Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #697 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "This makes your cache of Spider-Man's equipment look like a street vendor's table.  "Well...I mean, Norman's rich.  If you paid me more, I could have something like this."  -- Max and Pete, upon discovering Norman Osborn's secret vault

Max and Peter are still fleeing the Hobgoblins, who the Kingpin has sent after them to retrieve the key to Norman Osborn's vault.  Pete uses his Web-Shooters to try to defect their incoming projectiles while Max informs him that the key is pinging, likely because they're getting closer to the vault.  Pete tells Max to follow the key, since the vault is likely fortified and they could hide there.  He continues to try to protect them from the Hobgoblins, but he's less able to do so as they approach another Spider-Sense Jammer, so he misses an incoming goblin-rang that heads straight for Max.  However, when it suddenly deflects a few inches from him, Max reveals that he's wearing a prototype force-field.  He cautions, however, that it runs on his cell-phone battery, so it won't last too long.  The pair continue to make their way to the vault while, in the skies above them, the Hobgoblins resume fighting after Phil steals Roderick's goblin bombs.  Roderick reminds Phil that he has a drone "loaded with C4" aimed at Norah while Max and Pete arrive at the vault.  The Hobgoblins arrive too late to stop them from entering, though Roderick notes that they'll likely be dead from Osborn's security measures by the time the two manage to break into the vault.

Proving Roderick's point, a holographic image of Osborn appears to Max and Pete, informing them that they have sixty seconds to enter the authorization code before the entire facility self-destructs.  Pete calls Harry, who's living in Seattle with Stanley (his son with Lily) and who informs Pete that he's going to have to move just by answering the call.  Pete apologizes and asks Harry if he knows the security code for the Goblin's workshop.  Harry tells Pete that it's "Stromm," the name of the first business partner that Norman "screwed over."  The code works, though Max and Pete are hardly safe, because the Hobgoblins are close to breaking through the wall.  Phil calls to Pete from outside the vault, saying that they've going to use the explosives-laden drone against Norah if Pete doesn't given them what's in the vault. Roderick's impressed by Phil getting his priorities in order while Pete tells Phil that he doesn't believe that he won't just kill her anyway, trying to buy him and Max some time.  Pete says that he'll use one of the Spider-Man costumes that Norman used on his target-practice dummies to "pretend" to be Spider-Man and distract the Hobgoblins, while Max should go save Norah.

At Shadowland, Kingpin is threatening Tiberius Stone, who manages to fix the overloaded Spider-Sense Jammer.  Pete staggers as he's trying on the costume and Max tells Pete that he's going to have to work through his "migraine."  Pete suggests to Max that he checks the files to find an alternative exit while Pete tries to use his Spider-Fu to create a "wall" around his Spider-Sense.  Max finds the exit and activates the self-destruct sequence on a ten-minute delay.  He also found enough information about the drone to be able to track it to find Norah.  Pete hops one of the gliders and attacks the Hobgoblins.  (On the margins of the fight, the golden octobot from last issue attaches itself to a police car following Spidey and the Hobgoblins.)

The trio fight mid-air, with one of the Hobgoblins destroying the glider.  Roderick decides to remind Spidey what happens when he crosses the real Hobgoblin, activating the drone to kill Norah.  (Meanwhile, Phil comments to himself that he's surprised that he's not all that bothered by the idea of Roderick killing Norah.)  Meanwhile, Max reaches Norah just in time, leaping onto her and using his force field to protect her.  Max radios Pete to tell him that Norah's safe and the Hobgoblins are stunned when the vault self-destructs.  They agree to a truce to take out Spidey, but Spidey escapes, knowing that Norah and Max are safe.  Roderick then attacks Phil, dragging him into the river.  Under a pier, he tells Phil that he saw his potential and offers to allow him to keep being Hobgoblin, for a cut.

At Shadowland, one of the Hand ninjas informs Kingpin that the contents of the vault have been destroyed beyond retrieval.  Kingpin is furious, smashing the Spider-Sense Jammer and cursing Stone, who has fled Shadowland.  While fleeing, he receives a text from Max telling him that he's fired.  Spidey finds Max and Norah, confirming that they're OK.  Pete wonders if Max knows his secret identity, but realizes that he doesn't really care, since he has more immediate concerns, namely, taking out the the Spider-Sense Jammers.  With the golden octobot observing him, Spidey comments to himself that he has the feeling that he got off easy this time.  Meanwhile, at Columbia University Medical Center, a doctor and a nurse respond to an alarm, arriving at Norman Osborn's bed to find it empty.  Finally, Roderick Kingsley speaks with his butler, who confirms that Phil has transfered the first payment to his Swiss bank account.  He then gives him an update on the "Devil-Spider franchise" that he established in Delvadia and the two observe a series of monitors that show Kingsley's various super-villain franchises.

