Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Iron Man #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So, I guess I did have issue #4 in my stack.  How unlucky for me.  Man, this issue sucked.  I used to really like Kieron Gillen, but, seriously, I have very little idea what happened here.  Plus, I'm just tired of Greg Land.  I'm definitely gone.

Cable and the X-Force #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, so, other than reading the "Messiah Complex" and "Second Coming" cross-over events, I haven't really followed Cable since the New Mutants left X-Force in 1997, according to Wikipedia.  As such, I'm not really all that familiar with developments concerning his character except for ambient knowledge gleaned from reading comic-book blogs.  For example, I know that he tried to kill the Avengers in "X-Sanction" (something Hopeless mentions in this issue), but I'm not entirely sure why.  But, Hopeless does a pretty good job of downplaying the importance of understanding that 16 years of history that I missed and just making sure that I understand what I need to know about his new status quo:  the techno-organic virus is expunged, the right eye is gone, the left arm is withered, and the powerful telekinesis has returned.  Done.  I mean, he might fill in the rest at some point, but he does a good job of showing that you don't need it all right now.

Instead, Hopeless spends most of his time laying the foundation for why we get the scene that starts this issue, namely X-Force attacking the Avengers after apparently having killed a bunch of guards.  Some time earlier, we see Cable working with Forge to build a device to compensate for his arm (and potentially his eye) and with Dr. Nemesis to address the headaches that he's suffering as a result of the return of his telekinesis.  It makes sense.  It also makes sense that Domino would still be in touch with him.  Hopeless does possibly the most interesting stuff with Hope here, showing how she learned the lessons that Cable taught her well, since she, too, knows that Domino would be in touch with him and, as such, has been keeping tabs on her to find him.  So far, the gang is all here, except for Colossus, who I'm assuming appears next issue.  With the introductions made, the only real question now is what happens to get them branded as outlaws.  Marvel has advertised issue #3 as containing the big reveal, so we'll see what it is.  Whether I continue getting this series is going to depend really on the team's mission.  If they're just on the run from various authorities, such as the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D., due to some sort of miscommunication, then I think that it's going to get dull pretty quickly.  But, if they're fighting some larger battle and appear as bad guys as a result, then I'm definitely on board.  I guess we'll see.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Amazing Spider-Man #699.1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Since this issue had pretty much nothing to do with Peter Parker or Spider-Man, I'm going to forgo the usual format and just give it a normal review.

I've never really gotten Morbius.  Blah blah blah, tragedy tragedy tragedy.  I mean, I get it, but the mere existence of his character requires a suspension of disbelief that I find almost impossible to provide.  It's also why I don't really read the "Fantastic Four," because, at the end of the day, I just don't believe that Reed Richards can't find a cure for the Thing.  He can figure out a way to erase the memory of every person on Earth that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, but he can't help Ben Grimm regain his human form.  I actually feel like someone needs to do for Ben Grimm the same thing that Dan Slott did for Peter by shaking up his status quo and letting him evolve.  Would it really undermine Ben's character if he could control his transformations?  Isn't he a strong enough character that he doesn't need the tragic flaw to draw in the reader?

Morbius is a tougher case, obviously, since I can't imagine why he'd ever want to revert to his "living vampire" form, as opposed to Ben, who would simply "Rock on!" whenever he need to do so, without any real consequences (like killing your best friend in a moment of blood lust).  But, the central dilemma, for me, remains that I don't believe that he and the greatest minds that the Marvel Universe has to offer couldn't cure his condition.  After all, he did actually develop one, so it stands to reason that he could do so again.  Sure, he wouldn't have the full resources of Horizon Labs, but, given enough time, it seems like he could do it.  As such, it seems clear that his title is going to be dedicated to finding new and creative ways to make sure that he doesn't accomplish his goal and, frankly, I'm just not really all that interested in that sort of story.  Onto issue #700!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Earth 2 #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't think that it's an exaggeration to say that this series is my favorite one on the market right now. Reading this issue, it's pretty easy to see why.  Robinson makes you forget that you're reading a comic; it feels more like you're watching a movie.  If I had to point to a reason, it would be his excellent character work and his well executed dialogue.  After only eight issues, you get the sense that you really know the characters involved.  You have a sense of their motivations and you have an ear for their voice.  As such, you know that Alan is going to be haughty or Khan crafty or Sloan arrogant.  The dialogue doesn't feel like it's just moving along a narrative, but that the narrative is flowing from the dialogue.  It's pretty remarkable and Robinson achieves it month after month.

With the first major threat defeated, Robinson takes a moment here and spends some time developing the characters.  In a medium where dead fianc├ęs are usually forgotten by the next issue, I think Robinson is doing great stuff with Alan, showing him really morning the loss of Sam. As Kendra herself says, we get to see Alan actually appear human, seeing a guy used to being totally in control struggle with not being even remotely in control.  Along those lines, I like the fact that Robinson is having Alan resist joining Jay and Kendra.  Usually, when you put three superheroes in a room together, they can't help but form a team, even if it doesn't make any sense.  (Paging the Champions.)  But, Alan not wanting to be a team player fits with the personality that Robinson has created for him; in fact, it would be a little odd if he wanted to join.

But, surprisingly, Alan and Kendra's conversation isn't the most interesting.  Robinson reminds us that this title is not "Justice Society," but "Earth 2," spending a lot of time on the "chess game" that Khan is playing with Sloan.  Given that Khan seemed to get a win here (and Sloan is a smart enough guy to know it), I'm sure that Sloan is planning something to regain the lead.  Also, I have to mention that the Sandmen were effing awesome.  In looking on the Internet, I remembered that they had previously appeared in issue #5, but I can't say that they made the same impression on me then as they did in this issue.  I can't wait to see more of them as Khan tries to destabilize Sloan.

Moreover, the World Army plot really helps flesh out some of the dynamics of Earth 2 itself, who holds power, who wants power, etc.  By giving you these glimpses, it reminds the reader of how little we know about Earth 2 and makes you excited about finding out more.  It also reminds you that this series isn't just going to be about slugfests.  A lot of authors introduce these elements of intrigue into their titles but then get bored with them or can't make them work.  (Look how quickly Project:  Rebirth got ditched in "Venom.")  Robinson seems committed to it, though, and it definitely makes the series a better comic for it.

Moreover, Yildiray Cinar did a great job on this issue.  The editors did amazing work picking him, since he matches Nicola Scott's style closely.  The Sandmen's fight with Mr. Terrific was one of the best first scenes that I've seen in ages.  Plus, he draws a damn fine Alan Scott!

Awesome, awesome stuff.  If only the rest of the DCnU was half as good.

Iron Man #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

When I picked up my stack of comics at the comic-book shop, they accidentally hadn't included issue #4.  I was planning on grabbing it when I was in there this coming Wednesday, but I'm thinking that I might just consider it a sign.

I'm just not really sure I know where Gillen is going with Tony.  Not knowing a lot about Tony beyond his Avengers appearance, he seems a lot more angst-ridden here than he usually does.  Maybe it's because I'm not a long-time reader, but, for example, his remorse over building weapons in his 20s seems an odd thing for him to mention repeatedly in this issue.  Does he usually mention it as often?  I'm not sure if Gillen is trying to inform new readers of part of Tony's history or if he's decided to make Tony feel more guilty about it than he usually does, but, either way, it didn't really work for me.  It just felt like something with which Tony Stark has probably made his peace at this point in his life.  I'm not saying that he doesn't think about it from time to time, but it seems doubtful to me that it's as present on his mind as it is here.  Moreover, speaking of his mental space, it also seems weird to me that he keeps blaming the users of Extremis for Maya's death.  After all, I'm pretty sure none of them were directly involved.  (Come to think of it, I'm not sure if we've been told who's directly involved.)  I mean, I get that Tony's not going to be super thrilled to be helping a Colombia narco-trafficker, but he seems angry at him in part for Maya's death, despite the fact that he wasn't involved.

I'm also increasingly thinking that Piper's right about the new armor.  Tony's been around the block a few times.  Was he really so arrogant that he thought that he would be able to waltz onto the compound so unnoticed that he wouldn't need armor, repulsors, or shields?  Really?  I get where Gillen is going with the idea of sacrificing convenience for power, but it seems like a shtick that's going to get old quickly, when Tony always conveniently doesn't have the one power that he should have to fight the surprise villain.

So, I think I'm going to stop here.  At $3.99 a month, my budget could use the savings for "Young Avengers," which I'm much more excited to get.  But, of course, it's not like I'm not going to see Tony three or four times a month in the various Avengers titles, so I feel like we'll be OK.

