's an existential question, sure, but, again, it's really these questions of who Kaine is and who he wants to be that make this series so great.

In terms of the events of the issue itself, it's a great sequence of events.  Ryan Stegman and Edgar Delgado pull out all the stops:  Kaine's fight with Ana Kraven in the fire is spectacular.  But, most of all, I'll remember this issue for perhaps the best page of a comic I've seen all year:  Kaine standing in the middle of normal people, contemplating what it would be like to live a normal life, and then the crowd parting to reveal Ana.  It's a spectacular scene and I had to do a double take the first time I read it before I realized that it was Ana Kraven.  Awesome.  Later, when he saves Ana from the falling ceiling, we the reader realize that Kaine's transition to good guy is complete and his concern over the death of a "better" man is misplaced.  But, it's clearly going to be a while before he realizes that.

If it's not clear, I absolutely cannot wait for next issue.

Venom #19
:  Holy crap.  I may have to strop reading this title, just because it's so grim.  Flash's brother-in-law getting lanterned by Jack O'Lantern, his mom possibly devoured by the Fly:  this issue is tough.  Ever since "Venom" #9, when we watched a woman and her child get killed, this title has put everything on the table.  Throughout this issue, I wasn't sure if even Betty Brant was safe.  As such, Remender created real tension as Flash searched for his sister, since it was entirely possible that she was already dead.  I really have no idea how Flash is going to win this one.  Crime-Master and his Savage Six just seem to be one step ahead of him.  Can he really kill all of them?  I guess we'll see.  Poor Flash, man.

Amazing Spider-Man #687: "Ends of the Earth" Part 6

*** (three of five)

Favorite Quote:  "Well, there goes Doc...and a perfectly good practical effect gets wasted on a mindless zombie.  Might as well be working in television."  -- Mysterio, on an Ock-controlled Rulk's defeat at the hands of one of Mysterio's creations (Mysterio had all the good lines in this arc.)

Sable, Spidey, and Widow scramble as they face the octobot-controlled Avengers.  Sable hypothesizes that the Avengers should be slow and sluggish, though Spidey notes that Cap managed to knock his ice pellet from his hands.  Widow tells him to use something else, but Spidey says that, over the course of their days-long crusade, he's used them his tricks.  Widow engages Hawkeye, but Ock takes control of Iron Man and uses him to take out the both of them.  He then takes control of Spider-Woman, who he notes made "short work" of Spidey not long ago.  Spidey responds that his defeat was a wake-up call, leading him to develop his own form of fighting, Spider-Fu.  He takes down Spider-Woman, but Ock leaps to Rulk, threatening Mysterio.  Mysterio activates a "giant, angry animatronic deity" that he created for the "Mayan apocalypse gag," using him to distract Rulk while he escapes.  Ock jumps into Thor, and Spidey tells Ock that he mad a bad call, since Thor was a bigger threat without Ock controlling him.  Ock is confused, until he realizes that he can no longer wield Mjolnir.  Spidey attempts to use his magnetic webbing on Ock, to disrupt the octobot's control, but realizes that he's exhausted his supply.  Ock takes his opportunity and punches Spidey (with Thor's strength).  Meanwhile, Sable takes down Cap, who she realizes was resisting Ock's control and purposefully giving her openings.  She then engages Iron Man as Mysterio wonders what they do next.  Sable notes that Spidey was going to use his magnetic webbing and Mysterio realizes that he can use the electromagnetic pulse in his wristlet that he used on them in Symkaria.  The pulse works and the octobots fall off the Avengers.

Thor helps Spidey to his feet, noting that he tried to soften the blow.  Before the Avengers can celebrate, Ock announces that he didn't actually need 200 missile bases, because he had a few of his own.  He then launches the remainder of his satellites into space, and Iron Man, Rulk, and Thor chase after them.  Iron Man notes that they have to destroy the missiles before the satellites launch, since they still haven't found a way to crack Ock's stealth technology.  The three start destroying satellites, while, in Guatemala, Spidey observes that Cap, Hawkeye, and Widow are all unconscious.  Sable tells Spidey that they have to go after Ock, since, if the three in space fail, Otto will be able to activate the Lens.  Mysterio directs that to Ock's underwater base, four miles off shore, and tells them to use his "ride," which is parked in the temple.  Mysterio then disappears and Sable and Spidey head for the base.  Meanwhile, the Zenith, Horizon's floating lab, approaches the location of Ock's base, tripping the Octahedral's defense network.  Spidey arrives in a giant octobot in time to save the ship and tells the Zenith to head to a safe distance.  Max notes that they're trying to get readings of Octavius' stealth technology and Sable just cautions them to stay as far from the base as they can (while still being able to get the readings).

Sable and Spidey dock with the base and Ock, furious at their intrusion, tries to initiate the octobot's self-destruct sequence.  Spidey reveals that Sable disabled it and Otto, infuriated, begins to floor the lower levels.  Sable notes that they should've brought Flint Marko, comparing it to Spidey convincing Mysterio to join them.  Spidey counters, saying that Mysterio was with them "for all of ten minutes," but Sable reminds him that Sandman wouldn't want his daughter hurt by Ock's scheme.  Spidey, however, reminds her that she poured acid over him and says that they'll worry about Sandman when they're done.  Sable notes how confident he is by assuming that they'll succeed and he remarks that he has to be since he's not used to "'end of the world' stuff."  At that moment, Rhino appears, blocking their path.  In space, Iron Man, Rulk, and Thor continue to take down the missiles, with Iron Man calculating that they have 9.5 minutes until the Lens activates.  Spidey tells Rhino that he's sure Otto is trying to end the world and Rhino surprises him by saying that he knows:  his deal with Otto was that he could watch the world burn.  They try getting around him, but Rhino grabs Sable.  He says that he's not going to move from that spot, forcing him and Sable to drown, and, in so doing, he will finally win by hurting Spidey.  Spidey tries to pry her from his grip, but he can't budge Rhino.  Sable tells him to go to stop Octavius or everyone, including "that girl," dies.

Spidey finds Otto in his control room (listening to Mozart's "Requiem," natch) and the two battle.  Otto confirms that he plans on destroying the world, but he estimates that .008% of the Earth's population will survive.  He wants Spidey in that number so that he can see the destroyed world.  He opines that it'll be through the survivors that his legacy will remain "for centuries!  for millennia!  till the end of time itself!"  He tells Spidey that he will live in infany, worse than "Pol Pot, Hitler, and Genghis Khan combined!"  Ock grabs Spidey in four of his tentacles and Spidey realizes that he doesn't have much time with the water rising.  He also realizes that Otto has a doomsday button somewhere since he's such an egomaniac that he would insist on pushing the button.  Spidey tries to stall, noting that Otto needs his other four tentacles as his base, leaving him with no hands to push the button.  But, Otto then crawls from his suit and makes his way to the button.  Spidey tries to stall, telling Otto that his math is wrong, hypothesizing that the heat will fry the brains of all the survivors.  Otto doesn't buy it for long, but it's enough for Spidey to break free of the tentacles.  He uses one of them to destroy the control center.  Devastated, Otto tries to drown himself, but Spidey saves him.  He takes him to the Zenith, where he instructs the Horizon crew to create a life-support system for him.  Max tells Spidey that they found a way to uncloak the satellites and congratulates him for saving the world.  Spidey says that he failed, because "someone died."