The Review
Meh.  I'm giving this issue three stars, but, in reality, it probably only deserves two.  Slott really rushes the plot here and most of the characters feel like caricatures of themselves.  But, it's clear that the monster that will be issue #700 needed to be fed and this arc paid the price for it.  

The Good
1) I thought that it was a nice touch that Slott had Max bring along the Web-Shooters and force-field projector.  Slott had veered a little close to portraying Max as somewhat incompetent in the previous issues of this arc, particularly given that he feel for the Hobgoblin's threat to hurt Peter if he called in the Avengers.  It would make sense that, if he wasn't going to bring the Avengers, Max wouldn't come empty-handed.

2) I loved Pete calling Harry.  It was a nice way to work in a Harry update before whatever we're going to see happen in issue #700 happens.

3) I liked Slott bringing back in the Spider-Fu.  Slott has done so much in moving Pete past his previous limitations and using his Spider-Fun to master his Spider-Sense was an excellent reminder of that.

4) I love that Roderick Kingsley makes his money by starting up super-villain franchises.  I may not be thrilled that Slott brought back Kingsley, given that Slott used his "death" as an amazing way to start his run.  But, if he was going to bring back Roderick with the ol' "brother decoy" schtick, it was at least a clever reason for Roderick to have used the decoy in the first place.

The Unknown
Last we saw Norman, his head was melting off his body.  I'm assuming that you don't really recover from that sort of injury, making me wonder if he left the hospital room of his own volition or someone took him from it.

The Bad
When this arc fist started, Norman's vault seemed like it was going to play a pretty key role.  But, in the end, it proves to be a MacGuffin, and I'm confused why Slott rushed a story that seemed like it had legs.  For example, why would Norman make the key ping?  After all, he knew where the vault was.  Why would he basically help someone who swiped the key from him to find his stash?  Or, would Max really have enough time to learn enough about Norman's drones to be able to track the one menacing Norah?  Sure, he's a genius, but would Norman really just have that information on his drives, particularly for a drone that he hadn't necessarily used in a while.  Or, would Pete really not think that Norman equipped the vault with security protocols?  Was he really that sure that Harry would know the password?  It seems like this arc was a victim of the rush to issue #700, since I think Slott could have avoided using these devices with an extra issue or two.  After all, the "Hunt for Norman Osborn's Vault" sounds like the type of exciting and fun story that we'd get in the '90s when "Amazing Spider-Man" went biweekly for the summer with a six-part story.  Instead, Slott takes a few short cuts to get to the conclusion and we seem denied a much better story as a result.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Brief Note on the Next Few Weeks

It's been a little slow around here on the blog because life outside the blog has been anything but slow.  I just wrapped up finals last week and have been enjoying a mostly Internet-free vacation this week.  I've got a backlog of books to attack when I get to my folks' house for Christmas, so you should be getting pretty frequent posts starting next week.  But, since I'm not returning to Boston (and my LCS) until the end of January, once I get through the backlog, I won't have any new books to review.  The good news is that I plan on resuming my "Spider-Man 2099" project.  Hopefully that'll satisfy my comics craving until I return to Boston where I'll have six weeks (!) of comics waiting for me!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hawkeye #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Matt Fraction is SO FUCKING GOOD!

Seriously.  I mean, SERIOUSLY.  SO FUCKING GOOD.  That last scene.  I mean, honestly, I pounded the bed with my fist and LOLed.  Perfect.  I totally didn't see it coming.  I mean, it's just SO perfect.  He doesn't let Kate participate, but she knows that he needs help, so she just makes it happen.  I don't even really need to know how.  I just believe that Kate Bishop would absolutely be able to discover that Hawkeye went to Madripoor to buy something at a super-secret auction and that she had to be there.  Did she know Madame Masque was going after him before she got to Madripoor or did she only realize that Madame Masque was a problem after she grabbed Hawkeye?  I don't know.  I don't even care.  Fraction has done so much in showing how capable Kate Bishop is that you just believe it either way.  It's like how you absolutely believe that Clint could somehow start driving a cab in Madripoor and wind up charming his way into a group of cab hacks who could lead him to the aforementioned super-secret auction.  You just buy it.  You just buy it because Matt Fraction has managed to convey the essence of both these characters to you in just three issues.  He's also managed to convey their commitment to one another, leaving Clint wondering why Kate mentioned having to deal with his baggage and showing exactly why she mentioned having to deal with his baggage on the last page.  Seriously, although I've said it three times already in this series, this issue could be the perfect comic-book.

