Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Bendis

As I was writing my reviews of "Avengers" and "New Avengers" #34, I decided that I couldn't let the end of Bendis' run on those series pass without commenting on it.

I've made it pretty obvious over the years that I haven't been a fan of Bendis's run on the Avengers titles.  I actually loved "Siege," the first work of Bendis' that I ever read.  But, his tenure on the Avengers titles focused too much on the grand battles that made "Siege" work and and too little on the character development and team dynamics that make "Avengers" work.  Bendis frequently played fast and loose with continuities, changing characters' histories and personalities to make them match whatever story he was telling at the time.  Partly as such, it seems unlikely that any he told in his run is going to have a lasting impact.  Wonder Man suddenly hated the Avengers, the Scarlet Witch suddenly went crazy (again), Iron Man believed in big government.  All of a sudden it seemed possible that Cap would start praising the virtue of the Nazis or Namor would start waxing poetic about humans.

Of course, the impact of these fluctuations in characterization was at least muted by the fact that Bendis was often juggling at least a dozen characters in each issue, so you didn't have time to linger over your confusion.  "Why is Hawkeye encouraging everyone to file their taxes on tim...wait, is Spider-Man killing someone?"  In fact, Bendis cycled so many characters through "Avengers" and "New Avengers," with so much overlap, that I'm actually hard pressed to tell you the actual roster of each team.  

In his farewell letter, Bendis admits that his goal was to basically tell slug-fest stories.  He tells us that he just wanted to tell the stories that he wanted to read.  Basically, he admits that it was all about him.  He was less concerned about telling a story that developed the characters and more concerned about seeing how many superheroes he could cram onto a page at a time.  I get fun.  I do.  But, I feel bad for Bendis that he thinks the Avengers are just a pale imitation of the Justice League.

One of the Avengers runs that I remember most is Bob Harras' in the mid-300s.  It involved the Black Knight/Crystal/Sersi love triangle and the mysterious Proctor and the Gatherers.  I actually remember feeling frustrated with it at the time, in part because I was an impatient teenager who didn't understand why Harras couldn't just tell us Proctor's identity.  But, after all these years, I remember those comics so vividly because Harras didn't rush those stories.  He let them develop at a natural pace.  He'd go and tell other stories, and other authors would come and tell other stories, and then he'd return to the story to thicken the plot.

It wasn't really an A-list roster.  Sure, you had Cap, but everyone else was pretty B-list:  Black Knight, Black Widow, Crystal, Giant Man, Hercules, Sersi, and Vision.  But, Harras did a great job of playing up the affections and tensions between them.  I remember feeling devastated for Crystal when Dane took Sersi's hand and stepped through that portal.  We had gone through so much by that point that it seemed cruel that they didn't get a chance to have their happy ending.  But, the fact that I felt that way showed how much I cared.  It reminds me now of the great scene at the end of "Avengers" #230 when Hank finally leaves and Captain Marvel and She-Hulk comfort a crying Jan.  The Avengers have never been the Justice League.  They've always been a family.

Bendis never got that.  He never got that I think most of us rarely remember battle sequences from comics. But, I do remember Cap holding up the Cosmic Cube and telling Bucky to remember who he is and I remember Beast making a witty remark while grabbing Jean right before Cyclops obliterated Mr. Sinister.  I remember Jean using her telekinesis to dance with Professor X at her wedding and I remember the pancake breakfast the X-Men had after defeating Onslaught.  I remember a woman giving Spidey a box of macaroons after he stopped a thief from stealing her purse right before Christmas and I remember Spidey crying next to Harry Osborn's body.  I remember Jason Todd dying and I remember Tim Drake reminding Batman why he needs a Robin.  I remember realizing what a man Nova had become and Mary Jane reminding Peter that he'll always find a way to save the day.  I remember those moments because I care about those characters and the authors knew that.

I can't recall a single moment from Bendis' run that rises to that level.  I've read his run on Avengers for three years and nothing comes to mind.  The only moment that comes close is Tony Stark telling Steve Rogers that he's not nearly as good at doing something as he is when he's doing it with Steve from "Avengers Prime" #5.  But, Bendis decided that story couldn't get told in the main series.  He made it pretty clear that character development had no business in "Avengers."

Bendis is writing the X-Men now.  He's writing about a team with even deeper emotional connections to each other.  I hope he remembers that.  I hope he takes the time to really ponder what Scott's fall means for Beast or Iceman or Storm.  I mean, don't get me wrong:  I really would love to see Bobby kick Scott's ass.  But, maybe he could actually reflect on it afterwards.

So, ciao, Bendis.  I wish I had something better to say.  I probably would've avoiding saying anything at all, but I couldn't just let you claim that the Avengers are a pale imitation of the Justice League and not defend them.  At least now I can read the Avengers without feeling bad about myself for paying money to do so.

New Avengers #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I can't think of a more fitting issue to end Bendis' run on "New Avengers."  It had little sense of continuity, confused structural chaos for depth, and vomited lines of cheesy dialogue.  It's like the whole run in one issue.

It's the sloppy continuity that bothered me the most, because Bendis manages to remember that he killed off Brother Voodoo, but forgets that he also destroyed the Eye of Agomotto in the same issue.  Dr. Strange makes that point extremely clear in "New Avengers" #6, the issue where Voodoo dies, when he says, "And now we have no Sorcerer Supreme and the Eye is gone."  We don't really have any ambiguity there.  The panels before that statement show the Eye disappearing.  But, using and abusing continuity never bothered Bendis before this issue, so I shouldn't be surprised when the Eye suddenly appears in the hands of the Ancient One here with no explanation.  Que sera sera.

I will say that the resolution of the fight intrigued me, since I bought the idea that Drumm killed the other sorcerers because they would be willing to engage in the Dark Arts, whereas Strange wouldn't be so willing.  But, it was still unclear to me why Victoria Hand had to die.  In fact, if Drumm was trying to hide from Strange until the last possible minute, shouldn't he have avoided using Hand at all?

If the continuity enraged me and the resolution confused me, it was the chaos that made me wonder why I was even bothering.  In the beginning, Drumm appears to be able to control all the Avengers at the same time.  However, halfway through the issue, he inexplicably seems only to control them in sequence, allowing some of the Avengers to try to help Dr. Strange.  But, Bendis often fails to make it clear who's fighting who on behalf of whom.  At some point, it feel like you're simply just flipping pages of a sketchbook and not reading an issue with a plot.

This confusion is made all the more profound by the use of the "jam artists," since Marvel for some reason decided to have six artists other than Deodato portray parts of Drumm's fight with Dr. Strange.  It was already difficult to tell who Drumm was possessing at what time before this sequence of pages, but it became almost impossible when suddenly everyone starts to look different.  Moroever, the quality of the art varied enormously, with one artist portraying the Thing as if he had gone on some sort of drastic diet and another artist portraying Cap and Dr. Strange as if the page had been drawn by the artist's six-year-old child.  If anything, this sequence made me appreciate Mike Deodato all the more.

Finally, it wouldn't be a Bendis book without awful dialogue, and we get plenty of it here, with the final conversation between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones taking the cake.  It's Bendis' version of a playful marital spat and it's just ridiculous.  Also, it's not just ridiculous because of the fact that it's bad dialogue, but it's ridiculous in its actual context as well.  Why would Luke re-start Heroes of Hire if the whole point of him leaving the Avengers is that he doesn't want to put himself in danger?  Is he only going to investigate lost cats now?

[Sigh.]

Good-bye, Bendis.  I unfortunately have to read you in other series, but at least you won't be ruining the Avengers for me anymore, as you have for the last eight years.  Don't let the mansion door hit you on the way out.  At least you didn't destroy it...again.

Avengers #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

And so it ends.  The Bendis era is over.

Unlike the story that he's telling in "New Avengers," Bendis tells a real, honest-to-goodness Avengers story in his last arc.  It's not an over-the-top, everyone-but-Squirrel-Girl-(oh-wait-no-it-has-Squirrel-Girl-too) story, like the Infinity Gauntlet arc or the "H.A.M.M.E.R. War."  It consists of an actual team of five (and then six) heroes, with long-standing ties to the Avengers and to each other.  It doesn't involve everyone on the team just randomly hitting on the villain, but shows them displaying actual teamwork that helps them win.  In other words, at long last, after eight years, Bendis finally wrote an "Avengers" story.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms #5

I tried.  Seriously, I really, really tried.  I tried to piece together the story that Greenwood was telling, but, at the end of the day, I just couldn't be expected to put more effort into it than Greenwood obviously did.