X-Factor #248 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Huh.  I had some problems with this issue because I honestly couldn't remember the battle in Kansas that seems to have set up the conflict in this issue.  But, apparently, Shatterstar killed a demon in Kansas, whose sister is Vera, who shot Pip in issue #246.  I'm not really sure though if Vera and her fellow demons, called the Warders, are going after X-Factor just for killing her sister or if they were planning on ending the world anyway (apparently their job) and figured that they might as well take out X-Factor first.  The taxi-driver demon seems to imply the latter.  But, I don't think that the Warders are connected to the other threats out there, like the Isolationist or whoever killed the X-Ceptionals in Seattle.  It's all a little confusing, honestly.  Also, it wasn't help by some truly bad art that it made difficult to tell what the characters were doing.  It was all a rare miss for this series, to be honest.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hawkeye #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Huh.

OK, I was pretty sure that Hawkeye didn't kill that guy.  Though, Fraction certainly adds to the mystery of Clint when he has him admit to Kate that he has killed someone before.  I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only person wondering who he killed.  After all, if he killed said person before he and Mockingbird had the fight that ended their relationship (the first time) in "Avengers West Coast," I sort of feel like he has some explaining to do.  (Though, to be fair, I'm pretty sure that he was more outraged that she killed while an Avenger than that she killed, period.  So, if he killed someone before he became an Avenger -- a possibility given the fact that he was a criminal -- I guess he wins on a technicality.)  Anyway, the point is that it was pretty clear, to me at least, that he didn't kill that dude.

The real drama, of course, was the story behind the scene on the tape.  Here, we learn that it was all staged as part of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s attempt to identify a mole.  S.H.I.E.L.D. made three tapes -- one each with Captain America, Hawkeye, and Wolverine -- and made them "surreptitiously available" to the moles; it just so happened that the actual mole happened to be the one with Hawkeye's tape.  I'm good with that part.

The part with which I'm, well, "less good" is that Fraction seems to have misrepresented the situation last issue to build the drama.  Re-reading that issue, Hawkeye is extremely concerned about the leaking of the tape.  Now, fair enough, he can still be concerned that his tape was the one that got leaked since, after all, he was now going to be the one on the hook to go retrieve it.  However, in re-reading the exchange, Clint isn't just concerned; he clearly believes that no possibility existed for the tape to be leaked.  He says, "I thought the whole thing was that that couldn't happen.  You guys promised, in fact."  As such, I'm not sure what the point of creating the decoy tapes was, if it wasn't for them to be leaked.  How did S.H.I.E.L.D. plan on using the tape?  Did it plan on enticing the mole to steal it but thought that it could stop the mole before s/he managed to get it on the black market?  I'm assuming that's the case, but Fraction doesn't say that.  As such, I'm left wondering why everyone was so insistent in issue #4 that the tape hadn't been intended to be leaked when the whole point of the tape in this issue seemed to be that it would be leaked.

This inconsistency -- at least as I understand it -- really threw off this whole issue for me.  Although I enjoyed Clint and Kate's interaction as always and I particularly enjoyed Kate making an enemy of Madame Masque, I felt like the bait-and-switch at the end (or, at least, my reading of it as one) left me frustrated.  Given how much I love this series, it was a bit of a disappointment.  But, onwards and upwards!

(UPDATE:  OK, I re-read these two issues, because I'm that obsessed, and I've come to the conclusion that S.H.I.E.L.D. did think that it could stop the mole from leaking the tape before s/he could do so.  In other words, Clint was panicked last issue, because he thought that the tape would never actually get leaked.  But, re-reading these issues raised another problem.  Last issue, I discussed the possibility that Clint knew that Kate was Madame Masque, since it didn't make a lot of sense that he would tell her about the credit card.  But, here, we learn that he didn't know.  As such, why would he tell her that he had the government's black American Express card?  I figured out the part about Madame Masque thinking that she'd save millions of dollars by killing Clint, since, after all, Clint had the full resources of the U.S. Government at his disposal and could run up the price.  But, now, the only reason that I could suggest for Clint telling Madame Masque about the card is that she'd want to use it and that might keep him alive a little longer.  Of course, I'm not exactly sure why it would.  Would he have to sign the receipt?  Anyway, I'm just going to go with that explanation.  As I said, I liked this arc, mainly for the shocker at the end of last issue, but Fraction probably needs to tighten up some stuff if he's going to tell these sorts of espionage stories.  I get that we're not going to know everything, but I'd at least like to know what the main characters are doing.)

Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, Hickman throws A LOT at us in this issue, so I'm going to do my best to try to untangle it all.  To be honest, I kept having to re-read sections to make sure I got everything, since it was pretty densely scripted.  I'm not saying that it's a good or bad thing, yet.  I've never read anything by Hickman, so I'm not really sure if it's his style or if he's just trying to set up the story as quickly as he can.  I guess we'll see.

The overarching premise of the series appears to be that Steve and Tony realized that a threat was looming on the horizon and that it would hit them so hard and fast that they wouldn't be prepared for it.  Hickman wasn't saying that they anticipated Ex Nihilo, exactly, but more that they anticipated someone like Ex Nihlo.  To defend against their eventuality, they created a roster to be activated when the need arose.  Given the easy defeat of the Avengers on Mars by Ex Nihlo and his crew, Steve realized that the time is now and activates the team with the words, "Wake the world."

Like "All-New X-Men" and "Uncanny Avengers," "Avengers" is very much a book depicting a time and a place.  "Avengers vs. X-Men" is implicitly, if not explicitly, the driving force behind Steve and Tony's realization that the threats keep getting badder and bigger.  Moreover, the roster revealed on the last page has at least three X-Men on it:  Cannonball, Sunspot, and Wolverine.  (I'm not sure who the two guys to the right of Sunspot and Wolverine were, but it's possible that they're also X-Men.)  Although it's not going to focus on the "mutant issue" like "Uncanny Avengers" does, it's clear that mutants are going to play a large part in the new roster.

However, if "Avengers vs. X-Men" provides the establishing foundation for the series, Hickman quickly builds on it.  Using the graphic design of the new Avengers logo as a guide, it appears that Hickman is implying that the core team will be Cap, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk (Bruce Banner), Iron Man, and Thor.  The good news is that this team feels more inspired by a return to basics than it does mimicking the movie's roster.  Moreover, it seems that the larger group of heroes assembled on the last page will each be assigned, if it's the right word, to a specific member of the core team.  It's an interesting idea, if I'm reading it correctly, since it definitely seems to allow for an endless number of stories.  In one arc, you could get the core team fighting a villain; in another arc, you could get Black Widow's team going undercover somewhere or Thor's team taking on a god toe-to-toe.  Moreover, beyond the X-contingent, Hickman appears to bring in some characters that we haven't seen for ages.  After all, the issue starts with Hyperion being rescued from the Squadron Supreme's universe, which we learn is dying.  How Hickman integrates all these characters into a coherent team (or set of teams) will clearly be his challenge.  He'll want to be much more Bendis on "All-New X-Men," than he will be Bendis on "Avengers and "New Avengers."

Beyond the roster and the potential (and pitfalls) that it has, the most notable aspect of this issue is that Hickman is painting in broad strokes here.  This opening arc begins with a galactic threat, a creature that feels like Thanos in terms of his power, even though I'm pretty sure that we haven't seen him previously.  It also seems to possibly serve as a harbinger for the Ultron War, given that some of the Iron Men lying destroyed in one of the opening panels have a distinctly Ultron look to them and Aleph itself has certain Ultron characteristics.  Hickman has clearly embraced the mandate to focus this title on bigger threats and I'm excited, if cautiously so, to see where he goes with it.

In the end, it's a pretty great start.  It didn't quite wow me like "All-New X-Men" #1 did, but I'm definitely excited about the new start and direction.  Plus, Cannonball!

Avenging Spider-Man #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't really think that I ever asked for a team-up arc with Devil-Dinosaur, Moon-Boy, and Spider-Man (the Hyphen Team!), but, as team-up arcs go, this one wasn't terrible.  Bunn at least had Peter realize that he couldn't exactly spring the Horizon Labs team from Brainchild's prison in the Savage Land without them putting two and two together.  Plus, the last page, of Moon-Boy playing with the dinosaur hatchlings, was pretty damn adorable.  I'm not sure it was worth $7.98, but it definitely made one miss "Marvel Team-Up."