Matt Fraction is SO FUCKING GOOD!

(After I calmed down a bit and read x-man75's review, I realized that I think he's absolutely right that Clint knew that Madame Masque was Kate.  First, he mentions his S.H.I.E.L.D. credit-card with no limit several times to "Madame Maque," to the point where he comments that he's sorry "to keep bringing this up."  In retrospect, it's pretty odd that he would make that sort of reveal to Madame Masque, since it's not like she would've needed to know that or knowing that would've helped his position.  In fact, it probably would've hurt his position.  He also mentions that they're both there for "the tape" and then tells her what the subject of the tape is, something that Madame Masque would've clearly known without him needing to tell her.  Finally, he's the one that mentions the "billions" of dollars that the auction winner could make from the tape, something that doesn't seem like a coincidence when, a few pages later, Kate wins the tape with a surprise bid of a billion dollars.  In fact, Kate seemed to have been fishing for a number during their conversation, since she mentions that killing Hawkeye could save her millions of dollars.  However, I don't see how killing Clint would've saved Madame Masque any money, since she would still be bidding against all the other bidders.  In fact, the only reason I could see why the real Madame Masque wouldn't kill Hawkeye is that her ability to ransom him with the tape might amplify the amount of money that she could make.  So, as X says, it's clear that Kate used her money to follow Hawkeye to Madripoor, was the English-speaking woman whose cab he stole, and then followed him to the casino where she either realized that Madame Masque was going to jump him or saw Madame Masque jump him.  Then, Clint realized that Kate was posing as Madame Masque and gave her the information that she needed to win the auction.  Awesome.)

500th Post!

Thanks for reading, folks!

Captain America and Black Widow #639 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm pretty much just running out the clock on this title, but I will admit that Bunn finally makes this arc almost interesting here.

First, we learn what happened to the junk world where Cap and the two Widows have found themselves over the last two issues.  This world's "Hydra and the Defiance League" went to war, using weapons supplied (presumably) by Vennema Multiversal to defeat this world's superheroes.  (Vennema Mutlinational then apparently harvested the battlefield for their bodies, explaining how they're able to make all its clones.)  This world's Lizard used his Lizard formula to transform the population into lizards, so they'd be able to live in the harsh post-apocalyptic conditions.  However, Lizard acknowledges that it was a futile attempt to prolong the inevitable, since the world is dying.

This backstory fuels the next phase of the arc, since Cap promises to help save this world if Lizard lends evil Widow his lab so that she can fix their time-traveling device, which she does.  I'm still a little confused by what happened exactly, though, once the device is repaired.  Evil Widow reveals that she couldn't completely fix the device, so the group will have to jump randomly from world to world (hello, "Quantum Leap") until they find the correct one.  As she informs Cap and good Widow of that fact, we see a number of scenes of the three of them in a variety of alternate realities, making it appear like they had started jumping.  However, they either wind up returning to Lizard's world without finding the correct world or they never start making the jumps in the first place, since we see the device struck from evil Widow's hand by the same assassination squad that we saw appear before she started her narration.  Bunn really should've made it clearer what happened here, since I finished the issue not entirely sure where they were.

But, despite this confusion, I'm intrigued by the issue, thanks to the end.  Here, we learn that it was another Kashmir Vennema, leading her own group of Avengers, who hired evil Widow to take out Vennema-Prime (as I like to think of her).  We learn that she did so because Vennema-Prime killed her husband and child, significantly upping the stakes for next issue.

As I've said, I'm not a fan of what Bunn has done with this series or the overuse of Vennema, but I can't deny that next issue promises a pretty damn good fight to conclude this series.

Captain America #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If I say anything else nice about Rick Remender, he's going to have to buy me flowers.

