Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catwoman #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to make of this issue.  It's pretty clearly Joker who stole Selina's best friend's mementos and taunted her with them, though I only really know that because I know that this issue is part of "Death of the Family."  However, I'm not sure if the main story in this issue is part of a long-running one in this title, since I don't read it.  It involves Selina getting hired to move giant chess pieces that someone is using in a game being played throughout Gotham.  Honestly, it didn't make much sense to me, so I'm not sure if that someone is Joker and the author is being intentionally vague or if it's a plot that I would recognize if I read the title.  Given that "Batgirl" #13 had little to do with "Death of the Family," it seems possible that I'm just missing a lot here.  Either way, I can't say that this issue really added a lot to my understanding of Catwoman or "Death of the Family," so I think it's totally skippable if you're only here for the latter.

Batman and Robin #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I actually read this issue before "Batman" #13 and realized that I should've read that issue first.  When I re-read it, I realized how essential it is to the main plot.  Most importantly, we see Bruce teach Damian how to do something "in case anything ever happens to me."  Suddenly, you realize that Batman thinks that this conflict with Joker might be his last one.  Snyder hinted in "Batman" #13 at the fear that Bruce felt when he began to realize how different -- angrier, meaner -- Joker was this time.  But, now, we realize just how afraid he is.  It's chilling.  Speaking of chilling, we also see Damian arrive home after Alfred has been attacked without realizing that it happened.  I didn't think anything of it the first time I read this issue, but suddenly the large bone that Titus has in his mouth takes on all new -- and potentially horrifying -- meaning.

Batgirl #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Simone really steps on the gas here, throwing a lot at Barbara this issue, even if she's only really aware of part of it.

Throughout the Knightfall arc, Simone has kept us guessing about Charise, whether she was the framed survivor of a brutal attack on her family or a brilliant criminal who knew how to beat the system.  The twist, as we learn this issue, is that she was both.  In any other city, a rich socialite dating a sociopath who forces her to watch as he skins her family is probably a bit of a stretch.  But, hey, it's Gotham.  As Simone shows us, Charise didn't go to Arkham Asylum as a victim of a failed legal system.  She went there willingly, to learn how to become the sociopath that her boyfriend was and then to use those lessons and her resources to wage a war on crime.  It's a particularly Gotham story, a dark mirror of Batman's origin, and Simone really sells it.  Charise's beef with the Bat-family is that it's had its chance and it's failed to do anything to make Gotham a better place.  Using her father's crooked business practices and her new killing skills, Charise promises to do better.  In so promising, Simone establishes Knightfall as Barbara's first real enemy, someone who rises above the other hastily drawn villains Simone has used over the course of this series to test Barbara.  Overcoming Charise's resources is going to be a challenge for Barbara, but, as we know, she loves a good challenge.

Simone also draws Barbara into the upcoming "Death of the Family" arc with possibly the Joker (or at least someone acting on his behalf) seemingly promising to commit the same violence against her as he did against Barbara.  It comes just as we continue to watch James, Jr. play with Barbara without her knowing, giving her roommate a cat named after a cat that she had when she was younger.  These two revelations happening at the same time make you see the difficult road Barbara has ahead of her, one made all the rockier as we watch, in the end, Knightfall's minions free Mirror, Gretel, and Grotesque, part of the army that Charise promised to send after Barbara.  It's not going to be a fun few weeks for our girl...

Venom #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is fantastic.  Seriously, I think Bunn does some of the best work that I've ever seen him do.  This cross-over event started with a pretty significant "WTF?" factor, since I don't think anyone was really clamoring for a "Kaine and Venom go to the Microverse" story.  But, Bunn moves us past that question by telling an action-packed story that also delivers essential background information in a pretty fluid way.  By the end of this issue, we understand who all the players are and Bunn has set up the second half of this event nicely.

First, let's discuss the backstory part.  We quickly learn, in the form of one of the Microns giving an arrival briefing of sorts to Cletus, that the Microverse has things called "flesh factories" that churn out "perfect beasts and killing machines."  We also learn that this group has brought Cletus to Microverse to kill the Redeemer, who Kaine met at the end of last issue.  But, justifying Katy's inclusion from a story perspective, Bunn has Katy realize that they want Cletus to kill the Redeemer not as an assassin, but as the source an army of Carnages manufactured by the factories.  (Shudder.)  Bunn conveys all this information over a two-page spread in a way that that makes it feel like a believable conversation and not just forced expository.  For that accomplishment alone, I'd give him a gold star, since it's been a while since I've seen anyone pull of that much exposition so effortlessly.

However, the plot, as they say, also thickens.  Venom, as we saw last issue, has been saved by a rag-tag band of rebels called the Enigma Force.  (I loved Flash commenting how Peter would love "this science fiction mumbo jumbo."  It was a nice way to remind us who's in that suit.)  The Enigma Force is apparently working for the aforementioned Redeemer (popular guy), who wants to see Flash.  We also learn that members of the Force fear the symbiote, believing that it has the potential to corrupt the entire Microverse.  When agents of Marquis Radu, the guy who wants the Redeemer dead, attack the Force, Bunn shows them carrying sonic weapons.  It makes you wonder whether the Force because the Microverse has experience in battling it.  I wonder where we're going with that thought.  Bunn also uses this scene to get in some character work, having the Force's seamless teamwork remind Flash of the days when he used to fight for something that meant something to him.  It's a poignant moment, reminding us again how alone and isolated Flash is, even as he tries to make it work with the Secret Avengers.  It's hard to work in these moments in these sorts of events, so I salute Bunn for putting in the effort and managing it so well.

Bunn is equally adept at the Kaine part of the story.  After fighting off the monster that attacked him at the end of the last installment of this mini-series, Kaine chats with the Redeemer, learning that he's a former conqueror set on healing the Microverse.  Bunn also gets in some character work on Kaine, having him express skepticism that the Redeemer is ever going to purge all the murderous instincts from the Microverse, since, after all, Kaine knows from whence he speaks.  The Redeemer informs him that he's brought Kaine to this planet to "heal" the Marquis.  However, before they can infiltrate the Marquis' base, Carnage arrives.  Having previously killed most of the team that brought him to the Microverse, he had one of them bring him to the Marquis, conveniently running into Kaine and the Redeemer on the way.

The issue ends with everyone on a collision course.  Flash should arrive in time to help Kaine fight Carnage and then the group is likely to make its way with Marquis.  It actually seems possible at this point that Carnage could JOIN with Flash and Kaine, which is a team-up moment that I would really love to see.  To get through the entire missing backstory in a way that also delivered a great "Star Wars" space epic is quite an accomplishment and, for all the criticism I usually have for Bunn, I really applaud him for it.  As I mentioned in a previous review, I didn't really need a Microverse adventure involving Kaine and Venom.  But, you can't always get what you want.  Sometimes you get what you need.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Batman #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy fucking crap.

I actually legitimately don't know where to start here.  Snyder delivers possibly the creepiest comic that I've ever read, the only comic where I felt the need to look behind me to make sure that the villain wasn't standing over my shoulder watching me read it in some sort of elaborately planned meta-crime.  It's hard to dissect this issue, because I worry that examining it in that way will ruin it, that unraveling such a tightly wound plot will demean it.  But, I'll do my best.

The most brilliant part of this issue is how Snyder slowly but surely builds the tension and makes the reader feel part of it.  I don't meant that in the sense that you feel the tension while you're reading it in the safety of your living room; I mean that you feel it like you're actually there, in Gotham, where Joker could be lurking around any corner (and possibly in your living room).  Snyder accomplishes this feat largely through the horror-movie opening, as we listen, though not see, Joker slowly kill cops in the darkened GCPD HQ while he taunts Gordon.  In the middle of the issue, Batman notes how angry Joker is, a sentiment that Harley echoes at the end of the issue when she tells Batman that he's not the same Mr. J.  The amazing part is that Snyder has brought you, the reader, to the same conclusion by the time Batman and Haley makes these comments.  You actually feel like you're having a conversation with Batman about it, like you're sharing observations.  You're a minute from screaming, "Don't open that door!"  For example, when Batman notes that Joker unusually did his own dirty work in the GCPD, you've also noticed that.  You've also noticed how aggressive he is with Gordon throughout the assault.  He doesn't just taunt him about Barbara, but he tells him that he's been lying under his bed at night.  It doesn't feel like Joker.  He's not playing with Gordon here, but punishing him.  As such, when Batman announces that he's different, you feel that way, too.  You both realize that everything is on the table with him.

