Thursday, February 28, 2013

Secret Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Huh.  OK, I'm game, I think.  I mean, I've never been hugely interested in SHIELD and the forced uploading of Marcus Fury/Agent Coulson into the Marvel Universe continues to bother me.  But, I love me some Hawkeye, so I'm game for a few issues.

Spencer sets up the framework of this series with this issue, embracing the "secret" part of the title by subjecting both Clint and Natasha to memory-modification programs to ensure that their missions stay classified.  Given Natasha's experience with mind control, Spencer knows that he has to explain why she would agree to such a thing.  The answer?  Unclear.  Apparently, SHIELD has a target that both Black Widow and Hawkeye want eliminated and, if they play nice, SHIELD will eventually let them go after him/her.  The problem, of course, is that it seems difficult to believe that the two of them wouldn't have been able to track down this person without the help of SHIELD if they had really wanted to see him/her imprisoned.  I mean, they're both pretty resourceful.  But, without knowing who the individual is, it's hard to say.  I have to give Spencer the benefit of the doubt here.

Looking ahead, I'm assuming that we're going to see some other folks join the team at some point, maybe some of the previous team members.  One of the things that disappointed me was that Spencer didn't bother to explain why the previous Secret Avengers team disbanded.  Was it because of the Descendants?  Given that this issue came out a week after the other title "ended," I think we were due some sort of explanation.  But, I doubt we're going to get it.

So, I'm not thrilled with this issue, but I'm willing to see where we go.

Scarlet Spider #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seriously, what the fuck?

I didn't read "Amazing Spider-Man" during the Other era.  The reviews of that storyline are not great.  As such, it significantly confuses me why Yost would add this element to the mix while we're already dealing with the mystery of Aracely and the Lobos.  She appears to be some sort of goddess incarnate, but we never really get to focus on that revelation because Kaine is too busy selling his soul to the Other.  (Also, seriously, the Lobos killed Kaine, but a street gang manages to defeat them?)

Ugh.  I can only hope that this storyline will be dropped once this arc concludes.  Every time I feel like we're making progress in putting behind Kaine constantly considering himself a monster Yost for some reason seems to regress.  Can I just pretend this issue didn't happen?

Cable and X-Force #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I really applaud Hopeless for revealing that Cable and X-Force did actually kill the factory workers.  He did a pretty great job in showing that they had little choice in the matter, with the girth-virus gestalt ready to rampage the factory.  So, no, Cable and X-Force aren't going around the country indiscriminately killing humans, as the media are now reporting.  But, they did actually kill those people.  We're not dealing with some elaborate conspiracy that made it look like they killed them, as we usually are in comics.

Well, we may be dealing with an elaborate conspiracy, actually.  Between the revelation last issue that the CEO of Eat-More didn't know about the virus and the enigmatic appearance of Deathlok here, Hopeless has made it clear that something is happening behind the scenes.  But, Hopeless is clearly in no rush to reveal his cards.  In the meantime, we've got Cable going into the darkness to do what he does while the rest of the team tries to find tequila and fish tacos.

For me, the next step is Hopeless explaining why Cable didn't feel like he could explain his actions to Havok.  I actually feel like Hopeless has an answer to that question, given that it's clear that we still don't know everything.  We'll see where next issue brings us.  All in all, although I know this series isn't everyone's cup of tea, I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Earth 2 #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of things that I enjoy most about this series is that it involves a lot of characters who aren't cut-and-dried heroes, in the traditional sense.  For example, Green Lantern is a "good guy," but he's also kind of an arrogant asshole.  Terry Sloan murdered millions of innocent people, but the World Army still hires him to help in securing global defense.  In this issue, Sandman, who got the hero treatment in issue #7 as he helped Khan move against Sloan, proves that he can also be a ruthless bastard, using Flash's mother as a hostage in his attempt to take Flash into custody.  Similarly, Kendra pushes her friend, Khalid, to use his powers, even though they're driving him insane.  These actions aren't heroic, but they fit the dark world that Robinson has created.

The exception to the rule is Jay, who consistently tries to do the right thing.  We seem him not only be concerned about his mom worrying about him, but he then jumps to her defense when the World Army comes calling.  He shows how quickly he's learning to use his powers as he holds his own against Atom and the Sandmen, though he needs a last-minute assist from Khalid to escape.  Of course, Robinson lets no good deed go unpunished and it seems like we're going to learn a lot more about Khalid next issue.

After the somewhat off-step issue last issue, Robinson returns to form here, giving us a story that continues to flesh out the characters and their times.  I continue to be excited every time I pick up an issue.

Detective Comics #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, I thought that we already knew that Dr. Meredith was the Merrymaker, so I certainly didn't remember the League of Smiles allegedly killing him in the last issue.  As such, the reveal at the end of the issue fell a little flat for me.  But, Layman tells an interesting "Only in Gotham" story here.  I liked how he was the counterpoint to Harley Quinn; she was inspired to follow the Joker and he was inspired to profit from him.  It's a nice dichotomy that really goes to the point that Layman is trying to make, that the Joker brings out something in the people of Gotham.  I enjoy these sorts of stories about the seedier side of Gotham in general, so I applaud DC for letting Layman use "Death of the Family" to tell one.  But, I'm most excited about seeing the upcoming War of the Penguins!

X-Factor #251 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly?  I'm disappointed.  The Hell Lords are after Tier only because he's the seven-billionth person born on Earth?  Really?  It seems kind of ridiculous.  I figured that he was some sort of evil Messiah, as implied by the Darwin dream sequence in issue #214.  Instead, he was just born at the wrong time?  It seems an oddly simple answer and I wonder if Jezebel's telling the truth.  I guess we'll see.

Winter Soldier #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, so I'm clearly going to have to give Latour some time, since, as the woman who opens this issue says, "Change is scary."  But, this issue was definitely a little rough around the edges.

First, I'm not sure if I'm thrilled with the change in focus.  I liked when Bucky was working with SHILED to wrap up loose ends from his Winter Soldier days.  I'm less thrilled with him engaging in some sort of "My Name is Earl" adventure where he tries to atone for his past.  It's a subtle difference, but Latour specifically makes it here.  In the former case, Bucky was killing bad guys that he knew existed from his Winter Soldier days.  Now, he's approaching people that he's wronged (like Leo, more or less) so that they don't come after him.  I sort of get that, but I'm not sure how realistic that is.  I mean, did he really think that the Croatian general was going to tearfully accept his apology for murdering his brothers and putting down his coup?

(Also, Latour probably should've spent some time on Wikipedia before writing this segment.  You really can't be fascist and communist.  They're on opposite sides of the spectrum.  Moreover, I'm pretty sure that the Soviets weren't occupying Croatia in 1977; Croatia was part of Yugoslavia then and I'm pretty sure that Tito had broken with the Soviets years earlier.)

But, the issue also suffers from some clunky smaller moments.  Latour portrays Nick Fury as incredibly grammatically challenged, uttering a whole lot of "don't"s and "ya"s in a short period of time.  Fury certainly speaks in contractions and colloquialisms, but Latour's attempt to convey his folksy charm (if you will) is distracting at times, making it difficult to understand what he's saying.  Moreover, even Klein (or possibly the letterer) has weird moments here, where Bucky's lenses have "Mapping..." emblazoned across them.  It's weird because either the lettering should be reversed (so that Bucky could read them) or Bucky for some reason wants his enemies to know what he's doing.  Plus, the Hydra brass knuckles?  Don't get me started.

So, I wasn't thrilled.  But, we'll see where it goes, I guess.  Color me worried.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Venom #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Oh, Flash.  With all the progress that Flash seemed to be making in taking control of his life and moving to Philadelphia, Bunn makes it clear that he's still not quite there.  His assertion that he's in charge of the symbiote and doesn't need the drugs that Beast gave him to tame it is fascinating.  First, he knows that it's not true, something that becomes all too evident later in the issue after the symbiote attacks his obnoxious neighbor as Flash "slept."  But, he seems to be purposefully shirking the trust that the Avengers have in him by giving him the tools to tame the symbiote on his own.  Bunn seems to be making the somewhat insightful point that Flash's life is a mess because he wants it to be.  We've seen Flash make similarly bad decisions over the course of this series, like not going to the Avengers to help in his fight with Crime-Master, and it seems to support this approach.  Every time Flash has the opportunity to make the right decision (usually involving asking for help), he makes the wrong one.  Is he intentionally sabotaging himself?  Does he like wallowing with demons and murders because he feels that he's one of them?  Bunn isn't saying so exactly here, but he seems to raise the possibility of it and I'm intrigued to see where he goes with it.