Amazing Spider-Man #699: "Dying Wish: Outside the Box" (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Summary
On the Raft, doctors work to save Doc Ock, who went into cardiac arrest at the end of last issue.  Although one doctor questions why they're working to save the life of the guy who almost wiped life off the face of the Earth, another doctor reminds him that they've taken an oath to save everyone.  However, when they do manage to revive Otto, she then spits on him.  However, as revealed last issue, Otto isn't Otto:  he's Peter Parker.  Peter wonders how he's going to manage to free himself from the impenetrable Raft in a failing body while, in the hallway, the doctors hypothesize that he has mere hours left to live.  Peter wonders how Otto managed to switch their minds and then begins to think about all the evil that Otto could commit with his body and memories:  robbing banks, murdering Captain America, assaulting MJ, killing off Aunt May and Jay after they make him executor of their estate.  Panicked that Otto will undo the trust that Peter has worked so hard to secure, he manages to pull himself together.  He begins exploring Otto's memory for an answer to how he engineered the switch, just as Otto has explored Peter's memory.  After seeing glimpses of Otto's unhappy life (and a disturbing memory involving Aunt May), Peter discovers the truth:  every time he used the command helmet that Otto built to control his octobots, Peter allowed Otto access to his mind.  From saving New York from automation to activating the octobots during Spider-Island to using his Spider-Armor during "Ends of the Earth," Peter used the command helmet and inadvertently allowed Otto to map his mind and develop the "ultimate last-ditch survival plan."  He also discovers how Otto made the switch:  after Peter shut down his Spider-Sense during his fight with the Hobgoblins, Otto used his golden octobot to hack into Peter's brain and rewrite it with his own brain patterns.  Desperate, Peter realizes that he has control over the octobot and activates him.  However, before he can do anything, the Lizard speaks to him from the next cell, asking if he's really dying, as the doctors were discussing earlier.  Not waiting for an answer, the Lizard confesses to Otto that he's really Curt Connors stuck in the Lizard's body, a punishment that he views as fitting for his crimes.  Horrified, Peter focuses on the task at hand.

However, he soon realizes that he has few options.  He considers going to the Avengers, but dismisses the story as so unbelievable that they would be unwilling to help him, noting that he's at that moment wondering if the Lizard is lying to him.  He then plays "What Would Otto Octavius Do?" and searches Otto's memories for some sort of escape plan.  Finding one that he thinks could work, Pete directs the octobot to break into a nearby office and hijack a computer.  Initiating "Master Planner Contingency Sigma 6.0," "Otto" calls to a number of allies to help him escape prison, offering $6 million dollars for the assistance.  With the octobot exhausted, Peter is forced to wait for help.  As one of his organs fail, he begs God not to let him die this way.  However, just then, Hydro-Man breaks into the Raft.  He threatens the doctors in the common room with drowning unless they tell him where Otto is.  When one of them does, a voice asks Hydro-Man if he's pulled the "micro filament" through the drain with him.  When Hydro-Man confirms that he has, the voice instructs him to use it to create a large, upright ring.  When he does, a portal activates and the voice is revealed to be the Trapster, who arrives with Scorpion.  The three super-villains then break into Otto's cell and the Trapster introduces himself to Otto.  Pete, of course, remembers him and marvels that his life is now in the hands of "Paste-Pot Pete."

The Trapster removes Otto from his iron lung and puts him in a portable life-support system.  Pete hopes it's sufficient, given that only Otto's heart and lungs are working.  Scorpion notes that "Plan Sigma" says that they needed to break out two more villains.  When "Otto" expresses surprise that Hydro-Man and Scorpion are there, the Trapster reminds him that it's his plan, which calls for breaking out two more guys and re-forming the Sinister Six.  Hydro-Man suggests the Wizard, since he and the Trapster have worked with him before.  Meanwhile, Pete (as Otto) asks about the guards lying on the floor; Hydro-Man confirms that they're alive, but notes, "But about the other guys..."  "Otto" then demands that they leave just the four of them.  Scorpion suggests they break out Smythe and Morbius appeals to Otto to help him.  Pete tries to focus, denying both requests, but then realizes that he could use a "good man" like Connors.  However, the Lizard pretends to be a mindless beast and the Trapster leads the way from the prison.  Pete reels in horror that he brought super-villains into the fight and almost released the Lizard.  He reminds himself that he shouldn't be a part of this plan, since he's Spider-Man.  When Scorpion says that he and Hydro-Man will "clean up," meaning kill some guards, "Otto" forces them to leave, arguing that he doesn't have much time.  Inside Otto, Pete realizes that he shouldn't be risking other lives to save his own life.  He realizes that he needs a plan that will capture these bad guys and get back his body, so he sends the trio to get Spider-Man, alive.

The Review
OK, as JT and X promised, I got some answers in this issue and, as a result, I will say that I'm a lot happier than I was after last issue.  Although I still see some (many, really) flaws in his explanation of how Otto switched minds with Peter, Slott at least made a significant effort to give us one.  Moreover, he didn't just have Otto exposit the story, but had Peter discover it using his own wits.  This unique approach to exposition made me appreciate Slott's usual care in crafting a story and made me ease up a little on the criticism.  We'll see how long it lasts.  :)

The Really Good
Overall, I'd say that the best part of this arc so far is Slott using it to create a real existential dilemma, really getting to the core of who Spider-Man is.  After all, Peter is in this situation because he didn't let Doc Ock die at the end of "Ends of the Earth."  Had he let Otto die, he wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.  But, it's pretty easy to behave ethically when you don't really have much to lose; it's not like Otto seemed like that much of a threat at the end of "Ends of the Earth."  But, here, Peter faces a much more dire situation and, as such, resorts to a more drastic solution, using super-villains to help him escape the Raft and, possibly, his predicament.  How Peter manages to lead the Sinister Four in a way that doesn't compromise his integrity and allows him to regain his identity is clearly going to be the driving force of the next two issues.  Slott was smart to use this approach, since it's no longer just about Otto's victory lap or a two-sided slugfest.  Instead, Slott puts Peter's entire belief system on the line, forcing him to decide if his life will still be worth something if he sacrifices his morals to get it.  Color me impressed.

The Unknown
Slott has Peter give a pretty realistic overview of the possible crimes that Otto could commit as Spider-Man, from using Avengers security codes to kill an unsuspecting Cap to using his powers to enrich himself.  It, of course, raises the question why Otto hasn't already started doing those things.  After all, in issue #687, he was aspiring to be more disastrous than Genghis Khan, Hitler, or Pol Pot.  Clearly, he didn't steal Peter's body because he decided that he wanted to be a superhero.  But, we haven't seen enough of Otto-Man (Spider-Otto?) yet to know his grand plan, so I'm anxious to see where Slott goes with it.

The Bad
1) Although I'm emotionally satisfied with Slott's explanation for how Otto switched minds with Peter, I'm not sure that I'm technically satisfied, if you will.  I mean, I get that, each time Spidey used the command helmet, he gave Otto access to his mind.  However, would Otto simply rewriting his brain patterns over Peter's really give him the sort of access that he has?  I get that he would access Peter's body, but would he really access his memories?  Wouldn't they have been overwritten by Otto's brain pattern?  Moreover, if Otto's brain patterns control the octobot, why would Peter be able to control it?  Wouldn't control still be in Otto's hands, so to speak, even if he were in Peter's body?  Plus, why would Otto bother to put Peter's mind in his body?  Why not overwrite his brain entirely and not allow for the chance that Peter would save himself?  Was it just to force him to understand his genius?  Plus, if all Otto did was switch brain patterns, then why couldn't the Avengers help Peter?  Sure, it's somewhat unbelievable.  But, if it's really a matter of brain patterns, wouldn't someone like Iron Man or Reed Richards be able to take a look and confirm that the switch happened?  Presumably one of them has at least Peter's brain pattern on file, if not Otto's?  It seems worth a shot, since, after all, his life is on the line.  I'm not really sure that Slott could resolve this dilemma any other way than he did, by having Peter dismiss it as too unbelievable, but I felt like it was the clear flaw in an otherwise mostly solid story.  It's almost like the original sin of this whole new origin story.

2) Slott made the Raft look like a minimum-security, country-club prison.  First, I'm not entirely convinced that the builders of the Raft would allow neighboring super-villains to talk to one another through the walls.  Second, if you're building a super-villain prison, you probably find a way to keep a fairly prominent super-villain like Hydro-Man from invading.  After all, we saw that Reed Richards locked out the Frightful Four from the Baxter Building in issue #660.  You'd think that, if he could lock the Sandman from the Baxter Building, he could've helped the Raft lock out Hydro-Man, particularly, you know, since it's A RAFT ON WATER.

All-New X-Men #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I think I forgot to breathe for the first few pages.

First, we get confirmation, right on the first page, that Cyclops is looking to build his own school.  In issue #1, I was unclear what exactly he was planning.  In "AVX: Consequences," he sounded like he was talking about the Jean Grey School when telling Jake about a place where he could go to learn how to use his powers.  As such, it almost seemed liked he was going to drop off the new mutants that he rescued on Wolverine's doorstep in the middle of the night.  But, here, it's clear that he was talking about Xavier's School, which, to his mind, no longer exists.  To remedy that, he's decided to create the New Xavier School in the old Weapon X facility since he (probably correctly) assumed no one will look for a bunch of mutants there.  (Also, it's certainly a nice dig at Wolverine, when he eventually discovers them.)  It's a clever move on Bendis' part, since it keeps with the status quo established by "X-Men:  Schism:"  Wolverine will educate young mutants the way that he sees fit and, now, once again, so will Scott.  Of course, it also shows how deeply Scott believes that the Phoenix Force, and not he, was responsible for his actions in "Avengers vs. X-Men," since it takes a lot of chutzpah to name a school after someone you killed.