As such, you also feel the same anxiety that the Bat-family feels when they learn that he has returned.  Joker has been gone a year and it's pretty clear that they were all hoping that he had disappeared, even though they knew better.  When he re-appears so suddenly, they're shaken, as seen by the amazing scenes with Batgirl, Nightwing, and Red Robin all calling Bruce essentially at the same time to ask if it's true that Joker has returned.  You feel the same way that they do, the shock of realizing that he has returned and how you were secretly holding your breath all this time waiting for it to happen.  You have the same nervous energy that the Bat-family does, wondering what he's going to do next now that he's back.

Perhaps the most disturbing part is that you realize that part of this anxiety comes from the man in the center, who doesn't know what he's going to do next.  Batman doesn't know what message Joker was sending when he cut off his face.  He doesn't know what he's been doing for the last year.  He doesn't know what Joker meant when he told Commissioner Gordon that Batman has his calling card.  You get the sense that Bruce might be able to figure out a pattern but Joker is coming at him too fast, too furiously.  He's off his game.  You actually see Batman afraid here and it's as disturbing as you thought it would be.

Of course, we also learn that Joker is taking a tour of his past.  He mentions paralyzing Barbara to Gordon, he kills the son of the first man he killed in Gotham, he has Batman meet him at the Ace Chemical factory, he uses Harley to fight Batman:  it's like he was in rehab and got to examine his life.  It''s here that Snyder hints at the reason why Bruce is off his game, some residual guilt for creating Joker at Ace Chemical all those years ago.  Is it why Joker has such sway over him?  Is it why Joker is actually so angry at him?  Is it that simple?  Is it that complicated?

By the end of the issue, when he attacks Alfred with the crowbar sporting his own face as a mask, you've already come to the conclusion that everything is suddenly possible with him.  As such, you gasp, because you realize that maybe he will kill Alfred.  Maybe he's serious about killing the Bat-family.  You get the sense that he might just be engaging in this plot because he felt like his rivalry with Batman had gone stale and he needed to up the ante, get Batman to really hate him.  The fact that attacking Alfred seems to confirm that he knows Batman's identity is almost a secondary, if not tertiary, concern.  In fact, it just goes to prove that he's breaking old covenants and rules.  You realize that Scott Snyder might just kill Alfred here and you would totally and completely buy it.  It's why it's a leading candidate for issue of the year and it's why I just don't even know if I want to see where it's going.  But, I do.  Even if it's through fingers covering my eyes.

Detective Comics #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue reads exactly how a "Detective Comics" issue is supposed to read.  It forces you to read it again to get the nuance and, when you do, you appreciate the story that the author is telling all the more.  It's exactly the type of story that Tony Daniel didn't tell over the last 12 issues.

The story centers around a contract that Penguin places on Bruce Wayne, hoping to assassinate him and clear the way for Penguin to become Gotham's premier philanthropist.  Although it ostensibly seems like a weird reason to assassinate someone, Layman really sells it, making it feel like the sort of thing Penguin would do.  To accomplish this goal, Penguin orders his men to create a series of diversions for Batman.  The plan itself took a second reading to understand fully, but it's a pretty clever plan.  Penguin's men con a bunch of low-level hoods to break into places with a certain type of alarm system for which they've stolen a back-door code to activate remotely; by activating the alarms during the robberies, they attract Batman's attention, sending him all around town while the gunman lays in wait for Bruce Wayne outside the Neville Community Center, where he's going to help inaugurate the Martha Wayne Children's Center.  It's a pretty great plan.

However, Layman doesn't exactly succeed in explaining how the plan was going to achieve Penguin's goals.  At first, it seems that Penguin wants Bruce dead before the inauguration of the Children's Center, telling the assassin that "Bruce Wayne is to be nowhere near the [Center] for the announcement of the new Children's Wing."  You were left wondering why Penguin would want it to happen before the event.  But, the plot thickened (in a bad way) when it became clear that Penguin wanted the assassination to occur at the event itself, particularly after we learn that his whole goal was to trump Bruce's donation and have the wing dedicated to his mother, instead of Martha Wayne.  Bruce Wayne getting shot in the middle of the event seems like the type of thing that would upstage Penguin and his donation just a little.  It just doesn't make a lot of sense.  Penguin himself says that he doesn't want "a snooty rich brat to interfere with tonight's festivities."  But, again, how could Bruce getting shot in the middle of said festivities NOT interfere with them?  What did Penguin think was going to happen?  Some society maven would just wipe Bruce's brains off her gown and congratulate Penguin for his generosity?  Plus, I'm just not sure why Penguin didn't make his donation before the event.  After all, the way it happens, it's pretty clear that he acted merely to upstage Bruce, given the fact that the wing is already emblazoned with "Martha Wayne Children's Center."  Wouldn't it have been better not to be seen as motivated by competition, particularly if he really does want to be seen as a man of the people?  Penguin himself seems to realize that when he orders his bodyman to cancel the contract, but I feel like Penguin is a smarter guy than that.  The best approach seems like it would've been to secure the naming rights in the first place and have Bruce quietly killed several weeks later.  I'm pretty sure Penguin would know that.

Turning to the back-up story, Layman really seems to get Gotham.  If Snyder had a real knack in writing Gotham as a living, breathing character, Layman does a better job of almost anyone I've ever read of showing us what it's like to be a low-level thug in Gotham.  We learn how crooks in Gotham have to be smart, knowing how not to get on Batman's radar but also accepting the inevitability that it's bound to happen at some point.  Layman gives us this perspective in the form of a Gothamite explaining how it all works to a new guy from Miami and the ending -- where we learn what happens to guys who are too smart -- feels like the essence of a Gotham story.

However, even with the criticism I have for Penguin's plan, it was still a joy to read this issue after so many issues written by Tony Daniel.  This series finally feels like it's supposed to feel and I have hope that Layman will grow into the role of writing it.  I'm at least willing to give him a chance based on some real flashes of greatness here.

Detective Comics #0 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

[Sigh.]  I normally write that word in exhaustion, trying to find a way to express my disappointment in an issue.  But, here, I mean it as a sign of relief.  Gregg Hurwitz is a breath of fresh air after years of getting saddled with Tony Daniel.

The plot of this story is pretty straight-forward with no mid-issue surprise, the type of device that Daniel frequently used, managing to interrupt the flow of the story that he was trying to tell just as you were getting into the rhythm of it.  Instead, Hurwitz sets up the dramatic tension of this issue almost right from the start, as Bruce tries to embody the lessons taught to him by Zen master Shihan Matsuda but at the same time fights against his feelings for a village girl.  In the middle of this conflict is Matsuda's wife, who tells Bruce not to listen to Matsuda's instructions that he cut off his connections to everyone around him.  Hurwitz does a good job showing her sorrow here, since it's clear that a man that advocates so strongly for Bruce to bury his feelings isn't exactly the best husband.  As the issue progresses, it's clear that Bruce is going to choose the girl, because he's young and hasn't learned the lessons that will one day turn him into Batman.  It's also pretty clear that this decision is going to spell trouble, as it does, when the village girl steals into the monastery through a window that Bruce left open for her.  Instead of going to see Bruce, she stabs Shihan Matsuda.  The surprise, however, is the revelation that it was Matsuda's wife who hired the village girl in the first place, making it clear that she had been manipulating Bruce from the start, desiring the fortune that Shihan had amassed and wanting to be free from living in "this tomb" with him.  Daniel would have rushed this part, trying (and usually failing) to bring together the multiple threads that he was trying to weave through the issue.  Hurwitz, however, has just this one thread and shows us one of those lessons that Bruce had yet to learn, another lesson that eats at his soul and does, in the end, separate him from other people.

Although Hurwitz won't be the regular writer on "Detective Comics," I have to thank him for at least drawing a bright shining line between the past and the present on this title.  I'm actually excited about the tales that it has left to tell.

Detective Comics Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Halfway through this issue, I found myself wondering whether I was correct in my assumption that Tony Daniel didn't write it, since it flowed so smoothly.  I actually checked the cover and was surprised that Daniel did write it.  Later, I was less surprised.

Daniel takes up the disappearance of Roman Sionis and the Black Mask from Arkham Asylum during "Night of the Owls" and sticks to a storyline that plays to his (limited) strengths.  We watch Batman and Commissioner Gordon separately try to track down Sionis, with Gordon interrogating his former associates like Clayface and Batman chasing down one of the former members of the False Face Society, a group of Sionis' former lackeys.  (Actually, in retrospect, I'm not sure if Bruce purposefully tracked down the guy or just happened upon him.)

But, the wheels come off the bus when Daniel tries to get complicated about halfway through the story and introduces the Mad Hatter, who's angling to knock off Sionis so that he can be the undisputed master of hypnotism in Gotham.  It's a weird motivation, since you have to wonder how often it's a problem that Gotham has two criminal hypnotists.  Is Mad Hatter really all that threatened by the Black Mask?  As usual with Daniel, the ending is perhaps the oddest part, opening the door to the idea that the Black Mask actually took control of Batman at some point.