Superior Spider-Man #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I think I'm at the point where I'm just going to admit that I'm done trying to like this series and just gritting my teeth and baring it until Peter returns.  I also want to make it clear that I don't feel that way simply due to the "switch."  I feel that way because Slott is not addressing the obvious inconsistencies that come with the switch and it's weighing down the entire book.

First, I have absolutely no idea why JJJ, Jr. suddenly likes Spidey.  Slott seems to be implying that his sudden approval is tied to Spider-Man punching off the Scorpion's jaw in "Amazing Spider-Man" #700.  However, the problem is that JJJ, Jr. has always disapproved of Spidey because he took the law into his own hands; JJJ, Jr. believed that Spidey wearing a mask meant that he was putting himself above the law.  As such, it makes absolutely no sense that Spidey disfiguring the Scorpion is the reason why JJJ, Jr. now likes him.  It's like saying that he disapproved of Spidey all the these years because his body count wasn't higher.  But, to make matters worse, Slott doesn't just engage in a gross mischaracterization of JJJ, Jr.  He uses this mischaracterization as a way to get Spidey and Carlie to work together, giving her the chance to spend enough time with him to realize that he's not really Peter.  It's totally forced and, given how important Carlie realizing that Peter isn't Peter is to the plot of this series, I'm stunned that Slott would bring us to that point through such lazy characterization.

Speaking of Otto, I'm still having trouble figuring out how we're supposed to view him.  Here, given his own abusive childhood, Otto is outraged that the Vulture manipulates him into striking a child.  But, just a few issues ago, in "Amazing Spider-Man" #687, Otto was trying to eliminate almost all the world's population; presumably, some children would have died if he had been successful.  As such, I'm only left to assume that Slott wants us to believe that it's Peter influence that changes Otto's mind.  However, the problem is that he specifically shows that it's NOT Peter's influence that drives his outrage; it's Otto's memory of his father striking him.  To ask the obvious question, why didn't he remember that moment when he was ready to murder almost all the children of the world?

I could continue, but I won't.  As I said in my last review, this worst part of this whole experience isn't actually that Otto is now Peter, but that Slott somehow doesn't have the chops to sell the story that he's trying to tell.  It's disappointing and disheartening, to say the least.

Secret Avengers #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

See, Jonathan Hickman.  Here's how you do it.  Here's how you tell a story with an ending that your readers already know but still makes them wonder just how well they know it and marvel at the difficult decisions that their heroes have to make.

I did not see the Human Torch coming.  We all knew the Marvel Universe wasn't going to turn into the Cyborg Universe.  But, I still wasn't sure how Remender was going to do it.  It is, of course, the perfect decision, in part because it proves the large point that Remender has been trying to make:  we feel happy that the Human Torch, and not Hawkeye, killed the Descendants exactly because we don't really believe that he's a real person.  We worry about the effect that such an act would have on Hawkeye, but we don't worry about the effect (or at least as much) that it would have on the Human Torch, because, after all, does he really have emotions?  As Hawkeye said, the Human Torch destroyed the only hope that he had of fitting into a society that didn't view him this way and our emotional response to him (and, again, not Hawkeye) killing the Descendants backs up that point.  Valkyrie puts an even finer point on it, stabbing Black Ant through the chest because she doesn't worry about him having a soul.  How does something weigh on your soul if you don't have one?

In this way, Remender brings the tragedy of Black Ant and Human Torch full circle.  The loss of both of them is profound and, as predicted issues and issues ago, weighs heavily on Hawkeye's shoulders, as the amazing opening few pages show.  It's the perfect conclusion to this series and makes me all the sadder that this day has come.

I don't know how Marvel can hype something so profoundly mediocre and gimmicky as "Superior Spider-Man" but essentially ignore probably the most epic story I've read since returning to comics.  But, if they're smart, they'll release a TPB edition and, if you didn't read these issues, you should absolutely get it.  Thanks, Rick Remender.  See you in Cap and "Uncanny Avengers!"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, I definitely dislike this series less than I dislike "Avengers."  But, I'm not sure where it leaves me.

As I did with my review of last issue, let's start with the good first.  Hickman answers my question of how two Earths can occupy the same space without immediately destroying each other by explaining that the normal laws of physics don't apply during an incursion.  I mean, sure, it sounds overly convenient, but, to be honest, it sort of works in context of the plot.  We are talking about two universes smashing into one another, so I'll buy the fact that another universe's physics could be different than ours or just simply the process of two universes colliding can cause the normal laws of physics to be suspended.

Moreover, Hickman does do some interesting stuff with the characters here, particularly by adding Beast into the mix. I do feel like Hickman somewhat rushed that storyline, since I feel like Henry would've be a little more outraged by learning about the presence of the Illuminati than he is here; in the span of a few pages he goes from expressing stunned disbelief to supporting them unconditionally.  Cap is also interesting here, particularly his point that the geniuses of the Illuminati are going to build some sort of doomsday machine without asking themselves the ethical questions that they should be asking.

The problem, though, is that Steve may have a point, but he doesn't have a counterargument.  I mean, what does he want them to do?  Does he really believe that they'll be able to pull something together in eight hours?  After all, we see here that, by the time they find the incursion point, they only have 6.5 hours left before annihilation.  It seems pretty clear that the only alternative to building the doomsday machine is guaranteed death.  Is that really an option?  As Reed Richards says (more or less), is Steve really so pure that he's willing to destroy Earth simply so that he can sleep better at night?  I'm just not sure that Cap would be so blinded by his principles that he would be making this argument.  Hickman takes the "boring" approach to Cap that writers who've never written him often take, ignoring the fact that he frequently makes difficult decisions in compromised situations and pretending that he somehow manages to remain morally upstanding all the time.  In a Lobdellian sign that Hickman has trouble coordinating with himself, Hickman has Cap order Manifold to teleport one alien cruiser into another one.  I mean, sure, destroying a world is a little different, but this example shows Cap capable of making a difficult decision when lives are on the line and may need to be sacrificed.

Finally, I just don't see where the drama in this story is supposed to come.  OK, we get some moments of it in seeing the interaction between the characters here.  But, unless Marvel is going to go "Flashpoint!" on us with no notification and blend the two universes, it seems pretty clear that the Illuminati are going to solve this problem.  As I said last issue, these sorts of stories are only interesting if characters are forced to make decisions that they wouldn't normally make as a result of the dire circumstances.  Look at "Operation:  Galactic Storm,' where the Avengers split on killing the Supreme Intelligence.  (But, also, Marvel did unexpectedly destroy a galaxy there, something that upped the drama in a way impossible to imagine here.) It wasn't black and white, as Hickman is portraying it here by showing Cap as morally uncompromising.  Some people wrestled with the decision and it has significant consequences down the line.  However, here, no one makes a call that you wouldn't expect them to make.  Even though Hank might come to support the Illuminati quicker than I expected, his argument that he has essentially already done terrible things to try to prevent the extermination of the mutant race rings true.  Cap makes a decision I wouldn't expect, but not because of the dire circumstances, but because of bad characterization.

In other words?  It's all still boring.  It might have a grand sweeping scope, but it's still pretty predictable.  Even if we don't know the exact way that this story is going to end, we still know how it's going to end and Hickman isn't really doing anything here to inject some excitement into the proceedings.

Avengers #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hickman continues origins week (maybe it only feels like this series is weekly), giving us the origin of the human Smasher. 