After that page, we get a dizzying sequence of moments that completely change what we thought that we knew.  Immonen really conveys the confusion that Cyclops and Magneto feel about their haywire powers.  I actually felt Magneto's fear as he realized that he couldn't stop the helicopter's machine gun as well as Scott's panic as his worst nightmares were realized and he lost any semblance of control over his powers, even with his visor.  I'm intrigued to see where Bendis goes with the revelation that it was their exposure to the Phoenix Force that changed Emma, Magneto, and Scott's powers.  (I'm also going to have to re-read the first issue to see if they actually use their powers or not.)  At any rate, I definitely dig the twist.  We're not just adjusting to Scott as the leader of a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the headmaster of this era's Massachusetts Academy, but also to the fact that he and his allies aren't the same as they used to be.

Surprisingly for Bendis, who isn't necessarily known for his ability to work a character on multiple levels, he successfully uses the Brotherhood's altered powers as a metaphor for other changes wrought by the Phoenix Force.  Magneto has resumed killing people, as he does here, killing two guards trying to stop them.  Emma seems truly distraught over the destruction of Utopia and the death of Xavier and she's clearly reeling at finding herself on the "bad guy" side of the ledge once again.  But, as mentioned previously, Scott is desperately clinging to the hope that the Phoenix Force was responsible for his actions, despite Magneto's insistence that, for all the moments of madness and rage that drove him to do things that he regrets, he was always in control of his actions.  I thought Bendis was at his best in this scene.  Magneto finally felt powerful again and Bendis made it clear that Scott is not going to rule this team unquestioned.  He may have commanded Magneto's respect before "Avengers vs. X-Men," but, as we saw throughout this issue, things have changed.

In the end, between the revelation of the lost (or, at least, misfiring) powers and the creation of the New Xavier School, Bendis shows that this series isn't just going to be a war between Scott's side and Logan's side.  Instead, it's two groups of people trying to figure out where they stand after a pretty horrific series of events.  In other words, "Avengers vs. X-Men" is very much present in this series.  It's not just going to be the slugfest that the X-Men have been in the past, but a view into how the two sides of this story are going to handle the physical and mental changes that came from the events that got them here.  Great stuff.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Aquaman #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have never read "Aquaman."  Despite reading comics for 30 years, honest to God, I have two issues of Aquaman, both of which I'm pretty sure I got as part of the comic-book pack that used to be sold in J.C. Penney's Christmas catalogue.  As such, I don't know if Aquaman had a brother in the DCU or if Black Manta has always been a treasure hunter.  But, I have to say that I'm sufficiently intrigued by both these characters that I realize now why so many people have been raving about this title.  "Throne of Atlantis," I am ready!

Venom #27.1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, as I expected, this issue is really my last issue of "Venom."  At the end of the day, I just can't really take the constant pity party.  Sure, Flash had some dark times.  Sure, he was a teenage bully.  But, OMFG, he just needs to get over it.  Of course, the whole point of this issue is exactly that.  I'll hand it to Bunn that he, too, realized that Flash needs to get over his past.  However, unfortunately, Bunn goes about getting Flash to realize that in a pretty ham-fisted way.

I'm not really quite sure where he was going with having the gay kid that Flash bullied in high school call him.  Bunn never really makes it clear why A.J. would want to do so.  Was he going to berate Flash, hoping that he had changed enough to let him berate him (and not hit him), but didn't because he was such a sob story?  We don't know.  Instead, this incident only serves to tee up the conversation that Flash has with Peter at the end of this issue, where Pete basically tells Flash what millions of bullied kids around the world know:  at some point, your life gets better and you move past the bullying.  Flash is clearly inspired by those words to start the same process in his life and, for Flash's sake, I hope he succeeds.  But, for me?  I'm not going to be there.

Bunn's failure to explain why A.J. wanted to contact Flash is representative of my problem with this series throughout its run.  Characters are often simply vehicles for the high-minded concepts that the author is trying to push through the book, a way to set the stage for whatever terrible event Flash is imminently poised to suffer.  I'm just not all that interested in that.  Plus, I'm really not a demons guy. It's the same problem I have with "Red Hood and the Outlaws:"  I expected a lot of espionage and gunfire, but got demons and spells.  So, good-bye, "Venom," and good luck, Flash, since, clearly, you're going to need it.

All-New X-Men #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I thought that Kitty calling Bobby "sweetie" was (obviously) going to be my favorite part of this issue.

I was wrong.

Honestly, I loved this issue.  Bendis somehow manages to script the original X-Men's reactions to the present's realities exactly the way that I'd expect them to be, from Scott wondering how everything went so wrong to Jean snarking about discovering that she's dead and dating a homicidal mutant terrorist to Bobby and Warren talking about how nice future TVs are.  I also thought that Bendis did a marvelous job of showing how difficult of a time Beast was having facing his past, from seeing Jean again to contemplating how close he and Scott once were.  Bendis also accomplishes the key goal of this issue, making you believe that the original X-Men would be sufficiently intrigued by Beast's words to come to the present, if only to prove him to be a liar.  ("So we understand each other, if this is a trap I blow off your head.")  Plus, original Bobby and present Bobby's reactions upon seeing one another?  Classic.

At the end of the day, the reason that I loved this issue is because Bendis portrays the original X-Men as a team, something that they haven't been in a long time.  One of my main complaints with the X-titles over the last few years is that they've rarely felt like team books.  Be it "Uncanny X-Men" or "Wolverine and the X-Men" or "X-Men" or "X-Men Legacy," these books have been filled with interchangeable rosters that dedicate little time to character development.  Everyone has been reduced to a caricature of their character while the main purpose has been to see how the various authors can top the last crisis.  We've lost the sense of the X-Men as a close group of powerful friends with a guiding mission and I've often found myself waxing poetic about the Outback days.  But, here, Bendis actually gives us a team.  You can see it after present Beast leaves the original X-Men on their own to consider his offer.  The others all go to comfort original Hank, with Bobby and Scott putting their hands on his shoulders.  They care for one another, in a way that I haven't really seen X-Men care about one another, non-romantically, in a long time.

In fact, Bendis gives us two teams, since not only do the original X-Men feel like one, but the present X-Men do, too.  From Kitty and Bobby investigating Hank's lab together to Storm asking Hank to tell her how to help him, you actually feel like these people have relationships with one another and have had these relationships for a really long time.  After all, it's kind of the point of this series, reminding us of a time when the X-Men were the X-Men and not some random group of "heroes" that accepted every mutant who walked into the Mansion off the street.

Mostly, though, I loved that Bendis really managed to give the original X-Men back their distinct personalities.  They've been the caricatures for so long that it was refreshing to remember their characters, to see them in their distilled form.  Jean marveling at her abilities ("I can read minds"), Bobby cracking jokes ("He's waaaay too boring to bring on an apocalypse"), Hank being arrogant ("Please, this is me we're talking about."):  they're their old selves again.  Plus, together, they're a handful.  I love how the former students (namely, Kitty and the second generation of X-Men) are going to have to become the present teachers.

I'm genuinely excited to see where Bendis takes us, from how present Scott responds to his original self to how the original X-Men respond to the new world (beyond marveling at the televisions).  Moreover, the art is also spectacular.  Immonen throws in a ton of great moments.  I loved how Jean learns that she can read minds and, in the next panel, you can see her with her hand to her temple totally trying to do it.  It's a sign that this car is running on all cylinders from the start and I can't wait to see where we go.

A+X #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, these issues are really just meant to be fun, so, generally, I don't think I'll be reviewing them.  I mean, the Black Widow/Rogue story was super-fun, but it's not really going to change the world.  But, I do want to comment on how much I loved the Iron Man/Kitty story.  I was of course excited when I saw that Peter David wrote it and it totally met my expectations.  I just love that Tony realized that he really wanted Kitty to come work for him.  If the post-"Avengers vs. X-Men" world means that we're finally going to see synergies that readers have always thought existed but that Marvel never explored, I am really excited to see where we go.  With every issue of "Marvel NOW!" I feel like Marvel is really creating the unified universe that it always claimed to have but never achieved due to stove-piping their titles into groups.  Exciting stuff!

