Sunday, March 31, 2013

Age of Ultron #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy effing crap, I did not see that coming.

First, before we talk about the surprise reveal at the end, let's talk about the rest of this issue.  Looking over the course of the series so far, Bendis has done a great job of slowly building the plot step-by-step.  (It's almost irrelevant at this point how Ultron took over the world.  I find myself caring less and less about it, because I'm much more interested in watching the heroes react to this situation.)  First, Hawkeye discovers Spidey on a patrol and takes a risk by rescuing him.  Then, Spidey tells his story and it provides an opening for the heroes to get intel on Ultron that they haven't previously had.  Then, we see that plan put into action in this issue.  Cause and effect.  We don't often get that clear of a chain of action in comics (and particularly not Bendis' comics) but you really understand why we are where we are by the end of this issue.

Along the way, Bendis pays attention to the characters, making sure that they're not just chess pieces (as he used to treat them when he wrote "Avengers").  Remember when I reviewed "Fantastic Four" #5 AU and said that we hadn't gotten confirmation that anyone had died?  Well, we get it here.  We learn that Hulk and Thor are dead, but, most devastatingly, we also learn that Jessica Jones and Danielle Cage are also dead.  It's their death that motivates Luke to volunteer for the mission.  Once again:  cause and effect.  Moreover, we even see Taskmaster mourn the death of Black Panther in this issue as he and Red Hulk give their lives to get their hands on Ultron technology.  I mean, Bendis even managed to explain Ultron's motivations, reminding us that he has programmed himself to have human emotions, something that would lead him to keep around enough people to gloat about his win.  I totally bought it, since, after all, why would Ultron even bother with conquering Earth if he wasn't driven by revenge?  It helps set up a believable fatal flaw that the heroes can exploit.

But, of course, the scene stealer is the reveal that Luke isn't "selling" She-Hulk to Ultron, as planned, but to Vision.  It seems entirely plausible that Vision has been put to work by Ultron as his middle man, though, given Vision's track record, it's also entirely possible that he really is in cahoots with Ultron.  We'll see soon enough.

Bendis is definitely really building something here.  This issue was tense; you really felt like you were in that bunker with the heroes, desperate to find any small edge.  But, the idea that they've found that edge sets off a spark that we haven't seen and I love the idea that their moving bases to the Savage Land, a desperate ploy just to get them more time.  Part of what makes it exciting is that Bendis makes it clear that it's probably unlikely that they're going to be able to get there without trouble.

All in all, this issue really kicks up this series a notch.  Great stuff all around.

Fantastic Four #5 AU (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, Fraction really nailed this one.  It's the perfect tie-in issue, where you don't need to know all that much about the series' ongoing story and you can just slip right into a different take on the larger cross-over event.

Here, Fraction has the Fantastic Four receive a distress call from the Black Panther and leave Franklin and Valeria in space to go help Earth.  We don't really get too much more insight into Ultron here, but we do seem to get some sort of confirmation that the events of "Age of Ultron" aren't going to last.  Ben, Johnny, and Reed all seemingly die, something that seems unlikely to "stick" after the event ends.  So far, if I'm not mistaken, we've seen people allude to heroes' deaths, but we haven't actually seen anyone die.  With three of the four members of the Fantastic Four "dying" here, though, we seem to get some sort of confirmation that Marvel has something up its sleeve in terms of how "Age of Ultron" will wind up fitting into the larger continuity.

Overall, it's a strong tie-in issue.  It's poignant with some good action and a clear connection to the event.  It's totally not necessary to read in context of the larger story, but if you enjoy reading the Fantastic Four without all the baggage, it's a good stand-alone issue.

Superior Spider-Man #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I know that I said that I was dropping this title, but I decided that I wanted to get "Superior Spider-Man" #6AU and the collector in me wouldn't let me skip issue #6.  So, here I am.  Unfortunately, I can't say that anything here really changed my mind about this title.

On one hand, I have to say I did enjoy Screwball and Jester.  The problem is that I enjoyed them so much that I found myself wishing that they were facing Peter, not Otto.  It's the sort of story that we could've seen in "Marvel Team-Up," where Spidey and Johnny trade them quip for quip.  Slott shows a real sense of humor while writing them and the mind boggles in considering the sort of stuff that he could've done with a equally playful Peter.  But, instead, it becomes an outlet for the psychological trama that Otto suffered as a bullied child and he beats them to a pulp.  OK, sure, Slott make an interesting point along the way about how the Internet has made us all into a bunch of gutless voyeurs, but I feel like that point is lost by the excessive brutality that Otto displays here.

I also just continue to be baffled by other characters' reactions.  First, I still don't understand why JJJ, Jr. embraces Spidey now that he seems to be proving to be the public menace that JJJ, Jr. has made him into being all these years.  I mean, are we really not arresting him for murdering Massacre?  It's pretty clear that he had him defeated and didn't need to kill him.  Doesn't he at least go to trial?  As I mentioned in my review of "Cable and X-Force"# 6, I find that the Marvel Universe has gotten excessively legalistic lately, so it's weird that this phenomenon doesn't transfer here.  I mean, Cap does have a point.  Sure, Logan notes that everyone at that table has blood on their hands, but it's a little different when Spidey is on camera bashing and killing people.  Logan concedes as much at the end, but doing so actually hurts his argument, since it makes you wonder why he and all the other "spies, soldiers, and killers" around the Avengers table aren't also getting called to account in this new legalistic world.  After all, everyone wants Cyclops in prison for killing Professor X.  Do you just go to prison if you kill a good guy?

Ugh.  Anyway, this title stays off the list after "Age of Ultron."  It's all just too painful to watch the train wreck that it's becoming.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, I got my wish!  They hug it out!  Literally!  Hurrah!