The Review

 Although I enjoyed this issue, I only gave it three stars for the fact that the end feels rushed.  Although "Avenging Spider-Man" #8 will presumably address Sable's sacrifice, I feel like it's really something that should've been handled within the confines of the story itself.  I'm not saying that we would need to see all the reactions to Sable's death; I'm fine with the fact that those moments are often reserved for epilogue issues that traditionally follow six-issue arcs.  But, we don't actually know if Sable died.  For a long-time character like Sable, I don't think you can just leave her in the sort of precarious position in which we see her here and presume that she dies.  Grim as it sounds, you kind of need to see a body.  As such, when Spidey just says, "Someone died," in the last panel, it felt flat to me.

The Good
1) Over the course of the arc, I was confused by whether or not Spidey and his team were successful in their strikes against the missile bases.  If they were, then it seemed Ock would fail, since he needed the missiles to launch the satellites.  Here, Slott provides the only reasonable answer, and not an unexpected one:  Ock had a few missiles in his back pocket.  (Ignore the obvious "Is that a missile in your pocket...?" joke, because, ewww, I don't ever want to think about Doc Ock that way.)

2) Similarly, Slott gave us a resolution of the Rhino situation that made sense, namely that Rhino knew that Ock wanted to destroy the world, and wanted to watch it burn.  Long-time readers will vividly remember the Rhino story from the "Gauntlet," where he loses his wife and abandons his attempt to reform.  The fact that he wanted to see the world destroyed to avenge that loss makes sense...and is as compellingly sad as the "Gauntlet" story was.

3) Slott delivers another page turner.  Really, I just wanted to flip to the end SO MUCH.

 4) Slott does a great job getting across how exhausted Spidey is by the end of the arc.  He's used all his gizmos, he has no more magnetic webbing, his mask is half-shattered:  he's not really doing so well.

The Unsure
I'm not entirely sure how I feel, at this stage, about Slott really upping Ock's villainy here.  I mean, yes, I buy the fact that Ock was so megalomaniacal that he wanted to leave a legacy that would force people to remember him forever.  But, Slott is definitely staking out new territory by having him aspire to be in the same category as Genghis Khan, Hitler, and Pol Pot.  On one hand, I buy the fact that bad guys are occasionally just bad guys.  They can't all be Sandmans, who are in it for some compelling personal reason that makes them a sympathetic character, or Mysterios, who are in it for the money and the fun.  Sometimes, bad guys get to be crazy sociopaths.  I'm just not sure if I buy Doc Ock as one, at least as extreme of one.  This plan was Joker levels of sociopathy and I don't know if we've really seen Ock at that level before.  Slott makes a good argument for why he is, since it's pretty obvious his impending death has inspired his actions.  But, I think I'm going to have to let it sit for a while.

The Unknown
1) I wonder where Slott is going to go from here with the revelation that Horizon's technology was responsible for Ock's plans.  It seems to be playing right into JJJ, Jr.'s hands, were he ever to learn about it, and I'm now concerned that Horizon is going to come to an end, and, along with it, Peter's lucky streak.

2) Did we ever find out what Otto planned to do with New York City when he automated it in "Amazing Spider-Man" #600?  I'm pretty sure we never learned what the evil version of his "altruistic" plan was, as opposed to here, where we learned in the end what he actually planned to do with the Octavian Lenses (and it was ending climate change).  At the time, it left open Otto's motives, since maybe he was trying to do something good.  But, now that we know he wasn't, it would be interesting to know what he planned on doing.  Was he going to start smashing subway cars together?

3) I''m guessing Silver Sable isn't dead.  I mean, she is on the cover of "Avenging Spider-Man" #8 with Dr. Strange.  Maybe he raises her from the dead?  I guess we'll see.

The Bad
Didn't Kangaroo also die in the "Spider-Man:  Ends of the Earth" one-shot?  Spidey alludes to a death in issue #685 in the short sequence at the end that occurs after "Spider-Man:  Ends of the Earth."  So, wouldn't that make two people, and just "somebody," dead?  Or, is Spidey not counting it because he wasn't there to protect Kangaroo?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New Comics!: The Non-"Avengers vs. X-Men" X-Edition #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

New Mutants #48:  I honestly have no idea where DnA are going with this story and I'm not complaining.  Although I wasn't that thrilled with the last arc, DnA retool the concept a bit here, putting the focus on Doug as he struggles to make sense of the revelation that he's one day going to become (maybe, possibly) a world conqueror.  To that end, I thought sending the group to Colorado was a great move.  It gave the story a certain post-apocalyptic feel, with the main characters isolating themselves as they try to plan their next move against a much more powerful force.  It also helps focus the attention on Doug.  As Bobby says, we watch Doug become increasingly unhinged as this issue progresses, to the point where he contemplates suicide at the end.  But, he's interrupted by the transmoded Hellions and I really have to applaud DnA here.  Given that this series wraps up its run in two issues (and who knows if we'll ever get another New Mutants series again) bringing back the Hellions really harkens to the New Mutants' beginnings.  I can't think of a more fitting final enemy than them.  Needless to say, I can't wait to see where DnA go with the story.

X-Factor #243:  Jesus.  After "Venom" #19 and this issue, I need a drink.

Peter David somehow manages to completely re-write Lorna's history in a way that makes it clear that it was the only plausible history this entire time.  The mental instability that has plagued her for her entire life is revealed to have been from Mastermind re-writing her memory, erasing the knowledge that she caused her parents' death when she was a child.  It's a devastating issue, because, even if Lorna is theoretically more mentally stable now, you have to wonder how she's going to recover from this revelation.  Just the possibility of learning the truth led her to pretty extreme acts of violence in this issue, assaulting both Longshot and Monet.  Who knows where she's going to go from here?

(On a side note, it seems odd to me, as we near the final issue of "Avengers vs. X-Men," that Havok isn't more involved.  After all, his brother just became Dark Phoenix...and he's on a rooftop waiting for a mystery to be revealed about his on-again, off-again girlfriend that, you know, probably could've waited a few more days while he tried to convince his brother not to destroy the planet.  After all, if he failed, the secret wouldn't have really mattered all that much anyway.)