In my review of the last issue, I tried to piece together what we knew and didn't know.  I'm going to work off those points now, since I think it'll show how little progress we actually made in this issue.  Then, I'm going to address my real issue with this issue.

Unknown #1:  Last issue, I noted that we didn't know the details of the original kidnapping, the one that Talandra herself arranged.  We don't get an answer to that question here.  In fact, Greenwood makes it more complicated by revealing that Talandra arranged the kidnapping to escape her family.  I initially bought that justification, but, upon reflection, it makes no sense.  First, her bodyguard helped arrange the kidnapping, but, since he was also her lover, it doesn't seem likely that he'd be so willing to arrange for her to escape Waterdeep without him.  Second, if she just wanted to escape Waterdeep, it seems like something that she could've accomplished without arranging a fake kidnapping.  As such, we not only don't get a resolution to this question of how she wanted to be kidnapped, we also still don't really have a believable reason why she wanted to be kidnapped.

Unknown #2:  We never learn why Glasgerd wanted Talandra killed in the Ghost Holds and not in Waterdeep.  In fact, I'm not entirely sure I understand why Glasgerd wanted her killed at all, other than some general desire to bring about the fall of the House of Roaringhorn.

Unknown #3/New Plot:  Here, we learn that the shape-shifter is Awngryth, the guy in pursuit of the "moondar" (see "New Plot" from my review of last issue).  However, this revelation complicates things when it comes to the shape-shifter and his role in this story.  First, I'm still not sure if the shape-shifter is the same person as the robed figure who previously briefed Glasgerd on Malric's progress in issue #2.  As such, I'm still not really sure whether Glasgerd and the shape-shifter are working together or separately.  Moreover, I'm not really sure now what the shape-shifter, if he is Awngryth, wants to achieve.  Originally, he simply wanted to help Malric kill off House Roaringhorn so that he could eventually kill Malric and take his place at the head of the family.  Here, however, he seems less motivated by killing Talandra than he does by finding Randral and Torn, since one of them allegedly possesses the moondar.  Is it why he got Randral and Torn involved in the kidnapping in the first place in issue #1?  So he could kill two birds with one stone?  I'd actually buy that argument, but, since Greenwood doesn't actually make it, I could be imposing more logic on the story than actually exists.  Plus, why bother?  Couldn't he have sensed the moondar when he ran into them in issue #1?  Why bother piggy-backing on Glasgerd's plan if he could've just achieved his goal on his own in an alley in Waterdeep?

 
Unknown #4:  We also never really know why Malric dispatched the mercenaries after Talandra last issue.  Did he, or did he not, trust Maurit to handle the job?


Finally, I was left stunned by the sloppiness of the final twist of this series, the decision by the three "heroes" to throw in their lot together and not return to Waterdeep.  First, Greenwood never addresses the main problem with this decision, namely the fact that Randral and Torn are still cursed until they bring Talandra to House Roaringhorn.  Since Greenwood does nothing to show any real affection between the duo and Talandra, or, at least, enough affection for the duo to decide to spend the rest of their lives cursed, it seems unbelievable that they wouldn't even discuss this wrinkle to the deal.  But, more to the point, since that affection is completely lacking, it's unbelievable that they'd even make the deal in the first place.  Instead, Greenwood has Randral and Talandra just suddenly declare how awesome the other is, despite the fact that we haven't really seen any reason for why they'd feel that way.  Sure, Talandra killed snake-guy to save Randral.  But, considering that Randral was only being threatened by snake-guy because he was helping her escape her kidnappers, it seems the least that she could do.  Sure, Randral was helping Talandra.  But, considering that he was only doing so because he was cursed, I'm not entirely sure how much Talandra should trust him. But, instead, everyone just decides the other person is super keen and they all leap through a portal to the "Border Lands."  Who needs character development, when you have magic portals!

Speaking of the portal, why, oh, why, would Oljak help them escape the Ghost Holds in the first place?  Isn't he helping Awngryth in his plan to kill Malric so that he can secure the treasury of House Roaringhorn?  Wouldn't he want to kill Talandra to arrange just that?  Greenwood leaves several other plot points unresolved beyond the ones mentioned here.  Just to name two, we never discover what happened to Talandra's brother and we don't learn whether Lord and Lady Roaringhorn discover Malric's treachery.

At the end of the day, you may ask why I care.  Why would I write this long post, given that few people (if anyone) is likely to read it?  Why bother?  In the end, I bother because I really hate bad fantasy.  I had the idea that authors can just phone in fantasy because it's fantasy.  It's like the "Simpsons" episode where Lucy Lawless tells a group of fans at a convention that, anytime that they notice a continuity error on the show, "a wizard did it."  This comment, while hilarious, is exactly the problem with "Dungeons & Dragons:  Forgotten Realms."  Greenwood confuses bad writing with intriguing plots.  Sometimes, bad writing is just bad writing.  Unfortunately, it's all too common in fantasy writing, where authors spend more time describing the magic system that they invented than getting us to care about the actual characters.

At the end of the day, I still can't believe that I lost Fell's Five for Greenwood's Three.  It seems to me that the switch shows everything wrong with fantasy writing and comic books right now.  At the very least, if I can't have the former, I no longer have to suffer the latter.

Batman and Robin #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Tomasi and I have a hot-and-cold relationship.  I'm usually lukewarm, frequently cold, and occasionally hot.  This issue?  Burning.

Tomasi finally embraces a view of Damian that hews a little more closely to Scott Snyder's, portraying him as a mostly earnest kid who just really finds other people annoying.  It's a refreshing change from the sociopath that we typically see in these pages.  It doesn't mean that Damian is polite to the people that he's saving, but he is saving them and he means it.  Often, in this title, Tomasi portrays Damian as a hero motivated only by impressing his father; he seems mostly ambivalent about the actual victims (more on that subject in the next paragraph).  But, here, his father isn't there to witness his heroism (at first).  In fact, you get the sense that Damian would prefer that Bruce never learns what he was doing, since he'd likely be mad at him.  At long last, we again see the potential that Dick saw in Damian back in the days of the DCU.

But, Tomasi goes one step further.  Not only do we finally see this potential, but Bruce does, too.  As I just mentioned, Bruce's concern that Damian only cares for himself is something that I've shared throughout Tomasi's run.  When I talk about Tomasi portraying Damian as a sociopath, I'm talking exactly about that concern.  As such, Damian depositing Bruce's mother's pearl on Bruce's desk is brilliant.  (It actually reminded me of the amazing scene in "Blackest Night:  Batman" where Dick and Damian have to dig up the Waynes' graves and Damian remarks how most kids don't meet their grandparents that way.)  Somewhere under there, Damian has a heart.  It's all I really need to know.  I just hope Tomasi remembers to show us those moments more often.  I mean, I love a cranky, anti-social Damian.  We just have to be reminded every once in a while that he's Bruce's son, not Joker's.

Speaking of Bruce, we also see Tomasi address my second complaint about his run, that Bruce is often depicted as a criminally negligent father.  Here, we see Bruce show concern for his son and wondering whether he can stomach putting him in danger again and again.  It actually goes to Joker's point that the Bat-family makes Bruce weak.  (Again, I'm agreeing with Joker:  scary.)  Bruce might've been more cavalier with the other Robins, because he was younger and they were older.  But, with his ten-year-old biological son, you can tell that he's wondering what he's doing putting him in the line of fire.  I loved the moment where he yells at Damian that he reserves the right to be worried about him.  It's exactly the sort of thing a father would do and it's nice to see Bruce (finally) behave that way.

The only negative to this issue is that we really never get to the bottom of the Saturnists or whoever they were.  I think that we're supposed to believe that Joker set up the whole cult, which I guess I believe, though I'm left wondering why he'd bother.  It seems unnecessarily indirect for him.  In fact, in retrospect, Tomasi doesn't even really explain how they created the zombies or what the point of creating them was.  But, this flaw is overshadowed by development in Bruce and Damian's relationship (the hug!) so I'll let it pass.

Suicide Squad #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I obviously only got this issue since it's part of "Death of the Family."  I'm happy to say, though, that it does a lot more than "Catwoman" #13 did in terms of advancing the plot of the cross-over event.  We see Harley's reunion with "Mr. J" in this issue and it gives us some insight into her conversation with Batman in "Batman" #14, where she confirms his suspicions that Joker is...different.  Joker is angry at Harley for her relationship with Deadshot and this anger manifests itself throughout the issue, from his initial request to his somewhat shocking attack on her at the end.  You can tell that Harley is more scared of Joker than she normally is and that fear not only drives this issue but adds to the general sense of foreboding that this event is generating.  Although it's certainly not essential reading, at least it's better than "Catwoman."