All in all, it's actually not a bad Daniel story, but it's still unfortunately a pretty forgettable issue.  It's the end of Daniel's run and, I have to say, I was right to drop this comic after issue #4 like I originally did.  Like in his former run on "Batman," Daniel just fails to be able to keep all the balls in the air that the writer of a Batman comic needs to be able to do.  His inability to construct a tight story from beginning to end doomed almost every (if not every) arc of his that I've read.  I'm very relieved that we're moving onto a new writer.  Hopefully, we're going to start seeing more of the stories that Scott Snyder told in this series back in its most recent heyday.

Detective Comics #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I...have no idea what happened here.

So, Mr. Toxic wasn't a future Marder?  He was a clone?  If so, I'm not really sure why the original Marder is the one decomposing.  Shouldn't he be stable?  After all, he seemed fine at the end of last issue, when he survived his exposure to the particle accelerator.  They do mention a "calculation error" at the end of that issue, so I guess that it's this error that's causing him to decompose.  But, Daniel doesn't really explain that.  Continuing on that theme, why would Marder's death hurt Mr. Toxic's?  The whole reason I thought that Mr. Toxic was a future version of Marder was that he mentioned that he would die if Marder died.  But, if he's just a clone, why would Marder living or not living have any impact on him?  Finally, I'm not sure what Professor Manhart's special "genetic cocktail" was supposed to do.  Was it going to combine the two of them together?  Is that why Marder had to be alive for the clone to survive?  Finally, taking it back a step, why would a device built for time travel cure a genetic illness in the first place?  Someone at some point mentions that it turned Mr. Toxic into a being of pure energy, but I don't understand how the accelerator did that or, more importantly, how it's connected to curing the disease.  Honestly, I don't even know.  Daniel just throws a lot of mumbo jumbo at us here but none of it makes a lick of sense.

But, making matters worse, this issue just ends.  Batman does something with some foam and a fully healed Marder appears.  However, it's unclear if it's Marder or the clone.  In fact, no comment is made about how only one of them survived, so I'm not sure if I'm supposed to believe that Professor Manhart was successful and combined them.  Shouldn't someone noticed that they were missing one of them?  I think the survivor is also in theory still dying of radiation poisoning.  If so, is it just Marder?  Seriously, it's just one big mess.  I'm just going to end talking about it here, because it doesn't merit this level of attention.

What's not a mess?  The effing amazing back-up story that makes you wonder why James Tynion is stuck writing back-up stories when Tony effing Daniel is allowed to write "Detective Comics."

Detective Comics #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

"My physical body may be momentarily impaired -- but my mind's always thinking ahead."  Oh, COME ON!

[Sigh.]

All right, I'll try to start with something nice.  Daniel does clarify some points in this issue.  We learn that Hugh Marder, the scientist allegedly working on cancer research in Wayne Towers, did in fact create a type of Large Hadron Collider.  He also has apparently been cloning himself, explaining why the henchmen last issue were willing to commit suicide (though not why he decided to taunt Batman by dressing them in Batsuits).  The main purpose of the cloning seems to be to create test subjects, since the Large Hadron Collider is actually some sort of particle accelerator capable of forward time-travel.  However, we seem to have the hint that "Mr. Toxic" is actually a future version of Marder, implying that he eventually figures out backward time-travel as well.

I'm actually fine with all these revelations, even though I don't like time-travel stories.  They more or less make sense.  But, am I really supposed to believe the ending, where Batman is so careless that he's experimenting with radioactive substances in nothing more than a Batsuit?  He has a decontamination shower built into the Batcave, but he doesn't have a haz-mat suit?  It's not a trivial point, either, since the whole cliffhanger of this issue revolves around the substance on which Bruce is experimenting attacking him.  It's just one more example of Daniel screwing up an ending.  Just two issues and an annual left...

Detective Comics #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I know that I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but, once again, Daniel starts well and ends terribly.

I'm not even sure where to start.  First, I have no idea why "Mr. Toxic" would have his henchmen dress as Batman.  It seems like a particularly bad idea, since you're pretty much poking a stick in the eye of a guy with a decent likelihood of shutting down your operation in the first place.  It seems like the type of thing Joker or Two-Face might do, but not a nobody like "Mr. Toxic."  Second, I'm also not sure why someone like "Mr. Toxic" would inspire such devotion in his henchmen that they'd be willing to kill themselves for him.  Finally, I'm particularly confused how a company could've built a LARGE HADRON COLLIDER IN WAYNE TOWER WITHOUT BATMAN KNOWING.  I mean, seriously?  Plus, why hide it from Bruce Wayne?  The guy who built it apparently told him that he was working on a cancer drug.  If he wasn't, why tell Wayne Enterprises that he was?  Daniel has enough time to answer all these questions, but I remain skeptical that he will.

Detective Comics #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At first, I thought that this issue might be proof that Daniel is better at writing single-issue stories than multiple-issue arcs.  The premise is pretty decent, with Scarecrow using a hostage to send Batman on a few "errands" for him.  The first errand involves stopping Catwoman from stealing the anti-fear agent that Batman developed for the GCPD.  Bats learns from Catwoman that some guy named Digger Jones asked her to steal the agent and Jones in turn informs Batman that he was going to meet some guys who wanted to use his fighting dogs to run some experiments.  But, around the middle here, the wheels fall off the bus.  Instead of accomplishing the next errand, Batman finds Scarecrow, who confirms Batman's suspicion that he's actually trying to stop someone from developing a competing version of his fear toxin.  The first problem, however, is that Daniel never connects the anti-fear agent with the fear toxin.  I was confused at first and it's only upon re-reading the issue that I'm assuming that Scarecrow's competition wanted the agent just in case something went wrong with the experiments on the toxin.  But, again, Daniel doesn't say that explicitly, so you're suddenly wondering how Batman knew that Scarecrow had competition in the first place.  The second problem is that I don't know why Scarecrow just didn't send Batman after the competition.  Why send him to stop Catwoman and interrogate Digger if he knew exactly where the competition was developing the toxin?  The final problem is that everything really goes off the rails at the end, when we learn that the "competition" is Hugo Strange and his "son," Eli, introduced a few issues ago working for Catwoman.  We learn that Eli is a genius who graduated from college at ten and was working for the Pentagon at seventeen.  But, Daniel also seems to imply that he then killed his supervisors in two freak accidents two weeks apart and then appeared in Gotham a month later.  But, we're never given any reason for why he (presumably) snapped.  Moreover, Batman doesn't seem to care, dismissing Scarecrow's assertion that Eli was a victim, asserting that Gotham was the victim.  Once again, I finish a Daniel issue scratching my head, wondering what exactly I've read, and barely recognizing this totally compassionless Batman.

Detective Comics #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Twins separated at birth?  You have to be kidding me.  Am I reading "Detective Comics" or watching "General Hospital?"  As usual, Daniel flubs the ending here.  I mean, the plot does come together in the end, but you're left scratching your head over the lesson that Daniel wanted you to draw from it.

As far as I can tell, Chase was hired by Penguin to kill his competition by planting C-4 near the vaults in the Iceberg Casino where he had just agreed to store their money.  When they bee-lined for the vaults after Snakeskin's tried to kill Penguin in the middle of the Casino floor on opening night, Chase would detonate the C-4, killing them.  Penguin would then get to keep the money and, in return, Chase would get part of the money and Penguin would help her father's mayoral campaign.  But, of course, Batman manages to save the competition and Penguin considers his deal with Chase broken.  Chase is arrested and a jilted Snakeskin scams his way into her cell at Arkham seeking revenge.

For the most part, I get the how.  I'm not thrilled with the how, but I get it.  I think that the main problem with the how is that it all turns on Batman finding a casino chip after Chase stole the briefcase in that alley, allowing him to track down Snakeskin (and thus her).  Chase doesn't strike me as the careless type, so it seems pretty unbelievable that she would stuff her pockets with casino chips before planning to jump all around an alley to steal a briefcase.  I didn't mention it earlier, because I thought she might have planted it on purpose to serve as misdirection.  But, it seems like Daniel really wants us to believe that she had that chip on her and accidentally dropped it.  It's that sort of easy solution that comprises my main complaint with Daniel on this title.  Batman never really has to be smart, because the criminals are always so stupid.