Although Hickman does a better job of making us care about Smasher than he did about Hyperion last issue, her origin still feels incredibly forced.  She simply found the Smasher goggles in the middle of her father's cornfield in Iowa and the Shi'Ar let her become a sub-guardian?  Really?  Why would you let someone with absolutely no connection to your empire defend it?  Why would Izzy want to defend it?  Are they just letting anyone become a sub-guardian now?  Moreover, even if you accept that finding the goggles somehow entitled her to become a Smasher, we never really learn why it would entitle her to become an Avenger.  Her grandfather knew Captain America and that simply got her into the Avengers?  It seems like if I just called up Cap I could get put on the roster at this point.  Moreover, why would she want to be in the Avengers?  Does the Imperial Guard really just lounge around Chandilar with nothing to do, allowing her so much free time that she can be on both teams?  I mean, it's one thing for Wolverine to shuttle between New York City and Westchester, but it's a whole other thing for Smasher to commute between Chandilar and Earth.  Why is she on the Avengers instead of the Guardians of the Galaxy?  Other than her grandfather's connection to Cap, we're not really given a reason.  Moreover, her involvement in the Avengers doesn't only not make sense, it serves as the artificial connection between the Avengers and the Imperial Guard.  Do the Avengers really have nothing better to do than help protect the Shi'Ar Imperium?  If that were true, where were they during Annihilation?  Were they just tired from the Civil War and didn't want to make the trip all the way into space?  Shouldn't Steve and Tony have a discussion about the downside of having Smasher on the team, namely their susceptibility of getting pulled into the Imperium's bickering with neighboring empires?

[Sigh.]  This series and I are done.

Monday, February 25, 2013

All-New X-Men #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis starts this issue by not only giving a spot-on portrayal of Mystique but also an insightful look into why the X-Men have taken steps against elder Scott.  Then, he gets dark quickly.  Great stuff, as usual, for this title.

First, I totally bought Mystique as Logan, only realizing that it was her when she called Scott "darling."  (I loved how Bendis drew a line under how accurate her portrayal was by having Logan repeat something that Mystique said (as him) earlier, "Did you rob a bank?")  Moreover, Mystique's analysis of the situation at hand is absolutely totally correct: the X-Men haven't killed elder Scott because they just can't bring themselves to do it.  Mystique says that it's because they respect him too much for the sacrifices that he has made to be able to end his threat.  Wolverine also adds that it's because the X-Men still believe in redemption, a key lesson of Charles Xavier.  Bendis crafts those two arguments to show that they're clearly both right, one reinforcing the other.  It's a subtle, but important, point and, by making it, Bendis successfully puts the onus on original Scott to solve the problem of elder Scott.  It's all incredibly organic, which continues to surprise me, since that's not Bendis' strong suit.

However, I was bothered by how pro-Scott and pro-Xavier Mystique was.  She's almost fawning over both of them in a way that felt completely false.  Under normal circumstances, I would assume that it was just Bendis doing what Bendis does, molding the character to fit the role that he needs her to fill, regardless of whether it makes sense in terms of her previous characterizations.  But, to my shock, Bendis actually takes Mystique's characterization into account here; just as she was able to act as Wolverine, she's displaying her acting talents here by subtly manipulating Scott.  What better way to get a young Scott to do what you want him to do then by praising his mentor, implying that his mentor's successor is subverting his dream, celebrating him for having the ruthlessness to make the decisions that no one else has the guts to make, and then suggesting that he treats his teammates with suspicion?  What does Mystique want to get Scott to do, you ask?  Why, sow the seeds of discord, of course!  By shaking up the cat (Scott) and throwing it (at the X-Men), Mystique hopes that she'll exacerbate the tensions within the group.  She (wisely) figures that they'll be so distracted by their Cold Civil War that they're not going to be able to focus their attention on anything else, opening the door for Mystique to do whatever it is that Mystique wants to do.  Again, this argument makes total sense to me (and makes me wonder what it is exactly that Mystique is planning on doing).

In other words, for seven issues now, Bendis continues to flesh out a compelling and complicated vision of who the X-Men are and how the presence of the original X-Men is calling into question that identity, whatever it may be.  Honestly?  As stunned as I am to say it, I can't think of a better seven-issue start to a series than this one.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Batman and Robin Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm really hot or cold with Tomasi, but I've kept getting this series mainly because it's the only place where I get to see Damian, who I often enjoy.  This issue is a reminder of the wisdom of that decision. Tomasi delivers the perfect self-contained annual story, giving us great insight into the characters in a story that doesn't require having read every single one of Damian's appearances to appreciate it.  I feel like this issue is made for the "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" series, offering a different take on the character while perfectly conveying who he is (even if the "he" isn't the one you thought it would be).  I couldn't recommend this issue more.

Superior Spider-Man #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Halfway through this issue, I found myself pretty bored.  I actually put down the book and fixed myself a snack (as opposed to my experience with "Young Avengers" #1, which I read standing up because I happened to flip to the first page and get immediately absorbed into the story).  I mean, I should be on the edge of my seat.  Doc Ock, in Peter's body?  Trying to date MJ?  Inventing new Spider-Tech?  Making friendly with JJJ, Jr.?  It should be exciting.  I shouldn't be bored!

But, then, I realized my problem.  I'm bored in part because we're been down this road before.  I mentioned last issue that I'm not really feeling Otto's inventions the way that I should, since Slott himself made Peter much better at using technology to augment his Spider-Powers.  I mean, don't get me wrong, the Spider-Bots are pretty cool.  But, as I said last issue, it seems like the type of thing that Peter himself might have invented one day, if given the chance.

But, my problem is more than just the somewhat "been there, done that" nature of the Spider-Tech.  I also realized that this story doesn't much feel all that different from the time that the Chameleon pretended to be Peter Parker in "Amazing Spider-Man" #602-#604.  Several people have mentioned that arc in relation to the current series in no small part because the implications of Otto sleeping with MJ are similar to the situation in that arc where the Chameleon slept with Peter's roommate, Michele.  (Marvel quickly claimed after the fact that they didn't have sex but just made out, but, if you read that issue, it's pretty clear that they did more than "make out.")  The more I read this title, the more I just feel like I'm re-reading that arc.  I mean, sure, we've got a Ghost Peter here to make matters more awkward.  But, at the end of the day, both this story and the Chameleon one are based around making the reader uncomfortable; we're really just talking about shades of that discomfort at this point.


So, I realized that we've essentially got a hype problem here.  If this arc were just another arc in "Amazing Spider-Man," it would've felt a little derivative, but it might've at least given us some amusing situations.  We would've all had a good chuckle at Otto using super-villain terms in everyday life and Peter saying "Crazy Town Banana Pants" nine million times, but it would've ended before it all got annoying.  But, instead, we're supposed to labor under the presumption that this change is permanent (or, at least, going to be with us for a while).  I mean, we've canceled "Amazing Spider-Man" and re-launched it as "Superior Spider-Man."  Marvel wants us to know that it's a BIG DEAL.

But, it's not a big deal.  We've seen it all previously, if not exactly in the same configuration.  The more I read, the more I just wonder how Slott is going to manage to keep this situation interesting.  I mean, how is he going to keep Peter from distracting from the Otto story that he's trying to tell?  I actually found myself annoyed with Peter for most of this issue and that comment right there shows you how wrong this whole situation is.  How is he going to keep MJ in play, if Otto decided here (somewhat abruptly) that they shouldn't date?  How is he going to make Aunt May not realize that she's not dealing with Peter?  I just don't think that Slott is going to be able to maintain this shtick for too long.  It just seems that the longer he does, the more ridiculous it'll get.  I'll just not be bored; I'll be incredulous.  The good news is that Carlie, the "Get Out of Jail Free" card, seems to be in play.  That, of course, raises the question:  if I'm annoyed now, how annoyed will I be if this whole premise doesn't even last six issues?

But, this issue is all the more disappointing because a lot of stuff here doesn't work, in the sense that it feels forced.  I mean, yes, I actually thought Peter realizing that he'd prefer Otto to touch his body rather than MJ's made me LOL.  But, I'm surprised that Slott wants us to believe that Carlie and MJ are BFFs.  Really?  MJ, a former supermodel and present club owner, doesn't have any other friends?  Plus, she's such good friends with Carlie that Carlie's staying with her as she recuperates from getting shot, despite the fact that MJ is in the process of possibly rekindling her relationship with Peter?  It just seems pretty incredible, laying bare the fact that it's happening solely for Carlie to interact enough with MJ and Peter to get suspicious about Peter.  Moreover, Otto's decision about MJ was totally bizarre.  He saves her life and in the process realizes that he loves her, thereby deciding that he can't be with her.  Really?  I mean, he's not even going to try to sleep with her?  I know that Slott is specifically avoiding that scenario given the advance outrage that the Internet has displayed over just that possibility, but, in the context of the story, it makes little sense, given that Otto has been lusting after MJ since this whole sorry affair started.