However, despite his usual excellent characterization and emotional command, David isn't perfect here.  Since Lorna knew about Longshot's power, you have to wonder why she didn't ask him to hold the photo in the first place.  I buy the fact that she just might not have put two and two together, since I think that it's pretty likely that she viewed the picture for a more emotional, rather than rational, place.  But, it does make you raise an eyebrow, at the very least.  Also, in terms of the art, I'm not really sure why Lorna dropped the photo.  Was she walking and tripped over something?  It appears like she has a seizure or something.  Given that the whole issue actually revolves around that moment, it's a pretty important scene to get right.

Finally, who does Terry think "keeps coming back?"

X-Men Legacy #272:  To be honest, I am just not feeling this arc.  I've enjoyed Gage's focus on Rogue so far in his run on this title, but I feel like that approach falls apart a bit when you remove her from the X-Men.  I just don't find this story all that compeling.  First, it still feels totally arbitrary, like the writers didn't realize that they accidentally left out Rogue at the conclusion of "Avengers vs. X-Men" and had to find a reason why she wasn't there.  But, even more than that, the big downside is that Gage has dedicated a lot of space over this issue and the last one to explaining the dynamics of the war between the two alien civilizations...and it's just not that interesting.  It all just seems like countless "superhero in the middle of a war s/he doesn't understand but will wind up ending" stories and I get the sense that Gage is really phoning in the dialogue, particularly since most of it in this issue is monologue.  I'm just waiting for us to return to regularly scheduled programming.

New Comics!: The #0 Edition #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Justice League #0:  Seriously, Billy Batson is probably the best thing to come from Geoff Johns' "Justice League" so far.  With an entire issue dedicated to him, Johns really gets to delve into his character, showing other sides to the sarcastic and sharp teenager that we've already seen.  ("Listen, Chester, that stuff might work like candy on six-year-old, but you come any closer and I'll knock out the last of your teeth.")  Whereas we've seen Billy's sarcasm plenty before, it's the sharpness that most comes into play here.  I thought Johns did a great job by having Billy earn the right to become Shazam by teaching the Wizard that a "pure good" person didn't exist.  He's not just handed the role.  Instead, we're reminded that Billy has seen a lot in his fifteen years and, as a result, has an unique insight into the way that the world works, one that he shares with the Wizard.  In so doing, we get our flawed hero straight from the gates, as the Wizard realizes that having the "embers" of good, at least at this point, are more important than being "pure good."

In "Flashpoint," Billy and his foster siblings shared the Captain Marvel body, if I'm not mistaken, but, here, at least for now, it seems just to be Billy, as the "full potential" of himself.  In this issue, Johns really manages to play up the "Big"-esque laughs of a child-in-a-man's-body scenario; I particularly liked when he smashed the Wizard's throne, looked at his now-adult fist, and declared, 'Sweet."  As it usually goes with wizards imparting gifts before they die, the Wizard sets the stage for future storylines:  he instructs Billy to stop Black Adam from awaking the Seven Deadly Sins of Man; he informs him that he can also weave spells in addition to controlling the Living Lightning; and he tells Billy that he should rally his family around him, but that it should be the family that "can be" and not "should be."

Johns also makes it clear that Billy's probably going to learn some tough lessons in adulthood and responsibility in the coming days.  As the Wizard saw, he has the "embers" of good, which we see when he stops the mugger from stealing toys from a woman.  But, he definitely isn't "pure good," given that he asks for money after helping her.  I'm hoping that Johns doesn't overdo that part too much, but it'll be interesting to watch Billy work through those issues.  Johns and Frank play up that anticipation, showing us a gleeful Billy in the last panel who believes that Shazam is going to help him earn money.  He's clearly got some heart-breaking, Uncle-Ben-getting-shot-by-a-robber-he-failed-to-stop moment coming and the fact that I'm already worried about him shows how much Johns has done with his character already.  It seems pretty clear that he's going to realize that he needs the personalities of his foster siblings to create a true superhero, one that balances out his faults, but I trust Johns to get us there in an interesting way.  Seriously, at this point, I'm just waiting for Billy to get his own book.

Nightwing #0:  DeFalco and Higgins update Dick's origin story for the DCnU and do the best with what they have, largely by seemingly adopting much of the origin as its found in "Dark Victory."  I believe that Dick going to live with Bruce for a while since the police need to stash him somewhere as a material witness comes straight from "Dark Victory" (and makes a lot more sense than Bruce just taking in a teenage boy).  The problem, though, is that DeFalco and Higgins diverge from that script by eventually sending Dick to an orphanage, presumably after the police are no longer worried about his safety.  Really?  Thanks for staying kid, good luck with processing your dead parents.  Really?  Are we supposed to believe that Dick never lived with Bruce?  It seems to be an extremely powerful ret-con, one that essentially undoes their relationship as father-and-son (or, at least, older-brother-and-younger-brother) and puts a lot more emotional distance between them.

DeFalco and Higgins more successfully use a version of a powerful scene in "Dark Victory" to flesh out the relationship between Alfred and Dick.  In "Dark Victory," Alfred comforts Dick over his loss, telling him that he'll never be alone again, something that he wishes he had said to Bruce in the wake of his parents' death (rather than being all stoically English).  In this issue, it's Alfred telling Dick that he shouldn't feel guilty for healing, something that Bruce has never really done; it's not the same conversation, but the impact is the same, as the reader realizes that Alfred has learned from his mistakes with Bruce when it comes to parenting Dick.

Similarly, Dick goes on patrols to find Zucco in the early days of his time with Bruce.  Eventually, Bruce finds him and brings him to the Batcave, revealing his identity.  Here, Dick guesses his identity, but the impact is the same.  Bruce doesn't just decide to endanger a child's life; he realizes that Dick has the same drive he does and nothing he can do is going to stop him from pursuing justice.  If having Dick stay with him to protect him as a material witness makes Bruce less child-molster-y, having Bruce take on Dick as a partner because he's seen him in action and realizes that he's not going to be able to stop him at least makes him less criminally negligent as a parent.  (Though, now, maybe he never was his parent in the first place.  But, I digress.)  Finally, Robin gets his name here from his mother, as he did in "Dark Victory," where we learned that she called him that because he was always "bobbing around."  Here, he's similarly constantly moving; in fact, the whole point of the issue is that he's in "perpetual motion."  To emphasize the link, DeFalco and Higgins have her refer to Dick as her "robin" in this issue.