This issue is great.  The good and bad news, for Remender, is that he's following Ed Brubaker's spectacular run on "Captain America," a challenge that I imagine most authors would find daunting.  But, Remender manages to extract the best of Brubaker's Cap while injecting in some energy that had started to fade in the last few Brubaker issues.  For example, I loved Cap and Sharon's banter here, from Cap's awkwardly hilarious attempt at sexual innuendo to his comment about "fire and the warmth of a woolly mammoth's pelt" being all the gifts he needed back in the day.  This banter reminds us why Steve's with Sharon, why she keeps him from disappearing into the uniform, and I'm just so glad to see it.  A renewed Sharon Carter was one of the best things to come from Brubaker's run and I'm thrilled to see her here. ( He better damn well say yes to that proposal.)

But, Remender jettisons some of the maudlinness of the most recent series of "Captain America."  Cap might be worried about disappearing into the uniform, but he's no longer lamenting the state of the world as he has been recently.  In fact, Remender establishes that point of departure from past stories by removing Steve entirely from the world, depositing him into "Dimension Z."  I was amazed by the fact that Remender really sells the plot in just one issue.  It makes sense to me that Armin Zola has his own dimension and that he dragged Steve to it to be able to steal the Super-Soldier Serum and create his own Super-Soldier "children."  Time travel and alternate dimensions aren't really the bread-and-butter stories of "Captain America," but Remender makes you feel like you're reading an old pulp science-fiction story, the type that Cap would've read when he was younger.  He successfully portrays Cap as a man confused in a different and hostile landscape.  Adding a baby to the mix?  Hilarious.  I think Remender should bring in Iron Man and Thor and we can essentially have a superhero version of "Three Men and a Baby."

The only negative (and it's not really that much of a negative) was that I wasn't really sold on the opening panels.  I get what Remender was trying to do by showing Cap's mother as defiant in the face of her abusive husband, and the effect that her courage had on young Steve, but it felt somewhat forced to me.  But, honestly, it's a minor complaint.

Overall, it's just so nice to feel excited about comics again.  Marvel NOW! is totally working for me, in no small part thanks to Rick Remender.  Between "Captain America," "Secret Avengers," and "Uncanny Avengers," I am a happy camper.

Amazing Spider-Man #696 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

At the Port Authority, Julia Carpenter, a.k.a. Madame Web, has a seizure, muttering to herself that "everything ends" in a "flash of gold."  Meanwhile, at Shadowland, Hobgoblin has brought Peter Parker before the Kingpin, informing him that Peter is "Spider-Man's best friend."  He suggests that they can use Peter as a bargaining chip to get Spider-Man to turn over the mysterious briefcase from last issue.  Peter realizes that he's in trouble, but he also knows that he's too distracted by the overloaded Spider-Sense Jammers to do anything about it.  Kingpin asks Peter how he contacts Spider-Man and, seeing an opportunity, Peter tells him that he does so through a signal based on Spidey's Spider-Sense.  Vamping, Pete tells Kingpin that Spidey told him about the Jammers before Hobgoblin nabbed him and informs him that he won't be able to contact Spidey unless they turn off the Jammers.  Kingpin demurs, but tells Tiberius Stone that he gets to stay alive since his tweak to the Jammers is working.  Stone suggests that they videotape a hostage message and Hobgoblin offers up his drone to make the recording.  However, he expresses frustration when it doesn't arrive.  However, it's revealed that the drone didn't arrive because Rodney Kingsley as at Phil's apartment and has disabled it.  Kingsley is also going through Phil's effects and discovers photos and videos of Norah.  Kingsley decides to go after her, declaring that it's time for the original Hobgoblin to take Phil to school.

Meanwhile, at Horizon Labs, Max Modell receives the hostage video of Peter.  Hobgoblin narrates, informing Max that "they" are watching him, so he can't call the Avengers or the police or they'll kill Peter.  He then informs Max that he needs to get in touch with Spider-Man and tell him to bring the briefcase to Shadowland, stressing that Spidey'll know what he means.  Desperate, Max breaks into Pete's lab in the hope of finding a way to contact Spider-Man.  Max is surprised to discover all the weaponry that Pete has stored there, but focuses on the problem at hand and discovers the case.  Meanwhile, at Columbia University Medical Center, Julia lies in a coma, with a doctor and a cop observing her.  They reveal that they don't have anyway of confirming her identity and the doctor hypothesizes that she could be delusional, since she was raving about the apocalypse before she lost consciousness.  He mentions that she declared that "his future will a flash of gold," as, elsewhere, a gold octobot emerges from the sea.  (Dun-dun-DUN!)