Ugh.  I'm stunned to say what I'm going to say, but I think the problem here isn't really the overall concept but Slott's writing.  I just don't think that he's selling it the way that he sold "Big Time!"  I mean, I'm willing to give him time, but this series is a big disappointment so far.

Hawkeye #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

My parents, who live in Northeast Jersey, lost power for ten days after Superstorm Sandy.  The 80-some foot pine tree that stood in their front yard fell, taking out the power lines (and my mom's car) with it.  After a few days, when the temperature in the house dipped below 50 degrees, my sister and I finally convinced them to spend at least the nights at her house.  Their days were spent sitting on lawn chairs in the front yard waiting for government employees and insurance adjustors, and chatting with the various neighbors taking a stroll through the neighborhood because they, too, didn't have electricity and just needed something to do.

So, this issue.

I love that Matt Fraction realized that Clint Barton and Kate Bishop would be exactly the type of characters that would lend themselves to this sort of story.  In the world of the Avengers and the X-Men, you'd have to ask yourself why Thor or Storm didn't stop Superstorm Sandy.  Couldn't Tony Stark have found a way to shore up the levies?  Couldn't Iceman just have frozen the tide?  But, you don't wonder those questions reading "Hawkeye," because Clint and Kate aren't those guys.  They've just got some bows and arrows.  As Clint said, they're not going to do much against a storm.

So, instead, Fraction shows Clint helping Grills try to get his father to leave his house in Far Rockaway and Kate trying to get medicine for a friend's mom.  It's heroic in the everyday way that Fraction frequently emphasizes in this title.  Clint never touches a bow in this issue and Kate doesn't even manage to shoot hers.  In fact, Kate has to be saved by some locals.  (Jersey!)  But, they're there, because, as Wacker says in the letters page, "we're all in this together, 'waist deep in a big muddy.'"  It's the unofficial motto of this series and the fact that Fraction recognizes that this situation lent itself to calling an audible shows how well he really gets Clint and Kate.

Hawkeye #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So, I was disappointed with last issue, because I felt like Fraction would up getting lost in the story that he was trying to tell.  Even after a few readings, a good numbers of the plot twists didn't particularly make sense to me and I noted that Fraction probably needed to tighten up his plotting if he was going to continue telling these sorts of espionage stories.  The good news is that Fraction returns to basics here and gives us the type of story that made me fall in love with this series.

Fraction does a great job contrasting how Hawkeye thinks everyone views him -- as non-essential personnel, essentially -- with how everyone actually sees him -- as a remarkably good guy.  Plus, Fractions shows us that he is a remarkably good guy.  He feels bad that he broke his neighbor's satellite dish, so he lets her and his kids watch Christmas movies at his place.  All he really wants to do is watch "Dog Cops" on his DVR and "Blade Runner" on his Laserdisc.  He has a sentimental attachment to his possessions, even if they're mostly broken.  As he's done throughout this series, Fraction carefully weaves together these moments, big and small, to give us a sense of the vulnerable Clint that we don't see in "Avengers," when he's forced to be arrogant Clint because he's just a guy with arrows standing shoulder-to-shoulder with gods.

But, this issue isn't just a character study.  The bro mafia has returned and I really like the vague, but real, threat that Fractions makes them be.  By making them just real guys with guns, Fraction actually makes them scarier than your average super-villain.  Maybe they'll go after Lucky.  Maybe they will blow up the building.  Aja does a great job conveying the fear that Clint feels as he decides to stay put, nervously laying down the gauntlet to the bro mafia that he'll protect his building and his people.  In fact, the whole point of this issue is Fraction showing us Clint finally starting to let himself set down roots.  Sure, he got Lucky in the first issue, but Lucky's pretty portable.  I mean, I assume wherever Clint was going to go has pizza, so Lucky would be good.  But, Kate reminds him that he's a good guy so he has to act like a good guy, to draw a line in the sand, to stand outside his building with nothing but his bow and arrow.  It's what you'd call a moment and it's one that tells you everything you need to know about Clint and this series.

(Did we know that Cherry was a gangster's wife?)

Avengers #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

A.I.M. Island?  Really?

All right, other than A.I.M. Island, this issue wasn't as bad as the other ones have been.  I mean, it wasn't great, but at least it more or less made sense.  Hyperion discovers that a sixth crash site exists for the "origin bombs" sent to Earth by Ex Nihlo and an Avengers team dispatches to contain it.

One of the challenges that I anticipate Hickman having is that it's really difficult to keep track of all the various Avengers on the first few pages.  Captain America and Maria Hill are in Japan with Wolverine and someone else while Captain Marvel and Black Widow are at Avengers Tower with Hawkeye, Hyperion, Spider-Woman, and Thor.  At times, it's unclear who's talking to whom and I don't know if that's Hickman's fault or Kubert's design for the dialogue boxes.  But, it adds an unnecessary level of confusion to a book already known for difficulties in linear thinking.  Moreover, given that it's only nine of the seemingly 24 slots available on the logo page, it seems like a challenge that Hickman is going to frequently confront.

But, on some level, it's only going to be a problem if you assume that Hickman actually cares about differentiating the characters.  The focus on Hyperion in this issue makes it seem like he does, but the tragedy of the Squadron Supreme world (and Hyperion's role in trying to prevent it) is presented more as a case study than a character study.  Hickman never bothers to explain why two Earths would collide into one another, seemingly assuming that the reader is also picking up "New Avengers" (and confirming my suspicion that, if I'm going to drop one book, I need to drop both books).  Hickman's narration feels much more like a retelling of the origin story of a mythological god than of an alien superhero and that tone seems to show Hickman's lack of interest in making us care for the characters.  It's hard to put my finger on it exactly, but it's there.

So, although it's a more straight-forward issue than those issues that we've previously seen, Hickman doesn't really do anything here to convince me that I should keep getting this title.

Wolverine and the X-Men #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of the three couples that Aaron shows us in this issue, only one really fully worked for me.  From worst to best:

I don't understand why Aaron decides to rewrite history and put Logan and Storm together.  Storm implies here that she and Logan had previously had sex in the Danger Room at some point, so Aaron is portraying their kiss in this issue as part of a long-standing attraction, not a one-off moment.  Moreover, their interaction is awkward at best.  Storm has Logan cut her hair into a mohawk?  Really?  She can't just go to the salon?  Odd.

I like Bobby and Kitty as a couple, but I just don't understand what Aaron does with them here.  Why can't they just have a normal dinner?  OK, they were probably a little unrealistic about thinking that they weren't going to talk about the School, but did that really necessitate them apparently going to the Middle East somehow to hand kids ice?  I just don't get it.  Plus, Bobby is generally portrayed as a fairly handsome guy, but Lopez does truly bizarre things to his face here.  He often looks manic and like he's suffering from some sort of eyeball disorder.

I have to say that I (somewhat surprisingly) most enjoyed Jean Grey and Kid Omega.  I pretty much can't stand Quentin Quire, but he's actually funny, if not charming, here.  Aaron makes you understand why Jean is attracted (if not physically but at least emotionally) to the irreverent rebel given that she's already feeling like everyone is treating her as a museum exhibit come to life.

I guess the best thing I can say here is that at least we only get one page of the Kiddie Hellfire Club.  The fact that I can't say anything much better makes me continue to wonder why I'm getting this title.

Winter Soldier #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Since the moment Leo erased Natasha's memories of Bucky, I've had the sinking suspicion that Brubaker wouldn't have them returned.  As Bucky himself says here, it seemed like the only obvious lasting effect of Leo's attack on Bucky and the United States, a better result for him than simply unleashing a radiological attack on Washington, DC.  But, when the moment comes, it's as devastating as it is fascinating.