Overall, except for the orphanage part, I'm happy with the details described here.  However, I am extremely NOT happy about the other two big revelations in this issue, that Dick is 15-years-old when his parents die and that Barbara and he never dated.  Based on "Batman" #0, that makes him 20 years old now.  That seems way, way, way too young.  It also makes it somewhat creepy that Barbara is four or five years older than he is.  She became Batgirl roughly three years ago, meaning that she was hoping for a romantic relationship with Dick when he was 17 years old and she was 21 or 22 years old.  Really?  Are we supposed to believe that?  The only thing that I can imagine mitigating that age difference would be the revelation that Barbara started college early, making her a little younger now.  On the second point, I think the bio page has the Barbara information wrong.  Several issues of "Batgirl" and "Nightwing" have made it pretty clear that the two of them were an item.  I'm not saying that it was the longest relationship of all time, but it's pretty clear that one exists.  [Sigh.]  I'm just going to have to ignore these parts.  I wish someone would invent a beer that helped you selectively forget certain pieces of information.  Of course, given the way the DCnU is going, I'd probably be catatonic given how much of it that I'd have to drink.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #0:  OK, let's leave the Joker story aside for a moment.  The main story in this issue pretty much follows Jason's actual origin and improves certain parts of it.  He turns to crime as a teenager to make ends meet after his dad is taken to jail and his mom overdoses on drugs.  After getting beaten unconscious he's found by Leslie Tompkins and gets caught by Batman when he tries to steal prescription drugs from her.  (This part is a whole lot better than stealing hubcaps off the Batmobile.)  Leslie convinces Bruce to adopt him and the rest is history.  Bruce taking in Jason doesn't make a lot of sense, but, it didn't make a lot of sense in the DCU either, so I certainly can't hold that against Lobdell.

In terms of Jason's narrative, we see the softer side of him that other people don't get to see, like when he laments the fact that he didn't get to say good-bye to Bruce or thank him for everything he had done for him before he dies.  The most poignant comment, for me, was when he framed the violence that he brought to the role of Robin as him trying to punch away the ghost of his father before he could adopt Bruce as his new one.  It's a nice touch on Lobdell's part, building off Tynion's work in "Batman" #0 to show Jason as probably the most sympathetic of all the characters in DCnU.

The Joker story is of course the most interesting one, since it implies that he knows who Batman is and manipulates events to install Jason as his second Robin.  It suggests an even more intimate connection between the two of them and, with the upcoming Joker arc in "Batman," I'm intrigued where DC goes with it.  All in all, this #0 issue was much better than the other Bat-family ones, other than "Batgirl" #0.  Jason's origin at least rough matches some logical sequence of events, more so than Dick's.  At this point, I'll take it.

New Comics!: The #0 Edition #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Earth 2 #0:  Robinson throws so much into this issue that it's going to be hard to sort through everything to review it.  First, he establishes that New Earth and Earth 2 pretty much have the same history until the invasion of Darkseid; on New Earth, we saw the "Justice League" dispatch him fairly quickly, but, on Earth-2, the war drags on much, much longer.  We see the events of this issue mostly through the eyes of Terry Sloan, aka Mr. 8.  On Earth 2, Sloan appears to be similar to Batman, using his intelligence to create technology and weapons that compensate for the fact that he doesn't have any powers.  We learn that Sloan has primarily been the chief strategist of the World Army, and, in attempting to find a gateway to Apokolips, he instead stumbled upon one that led him to other dimensions, showing him a variety of futures.  Realizing what he must do to save the planet from Darkseid, he sets into motion a series of events here that he feels will ultimately tip the balance in the World's Army favor, even if he'll be viewed as a villain for doing it.

Robinson raises a ton of really interesting questions here.  He doesn't go into too much detail on how Sloan managed to access the other dimensions or, in so doing, what information exactly he gleaned from them.  As such, it's unclear what future Sloan is trying to bring into existence.  Robinson weaves an undercurrent throughout this issue that Sloan might have been driven mad either by the years of war or the visions of the future.  As such, I don't feel like he's necessarily the most reliable judge of the future.  Is the future that he's trying to create one where he rules the world, because, as the world's smartest man, he thinks that he's the best qualified to do so?  Robinson, of course, doesn't answer that question, and, therefore, sets up future stories.

But, Robinson just doesn't address the Apokolips War.  One of the more intriguing comments revolves around the fact that Sloan is talking about the fact that the Holy Trinity's eventual victory over Darkseid will actually weaken the world for an unnamed threat.  Robinson has hinted at this threat several times now, and we learn that Sloan sees his job as preparing the world for it.  Again, since Sloan's sanity (or at least biases) seems to be in question, the fact that he sees himself as a hero willing to sacrifice his reputation to save the world doesn't, of course, make him one.  A lot of the worst villains, in life and comics, think that they're helping everyone by doing what other people refuse to do on moral grounds.  It's pretty clear that Sloan's not going to be a cut-and-dry character.

Finally, moving beyond Sloan, Robinson also raises another key mystery.  He informs us that eight heroes existed in the Earth 2 world, and we learn two remain unseen by us.  The first is Catwoman, mother of the Huntress.  The second is unnamed, "for reasons that all who know this world and this war will understand."  Talk about leaving the reader wanting more.

Far and away, this issue is the best of the #0 and really keeps up the amazing work that Robinson is doing on this title

Saturday, September 22, 2012

New Comics!: The #0 Edition #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #0:  One of the most interesting things that Simone does here has nothing to do with Barbara.  It has to do with Batman, with Simone portraying him as he was originally perceived by Gotham, as some sort of supernatural creature of the night.  The whole plot of the story revolves around it, with Barbara inventing a reason to go to the GCPD HQ so that she can learn more about him.  When she overhears the cops talking about how they think he uses tech (and not some sort of supernatural powers) to fight crime, the rest is history.  She realizes that he fights crime simply by being smart, just like her.

In terms of #0 issues, this one does more than I thought it would.  I had originally assumed that we would get the history of Babs' regaining the use of her legs, but I get the sense that Simone has said all that she plans on saying about that part of Barbara's history, at least for now.  In fact, interestingly, Barbara's time as Oracle isn't even mentioned in the bio page that runs after this story.  We're simply told that, after her paralyzation, she pushed herself to her mental and physical limits to regain her ability to walk.  So, with this issue, Simone (probably wisely) instead focuses on the moment when Barbara realized that she wanted to be Batgirl.

Simone really sells the story, using some pretty clever twists to get Barbara into the costume for the first time.  First, it makes sense that Barbara would've taken years of self-defense classes, since, as she said, she's the daughter of the GCPD Commissioner, so she ranked pretty high on most criminals' "good people to abduct" list.  But, it's her ability to defeat this issue's villain by using these skills that gives her the confidence she needs to believe that she can handle herself in a fight.  Second, when it comes time for Barbara to defend herself against said villain, Simone's decision to put Barbara in the mocked-up Bat-suit that she saw the cops discussing earlier was a great move.  Although Barbara might've been thinking about fighting crime in some form before that moment, it's pretty clear that putting on that suit opened some doors in her head.  Finally, the appearance of Batman at the end -- and the praise that he gives her -- really clinches the deal.  One or two of the events alone might have impacted her, but it's pretty clear that it's the sequence of all three happening in short succession that leads her to become Batgirl.  Simone hints at other moments to be explored during an expository narration of Barbara's tenure as Batgirl, such as the mistake that led her to hang up the cowl in the first place.  But, I guess that's a story for another day.  For now, Simone goes the job that this #0 issue was supposed to do, clarifying Barbara's origin in the DCnU.  We'll see where we go from here.