Red Hood and the Outlaws #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you would've told me at the beginning of this title that the only remotely believable character in this series would be a flight attendant who accidentally wound up traveling to a different galaxy with Jason Todd on their first date, I'm pretty sure I would've just saved my money.

I have no idea why Red Hood and the Outlaws decided to attack Superman rather than listen to him.  Starfire seems to dislike him only because Tamarans weren't super fond of Kryptonians, which doesn't really seem like a reason sufficient to attack someone who could easily defeat you.  Jason spends the entire issue talking about how powerful Superman is, so it seems to make no sense that he'd actually attack the guy and think that he could somehow win.  Roy just sorta stands there.  It's not until Isabel tells everyone to stop acting like idiots that we discover why Superman's in the issue, but, by then, I can't say I really cared anymore.

Of course, to make matters worse, we forget the Superman story as quickly as it began, moving straight into the teaser for the upcoming "Death of the Family" cross-over issues.  The fact that this issue tries to bridge two other characters' storylines -- Superman's fight with Helspont and Joker's reappearance in Gotham -- shows just how much it lacks any sort of direction of its own.  It's been 14 issues and I really have no idea where it's going.

Unfortunately, Lobdell doesn't even manage to make the brief appearance by Joker work.  After all, Joker is good, but he's not so good that he would know that Jason had somehow met a flight attendant and taken her on an intergalactic first-date.  To be able to poison Isabel in the short time-frame depicted here (Jason's post-coital shower), he would've had to have know who she was, where she lived, and, most importantly, when they were returning from space.  Had it been Jason's apartment, it would've made more sense.  But, it wasn't.  It was Isabel's.  So, it made no sense, just like the rest of this series.

Nightwing #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

DeFalco continues to make amends for his "Superboy" run, giving us another "Nightwing" issue that successfully operates on several levels.

First, he reveals that Sophia Branch's connection to Lady Shiva wasn't a collegial one.  The Penguin brought in Shiva to assassinate a government official (last issue) and attempt to assassinate Branch all so that the S.E.C. would postpone a hearing that affected his business interests.  Here, DeFalco adds a tick in the "good guy" column for the mysterious Branch, since she became a target for the Penguin due to her planned testimony at the S.E.C. hearing.  DeFalco does his best work with the Penguin, though.  Lately, the Penguin has veered from emotionally unstable to irrationally incompetent across the Bat-titles, but he's a tactical genius here.  The Penguin tipped off Nightwing to Shiva's planned hit on Branch since, if Nightwing stopped her, he wouldn't have to pay Shiva's commission and, if Shiva killed Nightwing, well, he wouldn't have to deal with Nightwing.  Moreover, he didn't really need Branch dead; he knew that the attempted assassination on Branch, combined with the actual assassination of the official, would be enough to secure a postponement of the hearing.  After the erratic Penguin in "Detective Comics" #13, this Penguin was a welcome relief.

The only negative here was the somewhat odd conversation between Nightwing and Shiva while they fought.  I'm not really sure why Dick would gush over how talented Shiva was.  It felt really odd, like he was sparring with Batgirl and not an assassin trying to kill him.

However, I'm still cautiously optimistic where this title is going.  I feel like it's missing a spark and we still have weird conversations like the one that Dick had with Shiva.  But, at least we're getting more reliably good stories under DeFalco.  Hopefully, they continue.

Justice League #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I feel like it's been forever since I've read an issue of "Justice League," so this issue was actually a good re-introduction.  Johns moves the plot at a pretty brisk pace and accomplishes some real character work in the process.

We see Aquaman get the chance to lead that he's wanted and it's a successful outing, after he develops a plan that successfully traps Cheetah.  Trying to make Wonder Woman feel less bad about trusting people after it's revealed that Barbara Minerva was a serial criminal, Superman reveals some of his past to Diana, making it clear that Johns plans on addressing one of the main weaknesses of this series, the fact that the characters all felt like strangers to one another.  He's particularly found a good starting point for that process for Clark and Diana, focusing on the fact that they're both alien to the human world as a place to build common ground.

I only had two real quibbles with this story.  First, it seemed weird that Barbara Minerva was allegedly some master criminal.  Do master criminals really get jobs at the Smithsonian?  I get that having that job would give her access to items that she might want to steal, but I have to question how she had the qualifications to get it in the first place.  Second, I was disappointed with the revelation that Bruce is spying on Superman and Wonder Woman as they share a moment in Smallville.  I'm not really sure where Johns is going with this approach.  We know that Bruce isn't a bad guy, so I'm not sure how much mileage he's going to be able to get from the idea of him manipulating everyone behind the scenes like he's Scott Summers.  I prefer Bruce more as a confident leader than a Machiavellian prick.

Beyond the character work, Johns also finally begins to move the series beyond just the isolated arcs that we've so far had by creating a looming threat, implying that the Legion of Doom is forming around the Justice League.  Cheetah uses some sort of communication device to confirm to someone that she's in Belle Reve, implying that she manipulated events to be placed there.  She then confirms that she's waiting for Black Manta, which seems to connect nicely to the upcoming "Throne of Atlantis" cross-over event.  I actually hadn't noticed how isolated the arcs have been until this reveal.  A lot of the other other authors of the "New 52" books almost immediately introduced a lurking threat that they have yet to spring on their characters.  Johns hasn't and I'm realized that it may be why this book hasn't really clicked.  In the DCU, almost every character had decades of history, which meant that they had all sorts of archenemies who might appear at any moment.  It's this sort of unpredictability that creates the tension that you need to keep readers reading from month to month.  "Justice League" has lacked that, but, with the possibility of the Legion of Doom appearing at any moment, I can say that I'm a lot more interested in this title than I've been.

The Shazam story continues to be interesting, though, I have to say, I think it's time for every comic-book author to agree to put the Occupy movement behind them.  Seriously.  I get that Johns uses it here to get us to question whether Black Adam really is a bad guy, since he's concerned with "freeing" the "slaves" from the "pharaoh."  But, it still made me roll my eyes.  I'm also not sure why the Sins would be Black Adam's enemies, since it's not like they're Shazam's allies.  I guess we'll see.  It's also probably time for something to happen, because seeing Billy and Freddy spending money really can only be entertaining for so long.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Catwoman #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, these Catwoman issues just don't make a lick of sense.  The whole point of Joker's chess-piece game last issue seems to have been to prove that Catwoman was a hero, not a villain.  But, I'm not really sure why he needed to prove that?  Was it to prod Selina to accept what I think his offer is, to break Batman's heart?  By chastising her for coming too much like him, hoping that she'd be eager to prove that she was really a villain?  If so, despite claiming throughout the issue that his little black-book tells him everything that he needs to know about Selina, Joker clearly doesn't know her at all.  Of course, most of this issue has little to do with Joker trying to get Selina to join him in breaking up the Bat-family and instead feels like a bad "Saw" movie as he invents new ways to torture her.  It's all a little too "women in refrigerators" for my taste.  I'm just glad I don't have to read this title anymore.

X-Factor #247 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not quite sure what to make of this issue.  I mean, even for "X-Factor," having Jamie Madrox fight a resurrected Robert E. Lee to prevent him from killing Civil-War reenactors is a different type of story.

First, David does a great job fueling the story with a certain paranoia from the start, a paranoia born from the fact that Vanora murdered Madrox and Layla on their wedding night on the alternate world that we saw in issue #229.  David really plays up that fear when Madrox panics after hearing Layla say, "Owww!" on the phone only to reveal that she tripped over a chair.  But, it lurks throughout the issue, amping up the tension.

The rest of the issue deals with Madrox's fight with Lee, who blames mutants and their constant resurrections for weakening the boundary between life and death.  Several comics have taken up this theme over the last few years; after all, it was pretty much the whole point of "Blackest Night." David is clearly going somewhere with it, though it's not particularly clear to me where at this stage.  I'm not sure why mutants are responsible in Lee's mind, since any number of non-mutant heroes (Captain America, Iron Man, the Winter Soldier etc.) have returned from the alleged dead.  David also doesn't clarify who sent back Lee.  Moreover, it's pretty clear that Lee didn't return simply to get revenge on those people who would mock the dead, but we don't really have a sense of his motives beyond that.  But, given the "To Be Continued," banner at the end of the issue and the teaser image for next issue, it seems that we'll have plenty chance for David to reveal everything.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how hilarious I thought it was that David gave us an insight into Madrox and Layla's sex life.  Built-in threesome!  Marvel really does let him do whatever he wants and I have to applaud them for that.