This series has really been "Winter Soldier and Black Widow."  Since the first days of Bucky's resurrection, Natasha has been right by his side.  Brubaker now leaves Bucky alone, without a support network, more on the brink than he's ever been.  It seems to set the stage for this series to deliver on its premise, of Bucky taking care of the problems that can't be solved by people like Captain America.  Without Natasha, he becomes all the more of a ghost now.  If Latour does his job, we'll see Bucky struggling to handle the pressure of that reality, something that Brubaker at least hints here he won't be able to do all that well.

It's hard to see Brubaker leave.  Although the most recent volume of "Captain America" dragged, feeling mostly like material recycled from previous stories, this series has always been fresh.  As Brubaker says himself at the end here, I don't think that I'd have believed you eight years ago if you'd tell me that I would not only accept Bucky's resurrection, but find him becoming one of my favorite characters.  But, here we are.  So, thanks, Ed, for creating such a great character and setting us on such firm footing here.  As Latour probably knows, he has enormous shoes to fill.

Aquaman #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, OK, I definitely didn't see that coming.

Johns does much better crafting a believable story in this issue than he did in "Justice League" #16.  First, Arthur and Bruce have a normal conversation where they bury the proverbial hatchet, though I still don't think that Arthur needed to apologize for trying to reason with his brother.  But, this conversation at least puts aside the "house divided against itself" storyline and allows the pair to focus on trying to locate Superman and Wonder Woman.  In so doing, they discover that the King of Atlantis' scepter controls the weird zombie Atlanteans that we've seen lurking on the edges of this conflict since the start.  But, most importantly, they also learn that Orm doesn't have it, as the zombies attack the Atlanteans; Vulko does.  It's a great reveal, one that makes sense in terms of the story but one that I didn't really see coming.  I thought Johns made a wise decision in throwing us off the scent by having Aquaman suggest somewhere in the middle of the issue that Orm might've been behind the attack as a justification to attack the surface world; it really amplified the impact of the surprise that Vulko was behind it.  Vulko's motives seem pretty clear (revenge for his exile and Arthur's treatment), though I think Johns at some point needs to show why Vulko chose now to act.  Moreover, Johns still has some work to do in explaining Dr. Shin, whose role in this conflict is still unclear.  But, at least we get a good sense of why the attack is happening in the first place.. 

The other main event in this issue is the debut of the Justice League of America and Johns shows enough disfunction there that I think that I can say that I'm actually excited about this one.

All in all, Johns saves the concept here and I'm legitimately intrigued to see how he wraps up this arc.

Justice League #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, Orm is hilarious.  I totally imagine him having a British accent like some villain from a PBS show.  "Mother would be disappointed.  I know I am."  Burn!

Unfortunately, Orm's wit is about the only thing I liked about the main event in this issue.  I still don't understand why Johns portrays the Justice League as so blinded by a need for, well, justice that they're willing to make matters worse.  Arthur lays out a pretty reasonable scenario for defusing the conflict and instead they just rush into it.  What about the millions of Atlantean soldiers waiting under the tide was unclear?  Does Johns want us to believe that they're just this cocky?  The good news is that Orm makes pretty quick work of them.  The bad news is that I'm pretty sure Johns doesn't want me rooting for Orm.  But, I am.  Team Atlantis.  Take down the surface-dwellers.

However, the big reveal here is that "Throne of Atlantis" appears to be the impetus for the formation of the Justice League of America, as Cyborg activates a list of unvetted reserve members.  It's a moment that feels organic, since Cyborg is essentially the only member left standing by this point and he's preparing to be in surgery for the next several hours to get a mechanical lung.  We'll see how they do against Orm.

In the back-up story, Johns does a great job of showing how out of his league Billy is here.  Black Adam makes quick work of him and Billy retreats, ending the issue crying next to a dumpster.  Johns has been so careful in showing us Billy as an isolated, lonely kid that I'm really anticipating his hero's moment, where he gets to save the day and inherit a family.  But, we've clearly got several issues before that happens.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Young Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I read this book standing up.

I picked up this issue off my bookshelf and, despite my anal-retentive need to get through my back issues in chronological order, I unwisely made the decision to just peek at the first page.  And I love Kate Bishop so I was excited to see her.  And I turned the page.  And I didn't expect her to be on a spaceship and then I definitely didn't expect that spaceship to be attacked by Skrulls.  And then, suddenly, Hulking was giving a terribly moving speech about how Billy has everything he ever wanted and yet Teddy is the one who watched his only parent burn to death in front of him.  And then we had Loki.  And some girl I didn't recognize.  And then Loki seemed to know something about Billy that we don't know.  And then Teddy's mom was alive.  And then she maybe killed Billy's parents.

And I am totally and completely effing thrilled that these characters are in my life again.

Uncanny Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender crafts a beautiful story here, truly embracing the "Uncanny" and "Avengers" sides of this story.

First, I have to say how impressed I was with how well Remender uses the 80's-style omniscient narrator here to amplify the drama and tension of the story.  The 00's and 10's have been all about a "Batman"-esque first-person narrator, one that may drive a story but does little to create a mood. But, here, Remender details the terror that the victims of the Red Skull's mob feel, shows the struggle that Captain America experiences in fighting the Red Skull's telepathy, and generally conveys the sense of hysteria that we see seize Manhattan, all through his carefully worded narration boxes.  Moreover, John Cassady perfectly matches these narrative cues with great facial expressions, keeping us focused on the people amidst the chaos that could have easily deadened the emotional impact of the story.

Remender also really gets his characters here.  For example, he perfectly describes a Logan so enraged by the Red Skull's use of Professor X's brain that he gives himself totally to the animal in him.  I also loved his work with Havok and Captain America, showing Havok as completely in charge and unbowed by a mid-controlled Steve's attempts to undermine him.  It's such a nice change from how we usually see Alex portrayed.

But, it's the Red Skull who really takes the cake here.  Remender has created a Red Skull freed from years of stories and baggage, allowing him to retain the brutal focus that he had during the war.  He's totally in command of the situation and the issue.  By having people actually die, Remender makes you wonder where we're going next, showing a Red Skull who has broken free of the usual rules and, as such, is more unpredictable now than ever.

Given how incomprehensible "Avengers" and "New Avengers" are, this issue serve as a stark contrast, a classic story done extremely well.

Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue may be the single worst comic book that I have ever read.  I have no effing idea what happened here.  I can think of no issue that better encapsulates the practice of an author conflating intentional confusion with interesting narrative.  As I think I've previously mentioned, I feel like Hickman writes a perfectly normal script and then goes and deletes 30 percent of the words just to make it interesting.  It doesn't.  It just makes it incomprehinsble.

Moreover, even if you just try to get past the awful dialogue and focus on the main events of this issue, Hickman seems to undermine the whole point of this new series:  instead of some expanded Avengers roster rising to an incredible challenge and preventing an alien race from destroying Earth, Captain Universe simply dismisses the alien race with a few words.  It's incredibly anti-climatic and seems to disprove Tony's theory that the Avengers need to get bigger; all they really needed was to add Captain Universe.  I'm giving this series maybe two more issues, tops, before I'm done.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

X-Factor #250 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

In typical Peter David fashion, we get no fewer than four previous plot lines converging in this issue as Darwin, Guido, and Jezebel all return in order to to kill Rahne's son Tier and avert a Hell War.  It appears that the beings that emerged from the volano in the Botanical Gardens last issue were Helllords and one of them has to kill Tier to win the aforementioned war, something that Darwin and Jezebel are trying to avoid completely by preemptively killing him.  David still has a few questions to answer related to this plot, namely:

1) Why would killing Tier "win" the war for a Helllord?  In "X-Factor" #214, a hallucinating Darwin faces down an adult Tier in the Wild West.  In that dream (if it was a dream), Tier reveals that he's the Beast who will bring about the Apocalypse.  I get that part.  But, wouldn't the Helllords sort of want the Apocalypse to happen?  Or, will it upset their power, making them want to avert it entirely?