Batman #0:  [Sigh.]

OK, the main problem I have with the main story is that I'm not sure that even Scott Snyder can really add anything that new to the story of Bruce's early days as Batman.  The most interesting twist that he manages to put on the story is Alfred wisely noting that Bruce needs to be seen as Bruce, or, at least, the Bruce that Gotham expects him to be, in order to distance himself from Batman.  Alfred is proven correct a few panels later when Commissioner Gordon notes that Bruce himself also appears to be on some sort of crusade, having decided to reside in a brownstone near where his parents were killed upon his return to Gotham, a neighborhood that also just happens to be where Batman has been most seen.  I'm not sure anyone's really gone to the care of showing the sequence of events that led Bruce to realize that he had to adopt the playboy persona to distance himself from Batman, so Snyder does manage to put him mark on Batman's origin, or, at least, his new origin.  But, the rest of the story is same old, same old.  Bruce isn't quite the fastidious detective that he'll eventually become, and his failure to do his homework gets him in trouble when he tries to take down the "Red Hood Gang."  It's nothing you haven't read in at least a dozen different tellings and re-tellings of Bruce's early days.  The most interesting implications for the future is what shady business dealings Philip Kane is making and whether the Red Hood is really the Joker.  (He does seem to have a flair for the dramatic like our guy...)  I guess we'll see.  (On a positive note, I want to say again that Capullo makes a young Bruce Wayne the handsomest man in comics.)

It's Tynion's back-up story that causes problems, though through absolutely no fault of his own, as we see Dick, Jason, and Tim in their pre-Robin days.  The biggest problem is that Dick appears to be WAY too young.  If we follow Simone's timeframe for Barbara in "Batgirl" #0, she was a freshman or sophomore in college four years ago, putting her somewhere around 22 or 23 years old today.  Unless she's robbing the craddle, Dick should be roughly the same age as her.  When the events of this issue happen, five years ago, he should then be somewhere around 17 or 18 years old.  The problem with that is that he's one of the Flying Graysons in this issue; in fact, the events of this issue take place on the eve of his parents' death.  If he were 17 or 18 years old and still a member of the Flying Graysons, DC has just essentially erased the entire history of Dick as Bruce's adopted son; after all, a 17 or 18 year old doesn't really need to be adopted by a wealthy millionaire when his parents are killed like a 10 or 11 years old does.  (Moreover, I think that we're supposed to believe Dick to be around 24 or 25 years old in the present day, which makes it all the more difficult to believe that Bruce adopted him at the age of 19 or 20 years old.)  However, to complicate the problem even further, I'm not even sure if he is in his late teens here.  Clarke draws him to look hardly older than Tim, who's in middle school at the time of this issue.  On some level, I'd be glad if it were true, since it would be more in line with the DCU past, where Dick was 10 or 11 years old when adopted.  But, if it were, Dick would be no more than 17 or 18 years old in the present day, something that clearly isn't the case. 

But, Dick's age isn't even the most vexing continuity problem.  Instead, for me, the biggest problem is believing that everything that has happened in the entire history of Batman and Robin has happened over the last five years.  We're apparently pretending that Tim was never Robin, which, admittedly, buys DC some time.  Assuming Jason was at least dead a few months and has been back alive for a few months, it still means that Dick and Jason shared the role of Robin over a four year period or so (with Damian presumably taking up the mantle at some point in the last year).  Maybe Dick was Robin for three years and Jason for a few months?  I could buy that.  But, I thought the whole point of these #0 issues was that I wouldn't still be trying to place their history into some sort of continuum; DC would do it for me.  I'm willing to wait to see what explanations the other Bat-family #0s offer, but, if they don't clarify who did what when, I'm going to be seriously disappointed.

I know it seems silly to worry about continuity and, for a lot of people, they don't care.  But, for me, comics is really about the fact that you develop a relationship with these characters over a long period of time.  To see characters you've followed for 30 years suddenly and magically have less of a history than they used to have seriously detracts from of that enjoyment.  It's hard to accept the wonder that Tynion is trying to instill in us as the boys' see the Bat-signal for the first time when you're wondering why Dick hasn't hit puberty yet.  I know that's not the case for all readers, but it is for me.

On a more positive note, Tynion does the most with Jason here, who expresses sheer horror when his friend murders a woman observing the robbery that the two of them are committing.  Tynion and Clarke really show Jason as the broken street-kid that he used to be and I'm hoping that the "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #0 issue goes into more details about his past (and wish that Tynion were writing it).  It's really heart-breaking to see him here, wedged between Dick and Tim; he's got his friend's blood on his shirt, he's walking to wherever it is that he's living, and he's wordlessly staring at the Bat-signal in a deserted, depressing alley.  It actually makes me mad all over again at Bruce for failing him so terribly.  (Is this event the one for which Bruce told Jason that he should've gotten Jason help in his holographic will?)  It's hard to watch his innocence when you know how it's all going to end; it just reminds you how tragic of a character Jason has always been.  Beyond Jason, Tynion also excels with Tim, showing him as the precocious whiz-kid that we all know him to be.  (I once again wish Tynion were writing his series.)

All in all, this issue is more distracting than it is exciting.  Whereas Simone was able to use the premise to help clarify Barbara's new origin, Snyder and Tynion struggle under the weight of the editorial mandate.  I'm glad we'll return to normal next issue.

Batman and Robin #0:  Argh.

OK, quickly:  According to the information that he gave Commissioner Gordon in "Batman" #0, Bruce Wayne left Gotham ten years ago to start to train to become the Batman.  According to this issue, Damian is roughly ten years old.  Why would Talia al Ghul sleep with  the Bruce Wayne that recently left Gotham?  He's not Batman yet and, in fact, doesn't necessarily have a plan to become Batman; he's just starting on his journey.  In fact, when Damian asks about his dad for the first time, Bruce has probably just started to appear as Batman.  As such, how does Talia have a copy?  Are we supposed to believe that they had a romance ten years earlier and resumed it after Bruce became Batman?

It would be really nice if these #0 issues answered questions, rather than raising them.