Wolverine and the X-Men #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The good news is that this issue doesn't feature the Kiddie Hellfire Club.  The bad news is that it's still not all that interesting.

I didn't read "Uncanny X-Force," so I'm still perplexed by why we have a de-aged Messianic Angel running around the School.  Aaron tries to explain it here, but I still find myself wondering how long it's going to be until they give up the ghost and just bring back his memory.  As such, I just find it hard to take this Angel seriously, which means that I spent most of this issue rolling my eyes.

The only interesting development in this issue is whether Mystique is working for Scott's Brotherhood or on her own.  Unfortunately, I'm not bound to be happier next issue, given that the Kiddie Hellfire Club appears to be returning.  With Iceman and Kitty now appearing in "All-New X-Men," I'm really starting to wonder why I'm still getting this series, particularly now that Broo has faded into the background.

All-New X-Men #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis knows that he has to answer the obvious question driving the series in fairly short order if we're going to buy the somewhat fantastic premise of the present-day X-Men needing to bring the old-school X-Men to the future:  why?  The answer is complicated, but Bendis shows uncharacteristic focus and restraint in getting us there.

We start the issue with the new Brotherhood fully realized.  Scott, Emma, and Magneto, aided by Magik, are going around the world to "save" newly emerged mutants being persecuted by humans.  Bendis raises some interesting questions about the Brotherhood that he'll have to address at some point.  For example, we still don't know how the trio are able to track down the mutants, but it seems reasonable that they were able to excavate Cerebra from the ruins of Utopia.  Less clear, they seem to have some powers that they didn't previously have.  For example, Bendis doesn't make clear how they were able to enter the first new mutant's time bubble.  In fact, when the girl herself asks, Emma simply responds that, essentially, it's not their first rodeo.  If it were any other writer, I'd assume that they had some sort of technology-oriented mutant like Forge working for them, but, given that it's Bendis, it's also possible that he just thinks he can wave his hand and make us think that Emma's comment fully explains it.  But, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since the rest of this issue shows an attention to detail that he doesn't usually exhibit.  After all, that issue aside, Bendis does a decent job here of establishing the new Brotherhood's modus operandi.  We're not entirely sure where they're bringing the new mutants (it seems like they may be running their own school), but Bendis certainly doesn't have to answer all our questions in the first issue.

However, this revelation in and of itself doesn't explain why the original X-Men need to travel to the present.  We learn that answer in possibly the best-scripted scene that Bendis has ever delivered, as Beast, Iceman, Kitty, and Storm realize that the Brotherhood's actions put them in a difficult spot.  One one hand, if they let the Brotherhood continue to attack humans to "rescue" newly emerged mutants, all mutants face increased persecution from the panicked authorities.  On the other hand, if they confront the Brotherhood, they invite a mutant civil-war.  Bendis does the best job with Iceman and Storm here, showing Storm as exhausted from her experience in "Avengers vs. X-Men" and Iceman as outraged by Scott's betrayal.  To be honest, they're more nuanced portrayals than I'd normally give Bendis credit for being capable of writing and it gives me hope that he's rediscovering his talent now that he's moved from the Avengers.

But, again, we still don't entirely have the why.  Scott and his Brotherhood are "rescuing" mutants and the X-Men don't know how to respond without making matters worse.  How does that involve time-traveling teenagers?  The answer is clever.  Bendis informs us that Beast is dying as a result of a new mutation that he fears will cause his heart to stop.  Bendis isn't clear on the details, but I'm pretty confident that he'll get there.  Suffice it to say, though, this brush with mortality has put Hank in a different mindset than the one that he normally occupies.  It's here where Bendis opens the door to the time-travel storyline, showing us a Hank willing to take risks that he normally wouldn't take in his pursuit of leaving behind a legacy of helping mutants.  My only criticism of Bendis here is that it seemed like a bit of a stretch to me that Hank would question the pro-mutant legacy that he would leave behind him.  But, I accept the fact that he's not well right now, so he's also not necessarily thinking clearly.

In the end, Bendis gets us where we need to be.  I will say that I wonder how long this time-travel storyline will, and, in fact, should last.  Scott and his Brotherhood are an interesting enough story (particularly if they're running their own school) that I feel like the time-travel aspects of this story will ultimately serve more as a distraction than as an enhancement.  But, at the end of the day, I can't argue that, for now, it doesn't certainly injects some excitement into this series.  How will present Scott react to his younger self?  How will any of the X-Men react to seeing Jean Grey alive again?  Although I don't want this angle to last for too long, I'll admit that I'm interested to see where it goes.  Given how I feel about Bendis on a good day, I have to compliment him for giving me at least that much.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Venom #27 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After the excitement of the last two issues, this one is a bit of a pause, allowing the various converging storylines to merge.  The problem is that we don't really get anywhere until the end of the issue.  Bunn emphasizes that the symbiotes are slowly killing the Microverse and most of the issue is dedicated to a fight with the Enigma Force, Kaine, and Venom on one side, the symbiote army on another, and Carnage on his own side.  The denouement comes at the end of the issue, where Flash takes control of his anger and somehow uses it to destroy the symbiote army.  Bunn isn't entirely clear on how he manages to do that and I have to admit a little eye-rolling as we once again plumbed the depths of Flash's tortured soul.  Is there any problem that can't be solved by him crying over his father?  I also didn't really follow how Carnage dissolving somehow turned him into a mini-symbiote army in the Macroverse, but hopefully we'll learn more about that in the last issue.  I'm a little concerned that the shift to the Macroverse is going to side-step the issues we have in the Microverse, like who the Redeemer and Marquis Radu really are.  But, I guess we'll see.

Scarlet Spider #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ho boy, things heat up here.

First, I have to apologize to Bendis.  (Odd, I know.)  I commented in my review for "Avengers" #33 that it seemed weird to me that the Avengers were being negatively affected by being in the Microverse but Kaine and Venom weren't.  Here, we learn that Venom at least is being negatively affected, as Flash informs us that he thinks that his loss of control over the symbiote has to do with the Microverse.  Sorry, Bendis.  (On a connected note, I loved Yost having Marquis Radu mention Lord Gouzar, the current villain in "Avengers."  Nice touch.  Are Kaine and Venom suddenly going to find themselves face-to-face with the Avengers?  I doubt it, but I would be seriously happily surprised if that happened.  Maybe just a "Shaun of the Dead" type of moment?)

Speaking of the symbiote, Radu accomplishes his goal here, re-capturing Carnage in order to use him to manufacture an army of symbiotes.  He also conveniently gets to use Venom, too.  His goal seems to be to kill the Redeemer, who he calls the Microverse's god.  Apparently, the symbiotes weaken the Engima Force, which binds together the Microverse and of which the Redeemer is the living embodiment.  By destroying the Enigma Force, he kills the Redeemer and become the new god.  (However, I'm not really sure how he's going to do that.  Killing a god and taking his place is a little different than killing a political enemy and taking over his kingdom.  If the Engima Force is consumed by the symbiotes, then what power is Radu going to use to become god?  I guess we'll see.)  Upping the ante, the Redeemer informs Kaine that the destruction of the Engima Force will destroy not only the Microverse, but the Macroverse as well.

I have to say that I am thoroughly intrigued.  I wasn't after the first few issues, but I am now.  I think this cross-over event is almost as good as "Spider-Island," with an easy-to-understand, self-contained story that helps develop the characters involved.  Here, Flash continues to face his demons to assert control over the symbiote and Kaine has to overcome his murderous instinct to help the Redeemer.  Good stuff all around.


I also wonder about the identities of Radu and the Redeemer.  Are they different aspects of the same person?  Brothers?  I mean, Radu looks more alien, but it seems suspicious that we haven't seen either of their faces yet.  I hope that gets addressed at some point.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Batgirl #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, as much as I love Gail Simone, I have to admit that she doesn't handle Joker quite the same way that Scott Snyder does.  He's certainly menacing here, but she doesn't quite capture his unpredictability the way that Snyder has been in "Batman."  That said, though, Simone does a good job of showing us Barbara's reaction to his sudden re-appearance; instead of fear, as she expected, Barbara is surprised to find herself driven by barely controlled rage.  In fact, Simone hints that Barbara may be the one to finally end his threat; it seems difficult to believe, if Barbara were to kill him, that even Batman would try to arrest her.