But, beyond the flawed how, I still don't get the why.  Why would Chase be so loyal to her father that she would be willing to murder several people (including her lover, since Snakeskin was presumably supposed to die in the botched assassination attempt without knowing that he was) just to get Penguin to help his election campaign?  Daniel gives us no background on her, even though I'm pretty sure that she didn't exist in the DCU.  He just has Batman assert that he knows about her whole sordid past, but we never learn it.  Why help a father who appears not to know she exists?  I mean, I don't really see Tagg Romney whacking people for the Mafia simply to raise some money for his father, who does, in fact, know that he exists.  Without any background on Chase, we have no understanding of what her father did to inspire such devotion in her, which leaves me scratching my head at the end of this issue, wondering how she thought it was all ready going to go.

Detective Comics #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, let's see if I followed the story correctly:  the one-eyed woman, known as Chase or Jill, killed some street kid to get information on a bomb maker who she then killed to obtain some C-4.  I'm not sure why she would need to have killed the kid to get to the bomb maker, since we're told that the bomb maker was a "bad man with a lot of money," which makes it sound to me like he would've been pretty easy to find for anyone with connections in the underworld.  At this point, we also don't know why Chase (or Jill) wants to blow up the Iceberg Casino, but we do know that she was the one that stole the briefcase last issue.  (We still don't know why the two men were exchanging a briefcase of cash in a dark alley, but I'm guessing that I should just make my peace with that lack of clarity and try to move to the next confusing plot twist.)  We do know that she's working with a guy named Snakeskin and that she expects to make enough money off this job to move to Costa Rica.  But, we don't know what the job is.  I'm not really sure how blowing up the Iceberg Casino will get her that money, but we'll see.  Unfortunately, she also has to stop her investigative-reporter sister, who just so happens to be at the Iceberg Casino because she's looking into a gun-smuggling ring and because she's Bruce Wayne's date.  Yeah, I know.

Detective Comics #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although I originally dropped this title, I was inspired to get it again with the news that Tony Daniel had left, at least temporarily.  Plus, with the various cross-over events, it's pretty difficult to avoid "Detective Comics" when you're getting five other Bat-family titles.  I figured that I didn't miss many issues, so I might as well get the back issues and stay current.  Here we go:

As usual, Daniel is all full a promise in the beginning of this arc, setting a number of mysteries in motion.  We don't know who the clown-faced figure who steals a briefcase in an alleyway is and we don't know why he wants to get access to the Iceberg Casino.  Those questions are interesting ones and we'll see where Daniel goes with them over the course of the arc.

But, also as usual with Daniel, we have a number of other questions, the unfortunate ones, that don't really lead anywhere and make my head hurt.  For example, we're introduced to the guy originally handing over the briefcase as a low-level criminal trying to establish some street cred and the guy accepting the briefcase as the guy who stole a bunch of hazardous chemicals from the NIH.  But, we don't know why they're exchanging a briefcase, why Batman cares about said briefcase, and how the clown-faced thief knew about the exchange.  The thief apparently stole the briefcase to finish the deal, since we later see him hand it to a guy in a limo who's expecting it to contain $20,000.  But, the thief apparently skimmed a few thousand of it and, when he holds a gun to the head of the guy in the limo, the guy "forgives" him (smart) and randomly hands him a VIP ticket to the Iceberg Casino.  Was that what the low-level criminal was going to get in exchange for the briefcase?  A VIP ticket?  Otherwise, why would the guy in the limo think that the thief wants a VIP ticket?  The guy doesn't ask for one.  Plus, why would the criminal (or the thief, for that matter) engage in that sort of shady activity to get his hands on such a ticket, when it would probably be easier just to pay the Penguin $20,000 for one?  This whole sequence was seriously confusing.

Only eight more issues to read...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Secret Avengers #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I haven't been all that impressed with the Descendants, but, damn, Remender sells it here.

First, Black Ant is possibly a better character that Eric O'Grady was.  I mean, don't get me wrong:  I liked Eric, particularly because he was a reminder of the days when the Avengers took in people with questionable records, like Hawkeye, and gave them a chance to redeem themselves.  As we've now learned, O'Grady did just that, sacrificing his life to save a child.  But, the new Eric, he remembers dying and regretting it.  He realized how important life was so, when the Father resurrected him and ordered him to follow him, he was only happy to oblige.  Talk about a believable motivation.  Remender really nails it with this twist, explaining how a guy who died trying to become a hero could turn so quickly into a remorseless villain.  It really does take someone like Remender to make a guy named "Black Ant" into a serious bad-ass.

Overall, one of my problems with the previous Descendants storyline is that it didn't really seem to have a point.  Blah blah blah, world domination, blah blah blah.  The Father's crusade against humanity just seemed too cartoonish, too done.  But, here, Remender thickens the plot (or, probably more accurately, distracts us from it), with the Father expressing particular interest in Hank, as one of the fathers of cybernetic life.  I mean, I'm still not buying their overall campaign as anything that I should even be remotely worried that they'll accomplish, but I'm definitely intrigued by what the Father wants with Hank.

Finally, Captain Britain actually adds something here, since I can't wait to see him and Hawkeye going against the undead Avengers to get the Orb of Necromancy.  He's been such a drag for most of this series that it's nice to see him actually provoke a sub-plot that adds some drama and excitement to the book.

Needless to say, I can't wait for next issue.

Captain America and Black Widow #638 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue significantly benefits from a focus primarily on action, forcing the Kashmir nuttiness into the background.  However, that nuttiness appears to be ultimately inescapable as this arc just keeps going on and on and on.  I've been sticking with it just so I can end getting this series with the conclusion of this arc, but I'm giving it one more issue before I just bail completely.

Avengers #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest?  I love this issue.  LOVE IT.  I know I've been hating on Bendis lately and it doesn't change the fact that I really think that it's time for him to go, but, honest to God, I enjoyed this issue from start to finish.

First, he manages to bring back Janet in a way that makes total sense, at least in the context of comic-book resurrections.  I'll buy the fact that she wound up shrunk into the Microverse when she exploded; after all, it's the opposite of what was happening to her when she "died," namely that she was growing at too fast of a rate.  (I wasn't reading "Avengers" then, so, thank you, Wikipedia, for that synopsis.)  Bendis also builds to the moment well.  Although it's pretty clear after a page or so that we're dealing with Janet (and not Rita DeMara, as I originally thought), I still found myself holding my breath as the Avengers gathered on the spot in Central Park where she "died."  When it was the original Avengers -- Ant-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor -- who walked through that portal I knew that it was go time.

But, the really exciting part is that Bendis manages to remind us why she's been so missed in the first place.  In fact, Bendis' type of corny humor seems perfectly suited for Jan, who's always been prone to delivering a good soliloquy about the amazing wonderfulness of chocolate shakes.  Whereas he often seems to be forcing his brand of hilarity onto certain characters, it seems to really work with Jan, energizing the whole book.  It makes you wonder how much better it would've worked if she had been here all along.  I loved when she exclaims how she's not good at extricating herself from jams but managed to make it happen.  Most superheroes are portrayed as geniuses and wise and crafty and resourceful.  However, in real life, those traits rarely go together and I love Janet knowing that she's not so great at one aspect of superheroing, namely, the resourcefulness part.  It reminds us that Jan has always been a particularly human superhero, one who doesn't define herself just by her status as a superhero.  I also loved the guys' deadpan reactions to her discovery.  Was the mouth-on-mouth kissing a little much?  Sure.  Does it kind of fit with Jan, though?  Yes.  Yes, it does.  It also fits with Jan that she's also basically running a one-woman rebellion against a dictator.  So, let's kick some centaur ass and get her home.

Captain America #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite my disappointment in this series of "Captain America," with its odd focus on a disillusioned Steve, I had high hopes for Brubaker to find a way to make it worthwhile with this last issue.  Brubaker has always grasped Steve in a way others haven't, making him more complex than the single-minded Boy Scout that other writers often make him into being.  This issue really shows that depth of understanding, managing to give me new insight into a character whose comics I've been reading for 25+ years.

Other authors have talked about Steve being motivated to join the war (and later take the Super-Soldier Serum) because he was a bullied child and that experience inspired him to fight injustice.  Brubaker plums a darker side of that story here, with Steve talking about the shame that he felt with ever lost fight, because he was letting down his mother.  Epting really sells this story, depicting a heart-breaking scene of a black-eyed young Steve sitting in silence at the dinner table with his mother in a crumbling apartment.  But, Brubaker goes further, expanding on how Steve's shame was compounded by the fact that his mother was the central (and really only) person in his life.  Here, Brubaker takes us on a tour of the Depression mindset, with Steve noting that he had an irrational fear of losing his mother, but one that seemed to reflect the way that everything could just go wrong in a moment in that era.  Maybe it's because I'm taking a history class that focuses on the Depression, but this part of the book really rang true to me.  I really felt the plight of the young Steve here, a kid who desperately clung to his mother as the only bulwark against the harsh realities of the world and who felt the disappointment for not being able to reward her with a stronger, more successful son.  I feel like this motivation really adds something to Steve's story, showing not only why he was trying to join the army (to fight against injustice) but why he also agreed to take the Super-Soldier Serum (to become stronger).