Lobdell gives us a gift here, delivering Jason from the rage that has defined him since he returned from the dead and bringing him back into the fold of the Bat-family.  Unlike everything about the Bat-books over the last few months, this moment actually feels like something planning for a while.  After all, the symmetry couldn't be better:  as two Robins exit (with Damian dying and Dick leaving), another one returns.  If anyone deserves this moment, it's Jason.

Lobdell does a pretty good job (particularly for him) of taking us on a tour of Jason's sub-conscious, showing how much he has allowed his life to be defined by Joker.  In fact, it's actually the only Bat-book to address the aftermath of "Death of the Family" directly, showing how Joker's assault on the Bat-family leaves Jason contemplating his tortured relationship with him.  Moreover, it also opens the door to Jason contemplating his role within the Bat-family itself, with Lobdell showing that Jason's way of dealing with his past has largely been to destroy it.

Above all else, Lobdell uses Jason's supporting cast brilliantly to transition Jason to this new phase.  Alfred provides the warmth that Jason's entire life has been lacking and reminds Jason why he would want to return to the fold in the first place, why family is important to someone who needs it as much as Jason does.  Moreover, Ducra understandably plays the role of Jason's therapist and pushes him to put aside his past so that he can live in the present.  Finally, Bruce does what needs to be done to set the stage for the final reconciliation and tells Jason that it's time to put aside the blame and come home.  By using these characters so effectively, Lobdell makes the final moment feel organic, a hard-won truth that Jason only now lets himself believe.

Honestly, I couldn't be happier.  I've been waiting for this moment since Jason returned from the dead.  Judd Winick did a great job in the DCU of showing the understandably violent initial phase of Jason's rebirth, where his rage drove him to become the deadly vigilante that he was as the Red Hood.  But, it's time to draw a line under that chapter.  After so many missed opportunities with this character, I feel like his oddly extended adolescence is coming to an end.  DC is actually going to let Jason become an adult, to put aside his baggage and rise above his tragedy.  I really doubted that we would ever get here and I'm really excited to see where we're going.  So, thanks, Scott Lobdell, for righting this ship before you left.  I think we're actually good now.

Nightwing #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this issue did not do what I wanted it to do.

I mean, on some level, Higgins gets the job done.  I thought the use of the video game as the vehicle for Dick's mourning of Damian was a nice touch.  It struck at the tragedy of a sudden death, the sudden removal of the person from a whole pattern of expected plans.  Moreover, he really conveyed how dizzying it has been for Dick to have his life fall apart so completely over the last two weeks, from discovering that Batman's lying to Joker's assault on Haly's Circus to Damian's death.  As we see in his conversations with Sonia, it's shaken him to the core, leaving him wondering why he lets anyone into his life given that the one constant in his life seems to be that they'll eventually leave it.  Moreover, Sonia gets some great moments here.  I was genuinely touched by her sad story about Cocoa, the dog at the home of a set of foster parents who wound up thinking that she wasn't a good fit for them.  Her loss is so poignant there, both in losing Cocoa but also the possibility of a family, and it made me, possibly for the first time, hope that maybe Dick and Sonia do get together.

And then we bring back Tony Zucco.

Seriously, I have no idea what Higgins is thinking.  It seems to be an almost cruel inverse of the above formula:  the only people who stay in his life are the ones that he doesn't want.  Higgins seems to be doing it to specifically keep Dick and Sonia apart, because I can't for the life of me figure out a reason why he'd do it otherwise.  I mean, what does Tony Zucco being alive bring to Nightwing's story?  Moreover, why now?  Why would he suddenly resurface after all these years and send an e-mail to his daughter announcing his return?  It's all way too convenient and I can't say that I have any interest in seeing where it goes.

Moreover, the art in this issue is truly abysmal.  There's a scene where Dick is at a coffee shop with Sonia where it looks like someone has beaten him in the face repeated with a bat.

Honestly, I really just wish this series could find its footing at some point.  It's been 18 long issues and I feel like we've been all over the place, never letting Dick's story gel long enough to make it interesting.  It doesn't have to be tragedy all the time.  He can get the girl and fight crime and just be a guy.

(Also, in yet another example this month of pet peeve #2, Batgirl appears nowhere in this issue.)

Justice League of America #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not quite sure what I think about this issue.  On one hand, I thought it was fast-paced and intriguing.  On the other hand, I kept wondering why people were doing what they were doing.

For example, why would Amanda Waller insist on sending an untrained team against a secret society of super-villains?  It seems completely ridiculous that she couldn't wait for Green Arrow to emerge from his coma and provide them with information that would undoubtedly help improve its chances for success.  Does she want the team to fail?  Is she secretly colluding with whoever the guy running the Secret Society is?  It just makes no sense that she would want to jeopardize the team's chances of success by rushing it into the field before it's ready.  If she really thinks that this team will help keep America safe, then why wouldn't she be doing everything she could to make sure that it succeeds?

I also don't understand what the guy running the Secret Society intended to do with Scarecrow.  He seems intent on shooting him, but then it appears that he knew that Scarecrow would respond that he wasn't afraid of death when confronted with the gun, allowing him to launch into his soliloquy about Scarecrow's obsession with fear.  Bizarre.

Also, I have no idea what happened in the back-up feature.  Did Martian Manhunter make that guy go after the President?  If not, how did that guy manage to get passed security?  