At Shadowland, Max arrives with the case, declaring that Spider-Man is with him to ensure that they don't play any tricks.  Peter sees Max and expresses worry, noting that everyone in the room can tell that Max is lying.  He begins working on freeing himself to save Max.  Proving Pete's point, Kingpin declares that Spider-Man would never let Max risk his life for him and takes the case.  Max tells Kingpin that it's booby-trapped, and Kingpin tells him that he knows, ordering a Hand ninja to open it for him.  The ninja does (and promptly gets killed) and Kingpin opens the case, revealing a goblin-shaped key.  He exposits that it opens "Norman Osborn's most valued cache of assets," from tech to secrets.  At that moment, Kingsley appears in his Hobgoblin outfit and attacks.  Phil leaps into battle and Kingpin orders the Hand to hold, declaring that the battle should be amusing.

Max sees his chance and offers to untie Pete, who reveals that he had already done so using "uh, a nail."  Pete expresses disbelief that Max fell for the Hobgoblin's threat that they'd kill Pete if he alerted the Avengers, but Max replies that he didn't blindly follow orders, revealing that he came "armed:"  he hands Pete Spidey's Web-Shooters.  Pete worries that he won't do any better than Max with them, given his Jammer-induced migraine.  Meanwhile, the Hobgoblins battle, with Roderick revealing that he knows Phil's identity and informing him that he's got "a lock" on Norah.  In case something happens to him, Pete shows Max how to use the Web-Shooters and then fires a Web-Line at Roderick's glider, slamming him into Phil and then pulling the two of them into the Jammer.  When Tiberius screams about the Jammer, Max sees him and Pete uses the distraction to hustle them out the door, but not before he uses his recovered senses to grab the key with a Web-Line.  He hands the key to Max and then webs up several of the Hand ninjas.  Max observes that Pete's good with the Web-Shooters. commenting that, "If I hadn't seen you and Spider-Man together [during Spider-Island], I'd almost..."  Before he can finish that sentence, they're attacked by a ninja, who Pete webs to the wall.  The two flee Shadowland and Kingpin orders the Hobgoblins after them, lest they make an enemy of him.

The Review
The fact that Peter Parker will, in all likelihood no longer be Spider-Man come January seems to be one of the most poorly kept secrets in comics.  In fact, it's hard to call it a secret, given that Wacker has been previewing it in the letters pages for months and Madame Web pretty much declares it this issue.  At this point, the only questions are how and why Peter ends his tenure as Spider-Man.  Does his identity get revealed, forcing him into hiding?  Does he die?  Can he simply not take the stress anymore?  Does he decide to commit to MJ?  Slott isn't telling, but it's these questions that fuel this arc.

In my last review, I lamented the fact that Slott seemed to be rushing to the end, trying to bring together too many plot threads as he builds to the climax in issue #700.  Did we really need the Hobgoblin vs. Hobgoblin fight?  Did we have to bring back the Spider-Sense Jammers, particularly since they play a role only due to the fairly dubious assertion that Max Modell kept the designs for them in his unlocked desk drawer?  Was Madame Web necessary?  However, I'm glad to say that Slott manages to, I don't know, take a breath in this issue and pull these threads together better than he did last issue.  I finished this issue feeling like this sequence of events, though amazing, was plausible, perhaps the ultimate example of Parker luck.  I can honestly say that I'm excited to see where we go from here.

The Good
1) If I had to prioritize, I'd say that my main complaint with last issue was that Madame Web seemingly revealed Pete's identity to the "Daily Bugle" newsroom, including, most importantly, Phil Urich.  The good news is that Slott essentially shelves that plot, revealing that Phil chased Pete into the streets not because he "knew" that he was Spider-Man, but because he knew that Pete designed Spidey's tech.  Is it a dodge?  Absolutely.  If you re-read that sequence from last issue, it's pretty clear that Phil's suddenly motivated by the desire to chase down Pete because of Madame Web's revelation of his secret identity, not because he suddenly realized something that he had already known (that Pete designed Spidey's tech).  But, I'm putting this shelving in the good column, because it cranks down the tension a little.  Starting this arc by blowing Pete's identity really wouldn't have left that much suspense for the next few issues.  By revealing it as a feint, Slott allows us to put aside that worry and focus on the story, something that I had trouble doing last issue given the secret-identity dilemma.  It makes for a much better paced issue and arc.