Brubaker then moves from this tour of Steve's origins to a discussion of the burden that wearing the uniform is for Steve, a tour made all the more poignant for the fact that it comes in the form of a one-sided conversation that he has with the broken 1950s Captain America, William Burnside.  Brubaker has done some great stuff over the course of his run with the previous Caps and Buckys and here he shows that Steve has felt their trials and tribulations deeply, often feeling as if they unjustly had to carry the burden that he alone should have to carry.  Again, Brubaker really gets the myth of Captain America here, in part because he shows it to us through the eyes of the guy who understands it the most.

Overall, despite the difficulties of this run, Brubaker really ends on a high note here.  I think it's time for some fresh eyes on Cap, but I have to really thank Brubaker for reinvigorating the character, from the addition of an improved supporting cast (and including Sharon Carter in it) and, of course, the resurrection of Bucky Barnes.  They've helped show us a Steve Rogers who is an actual human being and not a stuffed iconic suit.  I'm hesitant of Remender taking over the book, but I know, if it's not my cup of tea, I can return to the good ol' days of Brubaker's run and read the Cap stories that I want to read.

AVX: Consequences #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The most interesting thing about this issue is that Gillen lets us see a glimpse of an older (or, I guess, technically, younger) version of Scott, a guy who believes that a school could teach his cellmate to learn how to use his gifts and a somewhat implicit belief that he would use those powers for good rather than evil.  It seems unlikely that his cellmate has any intention to be a good guy, but it's a revealing moment of naiveté on Scott's part.  It implies that he hasn't forgotten all the lessons that Xavier taught him, that at least the goal of helping mutants understand their powers is worthwhile, even if he's less enthused about the "co-existing with humanity" part of Xavier's dream.  I wonder if it suggests his next act, forming a school with possibly a less "accommodationist," if you will, approach to educating mutants.  In the meantime, however, he hasn't gotten there yet, since we still see him preferring to die as a martyr than escaping and doing something else with his life.  But, this glimpse into the old Scott definitely makes me anxious to see where we find him at the end of this mini-series.

The rest of this issue shows us a variety of small moments involving several characters.  The most notable one to me was Hope trying to assimilate into a normal life.  I loved how Gillen framed it as a letter that Hope writes to Laurie, since it serves as a touching tribute to the cast of "Generation Hope."  I feel like it's pretty clear that Hope is less annoyingly rage-filled than she was now that she has the Phoenix burden off her shoulders, so it's nice to see her making amends with Laurie.  Gillen seems to be reminding us that this generation of mutants will take over the X-Men one day and is doing his part in keeping their group dynamics alive.  I'm also interested in where he goes with the Cable sub-plot.  I'm actually not sure what happened to Cable after the events of "Second Coming" (and why he's still alive) and I'm still curious why he didn't play any role in "Avengers vs. X-Men."  I guess we'll learn more in the next two issues.

All in all, it's another strong issue that continues to flesh out Cyclops and hints at his future while at the same time wrapping up some Hope-related loose ends.  I really can't ask for more than that.

Scarlet Spider #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm going to go with a short-form review since this issue really isn't a "Scarlet Spider" issue.  In fact, I actually thought for a moment that Yost didn't write this issue, because the portrayal of Kaine is a little basic.  For example, we see him unnecessarily expositing the fact that he now has something to lose.  It's a common theme in "Scarlet Spider," but Yost seems forced to spell it out more clearly here than he usually does, likely for new readers, and it loses something in the translation.  Also, Kaine seems significantly more violent than he usually is (which, of course, is saying a lot).  I get that he's full of rage after failing to prevent Carnage from killing the scientists at the Space Center, but he's essentially reduced to screaming, "I'm going to kill you" over and over again.  Again, it's almost like another author is writing this series and, unaware of the progress Yost has made in developing Kaine's character, wrote him like he was the '90s version of Kaine.

Flash also acts uncharacteristically here randomly losing control of the symbiote for no particularly good reason that I can tell.  I'm not sure if the symbiote recognizes Kaine as a threat and is responding to some old beef with him or if it is simply agitated because of Carnage.  I guess we'll see where that goes.

We do get some more information about why Carnage was contacted by the "tiny people."  (In a great example of pet peeve #1, we learn that they're called Microns from the title page.)  It seems that the group that we saw last issue want him exactly for his homicidal impulses, though it's unclear why. They also appear not to have been trapped on Earth, but came specifically to get Carnage.  Meanwhile, after Kaine and Venom make the journey to the Microverse and get separated in the process, Venom finds himself saved by a different group of Microns, who seem likely to be in opposition to the other group.

All in all, it's a meh issue.  If it had been an issue of "Venom," I don't think that I'd be so disappointed.  But, this issue proves the fears that a lot of folks had about this cross-over event, that it would needlessly distract us from the infinitely more interesting stories that Yost was already telling in this title.  At least we only have another issue of it left before we return to the good stuff.

Minimum Carnage: Alpha #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'm game.  This issue isn't perfect, resorting to a lot of exposition that I guess you have to have in these sorts of team-up events, where readers of one series might be unfamiliar with the protagonist from the other.  But, once they get past introducing Flash's whininess and Kaine's crankiness, Bunn and Yost manage to channel the creepiness of Carnage, reminding you what an unpredictable threat he is.

As the first issue in the cross-over event, this issue obviously raises some questions, like why the "tiny people" contacted Cletus and why they were seemingly stuck on Earth in the first place.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the issue is Flash's discomfort in the mere existence of Carnage.  The discovery that the symbiote has bonded with Cletus on a cellular level clearly shakes him, particularly since he's not exactly doing such a great job of control his own symbiote lately.  Kaine seems less fazed when confronting Carnage, having no reason to view him as anything other than a violent monster who needs to be stopped.  Their battle is fun, in a sick way, as Cletus comes to realize that Kaine, who tries to snap his neck and uses his claws to break free of Carnage's hold, isn't Spider-Man.  Cletus, of course, is in his usual form, and I loved him surprising the "tiny people" by revealing that the "clean start" he wants in the Microverse is just the ability to kill more people in a whole new universe.  That sounds like the sort of thing that would motivate Cletus.

I'm still not so sure that "Kaine and Venom take on the Microverse" was a story that needed to be told, but Bunn and Yost sell it enough that I'm interested to see where they go with it.

Amazing Spider-Man #695 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
At a biker bar near the East River, Hobgoblin leads a group of Hand ninjas to recover a "Pulp Fiction briefcase" from members of a Goblin gang.  He's just observing that the briefcase will put the Kingpin in a very good mood when Spidey arrives and uses a Web-Line to steal said briefcase.  Hobgoblin responds with his sonic scream, but it has no effect on Spidey, since he's developed earplugs that block out harmful frequencies.  Hobgoblin congratulates him on his new trick, but announces that he, too, has one, ordering Tiberius Stone, who's hiding on a rooftop, to activate one of the Spider-Sense Jammers.  Instead of "jamming" Spidey's Spider-Sense, however, it amplifies it, allowing Peter to make short work of the Hand ninjas.  Hobgoblin escapes, grabbing Stone and berating him for helping Spidey instead of hindering him.  Stone promises to make adjustments and Hobgoblin tells him that he's the one who's going to have to explain to Kingpin why they don't have the case.  As Spidey finishes off the Hand, he notices Hobgoblin carrying away Tiberius.  Roderick Kingsley is also observing the scene, expositing that Phil is unaware that his Bat-Drone has a GPS tacker, which led Roderick straight to him.  Elsewhere, Madame Web is in a trance, noting that the future is slipping through her fingers and that the end is approaching.  She's interrupted by her daughter, who she's sending to her parents' house in Colorado.  Her daughter thinks that it's to spend time with her grandparents, but Madame Web exposits that it's for her safety since the ending that she has foreseen is her own.

At Horizon, Pete stores the recovered briefcase, since he figures that it has all sorts of booby-traps.  He wonders how he should approach the Tiberius Stone issue and resolves to handle it like a scientist, supporting his hypothesis that Stone is working with Hobgoblin with facts.  He goes to discuss the matter with Max, who he finds concluding an interview with Sally Floyd from the "Daily Bugle."  Floyd is running a piece on Horizon and Max tells Pete that it will help combat some of the pressure that JJJ, Jr. has put on them lately.  Floyd mentions Pete working on Spidey's tech and Pete asks if she's putting it in the piece.  Max expresses concern that some of the staff "spoke out of turn" and asks Floyd to remove any mention of it from the piece.  Floyd refuses, saying that it's too good and, if Pete wants it removed, he'll have to go to the top.