But, for all those faults, we've still got some potential here.  I'm intrigued by the Secret Society, though I have to say that it's a little pat that the first trial run for the JLA is Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.  Again, it's almost like Waller is colluding with the Secret-Society guy to make it happen.  Most importantly, the team seems like it'll have more interesting dynamics than the Justice League itself.  Catwoman and Steve?  Hawkman vs. everyone?  It could definitely be interesting, so I'm willing to give it a little more time.  But, I think Johns has to rein in his take on Waller in particular, making her seem more like a focused warrior rather than an insane zealot.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Justice League #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Unlike every other issue of this series, this one was kind of fun!  Johns does a great job injecting some life into the League by having them invite potential members to the Watchtower.  In so doing, he actually winds up underlining just how stuffy the League has been.  Flash does his best to liven up the mood when it's just the six core members, but everyone pretty much ignores him.  But, by adding these three new members, I feel like it won't be the same story of everyone jockeying for position as it has been.  Element Woman will bring some daffy lightness, Firestorm some youthful antics, and Atom some quiet heroics.  As much as I'm surprised to say it, this series would probably benefit with only having two or three of the core six members appearing at any given time, with the roster filled by these three new members.  I'm intrigued to see how Johns winds up playing it.

The Shazam back-up story is as spectacular as ever.  Johns does such a great job making you feel how lonely Billy feels.  I mean, he's done that before in scenes where Billy speaks to Tawny, underlining how a tiger in a zoo is Billy's only real friend.  But, here, when the other foster kids arrive, you can see Billy struggling not to feel relieved, fighting his need to ask them for help.  Seriously, at this point, I'm excited that we're this much closer to everyone just hugging!  This story dragged for a while there with Billy and Freddy's mad-cap adventures, but Johns is getting us where we needed to be.  Billy's going to have to decide whether or not he has it in him to be a hero.  I wonder if John's going to have Billy's power split between all the foster kids, as I think it was during "Flashpoint," or if they're just going to provide him with some moral support.  I guess we'll see.  

X-Factor #253 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to say, at some point during this issue, I wondered why David decided to take us down a "Venom" road and suddenly turn "X-Factor" into a small-time "Inferno."  Although we see other heroes (such as the Avengers and Fantastic Four) fighting the various demon hordes descending on Earth in a two-page splash page, X-Factor appears to be largely on its own in terms of combating the Hell Lords themselves.  Even with Tier and his apparent ability to kill the Hell Lords, the team seems vastly outgunned here.  I'm just not sure why we had to go down this road.  After all, couldn't Tier just've been an ordinary werewolf?  Did he also have to be some sort of pre-destined demon-slayer as well?

Moreover, it's also getting hard to tell who's doing what why.  Why exactly does Strong Guy save Jezebel?  He says that he's on "his" side, but double-crossing Mephisto doesn't seem like the wisest course of action for a guy interested only in #1.  Speaking of Jezebel, I've given up all hope of even understanding what her motivations are at this point.  We first met her when she was conspiring with the Isolationist to destroy all mutants, but now she seems to be leaping to humanity's defense.  I mean, I guess those two positions aren't mutually exclusive (she could view mutantkind as separate from humanity, as many people do), but she just seems much more altruistic than she did in her first few appearances.  It's possible that she's had a change of heart, but I feel like David really needs to show us that at some point.

[Sigh.]  I mean, it's Peter David, so we could still go cool places here.  Fingers crossed.

(Also, in a great example of pet peeve #2, Strong Guy at no point menacingly grabs Monet by the jaw.  I actually don't think that they're ever in a panel together.)

Captain Marvel #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As if Deathbird appearing last issue with a seemingly unexplained hatred of Carol wasn't sufficiently random, we learn this issue that it wasn't even Deathbird.  Instead, she appears to be some sort of clone or something (who Carol's friend hilariously dubbed "Newbird") and she's working for a mysterious stranger.  Said stranger appears to be trying to let Carol know that he can get to her family and friends, but it's unclear why he needs Newbird to do that.  Moreover, I'm not sure if he picked Newbird  as his agent because of any particular connection that she had to Carol or if he could simply get his hands on her.  But, at least we get some sort of acknowledgment here that Newbird's appearance is as random as it felt last issue, so I'm more or less a happy camper.

Switching gears, I have to say that DeConnick and Sebela made a good call taking away Carol's ability to fly.  It's bringing out different aspects of her personality, not only showing her stubborn refusal to accept that limitation, but also her creativity in working around it.  These stories can often be clunkers, because the change is often portrayed as permanent, even when you know that it's not going to be (e.g., Bruce Wayne's broken back).  Here, though, DeConnick and Sebela work in the likelihood that someone at some point is going to be able to cure her, so we don't have to experience the typical eye-rolling that comes with this sort of "hero without her powers" story.  It's a temporary glitch, but an important one, since it's not like superheroes can afford to lose an important edge when they're battling super-villains.  Carol only battles regular guys here, so she's able to work around it pretty easily, but we'll see how she does in her rematch with Newbird.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Avengers #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ugh.  I'm trying to hang in there with "New Avengers," but, honestly, Hickman is not making it easy.

I mean, I get where he's going for most of this issue.  The Illuminati go to their respective corners and try to develop ways to destroy worlds that could incur into our dimension.  Sure.  But, when they travel to the most recent world to make an incursion, they discover that Galactus (or Galaktus, as he's known in that universe) is in the process of destroying it.  So, why in God's name would they stop him?  They need that world destroyed.  If Galaktus doesn't destroy it, they will.  So, why shoot one of your arrows if you don't have to do so?  It makes no sense and Hickman does nothing to try to explain it.

Ugh.  I'm not sure how much more of this series I can take.

Captain America #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender builds up Ian enough here that I actually began to wonder if he wasn't going to wind up following Steve into our reality.  Rather than agree to flee Dimension Z with Steve so that they can cure Steve and return with the Avengers, Ian forces Steve to return to help the Phrox from Zola's inevitable attack.  It's exactly the sort of move that you'd expect from Steve's son and, for a moment, I wondered if Ian wasn't going to become the Damian Wayne of "Captain America" (except, hopefully, with a longer life-span).