The most interesting threat revealed in this issue isn't Joker, but James, Jr., who manipulates Barbara into confronting Joker to "save" their mother.  It was pretty clear from the start that the voice on the phone was James, particularly since Joker has been assigned his own typeface in "Batman;" the computerized letters that Sharpe used for James' speech bubbles was a pretty clear tip that it wasn't Joker.  But, by using James as the tool to set up Barbara's confrontation with Joker, Simone does an admirable job of keeping this issue about Barbara and not just the "Death of the Family" event.  She sets up future issues here and you realize what an uphill battle Babs has:  after she defeats Joker, she's going to have to confront her equally psychotic brother.

In terms of "Death of the Family," Simone doesn't really give away anything here.  It's still unclear if Joker knows Barbara's identity, particularly since he refers to Mrs. Gordon as "that woman" to Barbara; presumably, if he knew that Batgirl was Barbara, he would've called her "your mother."  But, Joker possibly not knowing Barbara's identity doesn't exactly mean that she's going to have an easy go of it, given that he apparently wants her to be his bride, presumably in the big event that he's planning (as mentioned in "Batman" #14).  In the end, it's pretty clear that "Batman" is going to dominate this event, so, unless you're already reading "Batgirl," you can skip this issue.  But, for a "Batgirl" fan, Simone does her best to keep you engaged.

Batman #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We have a lot to discuss, so let's just dive into it, shall we?

First, in case we had any doubt, Snyder establishes Joker's motive here quite clearly:  he blames the Bat-family for distracting Batman, a realization that he made after Batman had trouble putting down the Court of Owls.  Joker has come to the conclusion that he must eliminate the Bat-family so that Batman can become the "king" that he should rightfully be (in Joker's mind).  Joker views himself as the "court jester," the one with the responsibility to deliver bad news to the king.  It's a brilliant metaphor that Snyder takes even one step further in the secondary story, where Joker anoints Penguin as the "bishop" leading the flock of organized crime in a religion centered around the worship of Batman, the god-king.  It's clear that Joker wants an angrier, more aggressive Batman, like the one that inspired the Tim Drake of the DCU to suggest that Batman needs a Robin in "A Lonely Place of Dying."  But, the angrier, more aggressive Batman would present more of a challenge to Joker. so he's determined to get him.  Although it's crazy, of course, it's exactly the sort of sane type of crazy that you expect of Joker.

The two most interesting mysteries left outstanding at this point are whether Joker really does know the Bat-family's secret identities and what secret Batman and he share.  It seems entirely plausible that Joker knows his identity.  Numerous authors have certainly hinted at it over the years (most recently, Scott Lobdell in "Red Hood and the Outlaws").  Maybe the old Joker would've purposefully kept himself ignorant of Batman's identity because it made it all the more fun, but this new Joker had decided that he needs to dispense with that luxury.  The ends justify the means for him:  he needs to know the Bat-family's identities so that he can kill them and get the Batman that he wants.  It fits with the overall portrayal of this new Joker who's willing to bottom-line it.  After, all, he didn't bother with the whole game of seeing if Batman would manage to save Gotham by preventing him from poisoning the water at the reservoir; he just decided to kill the victims that he would've claimed even if Batman had stopped him.  He's dispensing with the usual song-and-dance, because the stakes, for him, are too high.  Moreover, Snyder alludes to a previous scene from last issue to establish that Joker may well know their identities; in that issue, Joker told Detective Gordon about lying under his bed at night.  Here, he tells us he knows what soap Dick uses.  If he can lie under Gordon's bed, he can spend time in Dick's shower.  It seems pretty clear that he knows.

But, Snyder also makes it clear that Batman doesn't think that he knows, and it seems to go to this "secret."  Of course, the secret could just be that Joker managed to get Alfred; we establish that Bruce wants to keep it a secret early in the issue.  But, it seems to be more than that.  When Bruce tells Dick that he's sure that Joker doesn't know (despite kidnapping Alfred), Dick asks Bruce if he's not telling him something.  It's this conversation that seems to establish that Batman and Joker share a deeper secret, one that, for whatever reason, would make Bruce sure that Joker doesn't know their identities, even if Joker claims that he does.  Of course, Batman himself seems to have doubts, given that his assertion that Joker is lying on the bridge doesn't seem all that convincing.  On one hand, I was annoyed at the idea that Bruce could be wrong about Joker, particularly after Snyder also showed him as wrong about the Court of Owls.  After all, Snyder actually shows Bruce engaging in some excellent detective work in this issue, so it seems hard to believe that Bruce could be so wrong again.  But, that's sort of Joker's point, isn't it?  He's off his game.  It's here where I really appreciated how brilliant Snyder is, because I found myself wondering if Joker maybe didn't have a point...

Looking at smaller moments, Snyder really excels in the conversation between Bruce and Dick about Alfred.  Snyder has always understood Dick as serving as the person able to get Bruce to feel emotions, and we see it again here when he forces Bruce to drop the mask that he's barely able to maintain and talk about his concern over Alfred.  Snyder also gives us the rare treat of seeing Bruce's real feelings; I can't remember Bruce ever speaking so clearly of Alfred as a father.  He doesn't just do so explicitly, as he does when he says as much to Dick; but, he admits that he usually calls Alfred on his way to a battle not so much to discuss their plan but to get his reassurance.  By drawing our attention to Alfred's silence, we, too, feel his absence.  Finally, in terms of the script, I thought it was remarkable that Joker made Detective Gordon bleed because he's "a bleeder," bleeding for everyone around him.  Joker is clearly going to have some cleverly similar devices to go after the Bat-family, and I shudder to think what they'll be.

Finally, Capullo was on fire in this issue.  From the tape recorder that looked like Joker to Bruce's quiet walk through Wayne Mansion looking for Alfred to the denouement on the bridge, Capullo magnifies the tension that Snyder is pouring into this issue, making you feel more like you're watching a movie than you're reading a comic book.

This issue hearkens to "Batman" #5 and hopefully it doesn't represent the high point of the story, as that issue did, but the start of something amazing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Avengers #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is possibly the most nonsensical mess of an issue that I've ever read.  It doesn't even merit a review.  It merits simply a prayer of thanks to Thor that Brian Michael Bendis is leaving this title and the Avengers, hopefully for good.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Avenging Spider-Man #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For the fact that this issue is written by one of my least favorite writers (Cullen Bunn) and involves a "sweet" dinosaur (Devil Dinosaur) and a lizard-language speaking Neanderthal (Moon-Boy), it's actually really quite entertaining.  No, really.  It may be the most "Marvel Team-Up"-y issue of this series so far and I can't think of higher praise than that.  If you want a fun Spidey story before Dan Slott makes us all doom and gloom, this arc might be it.

Earth 2 #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Robinson delivers his best issue here, keeping me guessing the whole way.

First, the resolution to the fight with Grundy and the Grey was great.  Maybe I've just read too many comics lately where the final confrontation involves three or four punches over the course of five or six panels, but Robinson really delivers a great twist here.  I loved GL realizing that depositing Grundy on the Moon denied him the ability to draw energy from his surrounding, stranding both him and the Grey somewhere they can't be a threat.  It's an innovative resolution that not only shows how smart and capable Alan is but also gives us some more insight into his powers, as we learn that his powers are connected to his proximity to Earth.  But, Robinson makes sure that the fight isn't just a GL showcase, giving us some insight into Flash as he fights his fears while protecting Alan's body and showing Hawkgirl really delivering at a key moment.  It really shows their strength as a team...

...making it all the more surprising when they don't form one in the end.  I loved Robinson deciding that Alan would conclude that he doesn't need Flash and Hawkgirl, drunk with the power that he now realizes that he possesses.  I had half-expected everyone to hug at the end of this issue, with Al deciding to ditch the World Army and join the other Wonders.  But, Robinson keeps us guessing, leaving Flash and Hawkgirl wondering where they go next and Atom possibly in hot pursuit.  I can't wait to see where we go from here!