Pete does just that, going to the "Daily Bugle" and trying to convince Robbie Robertson not to run it.  Robbie refuses, stressing that the article casts Horizon in a very positive light.  Pete tells him that he's worried about being connected to Spider-Man and Robbie dismisses this concern as old news, since everyone knows about Pete's connection to Spider-Man since he once released a book of photos of him.  Pete is concerned that this revelation could get people to examine his link to Spider-Man more closely, breaking the already weakened spell that Dr. Strange cast on him to undo the revelation of his identity.  Pete asks Robbie for a delay, but Robbie shows him that the piece is already on the "Bugle's" website.  In the background, Phil provides footage of Hobgoblin fighting Spider-Man to Norah, who tells him that she's looking into heavier stuff, namely the legacy of Norman Osborn.  She has apparently learned through her sources that Osborn has files on "all the power players" and she's doing everything to find them.  She dismisses Hobgoblin as small time, something that infuriates Phil.  His anger sets off Pete's Spider-Sense just as Norah approaches him and Pete wonders if Norah's in danger.

At Shadowland, Kingpin threatens Stone, who pledges to get back the suitcase from Spider-Man and cripple him in the process.  Stone shows Kingpin how he plans on substantially boosting the signal and altering the frequencies of the Jammers, which he's placed all around town.  At the Port Authority, Julia puts her daughter on the bus and then calls 9-1-1, telling the operator that a woman, her, is in dire need of medical attention.  Stone turns on the Jammer and Pete begins to become overwhelmed.  Her knocks Norah and Phil to the floor to "save" them from the mail guy almost bumping into them.  Pete covers by saying he hadn't had his coffee that morning, but, when Norah offers him some, he knocks it from her hand, since it was hot.  Suddenly, he realizes that he's seeing everything around him as a threat and decides to leave to find somewhere safe.  At the Port Authority, Madame Web is also overwhelmed, seeing every possibly future.  She sends a psychic warning to Peter, calling him Spider-Man and telling him that something right behind him is coming for him.  Panicked that she called him Spider-Man in front of the staff, Pete heads to the stairs.  Phil wonders if everyone in the city saw that message and turns to ask Pete if it was for him, but then realizes that Pete's gone.  He gets a call from Kingpin, telling him that he has an assignment for him, "about locating Spider-Man."  Phil tells Kingpin that he has it covered and, downstairs, Pete stumbles into the street.  He tries shutting out the pain, but realizes that he has limited options, since he can't risk Web-Swinging.  He plans on heading to the Fantastic Four or Horizon, somewhere where someone can identify why he's having this problem.  But, Hobgoblin appears behind him, using gas to knock out Pete and declaring, "I finally got one over on you, Spider-Man," as he grabs Pete and flies into the distance with him.

The Review
Although I only list one "Good," I gave this issue three stars since I'm at least intrigued where Slott is going with the "Unknowns."  However, I still have my doubts.  Slott is building off some premises that I find shaky, such as Max having made the Spider-Sense Jammers' design specification so easy to steal and Madame Web being so risky as to call Peter "Spider-Man" in public.  Both these plot points felt forced, like Slott was rushing to roll out the story and didn't have time to develop more plausible explanations.  If this arc continues to rely on these questionable developments at its core, it's going to be hard to stay as engaged as I'm clearly supposed to be.

The Good
I thought Slott did a good job reminding us that Pete's connection to Spider-Man isn't something that he wants re-publicized because of Dr. Strange's spell.  After all, Robbie's right that it doesn't really seem like the sort of thing that would surprise anyone, since Pete's connection to Spider-Man is pretty well established.  But, it also makes sense that this sort of publicity could destroy the spell that we know is already weakened after Pete's impromptu speech during Spider-Island.  It a nice attention to detail, the type that we expect from Slott but haven't seen a lot over the last few issues.

The Unknown
1) I didn't know that other Horizon members knew that Pete worked on Spidey's tech.  I thought that Max was the only one who actually knew that.  Did it get revealed during Spider-Island or "Ends of the Earth?  I'm not going to give Slott a demerit for it, since I don't really want to re-read the last 45+ issues or so to prove my point, but I was still surprised by the reveal.  Plus, even if they did know, it still seems surprising that they'd reveal it to a reporter, unless it was Sajani getting some revenge since she's not all that fond of Pete.

2) The secret-identity issue distracts Pete from the conversation that he was going to have with Max, namely, what Max knew about Tiberius Stone.  I wonder when we're going to return to that sub-plot, since Slott has drawn attention to it several times over the last few issues.

3) I also wonder where Slott is going with the Norah storyline.  It seems pretty clear that her research into the Osborn files is somehow connected to the upcoming battle between the two Hobgoblins, particularly since she keeps appearing in Madame Web's visions.  I wonder if Norah is going to survive this arc.

The Bad
1) I didn't think anyone else saw Madame Web's psychic messages.  Even if they now could because of her amplified power, I'm pretty sure that Julia would know enough to appear only to Peter.  After all, if she knows that the threat to Peter is right behind him, why in the world would she reveal his identity to that threat?  Plus, Pete running from the message seems to have been the worst possible option, since it only serves to attract attention to him, rather than divert it from him.  As I said above, this plot twist falls into the category of Max keeping the Spider-Sense Jammer designs in his desk drawer.  I don't buy that Julia would be so careless and, since the whole plot of the arc revolves around this carelessness, I'm having trouble engaging with it.

2) Since I think it bears repeating (though should be obvious by now), I still don't believe that Max Modell would be so dumb as to keep the plans for the Spider-Sense Jammers in his desk drawer, which means that I don't believe that Tiberius Stone could've stolen them, which means that I don't believe that he could amp up their power, which means that I don't think Phil would've had the opportunity to deduce Pete's secret identity.  At the end of the day, the throne of lies on which this storyline is sitting is keeping me from really engaging with it.

Amazing Spider-Man #694 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Getting some fresh air and stepping out of my 'box' might be just what the ---"  "Spider-Man!  There you are."  "--- Iron Man ordered." -- Spidey and Iron Man, with some unintentional banter

Favorite Quote #2:  "Who is this?  And how'd you get this very private --"  "Y'know darn well who this is.  It's Spider-Man."  "Hey, boy wonder."  -- Alpha and Spidey have a moment

Favorite Quote #3:  "Mrs. Parker!  Hold on, I've got you!"  "It -- it's Parker-Jameson."  "What?"  "I got married."  "Falling out of the sky and that's what she's worried about."  -- Spidey and May also have a moment

Summary
Andy's parents call his apartment, leaving a message telling him that he should come home or at least talk to them.  Andy can't answer the call because he's in Tokyo with his lawyer, where he receives a call on his "very private number" from Peter Parker, who yells at him for missing his weekly appointment at Horizon.  Andy promises to come twice the next week and hangs up the phone.  Peter is at wit's end after having spent every waking moment trying (and failing) to find a way to remove the alpha-energy from Andy without killing him.  At La Guardia, JJJ, Sr. and May prepare to board a private jet, with May expressing disappointment that Peter isn't there to say good-bye, as he promised he would be last issue.  JJJ, Jr. watches from the terminal, telling Glory that he'll be happier when his father is in Boston.  Back at Horizon, Pete decides to head to La Guardia (Spidey-style) to say good-bye, hoping the fresh air will do him some good.  However, he runs into the Avengers (who think that he's answered their call) and finds himself confronting Terminus and his army.  Cap tells Spidey to call Andy and Spidey objects, saying that he's not ready.  Cap asks if Spidey has been training him and, when Spidey confirms that he has, overrules him, saying that Alpha is one of their biggest guns and they need him.  Spidey makes the call, telling Andy that he's been called to the majors.  Andy then flies to New York, stunning the Avengers by arriving in seconds, and attacks Terminus.  Pete notices that Andy used his super-speed and flight at the same time and realizes that his one constraint -- that he could only use one power at once -- is gone.