But, Remender then appears to lay the foundation for Ian staying in Dimension Z, likely as its co-ruler with Jet.  As Jet is in the process of killing Steve, without knowing that he has Ian with him, Steve realizes that she's motivated by the loss of her brother, something that actually gives him hope, since it means that she'll care for Ian when Steve's gone.  But, when Jet discovers that Ian was alive and questions Zola's orders to kill Steve given the mercy that her showed her, Remender seems to be setting up a resolution where Jet helps Steve and Ian overthrow Zola and the two of them (Jet and Ian) rule in his absence to make it a better place.  However, given that Remender has kept us guessing throughout this series, I wouldn't bet the house that he's going to go for such an easy resolution.

I will say, though, that this issue wasn't as great as the other ones have been.  I was confused by Remender having Cap chastise himself for stealing Zola's son, as if Zola really would've provided him with an emotionally healthy childhood had he been given the chance.  Moreover, it seems hard to believe that Steve could quite simply cut Zola from his chest and continue living.  I mean, if it had been so easy, why hadn't he done so previously?    Plus, I'm not really sure if I understand what Zola wants here, other than Cap dead.  Why did he need his own dimension in the first place?  Why did he need biological children (if they are his biological children) if he already had mutate slaves?  Although I've thoroughly enjoyed this arc, I feel like Remender has to start bringing it to a close before we start asking too many more questions like these.

Cable and the X-Men #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I really enjoy the tone of this series, but Hopeless includes two sequences here that actually speak to two issues that I've been having lately with the X-books.  Namely, the X-books seem to be excessively focused on the legal and moral repercussions of their characters' actions even though they're also being wildly inconsistent on how this responsibility is being applied.

Take, for example, Logan's conversation with Colossus.  I get that Logan and Peter go way back, so Logan knows that Peter's not a killer.  But, can he really let Peter off the hook, morally, for his actions while under the influence of the Phoenix Force while holding Cyclops responsible for his actions?  If we're really buying this moral argument that the Phoenix Force corrupted the Five to the extent that they weren't responsible for their actions, why is it true for Peter but not Illyana or Scott?  Logan seems actually to be arguing that Illyana and Scott were already bad seeds, but it seems a stretch in Scott's case.  (Illyana, I'm willing to concede.)  Sure, he disagrees with Scott and dislikes him, but I think that it's hard to argue that Scott is any more of a natural killer than Peter is.    Moreover, Logan certainly is more of a natural killer than Peter or Scott, so it's not like he's really in the place to sit in judgment of either of them.  To me, this whole conversation shows a certain sloppiness when it comes to the X-Men's moral assessment of their fallen teammates, even if it does at least acknowledge that Logan himself has managed to escape being held against this standard.

On the legal issues, I'm starting to wonder why exactly Cable and his team can't explain what they're doing.  When Alex asked Cable why all those guys were dead, couldn't he have just explained what happened?  I think the implicit argument is that they couldn't possibly get a fair trial (or be delayed by one), something that Cyclops and his team also implicitly argue.  It seems to be the way that Marvel is establishing that Cable and his X-Force and Scott and his X-Men are renegades.  But, honestly, part of the willful suspense of disbelief with comics is that no one really goes to trial for their actions ever.  I mean, how many people have accidentally been killed or how much property has totally been destroyed by superheroes?  Shouldn't they all be brought to trial?  Should Alex been on trial for his repeated attempts to kill Gabriel?  Should Logan be on trial for his numerous (I mean, numerous) homicides?  Should Wanda be on trial for the mutants who died when they suddenly lost their powers as a result of M-Day?  Should Rogue be on trial for all the people that she put into comas?  (I'll assume Thor, as a god, is above the legal authority of the United States.)  Basically, Captain America is probably the only person on the "Uncanny Avengers" squad who shouldn't spend a few years defending himself in the American judicial system.  Why are we suddenly starting to care now?  Previously, outlaw status had more to do with the fact that you were being hunted because your team was a national-security issue, not because someone needs to serve you with a subpoena.

Anyway, I know it's a somewhat weird digression (and I never really address the issue itself), but I feel like both these trends affect "Cable and the X-Force" and Hopeless would do well to try to start avoiding them entirely.  I mean, I'm all for them running from the law; I just don't need to be provided legal briefs telling me what USC statute they broke in doing so.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

All-New X-Men #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is the first one that I would say feels "normal."  Whereas the first eight issues of this series and the first three issues of "Uncanny X-Men" have portrayed a quick succession of events, this one shows us the X-Men trying to draw a line under those experiences and start fresh, from the new status quo.

(In writing that paragraph, it makes you realize that I should probably re-read those 11 issues just to make sure that I've really got a grip on all the nuances and sequences.)

Bendis wisely uses this issue to return us to the X-Men's earliest days, showing the original X-Men looking nothing like a cohesive team.  This time, it's Kitty's responsibility to mold them into one and Bendis does a great job having Kitty speak to each of their failings.  Bendis has always been awful at characterization, having characters do whatever he needs them to do to advance a plot, even if it's something that they'd likely never do.  But, he continues to avoid those pitfalls in this series.  Jean struggles not to use her telepathy irresponsibly, Beast rebuffs Kitty's attempt at criticism (in part because he already knows what the criticism will be and has likely addressed it in his head), Bobby has failed to take the exercise seriously, Scott is unable to command respect, and Warren places himself above the entire fray as he questions why he's still there.  Bendis really gets them, both the flawed people that they were at the beginning but also the new characterizations appropriate for their changed circumstances.  If Jean's darker use of her powers isn't enough of a reminder of those changes, Bobby calling Kitty "Professor" certainly is.