Superboy #0:  Meh.  This issue is OK.  DeFalco's main problem is that Kon's history only really started with "Superboy" #1, so it's hard to write a prequel to that issue, given that he didn't exist before it.  DeFalco instead tells the story of the clone named Kon who led the revolt on Krypton.  It's not the most fascinating story, but, for this title, a half-way decent issue is something to be celebrated.  So, hurrah!  I didn't hate it.

New Comics!: The "Before #0s Take Over DC Comics" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

DC Universe Presents #12:  I have to admit that I was skeptical that I would like an issue dedicated to Kid Flash fighting three dino-teens who apparently hitched a ride with the Teen Titans when they left "Mystery Island," the winner of the 2012 "Mostly Poorly Fleshed out Concept in Comics" Award.  But, man, Nicieza really delivers.  It's a super fun issue.  Nicieza really gets Bart, so he's fast (heh) with the quips all issue.  I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite one, but I will say that I loved his interaction with the cops.  ("None of this is my fault!"  "Okay..."  "No, I know how you guys are -- I want it on the record!"  "Okay, okay -- just stop those things!")  But, even better, Nicieza manages to really flesh out the three dino-teens nicely.  By the end of the issue, they have personalities and rivalries and complications.  I can't see reading this issue and NOT wanting to pick up "Teen Titans" #12.  If you like Bart and/or want to read a fun zany adventure, this issue is for you.

Justice League #12:  Honestly, after 12 issues, I just don't know how I feel about this title.  This current arc suffers the same problem that I had with the first one, with Johns doing a great job building up the intensity, but rushing the denouement.  Graves seemed to be a powerful guy, but the League takes him down pretty easily. here  Sure, they work together to do so, but I don't think we see Graves even successfully land a punch.  Moreover, the fight is over before we're even half-way through the issue.  Normally, I would blame it on the editors rushing Johns to wrap up the arc before the #0 issues, but, since he did the same thing with the Darkseid arc, I don't think it's that easy.

The rest of the issue looks at the internal dynamics of the Justice League and the aftermath of the Graves encounter, and I'm also somewhat frustrated here.  So far, Aquaman's role within the team seems to be demanding over and over again to run it, leading me to wonder why he wants to lead the team so badly if he has such disdain for its members (and they, possibly, for him).  I also don't understand why any League member, particularly someone as sensible as Batman, would hold themselves even remotely responsible for Graves' family's death.  How were they supposed to know that the ash from their conflict with Darkseid might've been carcinogenic?  When only Hal sees the big picture, that they can save the world but they might not be able to save everyone, you have problems.  Hal made even more sense when he wisely noted, a la "The Dark Knight," that his departure would given the League a scapegoat for the fight that they had last issue, a fight that Graves had televised around the world and led people to question the League's efficacy.  I'm sad to see Hal go, because I'm worried that it's going to get really boring without him.  Of course, the most obvious "internal dynamic" addressed in this issue is the Superman/Wonder Woman "moment."  Johns did a great job here showing how it was two lonely people looking to connect with someone.  It's actually the most organic moment of this entire series so far and it at least gives me some hope for the future.

That said, I feel like Johns just keeps trying to force too much into these issues.  It's hard to fit a climatic battle with a big bad into an issue that also tries to give the main characters time to engage in some quiet reflection.  Hopefully, with the #0 break, Johns will get a chance to re-focus a bit and start delivering more well paced stories.  Beyond Superman and Wonder Woman, Johns has to start finding a way for the other charcters to interact in a way that makes you believe that they want to work together.  I'm not saying that there shouldn't be tensions, since that would be boring, but it's getting hard to believe that any of them even want to be there.

Teen Titans #12:  Lobdell deepens the mystery of Cassie here by introducing her crazy-ass boyfriend, who seems to be able to "share" the Silent Armor with her.  After WAY too many issues spent on the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. business, I definitely approve of Lobdell redirecting his focus to stories that flesh out the pasts of the various Teen Titans members.  Of course, it's not great, but  you have to sort of accept it on Lobdell's terms.  Why are Cassie, Kon, and Tim suddenly in a cabin in the woods?  It's better not to ask.  Why are Bunker, Kid Flash, and Solstice recovering in a motel in New Jersey and not the penthouse?  Again, don't ask.  It is what it is.  Lobdell manages to get in some characterization, with Kon and Tim engaging in some not-so-friendly banter that reveals their shared attraction to Cassie.  (The fact that she has a boyfriend, who also happens to be dedicated to destroying the world, should complicate those relationships even further.)  I'm also still intrigued by the dino-teens, who Nicieza manages to flesh out all the more here.  He's building Steg into an honest-to-goodness menace and one that seems to be a better fit for the Titans than N.O.W.H.E.R.E. was.  I can't wait for their eventual grudge match.  After some lackluster issues, it's nice to be enjoying the Titans again, even if "enjoying" comes from a place of reduced expectations.

Friday, September 21, 2012

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

New Avengers #29:  I just realized the other day that I hadn't put "New Avengers" on my pull list when I started at my new comic shop two months ago, so I'm behind an issue.  After reading it, though, I wonder if it would've been better just to skip it.  This issue is a mess.  Several of the characters act completely out of character, such as Namor telling Cap that they're "brothers" or Professor X reading everyone's mind against their will.  To me, it's yet more examples of Bendis bending a character to fit whatever position he needs advocated at that time, regardless of whether it fits in the character's established personality to do so.  About the only thing that I liked about this issue was that someone FINALLY mentioned the Infinity Gems again.  One of my main complaints about "Fear Itself" was that no one even raised the possibility of using them.  At least here, it's briefly discussed.  But, that's it.  That's the only good I've got.

New Avengers #30:  Thankfully, this issue is MUCH better than the last issue.  In the process of transporting Emma Frost somewhere, the New Avengers are attacked by Purifiers seeking to kill her.  This sort of fight lends itself to the type of story that Bendis excels at writing, full of quips and quotes.  It means that he can avoid the problem that plagued last issue, since he's not forced to have someone do something that they wouldn't normally do simply to advance the plot where he wants it to go.  Instead, the fight draws out the personalities of the characters, like Luke getting all cranky and Daredevil getting all book-y.  ("That's not even the entire quote!")  The Purifiers are, in a way, a MacGuffin, though, since the point of the issue is Luke coming to the conclusion that he's leaving the Avengers.  His conversation with Daredevil in the beginning of the issue was particularly well done, with Daredevil staking out the position that you can't raise a child in the sort of environment in which the Avengers operate.  ("Can't we have one normal day?" is asked by several Avengers throughout the issue.)  Deodato really brings Luke's dilemma home in a series of panels that show Luke's life with Jessica and the baby interspliced with scenes from his fight with a Purifier.  As such, by the end, his decision to leave is pretty well reasoned.