Wolverine and the X-Men #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I am not, as you know if you've been reading this blog for a while, a fan of the Kiddie Hellfire Club.  Obviously, if you've been reading comics for a long time, you get used to not liking a certain villain or groups of villains.  I can't say that I've ever particularly been fond of the Acolytes, who always seemed an amorphous group of crazies than a serious threat to the X-Men, whereas I always enjoyed appearances by the Marauders or the Reavers, who brought a terrifying sense of unpredictability to their appearances.  The problem with the Kiddie Hellfire Club, though, is that Aaron refuses to let them go.  I could handle not liking the Acolytes because they only appeared for a few issues every 30 or 40 issues.  The Kiddie Hellfire Club, unfortunately, appears constantly, to the point where this title should really be named, "Wolverine and the Kiddie Hellfire Club."

The good news is that Aaron manages to use them to provide at least a decent story in this issue.  First, although it's unclear what Kade wants with Idie exactly or why she has to join the Hellfire Club of her own accord, we're really only dealing with Kiddie Frankenstein in this issue and not the whole roster of annoyingly insane children.  Second, I totally believe that Frankenstein's Monster is combing the world to eradicate every last descendant of Frankenstein.  I mean, wouldn't you?  The fact that Kiddie Frankenstein has taken up residence in Salem Center to stalk Idie creates a plausible reason for why Frankenstein's Monster and his circus suddenly appear in town.  Aaron makes the circus intriguing in its own right, since it's purpose is to harvest souls for Frankenstein's Monster to sell to Hell in exchange for staying alive.  Seriously.  Of course, the X-Men make it easier for the Monster to do so, given that their powers lend themselves to circus feats that help bring in more "customers" than the circus usually pulls.  I thought this part could've veered into cheesy, but Gillen kept it on this side of clever.  Overall, it was a pretty tight story, even if it involved a character (Kiddie Frankenstein) that I'd really love never to see again.

The best part of this issue, though, is that it sets up a pretty good storyline for the kids in the next issue.  For most of this series, they've pretty much just milled around the School.  But, with the professors incapacitated, we might actually get to see them do something.

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

At the end of this story, I have to say, I'm not really sure the story that Bunn and Yost wanted to tell.  We really got two stories, a Carnage story in issues #1 and #5 and a Microverse story in issues #2-#4.  In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure why they needed to be told together.

As I worried, we never really get to the bottom of the dispute between Marquis Radu and the Redeemer.  If this mini-series were a teenage comedy, the Microverse appears to have played the role of the obnoxious blond cheerleader dating the football-team captain; once he realizes that he's in love with the nerdy poor girl, she's quickly forgotten.  It's unfortunate, because I was really interested in the intrigue that Bunn and Yost had carefully crafted between Radu and the Redeemer.  If this mini-series was intended to serve as little more for an advertisement for a new "Micronauts" series, I would understand why we were left in a lurch.  Since it isn't, it simply feels sloppy.

In the end, the fact that the Microverse is so easily forgotten makes you wonder why this mini-series wasn't just a two-issue cross-over event between "Scarlet Spider" and "Venom."  Nothing about the resolution required the journey into the Microverse.  We instead could've just gotten Venom following Carnage to Houston in issue #1 and then joining forces with Kaine to stop him in issue #2, which is essentially what happens in the first and last issue of this mini-series.  But, even if it were just the second of a two-issue cross-over event, I think I'd still be disappointed in this issue.  Are we supposed to believe that Kaine accidentally failed to kill Cletus or are we supposed to believe that he just intending to lobotomize him?  It makes a big difference, honestly, and I don't understand why it was left so unclear?

In the end, I'm disappointed in this whole affair.  I'm also pretty sure that I'm done with "Venom" and I'm pretty glad to see us return to the regularly scheduled programming in "Scarlet Spider."  This cross-over event had potential, but, unfortunately, I just don't think it met it.

Iron Man #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was...bored.  There, I said it.  I was bored!

I'm new to "Iron Man," so maybe it's just growing pains.  However, I found the technobabble to be an incredible drain on the story.  Somewhere, under all the discussion of "G-Tolerance" and the "standard kinetic blast" just being a "redeployed thruster," you lose sight of the plot.  It's unfortunate, because this story had potential.  Arthur is enigmatic, but Gillen never really gives us a sense of his motives.  Why does he want to create a modern Knights of the Round Table?  For good or for evil?  It's unclear and we're forced to dismiss him, as Tony does, as a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac.  Meredith is also interesting, but Tony defeats her so easily that it's hard to believe that she's as brilliant as she thinks she is.  Moreover, Gillen leaves unclear the connection that Arthur had to Maya Hansen's death.  Tony seems fairly convinced of it, but I'm not sure why.  Is he part of this consortium that possibly killed her to steal the Extremis virus?

I'm definitely going to give this series the full five-issue introductory arc before I make any decisions, but, if I had to guess, I'm not seeing me making it to issue #6.

Captain Marvel #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, clearly, at some point, DeConnick was going to have to have Carol have a chat with Monica Rambeau, the other (other) Captain Marvel.  She makes a good call having that conversation occur earlier in the run, serving as part of Carol's official whistle-stop coming-out tour.  DeConnick brings something to dialogue that I still can't quite name, structuring conversations in a way that doesn't make them really read like typical comic-book conversations.  She tends to avoid the more emotional extremes -- threats or gushing-- and Carol and Monica's conversation is a great example of that.  It proves to be tense yet still professional.  They don't feel like friends exactly, but more like colleagues who respect one another.  After all, Monica essentially calls Carol on the carpet for her lack of professional courtesy in not calling her before announcing that she was taking on the moniker.  Other authors might've turned it into a cat fight, but DeConnick avoids that trap by injecting the conversation with humor and wit, from Carol teasing Monica when she discovered that she had a Google Alert attached to her former codename to their conversation about their previous multitude of codenames.  Again, no one hugs, but no one hits either.  It's like comics for grown-ups, by grown-ups, about grown-ups.  Actually, maybe it's exactly the approach that provides that unidentified "something" that I mentioned that I feel DeConnick brings to conversations.

Of course, these conversations all help fuel the plot.  Monica has asked Carol to help investigate a series of ships that disappeared off New Orleans, fearing to go into the water not only because of the unpredictable effects that the water has on her powers but also the PTSD she suffers from her fight with Leviathan in "Avengers" #293.  DeConnick's appreciation for the past goes beyond just Monica's troubles, bringing in Frank Gianelli, a former colleague from Carol's days at "Woman" magazine, to serve as this arc's dude in distress.  Gianelli agrees to photograph the ships if Carol agrees to check out the levees that he feels are unsound.  The exploration, of course, goes poorly, but we get to see Carol and Monica strut their stuff, with Monica creating small light globes to light Carol's way as she tries to save Frank from a sudden whirlpool.  (The "Captain Whiz Bang" and "Captain Lite Brite" jokes were, I have to say, pretty damn funny.  It feels a little forced, but, still, I'd rather forced comedy that works than forced comedy that doesn't.)

My only criticism of this issue is the fact that Frank seems a weird agent for arguing about the levees.  He appears to be an investigative photographer, if such a thing exists, so I'm not exactly sure what he wants to happen.  How is he going to get photos of unsound levees?  It's not like they show wear on the outside.  To be honest, even if he had been an investigative reporter, I'm still not sure it would've worked.  He just happens upon the two Captain Marvels and demands that they check out levees immediately, as if they're going to burst any second?  Conversely, it seems weird that Monica blows off his concerns so easily, even if she's right that she's not in the business of fixing levees.  As Frank himself says, it seemed a little short-sighted on her part to focus only on her family business, since, if the levees break, her family won't even have a home.

But, in the end, I still find myself more willing to look past this sort of problem than I am in other series.  Something about DeConnick's style appeals to me, even if it occasionally presents a plot that's a little difficult to follow or a character that seems a little unbelievable.  I'm honestly excited about seeing Carol go toe-to-toe with the giant robot, so I'm going to consider this issue a win.

Amazing Spider-Man #698: "Dying Wish Prelude: Day in the Life" (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Getting close is not a good idea, sir!"  "Quiet!"  "This here?  It's the part of the movie where that guy pops up and eats your face."  -- Guard #1 to Guard #2 as he's leaning into Doc Ock, showing that Guard #1 would probably last the longest in a horror movie

Summary
At the Raft, armed guards respond to an alert in Cell Block 6.  They confirm that Spider-Slayer, Morbius, and Lizard are all secured, leading them to Doc Ock's cell.  Doctors in his cell confirmed that they set off the alarms since, despite assuming that he only has a few hours left of life and after weeks of no activity, Doc Ock suddenly started saying something.  One guard wonders how dangerous Doc Ock could be from his deathbed, but another notes that they're talking about the guy who took over New York City's machines with his mind and almost fried the entire planet.  He leans over Otto to hear what he's saying and Otto manages to mumble, "Peter Parker."  Elsewhere, the golden octobot repeats these words as Spider-Man swings through the city.  Rhapsodizing about how great it is to be enjoying the moment after the difficult events of the last few weeks, he's interrupted by a cry for a help.  "Destructor" has robbed a Korean grocery-store and Spidey makes quick work of him.  A cop later explains that he's a "bluffer," a crook with no powers who pretends to be a super-villain to avoid the harsher sentences that come with holding up stores with toy guns.  She asks Spidey to file some paperwork at the station, but he refuses, declaring that he can't because he has a life.  Entering his apartment, he contemplates how well his life is going, noting his "high-end apartment" and "boyish good looks."  He then checks his messages, and, upon hearing a message from MJ, wonders why they aren't together, a situation that he intends to rectify immediately.  He also gets a message from Jay reminding him to visit Aunt May in the hospital and one from Max Modell reminding him of his evaluation.  He meets with Max and pledges that his previous inventions were mere "trifles.'  He then works in his lab, marveling at the simplicity of his design for his Web-Fluid, particularly since he invented it as a sophomore in high school.  Lamenting that it was his last real invention until he came to Horizon Labs, he pledged not to lose a single moment to "stagnation" and live to his full potential as a man of science and as a man.