Outside the core group, Bendis also does a great job with Mystique.  In both appearances so far, she uses not just her mutant powers but her ability to project authority to get what she wants.  She's a powerful character, one that makes your realize why Kitty freaks out so much when Jean reveals that Scott met her.  I love the idea that she's decided to forget the whole mutant thing and try to make some cash.  I can't wait to see what she has up her sleeve.

Seriously, this series is starting to remind me of the great mid-200s run on this title and I can't think of a higher compliment.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spider-Man 2099 #23: "No Fury"

*** (three of five stars)

A woman with cybernetic implants observes Spidey from the shadows as he swings through the city.  Remarking to herself that he's gotten cocky, she fires a blast at him from her finger, which Miguel only barely manages to dodge (thanks to his accelerated vision).  He tries to find the culprit, but the woman has already disappeared.  Watching him depart, the woman remarks that she can't believe that Spider-Man gave her "brother" so much trouble and demands to know why a nearby flyboy isn't chasing after him.  She accuses the flyboy of being afraid of Spidey and, when the flyboy grabs her wrist telling her that he doesn't have to take her abuse, she belts him.

Meanwhile, at Stark-Fujikawa, Kasey watches a holographic replay of Spider-Man saving her from the Specialist and bringing her to the clinic after his fight with Bloodsword.  As she watches, Hikaru-sama appears from the shadows, informing her that he knows that she has strong feelings for Spider-Man and suggesting that he has the same for her given the number of times that he has saved her, "a total stranger."  When Kasey accuses him of wanting to use her to get to Spidey, Hikaru-sama admits that he's in a complicated place, given that he must avenge the Specialist but also owes Spidey a debt for saving him (in the wake of Discord's attack on the city's computers).  He observes that the latter is more important than the former, because the Specialist is just an employee.  Kasey accuses him of egotism and he responds by saying that he has reason to be so, whereas she is merely the child of a mother who overdosed on rapture and a father who sold her on the black market for it.  He continues, saying that she escaped from public care, but had to push drugs and her body to survive.  He asks whether Spider-Man could care about such a "cheap little vermin" and tells her to let him help her with her pain.

Uptown, Miguel appears at Xina's apartment, where John F. Kennedy greets him.  "Jack" tells Miguel that he keeps house for Xina and escorts him into her apartment, which is full of "twencen" memorabilia.  Miguel wanders into Xina's bedroom, where he sees a picture of them by her bedside.  He sits on the bed, only to be surprised that it's a waterbed, accidentally popping a hole in the mattress with his talons.  When he hears Xina call him from the hallway, he uses his webbing to patch up the holes.  Xina then shows Miguel that "Jack" is a robot, taking off his head (and prompting him to tell Miguel that he "used to be a head of state").

At Alchemax, Tyler Stone escorts the cyborg woman, named Risque, to see her brother, Venture, who's still in the process of being repaired.  Risque promises to finish the job and vindicate Venture's name, a pledge that causes him to emerge from his coma and whisper to her that Spider-Man is his.  She whispers back that he fumbled the ball and that she's going to run with it and then turns to the room and informs them that Venture wished her the best of luck.  (Oh, sibling rivalry.)

At Xina's apartment, Xina tells Miguel that she would've decked him if he had shown up a year ago.  He apologizes, something that takes her off guard, since he would've never done so previously.  She says that she dated him because she felt sorry for him and that it annoyed his dad.  He then tells her that he's engaged to Dana (whom she calls "Donna") and, when she asks what he wants, that he needs help reprogramming Lyla after the "tech glitches" the other day.  She asks why she would do so for him, after he dumped her for "Deanna," and he says that it's something that Dana couldn't do in a million years.  She then announces that she'll get her tools.

Finally, Gabe enters Kasey's apartment Downtown, where Raff expresses surprise that he's there, given that he thought Kasey ended things with him.  Gabe asks where Kasey is and Raff tells him about the S.I.E.G.E. guys who grabbed her.  He tells her that no arrest report has been filed on her and that he can't find her anywhere in the system.  Gabe considers going to Miguel for help while, elsewhere, Kasey is hooked to tubes in a vat of some sort of liquid.  (Think Luke Skywalker in "Empire Strikes Back.")  She thinks to herself that she's going to use her new powers to take down Alchemax, something that Hikaru-sama knows she's thinking, commenting to himself, "Poor Karyn 'Kasey' Nash.  How little you know."

In the back-up feature, Miguel's parents come to visit him at school, with George mistaking Xina for an Asian servant.  Meanwhile, Gabe runs into Tyler Stone's son, Kron.  Kron smacks Gabe and, when he cries, Conchatta arrives on the scene, smacking Kron.  Kron throws a rock at George, who threatens him, only to have Tyler arrive on the scene and demand that George release his son.

The Review
David delivers a solid issue, letting some of last issue's revelations (Gabe's knowledge of Miguel's identity, Lyla's malfunctioning) fade into the background in order to develop some of the other ones (Miguel's relationship with Xina, Stark-Fujikawa's kidnapping of Kasey).  As you can tell from possibly the longest summary I've ever written, David is spinning a lot of plates right now, but so far he's doing so in a way that keeps you wanting more.

The Good
1) I love how Peter David yet again shows how much he respects the audience by having Hikaru-sama note that Spidey saved Kasey at least twice in his first few appearances, hypothesizing that he therefore knows her personally in his civilian identity.  No one has ever figured out that Superman is Clark Kent given the number of times that he's saved Lois Lane, but Peter David has someone do the math within the first 25 issues of this series.  Great stuff.

2) So, Kasey and possibly Conchatta were prostitutes.  Peter David is definitely not making 2099 seems like a world full of hope and possibilities.