With Luke's departure, Bendis is clearly also setting up his own departure, since Luke's presence at the core of the Avengers has been the most signature decision of his run.  It's uncertain, to me, where we go from here with the team.  Without Luke, I'm not sure if the New Avengers' roster of mostly street-level fighters will make sense anymore.  I believe that "New Avengers" is confirmed for Marvel NOW!, so I guess we'll see.

One question I have, though, is why Emma was arrested in the first place.  In "Avengers vs. X-Men" #11, Cap accuses Scott of "crimes against humanity," which is presumably why Emma is under arrest here.  But, what crimes?  Making crops grow in the desert?  I obviously don't approve of Scott's whole approach, by so far we haven't seen any of the Phoenix Five other than Namor commit anything that looked even remotely like a crime.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Comics: "Avengers vs. X-Men" Edition #15

Avengers #30:  OMG, this issue is awful.  I never wanted to hear Spider-Woman talk about her period.  Bendis somehow manages to...I mean, know, I can't even do it.  Given the fact that Hawkeye and Spider-Woman are involved in the attack on Cyclops and Emma Frost depicted on the first two pages of this issue, I'm going to pretend that it was just a hypothetical exploration of the possibility that Hawkeye and Spider-Women weren't part of the events of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #11 and instead tried to keep order while everyone was distracted.  I'm not even going to mention the fat that we also have pet peeve #2 here, since we at no point see the duo leading some sort of rag-tag team of survivors of an apocalypse, as seemingly depicted on the cover.  La la la.  None of it ever happened.

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

Captain America #17:  For the last few months (actually, probably years at this point), Brubaker has been portraying an America made increasingly more violent by fringe elements promoting their agendas.  He's done it skillfully, like Bucky's encounter with the fake Cap from "Captain America" #602-#605, and less skillfully, like the Madbomb issues a few issues ago.  In the former case, he uses the extremism of the antagonist to show how Captain America stands against using violence to express political opinions.  Mark Gruenwald used similar themes on his run on "Captain America," and Brubaker adroitly updated them for an even more divided age.  In the latter case, however, he used such extremism as a convenient way to put Cap in a difficult position, rather than really as a way to explore more philosophical themes, if you will.  Here, it devolves into a lecture when the whole issues goes "after-school special" pretty quickly.  It's hard to believe that Cap would be unable to conceptualize that people might be angry but that HYDRA is the one causing them to express that anger through violence.  In other words, I might be against animal testing, but I'm not going to shoot anyone over it.  I think Cap gets that, no matter how disillusioned he's become.  As such, it's hard to believe his scene with Sam here; in fact, it's getting almost impossible to believe his disillusionment writ large.  Although it was interesting in the beginning, I think that it's time for Brubaker to end this practice of having ordinary people attack Cap because of psychological manipulation and focus more on Cap trying to stop bad guys from doing bad things.  Also, I'm particularly hoping that these stories do not involve Diamondback, if the Diamondback that we're going to get is merely there as a romantic rival to Sharon.  Brubaker generally writes strong female characters, but I really wish we could see Rachel and Sharon just, I don't know, work together and not immediately become the "Real Housewives of S.H.I.E.L.D."  This issue was a really rare miss for Brubaker. 

Captain America and Black Widow #636:  I mentioned in my review of the most recent issue of "Captain America" that I'm over the "extremists fuel Cap's disillusionment with America" plot.  Similarly, I mentioned in my review of the most recent issues of the "Secret Avengers" that I'm over the whole Shadow Council business.  At risk of being repetitive, I am really, really over Kashmir Venema.

I'm not entirely sure why authors lately have found themselves so enamored with these sorts of long-brewing plots.  Although I understand, theoretically, the allure of such a plot in narrative terms, I can't think of any comic book that really successfully pulled off one without ultimately annoying the reader.  I'm thinking about two 1990s storylines in particular, namely the Clone Saga in the various Spider-Man titles or the Gatherers in the "Avengers."  Both storylines spanned years and suffered from constantly changing creative direction, leaving you with the distinct sense that the creative teams didn't know where they were going with the story from the start and kept writing themselves into corners.  (In case you haven't read it yet, the "Life of Reilly" blog in my blog roll goes to great lengths to show how true that was in terms of the Clone Saga.)

In this issue, we learn that Kashmir Vennema isn't just a weapons dealer working for a shadowy organization that has yet to be revealed.  Instead, she's a weapons dealer working for a shadowy organization that has yet to be revealed who appears to work ACROSS DIMENSIONS.  Does that feel like a Captain America plot to you?  Yeah, me neither.

Kashmir is the type of character who would work better at playing a Baron Zemo role, appearing every once in a while to frustrate Cap, but not really posing such a threat that she needed to be eliminated once and for all.  Instead, she suddenly becomes some sort of weapons-dealing Kang.  I don't think that Bunn really does anything here that leaves you thinking that his plan all along was to reveal the cross-dimensional aspect of Kashmir.  Instead, it feels like he's having problems jumping from one arc to another, so he's using a common antagonist for as long as he can until he can't develop any more stories involving her.

It's time to put this Kashmir business behind us.  I'm starting to feel like this series would be better if it rotated writers for each arc, letting it feel more like the team-up book that it's supposed to be rather than an odd companion series to the main title.

Winter Soldier #10:  NOT SITWELL!  Damn it.  I mean, as I said last issue, I was pretty sure that Sitwell was going to die here, but it doesn't make me any less upset.  I'm upset for him (obviously), but I'm also upset for Natasha, because, as Bucky says here, she's going to hate herself when she returns to herself.  But, I'm most worried about the idea that Natasha won't remember her relationship with James.  For most authors, it would be an idle threat, but, with Brubaker, you never know.

Beyond the emotions related to Sitwell's death, Brubaker does great stuff here in terms of the appearance of Cap, Hawkeye, and Wolverine.  Bucky's conversation with Steve about feeling helpless at the loss of Natasha (similar to what Steve felt when he lost Bucky) was poignant, and I'm thrilled to see members of the New Avengers discover that Bucky isn't dead.  (OK, sure, Logan kind of ruined the moment a little, but, whatever.)  Brubaker has keyed up the emotions behind her abduction so well that I feel like the next few issues are going to be explosive as Bucky (and the reader) hunts for Natasha and seeks revenge on Leo.  If I'm excited to see Leo get his ass handed to him, I can only imagine how Bucky feels.  As Clint said, let's go get our girl back.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Comics!: The Captain America Edition #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America and Namor #635.1:  This issue is odd.  Given that this title started as essentially one prolonged .1 issue, detailing the war-time stories of Captain America and Bucky, the whole concept of a .1 issue for it seems bizarre.  But, beyond that, this story covers ground that we've recent covered elsewhere in similar books.  The Thule Society was a major part of "Fear Itself" and the whole "secret society working to a mysterious end" business has been the subject of "Secret Avengers" for the better part of its existence.  Therefore, even though the Covenant isn't the same thing as the Shadow Council from "Secret Avengers," this issue feels like the red-headed step-child produced from a marriage of that title with "Fear Itself."  If you couldn't tell, I don't mean that as a compliment.  Bunn tries to give us a meditation on Cap and Namor's early relationship, but it gets lost in the noise related to whatever scheme exactly Namor prevents the Thule Society from putting into effect here.  Unfortunately, since it's a .1 issue, it's clear that we haven't heard the last of the Covenant.  Maybe it's time to cancel this title...