2) Is Jezebel acting independently of her pact with the Isolationist?  I'm still really confused about her.  We first saw her creating said pact to destroy all mutants, but we've also seen her helping Theresa against the Morrigan and she clearly seems to be trying to do good (at least by her definition of "good") here.  I don't need my characters to be black-and-white good guy or bad guy, but I'm really unclear on her motives.  Sure, preventing a Hell War doesn't necessarily mean that you don't want to kill all mutants any longer, but she's starting to feel a little deus ex machina-y, the character that David uses when he needs to advance the plot a little more quickly than he would be able to do without her.

But, David doesn't make this issue all about asking and answering questions.  He brilliantly uses Tier as our insight into the struggles that we see here, portraying him as a pretty typical 12-year-old boy who's really just looking for stability (as seen by his embrace of Madrox) and who's confused by the adult world around him.  I mean, navigating the New York City subway by yourself as a pre-teen without money is just as scary as facing down six Helllords!

I'm excited to see where David goes with this one.  Given that it's been building for at least 36 issues, I can only imagine what we're going to see here.

Venom #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bunn does a good job of showing how crowded things are in Flash right now, given that he's fighting for control with a demon and symbiote.  I rolled my eyes at first at the idea that the demon had taken over Flash, but Bunn really has it serve a purpose here, giving it the role of Emma Frost showing Iceman that he could do more than he thought that he could.  I mean, controlling lackeys via the symbiote's tentacles?  Pretty cool.  Bunn also shows Flash's profound loneliness, evident in the fact that he's taken to talking to symbiote-created dummies of Katy and Valkyrie (who act and appear disturbingly similar).  Flash specifically makes the point that neither woman stayed much longer than it took to clean up the mess that the U-Foes left, but, at some point, Bunn is going to have to create a stable supporting cast for Flash.  Books like "Captain Marvel" and "Hawkeye" excel in no small part because DeConnick and Fraction have done a great job building up the support network around each hero, making you feel a stronger connection to them (and proving the impetus to interesting stories).  I get that Flash is a loner, but he's going to need a Frenchie or a Microchip:  someone who helps him tactically and, to a lesser extent, emotionally.  But, I'm still pretty happy with this series' new direction and can't wait to meet the new Toxin!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Avengers #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I am really, really trying to give Hickman the benefit of the doubt, but, man, he does not make it easy.

OK, I'll start with the good.  He does at least explain the events that occurred last issue and are driving this first arc.  The mysterious woman who seemed to destroy a planet actually destroyed it because it was occupying the same time-space as our Earth.  She reveals to Reed that Earth is the focal point of a series of ongoing collisions between universes.  The premature destruction of one universe has resulted in a chain reaction, pushing one universe after another into one another.  In each collision, if one Earth isn't destroyed, both universes die, exacerbating the ongoing chain reactions and shortening the life of the multiverse all the more. I actually sort of get that part.  I also get the question that Reed and T'Challa pose at the end, whether this process is an inevitable function of the multiverse's eventual destruction or is someone specifically trying to bring about the end of the multiverse early.

Moreover, I applaud Hickman having the Illuminati decide to use the Infinity Gauntlet.  The possibility of doing so during "Avengers vs. X-Men" was mentioned, I believe, only once and it seems absurd to believe that the Illuminati would allow Scott to destroy the world rather than using all the power that they had at their disposal to stop him.  Here, Hickman is at least intellectually honest about the Infinity Gauntlet and actually has Cap make the case that they need to use it to avoid having to choose between destroying their Earth or another one.  Although it's a little surprising that it's Cap arguing for it (since he was against the Illuminati in the first place), his argument that these sorts of decisions always leave the decision-makers more compromised that they expect to be.

But, I do have problems with this series so far and they are two-fold.  The first problem is fairly mundane.  Although we learn all about the upcoming "incursion" and how we'll occupy the same space as other Earth for eight hours, Hickman never actually describes how we'll both actually occupy the same space.  Why can the two planets be in the same space for either hours without combusting?  Why the window?  Wouldn't they just immediately combust?  If not, wouldn't our universe merge with their universe to create some sort of third universe?  But, that didn't happen last issue, when we did actually go through an incursion with another universe.

But, more importantly, I feel like this whole story has a certain eye-roll factor.  I mean, it's not even that the possibility that the Illuminati could fail and the multiverse winds up destroyed could be on the table.  (Of course, that, in and of itself, would have a high eye-roll factor.)  It's more that I'm not sure if we're going to get an interesting story from it.  As it stands now, we've just gotten a lot of male posturing and it seems like we're just going to continue to get male posturing.  I anticipate a lot of 'But, Steve!" and "But, Tony!" arguments while they race to save the multiverse that we all now that they're going to save.  These stories only work if the threat that everyone knows isn't going to be realized at least inspires some interesting moments among the characters, moments that you probably wouldn't see if the heroes weren't facing such a tremendous threat   (Although I disapproved of it greatly, I am thinking of Fraction having Spider-Man leave the battle in "Fear Itself" to go find Aunt May.)  Here, when you're dealing with such morally compromised characters from the start, characters that pride themselves on making the hard decisions, then it's unclear what new ground you're going to be able to cover.  Do we really think Namor is going to lament destroying some other Earth to save our Earth?  It seems unlikely.

In other words, I'm bored.  I used a lot of words here, but I'm bored.  I'm at least not confused, as I am in "Avengers," but it's not exactly an improvement to applaud.


Captain Marvel #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is just simply excellent.  I could go into all the ways that it's excellent, but somehow doing so would cheapen the excellence.  Overall, I will just say that the excellence comes from the fact that DeConnick really gets the concept of a "day in the life" story, using it not only to show Carol's connections to her supporting cast (and deepen the connections that she has with them and that they also have with each other) but also to show how disruptive the challenges of being Captain Marvel are to the goal of being Carol Danvers.  Even if you've never read "Captain Marvel," you end this issue with an excellent idea of who she is and who she aspires to be.  Excellent.  Just excellent.  (DId I mention that it was excellent?)

Captain America #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender does a lot of stuff here.  If this issue were part of a movie and not a comic-book arc, I feel like it would've been a really rushed second act.

Cap breaks free of his bonds in time to save himself and Ian from execution and activates his universal translator in time to understand one of the aliens, Ksul, explaining that he, too, is an enemy of Zola.  The revelation stays their execution and Steve and Ian recuperate with Ksul and his wife.  The problem is that Remender rushes these scenes.  We're supposed to believe that Steve has formed a deep bond with Ksul, one that helps him convince Ksul to rebel against Zofjor, the head of the tribe (and the guy who was trying to execute Steve and Ian in the first place).  Zofjor kills Ksul for his insolence, pitting a heartbroken Steve against him.  But, it all happens so quickly -- over the course of three pages -- that it doesn't really have the emotional impact that it's supposed to have.  It's supposed to show that Steve is falling apart quickly in the face of the challenges of Dimension Z, particularly when it's revealed that Zola has implanted a screen in Steve's chest.  But, instead, it's just a jumble of action that feels like it's simply moving us to where we need to be, not where the story takes us.

Remender does better in the flashbacks of Steve's youth, showing that his determination to defend his friend is the same determination that led him to try to convince Ksul to rebel.  The problem is that JR JR is at his worse here, depicting a young Steve as almost a bobble-head, distracting me for the entire sequence.

Needless to say, I was a little disappointed, particularly after the amazing last issue.  But, the twist at the end definitely holds a lot of promise, even though I'm curious why it was only when Zofjor cut Steve that he was able to see the screen.  Anyway, hopefully this issue was just a bump in the road.