Iron Man interrupts this reverie by announcing that one of the blasts that Terminus deflected has shut down all commercial aircraft in a ten-mile radius.  Cap stays to keep an eye on Andy while the rest of the Avengers scramble to save the planes.  Spidey hitches a ride with Captain Marvel, who slingshots him to Jay's private jet.  Spidey rips open the door and grabs Aunt May as she is being thrown around the cabin.  He then webs up the hole he caused and realizes, thanks to his new Web-Fluid Meter, that his Web-Shooters are almost completely spent.  He now can't create Web-Chutes or a Web-Cushion to soften their landing.  Spidey and Aunt May make it to the cockpit, where JJJ, Sr. yells at Spidey for depressurizing the plane.  Spidey tells him that alpha-energy shorted out the plane and that he should restart it, which works.  Meanwhile, Alpha lays it on Terminus, but Thor tells him to stop his attack.  Cap shouts at Thor to stop Alpha, saying that the kid doesn't know what he's doing and he's going to get everyone killed.  Proving Cap's point, Andy's power once again shorts out the plane and Spidey takes control of it, hoping that his Spider-Sense will direct him where he needs to go.  Aunt May calls Peter to tell him that she loved him like her own son, but Spidey gets distracted since he's also hearing her call in his earpiece.  He yells at her to turn off her phone ("F.A.A. regulations") and JJJ, Sr. tells Spidey that they need to bring in the plane for a landing.  Spidey agrees, but they notice a problem with the landing gear.  Spidey heads under the plane, where he discovers that "an entire strut's missing from the assembly."  Spidey uses his body to replace the strut and the plane lands safely.  JJJ, Jr. pushes his way through the rescue crew and an exhausted Spidey expects a berating.  Instead, JJJ, Jr. thanks him for saving his family.  Peter asks about Aunt May and JJJ, Jr. tells him that her leg's injured but he's getting her the best care in the city.  When JJJ, Jr. asks who's responsible, Spidey tells him a teenager and swears to stop him.

Meanwhile, the Avengers have defeated Terminus.  Cap notes that Andy played a part in that, but wonders at the cost.  (He also observes that Andy has left.)  Captain Marvel and Iron Man ponder what to do with Terminus, with Iron Man suggesting that they store him in the Negative Zone.  He mentions that they should send his energy lance to Project:  Pegasus, but Spidey arrives in time to dissent.  He says that he needs it because it didn't just deflect Alpha's energy, it redirected it.  Later, Alpha comes to Horizon for his test and finds Spidey instead of Pete.  Spidey turns on the usual machine, telling him that he made some alterations.  (He also stresses that Pete and Horizon had nothing to do with these "alterations.")  After getting zapped by the machine, Andy says that he feels weird and Spidey reveals that he's depowered.  He tells Andy that he wasn't able to remove all the energy, but he drained most of it.  Andy bursts into tears and Spidey tells him that the fight with Terminus was a test and Alpha failed.  He says that Alpha is now "repeating my class."  Spidey ends his Alpha days, sends him to his parents and returns him to school.  Spidey says that it'll sting to be a guy who used to be somebody, but everyone will forget, including guys like the Jackal.  But, Alpha and Spidey will know that a little of that power is growing in Alpha and someday they may try the superhero thing again, this time with a mask and not as Alpha.  Later, in the hospital, Pete visits Aunt May, learning that she'll need to walk with a cane due to the fact that she no longer has full use of her leg.  The doctor stresses the importance of physical therapy and Pete says that she and JJJ, Sr. should return to New York where she can get the support she needs.  Elsewhere, a cargo ship arrives in New York, bearing Roderick Kingsley.

The Review
This issue had some funny moments and I enjoyed it.  But, I'm concerned where we're going with a few plot points.  I think the Aunt May development represents a step backwards, but we'll see.  Overall, though, Slott did what he intended to do with this arc celebrating 50 years of Spider-Man.  By exploring the difference between him and Alpha, we were reminded of what made him special:  the response of responsibility instilled in him by Uncle Ben, his failure to stop the thief who would later kill Uncle Ben, his fear over his role as Spider-Man bringing harm to his family and friends.  Alpha lacked these experience and he became a threat because of it.  It really was a remarkably clear way to remind us of where we've been and I really salute Slott for it, even if I'm nervous about where we're going in the next few issues.

The Good
1) I love sexy, scruffy, cranky Peter!

2) I did not see Terminus coming!

3) Spidey TOLD Cap that Andy wasn't ready.  He shoulda listened.

The Unsure
1) We don't really see an answer to the ethical dilemma MJ raised last issue, namely whether it was Pete's responsibility to remove Alpha's powers or not.  Alpha makes a pretty compelling case why he's dangerous here, given the fact that he fails to consider the repercussions of his actions and endangers thousands of lives when his entrance disables all aircraft in the vicinity.  Plus, Pete more or less gets the Avengers' approval, since he makes it clear that he's going to use Terminus' weapon to find a way to depower Alpha.  Maybe that's the answer?

2) I'm not really sure where Slott is going with Aunt May.  First, he sent Aunt May to Boston so that Pete wouldn't constantly be worried about her, removing an over-used plot device that I was frankly happy to see to go.  But, now, it appears that Slott has brought back Aunt May as the new incarnation of a similarly over-used plot device; although she isn't the same source of worry for Pete that she had been (since she now has JJJ, Sr.), she seems set to become the character who reminds Pete of his inattention to his personal life.  I'm assuming that Slott has been forced to use her in that role since Pete doesn't have a girlfriend (the usual device for this particular plot), but it leads you to wonder why we even need it in the first place.  After all, if Pete isn't dating anyone, why shouldn't he be allowed to sequester himself in his lab to solve the world's problems?  It seems like the only real reason to re-introduce this device, this reminder that Pete can't do it all, is to inject some drama into the series.  I get that, but using Aunt May in this way just feels forced to me.  It seems like it would be better to have him ponder his inability to hold down a girlfriend or something.  The only other reason to return her to New York seems to be if she's playing a role in the upcoming Armageddon that Slott is planning for issue #700, and I can't say that I'm enthused about that possibility.  Seriously, I hope she doesn't die again.  That shtick has gotten old.

The Bad
1) It seems pretty irresponsible to me that Mr. Fantastic and the other "smart" superheroes just wrote off Alpha as Pete's problem.  After all, Alpha got his name after Mr. Fantastic referred to him as Earth's most powerful potential threat, so you think that he'd be more engaged in helping Pete address it.  Lest we forget, the Avengers and the X-Men just fought a war with Dark Phoenix, who almost destroyed the world; you'd think everyone would have a little more perspective on the subject of "alpha-level threats" than usual.  As such, the absence of Mr. Fantastic and the others rings hollow to me, like Slott had to invent some sort of reason not to strip Alpha of his powers too soon and getting them to put all the responsibility on Peter was the only one he could invent.

2) The end feels a little rushed.  Spidey suddenly announces that Terminus didn't deflect Alpha's energy, but redirected it.  However, Slott never really explains the difference, despite the fact that the whole resolution of the issue depends on it.  Plus, from the moment Pete reveals the importance of that revelation to Alpha losing his powers is just four panels.  Given how much of a threat he was hyped to be, it seemed pretty anti-climatic just to have Pete trick him into a machine that stripped away his powers.  

Scarlet Spider #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Going home.  Going to get room service.  Going to sleep.  Then I'm going to find Peter Parker and kill him.  Responsibility...dammit." -- Kaine

Favorite Quote #2:  "He stinks of money.  Of greed.  The energy monster was nothing.  This is Mammon."  -- Kaine, establishing Roxxon as a likely villain of his future adventures

Summary
Kaine, swearing to kill Pete Parker and everyone who ever pushed him to be a better person, joins the Rangers in fighting "Mammon," the energy "monster" that they discovered at the end of last issue.  Mammon makes quick work of Fifty-One and shrugs off Firebird's attack; he then attacks Firebird, who is knocked unconscious and caught by Twister.  One of the lab workers tries to flee the scene but Kaine stops him with a well-placed web, threatening him to tell him how to stop Mammon or else.  When the worker replies that he can't, an angry Kaine hurls him to the ground near where an equally angry Shooting Star is standing; Star encourages him to try again.  The worker then proceeds to give the details behind the initial rig explosion.  The rig had apparently found something deeper than anyone had previously discovered, realizing that it wasn't oil, gas, or carbonate, but a "self-sustaining energy source that had been under the Earth's crust for millions of years."  Walsh ordered that they dig to access it and 18 men died when the rig eventually exploded.  The worker says that someone named it Mammon, saying that they'd dug so deep they'd "breached the bowels of Hell itself." When Mammon possessed a worker, Roxxon realized that it needed a person to contain the energy and entered into a deal with Mexican cartels to obtain people to play host.  However, Mammon kept burning through the people more quickly, "like it was waking up."  As a shocked Kaine and Star stare at the man (and Kaine threatens to kill him if they survive the explosion"), Walsh appears with a small army of armored troops, ordering them to find his daughter so that they can return her to the asylum and to show the heroes how strongly he feels about trespassing.  Kaine, Red Wolf, and Star engage the troops, but Mammon appears, destroying some of them.  Kaine saves Red Wolf and they realize that Mammon's current host is clearly almost expended.  Kaine hurls himself at the host, tearing him from Mammon still alive.