Detective Comics #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At first, the fight with Poison Ivy in this issue seems like a distraction, given that we ended this issue (and started this one) focused on Penguin's decision to wage war on Bruce Wayne (all in the name of charity, of course).  But, Layman actually pulls off the switch well, leaving you with a sense that you're actually witnessing the way that Batman would fight criminals in "real life," given that it's unlikely that all his enemies would present themselves sequentially in convenient five-issue arcs.  Bruce cautions Damian that Penguin is too clever to be attacked without planning and decides to focus his attention on the more immediate threat of Poison Ivy, who's ramped up her eco-terrorism in the wake of her departure from the Birds of Prey.  But, Layman doesn't totally ditch the Penguin sup-plot, given that the targets of Ivy's attacks are all polluting companies owned by none other than Oswald Cobblepot.  Although last issue was somewhat uneven, with Cobblepot's odd decision to upstage himself by assassinating Bruce Wayne at his moment of triumph over him, Layman seems to have a better lay of the land here.  His effort to inject a little humor into the series is also welcome.  After years of Tony Daniel, I have to be honest that it was just somewhat of a relief to encounter a villain with a plan that made sense and fit with her back story.  Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

Pathfinder #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

In terms of the plot, we don't see a lot of progress in this issue, as the party tries to track down the clerics that we saw controlling the goblins last issue.  However, Zub uses this journey to flesh out the characters, making it a worthwhile read.

Zub starts the issue by cleverly using a discussion of the party's next steps to flesh out everyone's motivations.  Seoni suggests that they should return to Sandpoint to collect their reward, leaving the clerics to the militia to handle; it's a fitting viewpoint for her LN alignment, showing her willing to trust the milita to resolve the problem and more concerned with getting the reward money than fighting the good fight.  Both Valeros and Kyra react sharply to her proposal, though for different reasons.  Valeros doesn't want to run from the good fight and Kyra stresses the importance of defeating the evil clerics; both motivations also fit with their NG alignments and classes.  Merisiel has perhaps the most interesting reaction, expressing concern that they should do whatever they do together.  Zub portrays her as frightened in battle but cunning in handling the cleric; it's a depiction that leaves you wanting to know more, like why she's an adventurer in the first place.  Harsk seems more concerned with proving that he can track down the clerics than he does asking what they're going to do with them when they find them and Ezren makes it clear that he's solely in it for the adventure.


Looking at these motivations, it definitely seems like a party that's going to favor risk over caution, which means that this series should definitely provide some good fights along the way.  In terms of the plot, Zub clarifies that the clerics are working with the goblins to harvest their energy, though I'm not entirely sure how or why.  I'm guessing that they did so through that song that they sang last issue, though I'm not sure.  At this point, I think we're just waiting to see what they plan on doing with the energy and I'm sure Zub is getting there.

All in all, this series is shaping up nicely.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

X-Factor #246 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy fucking crap.  Peter effing David, man.  Just when you think that you're reading a nice character story, BAM, someone gets shot in the head.

This issue presents a story similar to the recent Doop issue of "Wolverine and the X-Men," where we learn that Pip is pretty much the glue that holds together X-Factor in the real world.  If you ever wondered how X-Factor Investigations manages to make money, when Madrox often forgets to charge people, you learn how Pip makes it happen here.  If you wondered how it manages to survive despite having a HQ in the middle of New York where any anti-mutant nutjob could just wander off the street to kill them, you learn how Pip makes it happen here.  If you ever wondered how Pip manages to get some play, you learn (hilariously) how he makes it happen here.

Although Pip's narration drags at times, it's still a great character study, showing a more noble side of Pip that doesn't detract from his fun side.  It leaves you hoping that you get to see more of Pip in the future.  Of course, David wants you to think that, so that the impact of him getting shot in the head by the woman he was trying to get into bed earlier in the issue is all the more powerful.  Plus, you're left wondering why this woman wants X-Factor to "fall."  But, really, you're just hoping Pip is OK.  I mean, he's OK, right?  Right?

Iron Man #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I've never really collected "Iron Man."  I always liked him, but between the various and sundry Avengers, Batman, Spidey, and X-Men books, I just never really had room in my budget for him.  But, Marvel NOW! has thinned out the herd a bit, so I figured that I might as well give him a shot (even though I hate that it even remotely validates DC and Marvel's "let's have a number-one issue every year!" approach of late).  I was particularly attracted to the book because of Kieron Gillen, who had a great run on "Uncanny X-Men" before it got hijacked by "X-Men:  Schism" and "Avengers vs. X-Men."  I'm less thrilled about Greg Land, but I don't hate him as much as other people do, so it was still a net positive.

I'm glad to say that this issue did everything I expect an "Iron Man" comic to do.  Tony is charming and serious all at the same time and his mission in this issue goes to the core of why Iron Man exists.  (I still can't help but hear the voices of Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow when I read Tony and Pepper's thought bubbles, but I don't think that it's a bad thing.)  The plot is accessible to new readers and I happily went to Wikipedia to get some more details to flesh out certain parts, like why Stark Enterprises is now Stark Resilient and why Piper is CEO.  (See, Marvel, we can do that without you having to reboot the series every few months.  Of course, your rebooting worked on me, so I guess I'll just be quiet now.)  The action sequences lend themselves to playing heavy metal in the background but the conversations have warmth and depth to them.  Overall, I am very pleased and excited to get the chance to jump on board the "Iron Man" train after all these years.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Avengers #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis continues to channel George Lucas in this issue (and the fact that it's an improvement says a lot more about Bendis than it does about Lucas).  Thor and Jan's conversation in their cell is reminiscent of the great scene on the skiff in "Return of the Jedi," where Han expresses dismay when Luke tells him that things are going the way that they usually go for them.  In addition to being funny, it also manages to be a touching moment, with Bendis making palpable the relief that Thor feels at the discovery that he did not, in fact, kill Jan during "Secret Invasion."  Bendis also manages to inject some honest-to-goodness drama into this issue, with the Avengers getting their asses handed to them due mostly to the unpredictable nature of the Microverse's effect on them.  (I'll note that I don't remember the Microverse having a negative effect on the FF and Spidey during their journey there in "Amazing Spider-Man" #590-1 and it doesn't seem to be having one on Kaine and Venom, who are there right now as part of "Minimum Carnage."  But, I'm actually enjoying this arc, so I'm going to try really hard not to focus too much on details like that one.)  The guys will eventually find a way to adapt and hand Lord Centaur a rousing defeat.  But, in the meantime, it's a nice change of pace to watch them face some actual opposition and not waltz their way through a fight.  In the end, we'll be reminded of why they got together in the first place, why they're more than the sum of their parts, and it's definitely a nice touch on Bendis' part to draw those parallels as he wraps up his run.

New Avengers #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Whereas Bendis has managed to make me hate him a little less on "Avengers," he manages to make me hate him a lot more on this title.  Just like last issue, this issue seems to epitomize the odd plot devices and weird surprise twists that have characterized Bendis' run on this title.

First, he inexplicably returns to his worst shitck, the New Avengers' bad publicity.  This theme has dominated much of his run, serving as the driving force behind the disastrous "H.A.M.M.E.R. War" arc.  The problem now, as then, is that it sill doesn't make a lot of sense.  Bendis never explains why the public would reflexively believe the Avengers capable of the bad things that the media want it to believe that they are doing, particularly given their heroic efforts in the recent events depicted in "Fear Itself" and "Avengers vs. X-Men."  Bendis could be making the argument that the general public is just sick of superheroes, but it still wouldn't explain why the F.B.I. or NYPD would openly defy Maria Hill and demand to enter Avengers Mansion.  It's not a moot point, since the whole plot turns on it; after all, it's the F.B.I. agent demanding entry that allows Brother Voodoo to possess him and get him to shoot himself.  Suddenly, we're supposed to believe that the F.B.I. and NYPD, after defying Maria Hill, would also now view the New Avengers as somehow behind this event, despite the evidence to the contrary.  I mean, they were all standing on the lawn.  Did everyone not see him shoot himself?  He was standing right there.  It seems pretty difficult to believe that someone who saw that wouldn't suggest that the assembled law-enforcement officials take a minute to get to the bottom of the issue instead of immediately trying to arrest the New Avengers.  But, I've learned not to expect this sort of logic from a Bendis comic.

But, Benis also continues his tour of bad ideas by making this issue all about Dr. Strange and Victoria Hand.  Seriously, if he wanted to write "Dr. Strange," he should've just asked Marvel if he could FUCKING WRITE "DR. STRANGE."  Instead, I'm yet again reading about Brother Voodoo, Damion Hellstrom, and the magic gang, despite the fact that I care nothing about them and that they really shouldn't be burning up as many pages of an "Avengers" comic as they have been.  Moving to Victoria, I'm just not sure what I'm supposed to think.  We're clearly supposed to believe that Jessica dies in issue #33, since she appears bleeding on the cover and issue #34 is billed as containing the "end of an Avenger."  I'm doubtful that Bendis would kill a mainstream character, so I'm guessing that it's the end of Hand.  I still don't care.  Get that, Bendis?  Despite all your efforts to the contrary, I still don't care about Victoria Hand and her death or non-death won't mean anything to the Marvel Universe.  Harsh, but very true.