3) David really makes you wonder why Miguel is dating Dana instead of Xina.  Sure, their conversation is hostile, but they have a witty repartee that shows a spark that Miguel's relationship with Dana has never exhibited.  In fact, Miguel implying that Dana is not as smart as Xina seems to prove George's point that Miguel only dates girls who he can insult.  It makes me hope they get together at some point.

4) Seriously, talk about a fully realized cast of supporting characters.  David is juggling so many balls here that you almost feel like he could spin off a second series just focused on Miguel's family and friends!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Batman and Robin #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As usual with silent issues, this issue is full of meaningful moments that require time to process them fully.

In presenting the contents of Damian's room, Gleason manages to convey everything that you need to know about Damian.  You've got the musical instruments, full sketchbook, and bonsai tree, reminders of Damian's autodidactic tendencies.  You've also got the "trophies" that he won from the other Robins resting on the mantle, reminding us that he needed things like art, gardening, and music to offset the brutal nature that he often struggled to control.  Then, you've got Titus, lying next to his bed, waiting for Damian to come home.  Tomasi and Gleason have done a brilliant job with Titus, showing him as Damian's weak spot, to the point where I've often worried about his safety since he seemed the most obvious target for anyone who wanted to hurt Damian.  I was reading this issue when my partner returned home from just a one-day trip and our dog danced around him, barking the whole time, so excited was she to see him.  The moment heightened the emotion of that page, obviously, since Titus is waiting in vain.  Damian isn't coming home.

After reminding us of who Damian was, Tomasi and Gleason go about showing us how much he will be missed.  It's hard to tell what's the more heartbreaking moment, Bruce holding Damian's small glove in his hand (reminiscent of Damian holding his smaller boots to Bruce's bigger ones last issue) or seeing his solitary reflection in the skyscraper.  Titus himself gets a moment, running to the Batmobile in excitement when Bruce returns, only to be disappointed when Damian doesn't appear.  By the time we get to Bruce cradling Damian's empty costume, it's all almost too much.

This issue, so far, is the only "Requiem" issue that I've read that actually feels like a tribute to Damian.  It's fitting, obviously, for it to be in this title.  Even though I haven't been thrilled with Tomasi's work all of the time, he really understood Damian.  In fact, I continued to get this series because it was the only place where Damian consistently appeared.  He just brought something so different and unexpected to the Bat-family and Tomasi and Gleason have done an amazing job of showing that in this series.

But, in showing how much Damian will be missed, they also reminded me how ridiculous it is that he died in the first place.  On some level, I get why Dan Slott felt the need to shake up Spider-Man, a character with 50 years of history weighing down every story told about him.  But, Damian was just starting to come into his own in the DCnU.  His progress had already been interrupted by the reboot and I feel like we were finally just getting to where we had been in the initial run of "Batman and Robin," watching him engage with the world around him in a way uniquely his own.  This series' recent annual was a great example of that.

At this point, the only reason I can see why DC killed of Damian Wayne is sheer vanity on Grant Morrison's part.  He took his ball and went home.  Morrison talks about how his plan was always to kill off Damian, but you have to wonder why DC allowed him to do so.  After all, despite what he might think, Morrison doesn't own Batman.  By insisting that Damian had to die because he said so, Morrison just seems to be confirming my suspicions lately that we've return to the 1990s again, where creators try to outdo one another with shocking twists and editors do little to stop them.  Instead of his legacy being Damian, Morrison seems to want it be to have killed Damian, something that seems to sum up everything wrong with the comic-book industry right there.

So, bye, Damian.  You were, surprisingly, the best of them all and nothing will be nearly as much fun without you.

Batman #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I really wanted to like this issue.

I mean, don't get me wrong.  I love Harper Roy and approve of Snyder's pretty obvious plan to install her as the new Robin at some point in the future (even if it seems somewhat absurd that Bruce would ever allow another child to be Robin).  I also approve of Snyder purposefully invoking "A Lonely Place of Dying," using Harper to serve the same role as Tim Drake, stopping Batman from getting himself killed as a result of his grief-induced recklessness.

But, Snyder seemed to try to do too much at once here, particularly in forcing Harper to reflect all aspects of Bruce's mourning.  At times, Harper seemed too childlike, insisting on telling Bruce the story of her mother chanting "Resolve" to herself, even after Bruce told her that he didn't care.  Snyder seems to have decided to include this story in order to introduce the mystery of how Harper's mother wound up murdered, something that we're told was something of a scandal.  But, it seems like something that he could've addressed later, given how crammed full of exposition this issue already was.  Although it leads to the touching moment at the end, we could've gotten there some other way.

Paradoxically, Snyder seemed to make her too adult at times, mostly in terms of her speech patterns.  She's not speaking like a teenage girl here.  I mean, I'm not saying that he should be peppering her conversations with "like" and "um."  But, at times, particularly in her closing speech, she sounded like an adult using terms that she learned after years of therapy.  For example?  "When I get close enough, I see it in his face.  The pain I know all too well.  Trying to find meaning in the world in familiar actions.  Pushing himself to keep going, long past its making any sense."  I mean, no matter how preternaturally composed Harper is, it's still hard to believe that she'd have the level of emotional intelligence that she displays here.  Sure, as Snyder establishes here, Harper works in part because she shares the same darkness as Bruce.  Her brother serves the same role as Dick did to Bruce, convincing them to give the world a second chance even if they suspect that the world doesn't really deserve one.  But, by having her somewhat unrealistically exposit that parallel, rather than letting us draw it naturally, Snyder weighs down the entire narrative.    By the time the Wayne Tower gets illuminated, I was pretty much just skimming her monologue.

Finally, stepping back a moment, it also seems weird that we jumped right into Harper, given that Damian's body isn't even cold.  I've read three of these "Requiem" issues so far and Damian is barely mentioned in any of them.  In fact, I'm not even really sure how Damian died, despite the fact that I get six Bat-family titles.