Twister arrives, announcing that Firebird has recovered.  Star notes that Mammon is getting bigger and Fifty-One tries talking with it.  Fifty-One apparently thinks that it's too alien for him, but mentions something about a new host.  Elsewhere, Zoe accuses her father of murder, but he stresses that he wants her to return to the asylum and resume her medication.  Mammon, however, attacks, and Walsh steps in front of Zoe, becoming Mammon's new host.  The team watches stunned and Twister notes that nothing that they've done so far has put a dent in the monster.  Kaine thinks to himself that Walsh deserves his fate, since they shouldn't have pulled Mammon from the oil.  Seeing signs for the oil tanks, Kaine gets an idea and tells Twister to have the Rangers distract Mammon.  They lay on an attack and Kaine gets in close enough to use his powers to burn Walsh, getting Mammon's attention.  Mammon follows Kaine to the oil tanks, and Kaine wonders if Mammon isn't the devil itself, coming to bring him to Hell for everything that he's done.  When it's sufficiently close, Kaine uses his powers to pull Walsh from the monster.  A host-less Mammon lunges at Kaine, hitting the oil tank and causing an explosion.  The Rangers arrive on the scene and Wolf realizes that Kaine knew that the creature couldn't escape the oil (where it is now trapped).  Firebird starts saying a prayer for his deceased soul, but Kaine appears with Walsh's body, telling them that they could've looked harder before starting the eulogy.

Afterwards, Twister tells Kaine that they're going to turn over an oil-contained Mammon to, in Kaine's words, "S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Avengers or something."  Walsh is revealed to have survived the experience, but something is wrong with him, "like a bit of Mammon was left inside of him."  Zoe stays with him as he's med-evacked and Roxxon goes into full damage-control mode.  Kaine and the Rangers discover that the bodies of Mammon's former hosts have already been removed.  Roxxon claims that the entire laboratory level was destroyed by the fire created by the oil explosion, even though Kaine was on that level at the time and knows that the fire didn't reached it.  Roxxon pins the blame on Walsh, noting that his family had a history of mental illness and suggesting that he went rogue.  Before Kaine and the Rangers leave, the new Acting CEO arrives to thank them for "keeping Roxxon, and America, safe."  Later that night, the Rangers tell Kaine that they'll stay on top of Roxxon.  Kaine expresses disbelief, noting that they appeared to stop him from shutting down Roxxon in the first place.  Twister says that the Rangers are all that the Southwest has and, when he implies that Kaine is part of them, Kaine hits him.  He tells Twister that he came to Houston to escape "people like you" and Twister tells him that the people of Houston are his responsibility.  At the Houston Medical Center, days later, Zoe tells her unconscious father that she knows that it was all her fault.  She says that she needed to know if he loved her and, by saving her, she now knows that.  She says that she's in charge of the estate now and pledges to use it to find Kaine to make him pay for what he did to Walsh.

The Review
This issue puts aside a lot of the existential angst that we usually get in this title in favor of a good ol' fashioned slugfest.  It's fast and fun.  But, we still get a little of the existential angst, mostly in the form of Kaine rejecting an invitation to join the larger superhero community.  Yost uses this rejection to explore Kaine's thoughts on superherodom, giving us a nice bit of characterization in the process.

Also, as a side-note, I didn't realize that the Rangers have been around a while.  I'm currently re-reading "Avengers West Coast" and discovered that they appear in issues #8-9.  Who knew?

The Good
1) As I mentioned in the "Review" section, the main focus of this issue is the battle between Kaine and the Rangers and Mammon.  But, Yost doesn't miss using the battle as an opportunity for some character development, showing us Kaine pondering whether Mammon is really the Devil come to bring him to Hell for his sins.  It's an interesting comment, since it shows us that, no matter how many good deeds Kaine has done as the Scarlet Spider, he still doesn't believe that he's balanced out the crimes that he committed in his former life.  Yost reminds us that this motivation lurking in the back of Kaine's thoughts and that it's going to be a long road to redemption.

2) I loved Yost having Kaine not only reject membership in the Rangers but violently reject membership in the Rangers.  With every other superhero wanting to be a member of the Avengers, it's interesting to watch Kaine reject that sort of affiliation completely.  Yost also showed Kaine's disinterest in the larger superhero community in a number of ways this issue, from his lack of interest in whether the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. would be picking up Mammon's body to his comment to Twister that he came to Houston to escape heroes like the Rangers.  In part, Kaine seems motivated by his self-preservation instinct (see next point).  But, it's also clear that he's still a loner.  He may realize that he needs some human connection, like those he's been developing with his supporting cast, but he doesn't feel any need to join the Spandex Brigade.

3) Kaine mentions here that Mammon is "not what I signed up for."  He wonders why anyone would fight this sort of fight and how live with that sort of pressure.  But, he then answers his own question, remembering that, "They don't.  Not for long."  If the aforementioned Devil comment reminds us that Kaine still feels the weight of his sins and the Twister punch reminds us that Kaine is a loner, this comment reminds us that Kaine has only recently discovered that he doesn't want to die.  Yost has returned to this theme several times throughout the series, and we see it again clearly here.  It rounds out Kaine's motivations and really manages to convey the battle that Kaine is fighting with himself.  He doesn't really buy into the whole heroic self-sacrifice shtick...but still found himself risking his life in luring Mammon to the oil tanks.  I don't think we see this tension as clearly in other superhero comics and it's refreshing to see someone actually think, "Um, I really don't want to die fighting an energy monster that I had no responsibility in releasing."

4) I like how Yost is going to make Kaine pay for showing Zoe his face.  It was a moment that definitely made me raise an eyebrow, since it seemed to be the act of someone who felt like he has nothing to lose.  But, as I just mentioned in the previous point, Kaine does now have something to lose.  It'll be interesting to see how he's going to pay these consequences, another step in his journey as a superhero.

The Unknown
Yost really has amassed a number of lurking threats and powerful enemies.  We've got the people looking for Aracely, the Thieves Guild, the Kravens, and now Roxxon and Zoe.  I just love that Kaine never seems to get a clean win.  It's pretty clear that Zoe is going to use her money to form some sort of small army to come after him and I think we've got the distinct possibility of Walsh eventually returning as a "Mammon-lite" seeking revenge on Roxxon.  Plus, Roxxon itself is likely to continue to engage in activities that will draw it in direct conflict with Kaine.  Given the diversity of the type of threats here, Yost really has done an amazing job of keeping us guessing who's going to come at Kaine next.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Avenging Spider-Man #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Yeah, OK, this issue wasn't for me.  It might be for some people, but I'm not that guy.  I feel like this issue is one of those Deadpool stories where I'm supposed to think that it's HILARIOUS simply because Deadpool is involved.  Instead, I just found it odd, with the faux hilarity of Hynpo-Hustler's retro speak overshadowing everything else.  It's a shame, because any Deadpool/Spidey adventure should be as close to a slam dunk as possible.

Venom #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bunn actually manages to save the concept of this arc for me with this issue, but I'm not sure if I like where the series is going as a result.

In fighting the "Monsters of Evil," Flash tries to summon happy thoughts.  When he realizes that he has none, he instead decides to focus on his rage as a motivator, using it to take control of the monsters and set them against Hellstrom.  As I said last issue, I don't really buy this idea that Flash's life is so dark and dreary that he literally has not a happy thought, but Remender and Bunn both seem to think that it's the case, so I don't see much point belaboring the point.  At least, in this issue, Bunn has Flash use that darkness for good purposes, if you will, so it no longer simply motivates him to whine about his childhood.  (Harsh but true, lately.)  Interrogating Hellstrom later, Flash learns that he was able to control the demons because of the mark he received from Mephisto as part of the "Circle of Four" arc.  According to Hellstrom, all the Hell-Lords are marking their potential heirs as they prepare for the Descent, when one of them will fall farther than the others and become the "true" devil.  (I'm intrigued that the Marvel Universe apparently doesn't have a "true" devil.)  Hellstrom informs Flash that one of the two of them (or someone else marked by Mephisto) will become a devil once the Descent has happened, controlling a corner of Hell.  Hellstrom justifies his alliance with the DAO as using all the tools available to him to make sure that he wins and suggests to Venom that it's better for him to run Hell than someone really bad.

As I mentioned above, I actually think that it's a pretty intriguing concept, this fight for the throne of Hell.  The problem is that I don't really want to read about Flash being part of that contest.  I liked this series when it was Flash conducting espionage and fighting to keep control of the symbiote.  But, now, it's all monsters and demons.  It's why I hated Peter Finch's "Batman:  The Dark Knight:"  these sorts of stories just seem to be a poor match for a human character who's better lurking in dark shadows and fighting human villains.  As such, even though I liked what Bunn did here, I think that I'm done with this series once "Minimum Carnage" ends.  I'm just not that interested in the story that Bunn wants to tell to justify spending $5.98 a month on it.