Making good on his pledge, Pete meets MJ at her club and tells her that they're supposed to be together.  MJ expresses shock when he suggests they go somewhere just the two of them, telling him that she promised to go to see Aunt May at the hospital.  Peter agrees to accompany her, winking at two women while MJ gets her coat.  At the hospital, May works on using her cane and Jay expresses appreciation to MJ and Peter for being there for her first steps since the accident.  Pete again tries to talk to MJ, but she demurs, reminding him that they're there for his aunt.  Then, his Avengers I.D. card rings, telling him that he's needed at the Raft.  He tells Jay that he has to go to a work emergency and Jay expresses frustration, saying that his family needs him there.  Pete is set to argue with Jay, but MJ steps into the fight, covering for him.  Spider-Man heads to the Raft, marveling at the fact that he's an Avenger.  He's greeted by Cap, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine and Cap informs him that Doctor Octopus is asking for Peter Parker.  The Avengers escort him to Otto's cell, but Spidey asks to keep the discussion private and requests that they turn off the cameras.  Otto asserts that he's Peter and Peter, revealing that he's actually Otto controlling Peter's body, tells him that he's now Spider-man.  He has all Peter's memories and "everything that comes with it."  Otto/Peter tells Peter/Otto that he's now trapped in his body, broken after years of his brutal beatings.  He pledges not to reveal the secret of how he engineered the switch and Peter/Otto enters into cardiac arrest.  The Raft staff try to revive him as Spidey leaves with the Avengers.

The Review
First things first:  I knew that Doc Ock became Spider-Man going into this issue.  Since this issue was released the second week in November and I'm reading it in the third week of January, it was hard to avoid spoilers for that long.  As a result, it's difficult for me to review this issue, since so much of it depends on the reader being dropped in media res and wondering why Peter suddenly became such an overconfident prick.  However, even if you didn't know that going into the issue, you know it by the end of it, meaning that any review has to take that reveal into account.  Essentially, the spoiler just saved me from having to re-read the issue.

Unfortunately, either way, I'm not a fan of this issue.  I'm going to try to save my comments on Otto-becoming-Peter until the end of the arc, but, putting aside my feelings on that change, I feel that Slott makes some fairly sloppy mistakes in this issues.  These missteps make it difficult to buy the transfer.  He still has three issues to sell me on it, so fingers crossed, because he didn't do it here.

The Bad
1) Pete's narration makes a lot more sense when you know that it's Otto exulting in being Peter.  For the first part of the book, it just seems like a fairly simplistic narration, almost like one you'd hear the hero give in an animated series.  It's a little more arrogant than Peter normally is ("these boyish good looks"), but it more or less reads as if Slott is writing a Point One issue, meant to introduce new readers to Peter Parker.  Although it becomes clear that something is amiss when he meets with MJ (more on that below), Slott clearly wants us to think that Otto is actually Peter in the first part of the issue.  The problem is that, looking at it with the knowledge that it was Otto, it's difficult to believe that Otto would be thinking and sounding so much like Peter so quickly.  I think it's most notable in his banter with Destructor, because I'm really not sure that Otto would be that clever.  Otto is given to pretty cheesy denunciations of his various enemies, so it seems incongruous with his personality that he'd so easily make fun of Destructor for his ridiculous threats ("My God.  Who talks like that?").  Even if we're supposed to believe that it's Otto trying to sound like Peter, I somewhat doubt that he'd be able to pull off that mimicry so well.  As such, it feels forced.  It definitely doesn't have the impact of the "Sixth Sense" reveal that Slott clearly wanted us to feel.

2) Continuing off the above entry, it's Peter's comments about MJ and his aggressive pursuit of her that lets you know that we're off the map.  I am really, really nervous of where Slott is going with this plot.  After "Amazing Spider-Man" #603, where the Chameleon rapes Peter's roommate (though Marvel later claimed they only kissed), I think we need to establish a bright, clear line that Otto can never, ever be successful with MJ, because we immediately pass into rape.  Period.  I'm disturbed that I have to even write that sentence.  My only hope is that Peter's new aggressiveness signals to MJ that something is wrong.  Slott swears that the change between PETER and Otto is permanent, an issue I'll discuss in greater details in later reviews.  But, for now, right at the start, I want to make it clear how uncomfortable I am with this approach, if it is indeed true.

3) "I might finally get some grandchildren after all."  Sigh.  I've never been thrilled with Slott's portrayal of Aunt May but this comment takes the cake.  She never pushed MJ and Peter to get married when they were...well, married.  Right.  I forgot that part.  Maybe she was constantly pushing them to get married when they were, um, unmarried, though we just don't know that, since we never saw that part, since, you know, they were married.  God, can authors just stop fucking with Peter's life?

The Good
I usually put the Good first, but the Good here depends on the Bad above.  Despite the ease with which Otto banters with Destructor, Slott does show some growing pains on Otto's part.  Otto blows off the cop's request to fill out some paperwork and doesn't seems to get her hint that he doesn't have to hit everyone like he would the Hulk.  He also seems ready to pick a fight with Jay at the hospital, something that he'll probably have to learn he shouldn't do if he doesn't want people wondering why Peter is acting so strangely.  Both events center around his annoyance that people take him for granted, given the public service he performs as Spider-Man.  Moreover, he marvels at Pete's design for Web-Fluid and commits to using his genius to be even more productive as a scientist.  I know that Slott's whole point is that Otto is going to realize the legacy that now weighs on his shoulders as Spider-Man (and Peter Parker) and Slott does a good job laying that foundation in this issue.  (It's why he gets two stars instead of one.)

The Really Bad
Slott is going to have to tell us how Otto did it.  He is.  I mean, yes, it's a tweak on the "super-villain revealing his master plan to the hero in time for the hero to stop it" shtick, so I get that part.  But, even if he doesn't tell Peter, Slott is going to have to reveal to the reader how Otto manages to switch their minds, otherwise this whole enterprise is DOA.

The Unknown
1) It seems pretty clear that the golden octobot was somehow involved in exchanging Peter's mind for Otto's.  After all, Julia Carpenter referred to everything ending in a flash of gold back in issue #696.  However, given Otto's pledge not to reveal his secrets, I'm not sure we'll learn what role exactly the golden octobot played.

2) We also, of course, don't know how Otto discovered Peter's identity.  Did the golden octobot simply follow Spidey to his apartment?  If so, why didn't his Spider-Sense warn him?  Unlike most superheroes, Spidey has always had a reasonable explanation (again, the Spider-Sense) why no one could successfully do just that, follow him home and discover his identity?  How could the octobot do so?  It's another question that I think Slott needs to answer if I'm going to be on board with this enterprise.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spider-Man 2099 #22: "Did You Just Say...?"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Dana, Gabriel is getting dusty.  Where does he keep his damp cloths?"  -- Conchata, as she and Dana wait for the boys to exit cyberspace

Summary
In cyberspace, Gabriel reveals that he's known Miguel's identity from the very beginning, recognizing the Day of the Dead costume as Miguel passed him in the hallway while fleeing Venture (in issue #3).  Miguel realizes that he's been caught and asks Gabe if he's going to tell.  Gabe says that he won't, because it's more fun if only he knows.  Miguel tells him that nothing has been fun about being Spider-Man, given that Alchemax and Stark-Fujikawa are trying to get him and "various others have tried to kill me, cannibalize me, fry me."  When Miguel asks what sounds fun about that, Gabe responds, "Because it's happening to you, not me."  Meanwhile, in Downtown, Kasey and Raff have stolen some sort of vehicle, but they are stopped by someone wearing a S.I.E.G.E. outfit.  Kasey asks if it's another kidnapping, but the S.I.E.G.E. figure tells her that it's an invitation and introduces her to its employers, who tell her that they believe their "interests overlap."  In cyberspace, a figure riding a horse, named Duke Stratosphere, rides by Gabe's car and thanks him for saving cyberspace.  Gabe and Miguel exit, much to Conchata and Dana's relief.  Conchata demands that Gabe give up "computer stuff," but Miguel (surprisingly) defends him, saying that he was in a different place the last time that he got hooked and he can now handle dabbling.  Gabe agrees, saying that they both know that "letting an alter ego absorb your life is a bad thing."  Miguel then grabs Gabe's ear and leads him into the hallway, telling him to cut out the inside jokes or he'll tell Conchata and Dana the truth.  Gabe agrees and Miguel asks him to help fix Lyla in exchange for saving him in cyberspace.