Hopefully, this issue serves as an awkward transition to the post-Damian era, an era that hopefully won't last too long.  I'm excited about the day that Damian returns, having been resurrected by a Lazarus Pit, and realizes that a girl has taken his place.  That's a story that I want to read.

Batgirl #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Similar to "Detective Comics" #18, this issue isn't much of a "requiem" for Damian.  It's pretty clear that Fawkes, like Layman, was forced to insert news of Damian's death into this issue at the last minute.  He does the best that he could, wisely deciding to have Barbara call Dick, who's too busy to take her call, and then throw herself into tracking down Firebug, to distract herself.  It's as seamless as this sort of last-minute addition can be, though it really makes you wonder how half-assed the decision to kill Damian was in the first place.

Looking at the rest of the issue, I'm finding James, Jr.'s narration starting to grow tedious.  I get that Fawkes is using the omniscient-narrator approach as a way to show how James, Jr. is watching Barbara, aware of her every move, but it's starting to stretch the boundaries of credulity.  It's also, oddly, making him seems too psycho.  Part of the genius of Snyder's James, Jr. was that it was extremely difficult to judge his motives.  Was he just a misunderstood regular guy or was he a budding new Joker?  You never knew why he was doing what he was doing.  Here, Fawkes makes him into a little too much of a garden-variety psychopath.  He just doesn't feel like the guy who's going to outsmart Barbara.

I just recently became aware of the fact that Simone was originally fired off this book in December; I was laboring under the assumption that Fawkes was really just keeping the pen warm.  I'm glad that DC reversed that decision and look forward to her returning next issue.    I hope that she'll put James, Jr. on the back burner again, since he's always best when he's lurking in the shadows. 

Wolverine and the X-Men #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not a fan of Wolverine.

For almost 30 years, Marvel has shoved Wolverine at me on a monthly basis, seemingly putting him on every damn team and in every damn book.  After all this time, I've more or less made my peace with him as a necessary evil.  As a result, I really have little interest in the story of his time-traveling half-brother.  I know that I'm supposed to be wowed any time we get even the smallest sliver of information about Wolverine's past, but that ship sailed for me sometime in the late '80s.  As such, this issue, with its excruciating exposition, was pretty painful.

Thankfully, the kids come back next issue.  At least, I hope they do.

Uncanny X-Men #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Before I start, I have to say that Magik's suggestion that the Brotherhood should take advantage of the time-frozen Avengers by going to Avengers Tower and clogging up all the toilets and switching their underwear drawers made me LOL.  Scott's response ("Tempting.") made me LOL all the harder.  It is one of the most unexpectedly funny moments that I think I've ever read in a comic book.  Something about the way that Bendis just inserts it in the middle of a serious conversation, while maintaining the same rhythm and beat of the conversation, made it really work.  Sure, it's a return to Bendis' usual brand of humor, but he seems to be keeping it under wraps, learning when to use it and when not.  Rather than using everyone as comic relief (and making you wonder when exactly Wolverine became a stand-up comedian), he seems to be focusing on bat-shit crazy Illyana as the funny man with Scott playing the Dean Martin role as her straight man.  So far, it works and hopefully Bendis can continue to restrain himself.  Fingers crossed.

Also?  Damn, Scott Summers is FINE in this issue.  Emma is a lucky girl.

Regarding the issue itself, Bendis does what he's been doing the best here, making the Brotherhood seem downright reasonable.  Why aren't the Avengers doing more to make sure that local authorities don't assault mutant children the minute that their powers manifest themselves?  Don't we have sensitivity training any more?  Shouldn't Cap be, like, filming PSAs with Havok to tell people not to fear mutants?  As Scott highlights here, trotting out Havok as the Avengers' token-mutant leader seems a little weak, particularly if the U.S. government is secretly running a Sentinel program.  (More on that later.)  Plus, why isn't Tony Stark on the hook for the devastation caused by the Phoenix Five, given that he's the one that created them in the first place?  Sure, Emma's argument that they weren't in control of their actions seems like something that you'd see on "Judge Judy," but she does make a compelling argument that they were, after all, possessed by a "deadly cosmic force" because of Tony Stark.  Moreover, it seems pretty reasonable for them to resist arrest, since it's pretty unlikely that they're going to get the sort of fair trial that would let me make these arguments in a court of law.  Damn, Bendis.  Making the Brotherhood seem reasonable.

But, Bendis doesn't totally let the Brotherhood off the hook.  Emma dodges when one of the students asked if Scott killed Xavier.  Plus, Scott never takes responsibility for the fact that they are, by and large, assaulting local authorities every time they appear, contributing to the very atmosphere of fear that they claim to be trying to prevent.  Here, we most clearly see Cyclops' megalomania and I'm glad that Bendis hasn't forgotten about Scott's amazing ability not to see the repercussions of his actions.

But, the best part of this issue may be the revelation at the end that Magneto is double-crossing S.H.I.E.L.D.  As Emma said, it's a brilliant strategy, "giving" S.H.I.E.L.D. the location of the Brotherhood in order to build trust so that he can get more information about the new Sentinel program.  In retrospect, it seems pretty obvious that Magneto probably didn't see Cyclops as a crazed monster, but the fact that Bendis initially sold me on that is a tribute to the way that he's making this series sing.  But, Bendis goes even one better, using the incident (and Erik not telling Scott about his plan) as a way to set up a brewing leadership confrontation between the two.  Old Magneto seems to be back and I couldn't be happier.

Finally, Bendis is also doing a great job with the kids.  Sure, you've got the two goofballs (the corn-stick boy and the guy who thinks he has a shot with Illyana), but Eva has some real potential as a character for this next generation.  She doesn't come at the issue with the years of personal history with discrimination that Emma and Scott feel, but she does know that she was attacked by the authorities the minute that her powers manifested and that her mom wishes that she could pray away the mutant.  Plus, she seems unlikely to accept some of the more extreme impulses of the Brotherhood's adult leadership, setting up an interesting conflict later.