The problem with Bendis using these poorly implemented devices is that they overshadow the good moments in this issue.  Bendis does a great job showing the team reeling from the quick succession of events, and I found myself thinking of the amazing work that he did on "Avengers Disassembled" in "Avengers" #500-#503.  The last few pages are remarkably tense, as Dr. Strange begins to realize Brother Voodoo's plan and the New Avengers circle the wagons to try to sneak out Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.  It's a touching tribute to them, with the whole team rallying to try to give them their dream of getting to live a quiet life.  But, again, it's completely overshadowed by the Bendis plot devices.

[Sigh.]  I think that I only have two issues left of him on this title and, man, it's going to be a long two issues.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AVX: Consequences #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I think this series was actually better than "Avengers vs. X-Men."  In fact, upon reflection, it's actually the series that I thought "X-Men:  Schism" was going to be, with Scott embracing militarism (of a sorts) and Logan advocating pacifism (of a sorts).  It definitely seems to bring the process of the schism to a close, given that we now emerge from "Avengers vs. X-Men" with mutantkind falling into two very distinct camps.

Perhaps most notably, Cyclops embraces a more brutal side than we've ever seen him embrace, ordering Magik to send Jake's murderers to Limbo and Danger to scar the warden's face.  In so doing, Gillen makes it clear that we're dealing with the new Scott now.  He embraces his role as a terrorist because he wants people to fear him, to think of him before they engage in acts of mutant discrimination.

Gillen doesn't allow Cyclops to make that transition without comment, however.  In fact, this Scott makes a lot more sense than the Scott that we saw in "X-Men:  Schism."  That Scott really seemed to think that children should be on the front lines of mutantkind's battle with humankind.  But, with the resurrection of the mutant race, this Scott seems to feel freed from that position.  Since mutantkind is no longer fighting for its very survival, he now seems to feel that it has the "luxury" of allowing students to attend the School.  In shifting Scott's position on this issue, Gillen makes Scott a lot more of a sympathetic character.  In fact, his note to Logan is heart-breaking, describing his turn to evil as something that he could do because he knows that Logan has embraced his turn to good.  In this way, Gillen has Scott go in two different directions at once.  He becomes harder against his enemies and softer on his allies.  We despise him, and sympathize with him, more.  All in all, he's a lot more complex but relatable character than he was.

I had wondered in my review of last issue why Marvel wasn't going to release a series on the new Brotherhood, as it seems clear that it has now reconstituted under Scott's leadership.  However, I now see, from an ad at the back of this issue, that "All-New X-Men" is going to follow its story.  Also, as hoped, Emma Frost is going to join the team.  Whereas I was dreading and dismissing this title as a poorly considered time-travel story that couldn't last, I'm now excited about it.  The new Scott's story is going to test the old Scott's beliefs.  Excellent.

I think that we've got a decent likelihood that, in the end, some sort of time-travel device is going to be used to put Scott back on the side of angels, erasing the world's memory of his crimes.  But, at least it seems like we're going to get some pretty damn good stories before that day comes.

Captain Marvel #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is beautiful.  I can't say that I understand everything about it, since, you know, time travel.  But, it's beautiful all the same.

All right, I'll take a stab at piecing together the plot.  When the Psyche-Magnitron exploded, back in the day, pieces flew into the time stream.  Since the plane that Carol was flying was a time machine (more on that part in a minute), it seems like she was attracted to those pieces, first on the island off Peru, then to Helen Cobb.  (I think that it's theoretically possible that it's all just the same piece, since I think it might be the piece on the island that Helen discovers.)  In the last jump, Carol (and Helen) are brought to the Psyche-Magnitron itself, moments before its destruction.  Carol is then faced with the possibility of pushing herself from the blast, allowing her to live a normal life.

In fact, it appears that this "opportunity" is exactly why Carol is sent on this journey in the first place.  Using her knowledge from this encounter with Carol, Helen sets up Carol in the future to take this journey.  Unfortunately, I'm still not entirely clear on how she did that.  I assumed that she attached the Psyche-Magnitron piece to the plane to do so, but I don't think DeConnick ever states that clearly.  It seems possible that Helen Cobb found another way to turn her plane into a time machine and set it so that it would be find pieces of the Psyche-Magnitron.  But, again, we don't really address that.  All we know is that, at some point an din some way, Helen's plane becomes a time machine attuned to pieces of the Psyche-Magnitron.  I've learned not to question this stuff too much.  After all, I'm still not sure why a piece of the Psyche-Magitron finding its way to an island off Peru meant that the Japanese wound up using the prowlers that we saw in issues #2-#4.  I'm just going to try to go with it.

The reason that I'm trying not to focus too much on the details is in part because DeConnick does an OK job at least sketching out some sequence of events that makes sense.  If she had been clearer, I would've been all the more impressed with this arc.  But, at the very least, you can piece together some sort of sequence of events on your own.  Most importantly, I'm forgiving this lack of detail because DeConnick accomplished what she intended to accomplish here.  Carol gets to race her hero to claim the mantle that she has never felt sure that she truly wanted.  By the end of this opening six-issue arc, Carol Danvers IS Captain Marvel.  It doesn't matter if someone had that name before her or if she had moments as Ms. Marvel where she doubted what she was doing.  By the last page, she is who she is, and DeConnick got her there.  "And we will be the stars we were always meant to be."  Damn straight.

Captain Marvel #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seriously, I really almost don't care about the time-travel story.  I just thoroughly enjoy DeConnick showing us girls behaving awesomely.

First, I think that it's important to note that DeConnick isn't playing all "difficult" women the same.  Jerri, from the Banshee Squad, is not the same as Helen.  Jerri is tough, but she follows rules.  Helen is tough, but she isn't really into following rules all that much.  Moreover, Carol interacted with them differently.  With Jerri, she acted almost like a more experienced older sister, whereas with Helen she acts almost like the long-suffering best friend.  DeConnick really invokes the best parts of Peter David, the king of taking the time to make sure that every character responds to every other character in a different way, in a way that matches his or her own personality.  I can't think of higher praise than that.

I'm still not entirely sure where we are in the time-travel story.  We seem to have learned that the piece of Kree technology that Helen has is connected to the machine that gave Carol her powers. But, to be honest, that muddies the water a bit, since it means that it's not connected, at least directly, to the prowlers that we saw on the island off the coast of Peru.  Was the machine located on that island then and later got moved before Carol encountered it in the "present?'  That would make sense, since it would show why Carol is bouncing from place to place where the machine had at some point been present.  If not, then DeConnick has to explain the connection.  Also, I'm not entirely sure why Carol's plane keeps appearing.  Is it just one long flight?  Or is it some sort of time loop?

Again, the time-travel story is somewhat secondary to the great dynamic that DeConnick establishes for Carol and Helen here, but I would like to see it definitively addressed at some point.

Captain Marvel #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although DeConnick has done an amazing job of it so far, time-travel stories make my head hurt even under the best of circumstances. This issue made me begin to feel that familiar dull throbbing behind my temples.

I'm not sure if DeConnick had mentioned it previously, but I first noticed here that the island where Cap and the women were fighting is off the coast of Peru, where Helen Cobb found what I'm pretty sure was Kree technology a few decades ago.  It now makes more sense, since she pretty clearly found it sometime after the Second World War, so the technology she found was likely part of the "prowlers" that Carol and the women destroyed in this issue.  We still don't know how the prowlers got there in the first place, but DeConnick seems to building to that reveal.  In the meantime, it seems that the disturbance that brought Carol to that island doesn't just affect time but also place, given that it also dragged the Banshee Squad girls to it, despite the fact that they had been flying to Hawaii.  It seems that they might be stuck in some sort of time loop, since Carol approaches a plane with her in it, clearly before she "crashed" on the island.  I'm not entirely sure how Carol flying at the plane then sent her into the "future," putting her in Cobb's bedroom in 1961.  My guess is that it's all connected to the pieces of Kree technology that Cobb has on her person (and, presumably, she had on the plane that Carol later flew).  I do trust DeConnick to provide answers to these questions at some point, but I have to say that I'm hoping it's sooner, rather than later, since my head is starting to really throb.

The good news is that DeConnick continues to spend time on the characters, giving us some pretty great banter between Cap and Jerri.  All in all, it's still a great issue, even with the headache-inducing time-travel story.

Captain Marvel #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ooo, color me intrigued!