At Alchemax, the techs inform Tyler Stone that they should be able to fix everything within the next few hours.  Stone watches people cheering for Spider-Man on a video screen, noting that he's more popular than ever.  Talking to no one in particular, he declares that the Aesir project was a failure and that it's time to move to Plan B.  Elsewhere, two gang members are flying through a crowd, firing weapons, feeling free to do so given that the Public Eye hasn't fully recovered since Discord took down cyberspace.  "Waldo" fires at a bystander, but Spider-Man arrives just in time to save him.  The two express shock that he's there and try to escape, but Spidey webs the back of their flybikes, causing them to crash.  Later, at Miguel's apartment, Gabe arrives and notes the mess made by the security drones, whose parts litter the apartment.  Miguel says that he has to clean up everything by himself, given the web residue, the fact that the Babylon Towers' owners might want to know how he managed to defeat the drones, and the fact that the drones' on-board recording systems probably have footage of him destroying them with claws and talons.  Gabe asks when Miguel's going to tell him his origin story, but Miguel demurs, putting a droid in a "particle compactor/recycler."  He confirms that he dropped off Dana at home and then changed into Spidey to make it across town quicker, given that the Public Eye still isn't fully operational.  Gabe questions whether he did it for convenience or because he enjoys it.  Miguel tells him to save it and then pushes him to fix Lyla.  Gabe suggests that scrapping her might be best, but Miguel insists on saving her.  Gabe asks why, and Miguel has a flashback to the day that he bought the apartment.  After the agent left, Xina started taking off her clothes, something apparently happening as part of a bet between the two of them.  She reveals a tattoo of Marilyn Monroe on her stomach, clearly the inspiration for Lyla.

At Stark-Fujikawa's headquarters, Hikaru-sama orders a complaining Kasey to be quiet.  He then tells her that Stark-Fujikawa believes that she has a connection to Spider-Man and would like her to help find him.  Kasey asks what happens if she doesn't and Hiraku tells her that they can use her dead or alive.  At Miguel's apartment, Gabe says that he can't revive Lyla.  Miguel pushes him, reminding him that he saved all of cyberspace.  He tells Gabe that whatever Discord did had turned Lyla into a thinking individual, providing an extraordinary research opportunity.  He also admits that he misses her.  Gabe says that he needs an expert in artificial intelligence and suggests that he goes to Xina, who Miguel apparently dumped to date Dana.

In the back-up story, a young Xina arrives and performs CPR on a young Miguel, who was drowned last issue when someone held his head underwater.  Miguel then lies when Angela appears and demands to know what happened, saying that he suffered a "cramp" in his lung.  Later, he goes to Xina's room to thank her again, but Xina wants to know who held Miguel underwater, rightfully guessing that the cramp was a lie.  She hypothesizes that it was Kron; Miguel admits someone did hold his head under water, but he can't be sure that it was Kron.  Xina wants them to go tell Angela to get Kron tossed from school, but Miguel refuses, saying that the school wouldn't expel Kron based just on suspicion and Kron would be even angrier.  She accuses him of being scared, something that he admits that he is.

The Review
After last issue's bizarre interlude, we return to the main event, Gabe revealing that he knows Miguel's identity.  But, David doesn't just stop there, throwing all sorts of intrigue our way.  Miguel's history with Xina, Stark-Fujikawa's offer to Kasey, Tyler's mention of Plan B:  the next few issues look like they're going to be rough ones for our man!

The Good
1) As more or less expected, Gabe has known since issue #3 that Miguel is Spider-Man.  I have to give credit to David for managing to drag out the reveal in a way that felt natural and somehow still suspenseful.  After all, as I mentioned a few reviews ago, Miguel has been pretty busy over the last two months since he got his powers, so it's not like they've really had time for a heart-to-heart.  Moreover, I loved how David really used their conversations about it to tease out the relationship between them.  Gabe absolutely felt like a little brother here, exulting over finally having something over his big brother.  I wonder where David is going to go from here, since this revelation certainly has the potential to make them closer and push them apart.  At any rate, it was a joy to read such great character work and learn more about both characters as a result of seeing them interact in a new way.

2) I like how David's exploring Miguel's psychology through Gabe's perspective.  Gabe raises concerns here that Miguel's losing himself in his Spider-Man persona, even suggesting that he's "addicted" to the thrill from it despite his protestations to the contrary.  I don't recall ever an author ever really discussing a character being addicted to the thrill of being a hero, since we're often just left to assume that they're doing it for purely noble purposes.  David once again innovates and amazes.

3) On a side note, a common thread running through Spidey's efforts, so far, in fighting crime has been that he generally doesn't leave the perpetrators for the police.  In the present, our Spider-Man usually webs up the criminals for the police to process.  However, Miguel doesn't, generally imposing his own penalties on the criminals.  Last issue, he made the girls try to make it home on their own without their armor or "black cards" and this issue he leaves the gang members wounded in the wreckage of their flybikes.  He's essentially judge, jury, and executioner, a reality that reminds us just how weak the rule of law is in the 2099 world.

The Unknown
1) Plan B certainly isn't going to be good for Miguel.

2) I'm definitely intrigued by the fact that nothing apparently happened between Miguel and Xina (since he had never seen her tattoo) before he bought his apartment and that he would eventually date her, but then leave her for Dana.  David certainly knows how to spin a romantic web.

3) I enjoy the morally compromising situation in which David puts Kasey.  Will she sell out Spidey, her hero, or won't she?  Tune in next week!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spider-Man 2099 #21: "Parlor Games"

* (one of five stars)

Summary
[I disliked this issue, so we're going to keep this one brief.]

Spidey is hiding from three leather-clad girls searching for him.  He has previously fought with them and one of them has managed to hurt him pretty significantly.  He reflects that he's in this situation because he had been unable to sleep and, patrolling the city to work through his insomnia, had overheard a Public Eye officer getting a report of a disturbance in a "no-cred slum."  When it turns out the neighborhood hadn't updated its security contract, the Public Eye tells the officer not to deploy.  However, Spidey decides to head there to see if he can help.  On the way to the scene, Miguel wonders about the comment that the Vulture had made to him about what "indy" made him.  Wondering if indys had made someone like him, he encounters the aforementioned girls, who had used special armor that they purchased with their "black cards" to kill a homeless man.  Spidey tries to stop them but, as mentioned above, they're able to repel his attack.  Expositing that they're just rich kids who think that their money entitles them to murder, Spidey proceeds to divide and conquer, taking them down one by one.  In the battle with the last girl, who appears to be the ring leader, she falls through a board and plummets into the water below before Spidey can save her.  The other two girls are shaken by her apparent death, threatening Spidey when the girl's rich father discovers what happened to her.  Spidey tells them that he can get in line with all the other people who want to kill him and orders them to go home.  They're scared, given that Spidey has appeared to have disabled their armor during their battles and they face the "slash gangs and ripper kids" on the way home.  Spidey then makes matters worse for them by tearing up their cards, wishing them a good night as he departs.

The Review
The first strike against this issue is that it's a non-sequitur one-shot that interrupted a pretty great story.  We ended last issue with the promise of finally getting to the bottom of Gabe's belief that Miguel is Spider-Man.  But, instead, we get dumped immediately into a story about teenage thrill-killers with no reference to where the story fits in context of the previous cliff-hanger.  I was expecting something on the letters page, but the editor uses his column to write about a biography he read.  Um, thanks, Joey.  The second strike is the fact that the story itself isn't all that thrilling.  This story doesn't really cover any new ground, feeling much like Spidey's confrontation with the corporate raiders from "2099 Unlimited" #2.   Moreover, Edginton seems to want us to be outraged over the disdain that the Private Eye and the girls have for the Downtown residents, but that story has definitely been done and I don't really feel like Edginton brings any new perspective on it.  The third strike is that the dialogue is pretty awful.  Edginton way over does it with the future slang, with the girls saying things like "shockola extremis double plus."  All in all, it's a pretty forgettable issue and I'm just anxious for David to return and deliver us Gabe and Miguel's conversation.