Hawkeye #2:  As anyone reading this blog for a while knows, I'm a huge "Young Avengers" fan.  As such, I could hardly keep from squealing when I saw Kate Bishop hanging in Clint Barton's kitchen.  (I was also thrilled to see Lucky, who seems like he's getting a hang of important canine responsibilities like lounging around the place.)  Fraction immediately develops an engaging dynamic between Clint and Kate.  It definitely has some mild sexual tension (accentuated by Kate's leading comment on Clint's remark that he's not interested in dating her), but it's mostly fueled by a lot of mutual respect and an easy sense of humor about their different backgrounds.  In other words, I think that she'll prove to be an excellent foil for Hawkeye.

As in the first issue, Fraction also excels in using small moments to show characterization.  I loved Clint talking to his spilled coffee like it's a real person, because it displays the goofiness about Clint that he tried to hide underneath his cool exterior (or, at least, his concept of a cool exterior).  Similarly, his flustered attempt at explaining to Kate that he always screws up his romantic relationships shows a vulnerability that we don't often see from Clint.  In fact, unfortunately, most authors show Clint's driving motivation as insecurity.  Those stories never feel right to me, because an ordinary guy who manages to hold his own among a team of super-powered heroes isn't a guy who wastes a lot of time feeling insecure.  The best stories about Clint are the ones that instead focus on his vulnerability, where he's occasionally hijacked by his emotions, be it saving a dog from gangsters or buying a building for his neighbors.  Fraction really gets that and it's why he's showing us the most engaging Clint that I've seen in ages.

I'm intrigued by where Fraction is going with the revelation that this series may have a thread that runs through it.  He seems to be showing Hawkeye building some sort of international enemy list.  Given the details that we see on the last page, it seems like Clint has been collecting information on a lot of criminal activity for some time.  However, Fraction leaves it unclear how Clint got that intelligence.  In this issue alone, he occasionally glides over some important details, like how Clint connected the hobo signs that signified that something bad was going to happen imminently with the opening of the new hotel that hosted as a gathering of the criminal underworld.  If we're going to have these "Winter Soldier with a laugh track" kind of stories (and I support that approach entirely), we're going to need to know how exactly Hawk is getting his information, if the "Winter Soldier" part is going to be just as strong as the "laugh track" part.  Fraction seems to want us to believe that Hawk just put two plus two together all by himself, but I didn't see anything that would've led him to connect the hobo signs to the hotel opening.  He might've been lucky this time, but he's not going to be lucky every time.  (Plus, doesn't it seem crazy that the crime circus would try to rob from powerful criminals?  I thought that they were going to rob from a collection of rich people, an occurrence seems to happen weekly in places like Gotham.  But, why would you rob the Kingpin?  Fraction probably should've clarified that, and whether this event tied into his overarching plan.)  In these early days, the charm and wit are certainly more important as Fraction establishes a tempo for the series, but it can only last so long.

Now, the art.  Aja is amazing here.  We again get a goofy and handsome Clint, conveyed in spectacular detail made all the more amazing by Aja's sparse lines.  Hollingsworth gets a lot of credit for that, particularly since he's somehow managed to make the yellow of Hawkeye's hair distinctive to him alone.  But, both Aja and Hollingsworth also puts time and effort into different elements, like showing the different positions of Kate's mouth over the course of several panels as she talks to Clint.  It was a totally unnecessary sequences, but one that made you realize that you were reading something special.  Aja also has an amazing sense of kinetics:  I don't think that I've ever seen a better action sequence than the three panels where Hawkeye grabs Kate, she turns in his grip to fire off an arrow, and then they leap through the window.  Amazing stuff.

All in all, another strong issue that's a joy to read, just because it's the Hawkeye that I've always wanted to see but rarely got.  I'm in for the long haul.

Secret Avengers #30:  I'll admit that the art saved this issue for me.  In the moments where I just couldn't read anymore about the Crown of This or the Crown of That or where I wondered just how many negotiations books Taskmaster had bought in "Business" sections at airport bookstores, I was at least able to think, "Ooo, pretty."  Writing-wise, though, it's a pretty unremarkable issue.  We learn that the crowns merge together into some sort of mega-crown, but Remender doesn't tell us why the merged crown would be more powerful than the individual crows; in fact, I'm not sure that we entirely know what the crowns themselves actually do or why each one is different from the other ones.  Also, somewhat predictably, Max Fury is unable to use the mega-crown since, presumably, he doesn't have a soul, so it falls to Taskmaster to serve as the near-god.  But, again, despite Max and Taskmaster talking about the Abyss coming to Earth, we still don't really know what it is or why the crowns gain one access to it.  Honestly?  After 30 issues, I can't say I care anymore about this plot line that I did when it was first introduced, even if the names and faces on both sides of the fight have changed.

Winter Soldier #9:  Holy crap.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of this issue.  During Natasha's fight with Sitwell, I was really worried that he would wind up dead!  So, then, I was relieved when James saved him by "freeing" Natasha.  But, now, I'm worried all over again, since it appears that Natasha is on a rampage on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier!  (The cover of the next issue showing Bucky standing over a sheet-draped corpse doesn't help.)  This fear shows how well Brubaker has done in constructing Sitwell's character piece-by-piece, building off the conversation that he had with Bucky in the diner last issue.  He could be just focusing on Bucky and Natasha, but he's taken the time to make Sitwell into a character in his own right, and it's a better book for it.

Looking at the issue as a whole, Brubaker does a great job of building this tension by not just hurling us into the action, but starting by showing us Bucky impatiently waiting for the next clue that would send them to Leo and Natasha.  You get the sense throughout the issue that Bucky and Sitwell are just barely able to keep pace with Leo, a definite problem since it's also clear that Leo is merely playing with them.  When he actually gets serious, it's going to be plenty ugly, something that it seems like we're going to see next issue.  Finally, in terms of the art, Lark and Breitweiser deliver another beautiful book.  Bucky is intense and sexy as always, and the scene of him taking off his mask and reminding Natasha of who he is beautifully drawn.  They also manage to hold that emotion when they show a "freed" Natasha resting her head on James' shoulder.  You can actually see the relief on his face; I don't know how they did it, but, man, I just hope they never leave this title ever.