DeConnick really does know how to keep you guessing.  We learn in this issue that the spaceship that we saw last issue doesn't mean that Carol is in some sort of alternate dimension where spaceships were used in the Second World War, but that the Japanese somehow had access to Kree technology during the Second World War.  Of course, DeConnick needs to explain how they got said access, but she's clearly getting there.  She also starts to tell the story of how Carol wound up getting transported to the past in the first place, revealing in an "interlude" that Helen Cobb apparently stumbled upon some Kree technology during her ill-fated flight to Peru depicted last issue.  It seems likely that Cobb eventually attached this technology to her plane (possibly explaining her speed records) and just as likely that it is somehow connected to the technology that the Japanese were using in the Second World War.  DeConnick hasn't connected those dots yet, but, again, she's getting there.  She's also still exploring the impact of Carol's appearance in the past.  Since Carol is actually in our, and not an alternate, past, her actions are going to have an impact on our future, as we learn through the publication of the "Captain Marvelous" comic strip at the back of this issue.  Although it took me a moment to appreciate what DeConnick was doinghere, I thought that device was remarkably clever.

But, DeConnick doesn't just focus on the plot.  She starts delving into Carol's back story in this issue and I thought she brilliantly used Carol telling the Banshee Squad soldiers about her past as a way to do so.  It's a quiet moment and DeConnick uses it to show how young the women are and how overwhelming the war is.  Moreover, as I mentioned in the above paragraph, we seem to be on the verge of discovering that Cobb may have broken all those speed records using Kree technology.  That revelation is clearly going to have an impact on Carol, given her hero worship of Cobb.  I'm really interested to see where DeConnick goes with it.

Basically, it's another great issue and you should be reading this series.

Captain Marvel #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

DeConnick delivers another fun issue full of wit and action that also reminds us how groundbreaking this series is.

The whole premise of this issue goes to the "fly higher and faster" ethos that I mentioned in my last review, since Carol literally tries to fly higher than her idol, Helen Cobb.  I thought that DeConnick went to a really interesting place having Carol not just try to match Cobb's record, but beat it, since, again, it reminds us that Carol and DeConnick are trying to break barriers here.

But, the plot thickens when Carol suddenly finds herself in Japan during the Second World War.  I loved the all-female squad of commandos.  I mean, sure, at some point, DeConnick is going to have to stop going to this well, but, right now, it's a well whose depths still have to be plumbed.  But, the time-travel aspect of the story is handled quite well.  I loved Carol echoing Spider-Woman's comment that they really need an Avengers handbook as she struggles to remember what the Avengers time-travel protocols are.  ("Don't step on butterflies...?  Something about butterflies.")  I equally loved her then deciding to break said protocols when she attacks the "prowler" that shot Rivka, one of the members of the squad.  But, given the fact that I'm pretty sure that the Japanese didn't have flying spaceships during the Second World War, I'm guessing Carol might be in a different timeline than ours, making her concern about the time-travel protocols overcome by events.  We shall see.


With this issue, DeConnick just really throws us into Carol's world, providing some strong character work ("I don't have patience for this existential crap.") and making me excited to see where or when she actually is.  I can't really ask for more than that in a comic.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Captain Marvel #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I bought this series after loving what DeConnick did with Carol in "Avenging Spider-Man" #9-#10.  I'm happy to say that I'm not disappointed here.

FIrst, a caveat:  I had never been a huge fan of Captain Marvel until Bendis so brillaintly used her as the reader's surrogate during "Avengers Disassembled."  Previously, I found that she lacked any clearly defined personality.  At her worst, she was a constant victim, falling prey to the devious plans of a number of male villains.  At her best, she was excessively aggressive, often advocating positions that contradicted positions that she had previously taken.  Most of the time, at least in the way that she was presented in the various "Avengers" stories, she was indecisive, constantly questioning herself and her contribution to the team.  Bendis, however, started the process of moving her past these characterizations, showing her as the heart and soul of the Avengers in that arc.  She's the one who expresses outrage and pain over Wanda's actions and it's her emotions that keep us engaged in a story that could've quickly devolved into endless action-based splash pages.  Unfortunately, Bendis didn't really do all that much after "Avengers Disassembled" and she's mostly just been there.  Thankfully, with Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marvel has finally found the author who can just jettison the bad from those past incarnations, use the good, and add her own spin, creating a character who can go toe-to-toe with Spider-Man in terms of a compelling past and a committed heart.

Looking at the issue itself, DeConnick does a lot of interesting stuff here, with both form and substance.  First, we immediately find Carol and Captain America in a fight with the Absorbing Man, who's decided to steal a moon rock from the Museum of Natural History in the hope of getting "moon powers."  But, in addition to injecting the story with some action from the start, DeConnick uses both men involved in this fight to address some of the key themes of this new series.  First, she uses Creel's casual sexism, and Carol's witty responses to it, to remind us that this series establishes Carol as Marvel's marquee female character.  If I'm not mistaken, "Captain Marvel" is the only comic that Marvel publishes with a solo female lead and DeConnick shows us the burden that Carol shoulders (and the comments that she endures) as a result of being a standard bearer.  But, she also uses Steve, and later Spidey, to show the support that her teammates have for her taking on this role.  Cap playfully accepts Carol's orders after she notes that she left the Air Force as a colonel, meaning that she outranks him, and he's the one who persuades her to take the Captain Marvel name in the first place, saying that she's earned the mantle.  I really liked the way that DeConnick handled Cap here, reminding us that he's "old-fashioned" but not having that translate as "sexist."  He's pushing her to take the name as an admirer.  In fact, DeConnick does a great job of showing the affection that everyone in Carol's life, superhero and not, has for her.  This series is not going to be about a loner engaging in a mission, like the Punisher.  It's going to be about a regular woman who can do extraordinary things and how she integrates those two seemingly opposite sides of herself.

But, DeConnick doesn't just use men to address Carol's gender and the role that it's going to play in this series.  She also explores Carol's relationships with other women.  In showing us her relationship with her friend suffering from cancer, we begin to see a side of Carol that you don't see in "Avengers," showing us the people who she knows in "real life."  But, more importantly, we also meet, through a flashback, her role model, Helen Cobb, a pilot  who held fifteen speed records and participated in the Mercury 13 program.  It's really this relationship that shows us Carol's inspiration to step from the pack of Avengers and establish herself as a hero in her own right.  In fact, by using both Cap and Helen, DeConnick reminds us of two of the more important aspects of Carol's story:  her military experience and her pilot experience.  As Wacker says in his note on the letters page, DeConnick gives you a sense that Carol has a "consuming need to fly higher and faster than those who came before."  I think Wacker is absolutely right.  With the support of Captain America and the inspiration of Helen Cobb, Carol decides that it's time to take up the mantle and become Captain Marvel, to fly higher and faster.  DeConnick had to address the name change at some point, and I can't think of a way she could've done it better than the way that she does it here.

Perhaps most importantly, though, this issue is FUN.  The fight with Creed is really stellar, full of quips and tensions and dynamism; it's not all gender issues and sociological insight and power structures.  That energy is due in no small part to Dexter Soy.  I have to say that I'm thrilled that Marvel gave Carol such a talented artist, proof that they really mean it this time with her.  It is a gorgeous book, full of gorgeous people who don't all look the same.  Soy's style evokes Leinil Francis Yu's work on "Avenging Spider-Man" #5, since both artists remember things like Cap and Spidey having different body types (something that I'm often surprised how many artists forget).  But, maybe even most importantly, her costume is AWESOME.  The retracting mask?  Awesome.  The fact that she's not half-naked?  Even better.

All in all, it's a great start and I can't wait to see where DeConnick goes with Carol as she continues to get a feel for the character.  This one is definitely staying in my pull list for a while.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Avenging Spider-Man Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I honestly could've gone my entire life without seeing Spidey and the Thing kiss.

(It's a fun read, though.  Rob Williams uses a clever hook here, setting off the action when two brothers decide to troll for alien artifacts in Central Park since it's where "the FF and the Avengers always come to fight invading aliens."  It's the same sort of fun premise as the original "Damage Control" mini-series, tweaking the whole concept of grand superhero battles with a bit of reality.  I will say that the issue dragged at times and I wonder if it would've been better suited for a regular issue rather than an expanded annual.  But, all in all, it's still a good time.)

Wolverine and the X-Men #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron covers A LOT of ground in this issue, so let's get cracking!