2) Slott uses Max Modell to great effect here.  Slott has always hinted that a genius like Max should be able to deduce Pete's identity.  But, he addresses that issue in two ways here.  First, by having Max develop a pretty ridiculous cover story for why Kingpin shouldn't kill him (because Spider-Man was "watching"), Slott reminds us that "technological genius" doesn't always mean "common sense" or "skilled liar."  Second, by having Max comment on the fact that Pete and Spidey appeared next to one another during "Spider-Island," Slott provides a fairly convincing reason why Max wouldn't put two and two together when Pete used the Web-Shooters so well.  Identities in superhero comics always require a willful suspension of disbelief, not only on the readers' part but also on the characters' family members.  You just have to believe that they either don't see, or are willing to overlook, certain signs (a.k.a. "the Lois Lane effect").  Here, Max understandably goes with the more obvious solution rather than the more complicated one.  It may not be believable in the real world, but it is in the comics world.  At any rate, addressing why Max doesn't necessarily conclude that Pete is Spider-Man despite him doing Spider-Man stuff allows Slott more room in using him as the substitute for the reader here.

3) Looking more at the issue itself, Slott shows some of his trademark cleverness here.  I thought it was a stroke of genius to have Peter argue that Kingpin had to turn off the Spider-Sense Jammers for him to contact Spider-Man.  It, of course, didn't work, but it was a good attempt.  (It was also believable that Kingpin wouldn't fall for it.)  Moreover, everything involving Max's involvement felt clever, with Slott calling on instances from his entire run to bring Max to where he is at the end of this issue, both in terms of his active support of Pete and his eventual position about his identity.

The Unknown
In my last review, I mentioned both the Tiberius and Norah issues as "Unknowns."  They remain so in this review, but it doesn't mean that Slott ignored them.  In fact, we definitely have a better sense of where he's going with them.  For example, Max discovers that Stone is working for Kingpin, bringing that long-running sub-plot to some sort of resolution.  Moreover, Norah's investigation into the "Osborn files" is clearly going to prove connected to the "goblin key."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Uncanny Avengers #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Rick Remender is single-handedly saving the Avengers.  You should help.  Buy this book!

Remender covers a lot of ground here.  First, let's talk about the conversation between Cap and Wolverine.  After the eight-year reign of Bendis, it's hard to remember a time when the Avengers used to talk to one another about serious topics without resorting to inane banter.  Over the course of two pages, Cap and Logan have an honest-to-goodness disagreement about the direction of the Avengers, where both make valid points.  Logan somewhat reasonably questions the logic of choosing the brother of the villain of "Avengers vs. X-Men" to lead an Avengers squad meant to promote human/mutant harmony.  He also wonders why Cap didn't ask him.  Cap laid out his argument why Alex should lead the squad last issue, but he addresses Logan's concerns by (again, somewhat reasonably) suggesting that the public would have a hard time accepting a mutant with Logan's "reputation" as someone seeking to promote harmony between the races.  He contrasts Logan's reputation with Alex's, noting that people see him as a "strong and ethical man" with whom they can identity.  But, Logan calls bullshit, accusing Cap of just picking a pretty face.  Before Cap can really respond, though, an elderly man thanks Alex personally for saving his life, hugging him and telling him, 'There ain't enough heroes in the world."  Cassady does a great job in the next panel, showing Cap slyly looking at Logan and Logan somewhat resignedly accepting the wisdom of the "someone with whom people can identity" arugment, all without words.  These four pages alone show us that we're in a different world.  If Bendis was Michael Bay, Remender is Aaron Sorkin.

But, he doesn't stop there.  Remender gives us a more deadly competent Red Skull here than we've seen in a long time.  Of course, he has to explain why the Red Skull is still alive and he does so in a way that I totally buy and actually manages to strip away years of baggage from the character.  Instead of a man whose mind has been shattered after deaths, dismemberments, etc., we get someone recently awoken from stasis, for whom "1942 was mere months ago."  This Skull has realized that the United States is just as ripe for takeover as Germany was, with a "freightened population" fearing coming change.  He sees America as a place where he can use anti-mutant hysteria to create an Eternal Reich.  Of course, he also now is all the deadlier since he has Professor X's brain grafted to his brain.  I mean, Red Skull + Professor X = downright scary.