Avenging Spider-Man #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Chris Yost continues to do the best job, to my mind, of giving us a realistic (relatively) portrayal of Dr. Octopus as Spider-Man.  Whereas "Amazing Spider-Man" #700 gave us an unbelievably heroic Doc Ock and "Superior Spider-Man" #1 gave us a troublingly villainous one, Yost strikes more of a balance here.  He gives us a Dr. Octopus committed to being a better Spider-Man than Peter was, but one who still expresses frustration with the indignities that he cannot believe that Peter endured.  One of those indignities that Otto refuses to accept comes when he decks Wolverine for presuming to touch him, a hit that I really relished watching due to my general dislike of Wolverine, particularly given recent attempts by Marvel to elevate him to the same leadership status as Captain America.  Here, we see exactly why he's not Captain America.  But, possibly more importantly, Yost uses this moment to have Logan do the math that Mary Jane apparently is incapable of doing and presents the first instance of someone wondering if Peter is who he says that he is.  In so doing, he also introduces the obvious conundrum (for Otto) of telepathy, something that Ock immediately recognizes as a threat and cleverly avoids by using the Parker charm.  Finally, the revelation that the spider girl was created by the Jackal raises a question that hadn't previously dawned on me, namely whether it'll be a villain who figures out Doc Ock is Spider-Man, not a hero.  The Jackal is a pretty savvy guy and if he manages to realize that he's not dealing with Peter as easily as Logan was, it could be all sorts of bad.  All these twists and turns so far are much more interesting (and less gimmicky) than anything happening in the main title, so I have to thank Yost for saving the concept to the extent that anyone could for me.

All-New X-Men #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This is the true story of five X-Men picked to come to the present and have their lives scripted to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.  The Real World...Xavier's Mansion!

The opening narration of the "Real World" came to me while reading this issue because we see exactly what it describes here:  people stop being polite and start getting real.  Everyone is trying to treat the original five X-Men with kid gloves, but it's clear that they're going to be able to do so for only so long.  Jean wrecks Kitty's room (where she's staying) with her telekinesis during a violent dream and is then overwhelmed when her telepathy gives her an inside look into the thoughts of everyone in the Mansion.  Kitty teaches Jean to block out the voices, something that she ironically learned to do from older Jean.  In doing so, the two bond and Jean begins to ask tentative questions about her relationship with other X-Men.  But, even this effort is complicated since, when Kitty says that she admired older Jean, original Jean's telepathy allows her to discover that Kitty wasn't quite as admiring of Jean as she claimed.  (On this score, I have to give Bendis huge ups for actually treating older Jean as a real person and not as a martyred saint.  She could be difficult!  Who knew?)

Moreover, Scott steals Logan's motorcycle and heads to town, causing him to discover the joys of cellular phones and bottled water.  I thought Bendis did a good job with their conversation outside the convenience store, with Logan showing some capacity to understand that Scott is going through a difficult time.  However, I particularly loved Scott's reaction, knocking back Wolverine with his optic blast and then leaving again.  I honestly didn't see that coming and I think that it's the moment where I realized that the X-Men have already started to lose their control over the kids and, as we see with Mystique observing the image of a teenage Scott, the world has started to notice.  Moreover, we don't really know what Scott wants.  It seems like he may be going to see his older self, his desire for answers driver by his fury over waking up one day in the present and finding himself isolated from his friends for a crime that he didn't commit.  But, who better to sway original Scott to the dark side than present Scott?  Again, Bendis is making it clear that the kids' learning period has come to a close and their actions are going to begin to have pretty serious consequences.

Along those lines, Bendis also shows that the status quo that existed in the original X-Men's team dynamics are in flux.  Jean has emerged, somewhat to her own surprise, as the leader of the team, as Bendis hinted would happen last issue.  Warren feels increasingly isolated from his friends over his anger at having been overruled, a sense of betrayal that probably isn't going to be helped when he discovers what happens to him in the future.  Moreover, I was reminded during this issue the rude awakening these kids are going to have.  Beyond Warren's obviously traumatic future, I realized that Jean is going to discover at some point that her entire family has been murdered.  I mean, it's probably going to be weird for original Bobby to have Kitty as his headmistress now that he knows that he's going to be dating her in the future.  It's a lot to process and it seems clear this issue that they're not all going to do so well at it.

This series continues to keep building and building steam.  My only negative this issue was actually Marquez.  In two separate instances, he splashed the panels across two pages in a way that wasn't entirely obvious that he had done so, resulting in me reading them page-by-page, realizing I read them in the the wrong order, and then having to re-read them left to right.  I like interesting panel designs, but they shouldn't get in the way of the story, as they do here.  Overall, though, it's a pretty minor complaint.  I'm still a really happy camper with this series.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Earth 2 #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a little more clunky of one than we normally see from Robinson, a result of his attempt to cram a lot of exposition into the story.  It actually reminds me of the challenge that he had in the first issue, where he similarly had to get a lot of facts on the table.  But, since I know that the awkward moments of the first issue had nothing to do with his ability to write dialogue but more a need to get the ball rolling, I'm confident that he'll return to form next issue.

Dialogue aside, Robinson sets up an interesting struggle between Steppenwolf and Marov, the king of Dherain who we learn aided and abetted Steppenwolf during the war and now provides him sanctuary.  You pretty much knew from the start where this "friendship" was going to go since, in human history, these sorts of alliances between conquering villains don't usually last all too long.  We learn that Marov is only after Steppenwolf's advanced technology and the World Army bounty whereas Steppenwolf is looking for a country from where he can launch his campaign for world conquest.  Both motives were pretty predictable.  However, the surprising twist was the revelation that Steppenwolf was going to be aided in his attempt to take over Dherain by Fury, the daughter of Wonder Woman.  Robinson has Marov ask the obvious question, why Wonder Woman's daughter would throw in her lot with an alien conqueror who killed her mother.  We don't get an answer here, but I'm sure that answer is going to drive not a few plots over the coming issues.

The main drawback to the issue is surprisingly the dialogue, something at which Robinson usually excels.  The exchange between the two Dherainian soldiers was seriously awkward, since I'm pretty sure that two soldiers chatting wouldn't feel the need to identify the name of their elite unit or to describe Steppenwolf as "powerhouse of energy, grand commander of the armies of Apokolips" given that everyone knows who he is.  Moreover, Steppenwolf and Marov's exchanges also felt forced, particularly when Steppenwolf suddenly denounced Marov despite having had a friendly discussion with him a few pages earlier.  I get that Steppenwolf knew that Marov was planning to move against him and had to announce his counter-attack at some point, but we're not really given any hint of it coming.  One minute they're sipping champagne, the next minute Steppenwolf is announcing that Marov's men are as good as dead.  I get that Robinson was trying to fill in some blanks, so I'll go easy on him, but this issue could've been truly spectacular had he found away to make the dialogue more fluid.

Still, with Steppenwolf and Fury now (somewhat awkwardly) introduced, it feels like all the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place in terms of building our basic understanding of Earth 2.  Steppenwolf makes it clear that he's been abandoned by his lieutenants (except for Fury) and I like the Napoleonesque vibe of the would-be conqueror plotting his return from isolation.  I get the sense that now the fun begins!

Wolverine and the X-Men #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Fine, I enjoyed this issue.  Aaron actually does something with a member of the Hellfire Club here, giving us some insight into the demons that drive Maximilian, the newly christened Dr. Frankenstein.  He also continues Idie's descent into darkness, showing her willingly trying to kill Calcabrina.  (When Quentin Quire is worried about you, you know it's bad.)  But, it's really Bradshaw who steals the show in showing the ridiculousness of the X-Men fighting a circus of zombie clowns.  From Goop's brass knuckles to Kitty taking down a clown with the Strong Man's hammer, he plays up the laughs inherent in this story to great effect.

I will say that I wonder how much longer I'm going to get this title now that Bendis is consistently showing us the same team in action on "All-New X-Men."  The only real difference between these two books is that this one in theory focuses on the students as well.  However, although Aaron did some interesting stuff with the students in the first few issues, I feel like they've been mostly afterthoughts for the last few issues.  I mean, sure, we learned that Eye-Boy can see magic in this arc, but I can't really say that we're getting the sort of focus on them that we did in "New Mutants" or "New X-Men."  Given their absence and the fact that I really, really hate the Kiddie Hellfire Club, I may be calling it a day on this title soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Superior Spider-Man #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

By buying this issue, I was essentially making a pact with Dan Slott, agreeing to accept this story on its own terms and not constantly rail against the decision to put Otto Octavius in charge of Peter Parker.  I'm not saying that I'm going to give him a free pass, but I'm at least committed to allowing the story unfold and see where we go.