I was thrilled to see Storm join the School.  I actually feel like she's going to add the gravitas that this team has needed for a while.  In fact, if you look at the faculty side of the roster, you'v now got a team consisting of Wolverine, Beast, Iceman, Storm, Kitty Pryde, and Rachel Grey.  We're talking an old-school team.  We're talking about a team where Rachel is the newest character...and she's 30 years old!  I definitely want Aaron to continue to focus on the students, because I enjoy them, but I also really want to see this team engage in some serious battles.  Aaron has kept the tone of this series light and I enjoy that.  But, this team is just asking to settle some old-school grudges.

Unfortunately, Aaron insists on focusing on the Kiddie Hellfire Club instead.  I just don't know what to say about this plot.  He's getting Bendisesque in his insistence on using characters that everyone hates.  I haven't read a single review where people like this device, but here they are again.  I mean, thankfully, it looks like this carnival coming to town is actually going to go after them (or at least the young Frankenstein), so maybe I can hope against hope that they'll all wind up dead.  Of course, the fact that I'm wishing for the death of children should tell you something about how I feel about this plot.

Aaron also focuses on Broo here.  Although it doesn't look good, I'm glad to see that all hope isn't lost.  However, I thought the most interesting aspect of this story was Iceman's conversation with Idie, where she tells him that the faculty is failing in its attempt to convince the kids that the world can be changed for the better.  I've actually felt like Aaron has portrayed the faculty as fairly negligent when it comes to the students.  No one comforted Broo after his moment of violence in issue #7 and no one knew that Idie was going to some sort of crazed church that made her act oddly.  (In fact, her odd behavior is suddenly forgotten here, seemingly having served its purpose as a plot device by getting Broo to investigate the church.)  At some point, someone is going to have to stop complaining about the constant threats facing the School and actually start providing some sort of guidance to these kids.  Hopefully Storm will fill that role.

X-Men Legacy #250 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gage brings his character study of Rogue to an end here, tying up some loose ends and providing us with a final report, if you will, on her state of mind.

I thought using Mimic as her companion for this issue was a great way to accomplish that goal.  Gage has done great stuff with Mimic, both in developing him as a character in his own right but also in using him to show us how far Rogue has come.  Here, Gage lets us know that Weapon Omega is soon to be fully healed, freeing Cal to leave the School if he wishes.  He asks Rogue for her advice, given that she's traveled a similar road as he has, and her answer is delivered as they quell a prison riot in upstate New York.  The problem with this issue is right in that sentence:  Rogue is actually delivering the answer for the entire issue.  I feel like she just talks constantly, almost to a comically absurd level, like she's reciting pi while attacking villains.  Gage has been way too wordy in the last few issues, a problem compounded by the fact that Rogue has been saying the same thing over and over again.  I really liked where Gage went with Rogue, but this whole journey of self-actualization stopped being fresh a while ago.  He never really moved it to the next level and often had to go to some unbelievable lengths to make it seem like the challenge was still in front of Rogue instead of behind her.  As such, I'm not really going to miss this title all that much, given that I think Rogue will be much more challenged as a member of the "Uncanny Avengers" team than she would be in anything that Gage had left to throw at her here.  But, looking over Gage's tenure on this title, he's definitely put his mark on Rogue and his work earlier in his run was particularly insightful.  It's just time to bring this story to an end.

New Mutants #50 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, I wish that DnA would've just stuck to the team enjoying the party without succumbing to the need to throw in the obligatory mid-party battle sequence.  After all, we definitely had some issues on the table that could've used some more attention before we turned off the lights on this title.  For example, did we know that Amara and Bobby are now together, or did that just happen?  I'm not sure, and, given the pages and pages that have been dedicated to that plot over the last 49 issues, we probably deserved a more satisfying resolution.  But, I'll concede that DnA at least do a good job of using the aforementioned fight to resolve Doug's paranoia that he's going to become a world-destroying dictator again, so at least something got put to bed here.

It's the rest of the issue that matters to me, obviously, as DnA give us a tour d'horizon of where the members of the team stand, individually and in their relationships.  In addition to the lack of clarity on Amara and Bobby, we also leave the Dani/Nate/Sam triangle somewhat unresolved, though Dani at least stresses to Sam that they'll always be friends.  On the positive side, I did enjoy watching Nate interact with everyone, particularly the scene where Bobby, Sam, Warlock, and he try to light the grill.  In fact, in retrospect, I really wish that DnA had focused more on Nate over these last few issues as opposed to Doug, since I think that it would've been really interesting for them to explore Nate's thoughts on having actual honest-to-goodness friends.  We never really got to see his thoughts on suddenly being part of a team and I think that it's probably the plot that I most regret didn't get explored.

At this point, the only other outstanding issue is what happens to the New Mutants as a team.  Logan tells Dani that she's doing a great job and, in his capacity as more or less the de facto leader of the X-Men, it seems to imply that the New Mutants will continue operating in San Francisco.  We know that Bobby and Sam will be joining the Avengers, so I'm not really sure where we're going to see the adventures of the rest of the team.  Hopefully, they'll all turn up somewhere.  I read an interview on "Comic Book Resources" where DnA imply that we'll learn their fate as Marvel NOW! progresses, so something seems to be in the works.

But, this iteration of the team i clearly done.  I was excited about this series from the start, since the initial few arcs had the original team together.  I've talked about my emotional investment in the New Mutants dating to reading them as a kid in the '80s, so it was a thrill to see them together again.  The line-up has changed since those first few issues, but DnA have mostly done a good job of keeping that vibe.  In fact, I feel like DnA had a lot more stories to tell about them so it's disappointing to know that they won't be telling them.  I actually can't believe that Legion is getting his own comic rather than keeping on the New Mutants (or at least giving Nate one, where at least I could see his friendships with the other New Mutants and his relationship with Dani develop).  In the meantime, I'll basically be counting the months (but hopefully not years) until Marvel again gives them another shot.  For now, though, it's going to be sad not to be hanging with them in their house in San Francisco once a month.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Winter Soldier #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

God, Brubaker just keeps getting better and better on this title.  This issue is tense from the first page and propels you through it with nervous energy.  Brubaker does an amazing job showing this mission spiraling completely out of control, with Bucky agreeing to Leo's demand that he undergo brainwashing to revert to his Winter Soldier persona and assassinate Daredevil.  You can feel Cap and Maria Hill's frustration as the scenario goes from bad to worse and it just starts seeming harder and harder to imagine how Bucky and Natasha are going to exist this arc without scars.  The good news is that Brubaker makes it pretty clear that Leo's attempt to erase Natasha's love for Bucky didn't work and that Bucky is operating somewhere under his Winter Soldier persona.  But, given Brubaker's masterful construction of the story here, it's hard to see how Bucky's going to be able to turn the tables on Leo, given how complete his control over the "game" has been so far.  On a side note, it's also interesting that Bucky is now revealed as alive to Daredevil, increasing the again the number of people who are aware that he's alive.  It's unclear if it's part of Leo's plan or just a side benefit.  All in all, it's an excellent issue, from start to finish.

Batgirl Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Simone delivers a great issue here.  It's an absolute pleasure to read, a tightly constructed story that starts with Batgirl and Catwoman seemingly moving in different directions but ends with them kicking some serious ass to save a former Talon with a past.

The interplay between Batgirl and Catwoman is the best part, with Simone showing them slowly building respect for each other.  The issue definitely has a girl-power vibe to it, in part because they're working together to save the female Talon that Batgirl confronted in issue #9.  After the odd characterization of Selina that I read in "Catwoman" #13, I was pleased to see a Selina who I recognized here, willing to toe the line of the law, but not willing to kill and always willing to help out a sister.  It makes sense that Selina would empathize with Mary and put herself on the line to help her.  Similarly, I was glad to see Barbara use Ricky here.  Usually, informants are the Ensign Jones of comic books, appearing once and then fading into obscurity.  Instead, Simone actually takes someone that we've already seen (from the "Knightfall" arc) and use him in a new and believable way.  It makes for a much more enjoyable reading experience, because you feel much more immersed in Barbara's world.

In the end, you're left seriously impressed with two of the more decent human beings to be wearing a costume in Gotham City.  If you haven't been reading "Batgirl," this issue is a good place to start.

(As an aside, I'm somewhat confused by the Court of Owls continued presence.  Aren't all the Talons imprisoned?  I get that Bruce didn't totally eliminate them, but I was surprised to see four Talons here.  Batgirl is, too, so it's clearly not like I just missed an issue.  But, I'm really over the Court of Owls.  I'm OK with the focus on Mary here because it's more about her as a human than a Talon, but I really wish the rest of them would just disappear for a while.)