It's the discovery by Rogue and Scarlet Witch of Professor X's body that leads to perhaps the best scene in this issue, with Rogue remembering the Professor defying the rest of the X-Men when he declared that he would accept her into his School even if she were the only student to remain.  Whereas Bendis wouldn't bother with this sort of reflection on Rogue's past, Remender puts it front and center here.  Rogue sobbing next to Professor X's body is a powerful moment and really the best tribute to the Professor that I've seen so far.  It drives her fury at the Red Skull and really makes me anxious to see the fight next issue.  However, Remender uses that moment for more than just showing Rogue's quest for vengeance.  When parid with Logan's introductory monologue about the X-Men failing the Professor, it helps to remind us of the theme of this series perfectly, that this team, at its core, is the X-Men team fighting for the Professor's dream.  Bendis always skipped this part, never bothering to explore characters' emotions when he could just be smashing robots together.  Here, in just two issues, Remender delivers an arc that redefines the Avengers for a new age, all thanks to his exploration of the characters.

If Bendis wrote for teenagers, Remenber writes for adults (and not just by having Rogue mention sexy-time with Gambit).  This issue shows people with extraordinary powers in difficult situations that challenge their self-perceptions as well as their relationships.  It's the very best type of Avengers issue and it's such a wonderful relieft to read it.  Remender is clearly building to the moment, possibly next issue, where the team comes together for the first time and, for the first time in a long time, I can honestly say that I can't wait for the next issue of an Avengers title.  Thanks, Remender, for giving me that, after just two issues.

Secret Avengers #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender really is hitting his stride on this arc.  Having just criticized Bendis for never having managed to pull together an arc that felt like an old-school Avenger story, I definitely have to compliment Remender on doing exactly that here.

First, leave it to Hawkeye to make Captain Britain likable.  Remender has a great ear for Hawkeye and I loved seeing him make it infectious, with Brian responding in kind.  ("I cherish you, Captain Britain, and you look so pretty in that new suit."  "I was worried about using too much black."  "No, it's slimming.")  I didn't really like Captain Britain when I read "Excalibur" and I can't say that I've liked him all that much here.  Maybe having Beast and Hawkeye for playmates will help make him less insufferable.  ("I hate you, Captain Britain.  From now on, because of you bringing me here, I'm going to hate everything about Britain.  Tea.  The Smiths.  The queen."  "Let's leave the Smiths out of this.")

But, unlike Bendis, Remender actually doesn't paint everyone with the same brush.  He manages to give Natasha some banter, but still make it feel like the type of banter that you'd get from Natasha.  ("We're Avengers, we have each other's backs, even when we're irritated.")  Similarly, he also delivers a Flash who's heroic yet goofy ("Uh -- a fetishist costume collector guy came and stole her clothes") and a Valkyrie who serves as the heart of the team, reminding us of the difficulty that they're all having in processing the reality that Eric is dead and has been replaced by a LMD.

Remender also manages to make me believe that he might kill off people.  I'm not sure how he does it, but he does.  I actually found myself wondering at the end of last issue if Valkyrie, at least, wouldn't wind up dead and, at the end of this issue, I find myself wondering if maybe Hank is a Deathlok now.  I mean, intellectually, I'm pretty sure that he isn't, but Remender manages to immerse you in the story that he's telling so much that you forgot that these characters appear in other series.  "Secret Avengers" has always been an afterthought in terms of the Avengers line, so it's nice to see Remender elevate it to the type of title where you believe something big may happen.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Scalera.  His art has taken a little while to grow on me, but, man, I can't imagine anyone else on this title.  He has a spectacular sense of timing, knowing when to keep the panels tight -- like when Flash is stranded in space -- to convey the building tension, and when to use a splash page -- like when Hawkeye and Captain Britain engage the Zombie Avengers -- to let the action explode.  Wilson also does a great job of using a dark palette that suggests espionage and treason.

Basically?  This issue is the Avengers I've been hoping to have for the last three years and never got.  I'm sad to see Remender leave this title, but I'm thrilled that it's for another Avengers title.  If you haven't been reading this title lately, pick up this final arc, because, seriously, it's great stuff.