Slott does a decent job, but, in the end, he seems to back off the two main concepts that define this story, that Otto will improve on Peter's tenure as Spider-Man and that he is Peter Parker for all intents and purposes.  By hedging his bets, I feel like Slott winds up losing the hand.

First, Otto has pledged to be a better Spider-Man than Peter was.  In this issue, we see his initial attempt at doing so as he brings a number of new innovations to his fight with the new Sinister Six.  He's developed some sort of remote-control device embedded in the spider emblem on his costume that allows him to activate devices via voice command, such as rendering Speed Demon's speed inoperable thanks to a frictionless surface he pre-arranged at Horizon Labs.  (I'm not entirely sure how you "activate" a frictionless surface, but I'm trying not to quibble.)  He also uses razor-sharp claws to embed nano-tracers into Boomerang, allowing him not only to track the Sinister Six but to hear their conversations. They're both cool innovations, to be sure.  But, the problem is that it seems somewhat redundant.  Maybe if "Big Time" hadn't happened, it would've been cool, similar to the time that Emma Frost took over Iceman's body and revealed to him everything that he was capable of doing but wasn't.  But, "Big Time" was so successful thanks to Slott allowing Peter to evolve.  The devices that we see here are cool, but, honestly, they just seem like devices that Peter himself may have eventually created given the time.  After all, the spider-emblem device is reminiscent of Peter's voice-activated Web-Shooters.  Slott set the bar so high when it comes to Peter's inventions during "Big Time" that nothing seems new here.

Moreover, we discover that Otto isn't as in control as he thinks he is.  He finds himself surprised when he abandons his attempt to flee the Sinister Six to save a cop from one of Boomerang's errant boomerangs and when he suddenly decides to stop pummeling Boomerang despite his obvious intention to beat him into a coma (or worse).  The surprise reveal is that Peter is still in there somewhere, although Otto can't "hear" him.  In terms of a narrative device, it's a clever move, because it's going to keep Otto from really sullying Spider-Man's name, as we all feared that he'd do.  I'm guessing that it's going to be what manages to keep Otto from successfully getting Mary Jane into bed or Spider-Man from killing someone.  The problem, though, is that once again it raises the question of how significant of an impact this storyline is going to wind up having.  I mean, we all knew that Peter was going to return.  But, if he hadn't been able to control Otto's impulses, as we learned now that he can do, then he would've likely returned with a very different reputation.  Maybe Otto would've killed someone.  Maybe MJ would never be able to get over the violation she would've felt if she slept with Otto.  It would've been interesting to see how Peter handled that.  But, if Peter is able to stop Otto from committing the gravest transgressions to his good name, then the only real impact of this period is going to be that Peter was something of a dick to Grady.

In other words, I'm disappointed.  In a way, I really wanted Slott to go all in.  Have Otto beat Boomerang into a coma.  Have Spider-Man reveal razored Web-Lines.  Instead, we get something in the middle that just makes you feel like this whole storyline has a clock ticking over its head like that terrible Nickleback video, counting down the moments until it's all forgotten.

Secret Avengers #36 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.

OK, I was distracted for the first few pages because I wasn't quite sure how we got where we were at that point.  I re-read the Earth-666 parts of "Secret Avengers" #35 and, to be honest, I'm still not entirely sure why Beast, Captain Britain, and Hawkeye had to return to the Hall of the Avengers of the Undead to activate the portal to our world.  But, I have some vague recollection that the portal only ever appeared there, so I guess that makes sense.  It might've been a little better if Remender had reminded us of that fact, though, since it interrupted the flow of the story for me when I had to stop reading and flip through "Secret Avengers' #35 to try to find out how we got there.  (Though, the resolution was pretty damn hilarious and I just want to put down a marker right now that I would welcome a Beast, Captain Britain, and Hawkeye buddy mini-series at any time.)

But, I'm also still a little unclear on how the Secret Avengers learned that Brian's father was involved in the creation of the Descendants.  In issue #35, Brian mentions that the Human Torch had discovered that fact, so I'm assuming it happened during the team's original skirmish with the Descendants.  But, I wasn't going to read yet another comic just to get through the first few pages of this issue, so I decided just to take this one on fact.  I guess it's the problem of telling this sort of epic story, particularly one that builds off issues from much earlier in the run.


Once I got past this somewhat confusing start, though, I was totally floored by where Remender went.  I loved that Beast, Captain Britain, and Hawkeye wind up appearing in a New York under siege from the Descendants, with Sentinels running wild and Spidey the only hero left standing.  Scalera does a great job of telegraphing their confusion, particularly since they had just moments ago been thrilled that they managed to escape the Avengers of the Undead.  But, Remender takes us somewhere else that I didn't see coming, namely leaving the heroes at a loss for how to solve the problem of the Descendants.  It's a brilliant (and totally logical, in the context of the story) dilemma:  if they activate the Orb of Necromancy, they kill all the Descendants, but if they wait too long to do so, the virus will have turned all of humanity into Descendants, meaning that they'll wipe humanity (albeit an altered one) off the face of the Earth.

Remender doesn't just set up some sort of cool action plot here; he really pays attention to the emotional aspects of this dilemma, making it a much stronger story.  First, he has Henry kill a Doombot in defending Hawkeye and it's the Doombot's all-too-human death that really fuels their dilemma, since they now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Descendants have feelings.  As Hawkeye had said in issue #35, they're dealing with human beings, at least emotionally, not robots.  Second, by having the trio encounter Spider-Man and later Giant Man, Remender has some of the best minds in the Marvel Universe staring down the problem.  It will probably result in the solution in the end, but, right now, he does a great job of using it to convey the sense of helplessness that they all feel, that these four geniuses can't find a way to outmaneuver the Father without leaving all of humanity (or, at the minimum, a large chunk of it) dead.  It's these two twists that give this story its emotional impact and moves it beyond just the usual slugfest.  Add to that the Human Torch's fight with Captain Britain, Black Ant's fight with Venom, and Hank Pym's continued Deathlokification and you've got yourself a really emotionally charged book.  (By the way, just in case you were wondering, "Deathlokification" is not in the Spell Check dictionary.)

All in all, even with the somewhat confusing beginning, this issue was just really classic.  As I said in my review for last issue, Remender is telling his own epic here, the sort of story that Kurt Busiek told in his Kang War.  Without tie-in issues and the like to dilute the story, Remender just makes each issue all the more powerful than the next.  Plus, Scalera is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists.  The splash page of Giant Man punching the Sentinel was totally unexpected and awesome.  I'm going to be sad to this series end, because I feel like it's really just hitting its stride.  But, at least it's been a truly stellar end.

Venom #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At the end of last issue, we were left with the U-Foes revealing that they had acquired some sort of machine that they were using on kidnapped victims to figure out its purpose.  I actually kind of like that twist, since Bunn pretty much nails the U-Foes perfectly.  They're not really Doc Ocks or Dr. Dooms who would be able to figure out the machine on their own; they're just a bunch of thugs hoping it'll help them get more power.  I still wonder where they got it and how it's connected to Project Rainbow, the alleged fringe-science government program, but, I figure we'll probably learn more next issue.

But, aside from the mystery over machine's origins, Bunn uses the reveal that it's actually a memory machine to great effect, since, in one panel, Katy Kiernan gets a lot more interesting.  Why is she shaking hands with the Kingpin?  Is her husband the person by whose grave we see her standing?  Speaking of supporting characters, I'm also really digging the Valkyrie/Venom dynamic.  On a personal level, it's fun to watch Flash get all discombobulated around her.  Plus, on a fighting level, they work well as a team, with Valkyrie evening out Flash's impulsiveness.

We also discover what Flash had come to suspect is true, that the symbiote is alive and well.  It was a little odd to see it talking as if it had a personality, which makes me wonder whether it has developed a higher level of awareness than we've previously seen it have or if Flash has simply created a separate personality for it within his mind.  Either way, it probably doesn't bode well for Flash.

All in all, I'm pretty glad that I accidentally wound up getting these issues in my pull-list stack.  I'd be pretty happy reading a comic with Flash and Katy on the trail of some sort of secret-government conspiracy, almost inverting the original premise of this series.  Fingers crossed that we don't regress to demons and devils.