In other words?  Bendis is killing it, month after month.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Avenging Spider-Man #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After recently deciding to abandon "Superior Spider-Man," I tried to focus during this issue on why I feel like "Avenging Spider-Man" continues to be the idealized version of the Otto/Peter switch story for me.  After all, it's my enjoyment of this title that confirmed to me that it's not the switch itself that's bothering me, but the way that Slott's approaching it.  After reading this issue, I think Yost is doing two things that provides a different (and, to my mind, "superior") take on the switch.

First, he isn't trying to make Otto "superior."  Slott's Otto is an insecure mess, maniacally driven by his need to outdo his greatest enemy.  Yost's Otto, on the other hand, is a way more grounded guy.  Sure, he's incredibly arrogant, as we see in this issue, where he spends a lot of time contemplating why he's better than a god.  But, he's also capable of learning.  He initially views Thor as unjustifiably arrogant in this issue, but he re-assesses that opinion when he realizes that Thor was willing to give his life to save the people that he protects.  It's a classic scientific approach, using new information to assess an initial hypothesis.  In other words, it's totally something that Otto would seem to do.  Slott's Otto, however, seems incapable of engaging in that sort of reflection, since his insecurity would leave him unable to admit that he might have been wrong in the first place.  I think that it's this aspect of the portrayal that bothers me most, since it reduces Otto to almost a cartoonish version of himself.  Yost's Otto, on the other hand, is a complicated guy and it's fascinating to watch him interact with the world through a new lens.

Along those lines, Yost makes Otto's moral dilemma a lot more interesting.  In "Superior Spider-Man," Slott has Otto completely embrace his role as a ersatz hero, an embrace so complete that it somewhat defies belief.  He goes from trying to destroy the world to upset when people hit children?  It's just never felt right.  In this title, though, Otto is still Otto.  He's not just saving New York because he feels a vague responsibility to do so, as Slott's Otto would; he's saving it because he feels at least partly responsible for setting the stage for Electro's battle with Thor.  It's a lot more believable motive and shows Otto really struggling with his new-found responsibility.  Although Slott may have initially pegged Otto's commitment to saving lives as inspired by Peter's final message in "Amazing Spider-Man" #700, he's spent most of "Superior Spider-Man" showing him driven more or less by his need to best Peter at his own game.  Here, Yost builds off the initial premise, Otto's debt to Peter, and in doing so makes his dilemma more interesting, a real internal struggle between good and evil.  He really casts some doubt about Otto's actual commitment to saving lives.  After all, why is he essentially collecting this Sinister Six in his underwater base?  Is he merely detaining them to keep his eye on them?  Or is it something more sinister?  By raising these sorts of doubts, it makes you want to keep reading.

In other words, in "Superior Spider-Man," Slott is encouraging the reader to read mostly to see if Otto's more brutal approach to being Spider-Man will tarnish Peter's reputation forever.  In "Avenging Spider-Man," Yost is delivering a detailed character study of a villain struggling to adapt to a new moral code.  Oddly, by lower the stakes, Yost seems actually to have heightened the tension.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Age of Ultron #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis tells us the story of Ultron's invasion in this issue, revealing it to have been a lightning-fast raid that destroyed the major cities of the world seemingly instantaneously.  We learn that Washington, DC was eliminated ("like it never existed") and Brian Hitch makes it clear that New York and San Francisco are in ruins.  Bendis also shows that the heroes know little more than we do, separated in isolated pockets across the country without a master plan.  But, it's clear that something about Spider-Man's story, about the Owl planning on selling him to Ultron, gives Captain America an idea, so we'll see where we go.

I'm enjoying this story so far, though, if I'm being honest, I'm enjoying it in part because I can still assume that it's not "real."  For example, it seems doubtful that the Black Widow will appear after this event with a scarred face and Bendis doesn't even seem to be trying to pretend that Spider-Man is really Otto Octavius.  (However, Bendis could be hinting at something in that regard, with Peter referring to the fact that he slept through the invasion and mentioning that he experienced a "flash of white" before he suddenly found himself tied to a chair.  But, it seems unlikely that Slott would allow Peter to return in an issue outside "Superior Spider-Man," so Bendis might just be creating plausible deniability, as if Peter returned momentarily before Otto re-asserted control.)  Moreover, Bendis is juggling so many characters here that it's really hard to focus on them individually.  Sure, it might be devastating to hear Iron Man lose hope, but so many people are talking that it's hard to remember even if he said something.  He's a little better with the Black Widow and Moon Knight, but we still leave them just as it's getting interesting.

I'm not really sure where I want Bendis to go from here.  To be honest, I think it would be more fun for it just to be an outside-continuity story.  I worry that it's eventually going to start to drag because Bendis is going to have to explain where the story fits in continuity, something that he generally doesn't do well.  I think that it would wind up better just to read it as almost a "What If...?" story, but I somehow doubt that it's going to go that way, unfortuantely.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Earth 2 #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As other reviewers have noted, Robinson has a "talky" problem, if you will, namely, a tendency to have his characters deliver long speeches.  I'm also normally annoyed by this phenomenon, but, in this title, I usually feel like the character delivering one of these long-winded (and also conveniently expository) speeches would have still delivered it if Robinson hadn't needed to move along the plot.  In other words, most of these speeches have felt more or less organic, if a little wordy, to me.  However, even I have to admit that Khalid's soliloquy on the Tower of Fate was a little unbelievable verbose.  Most of us facing down some menacing sorcerer wouldn't go into a long narration of why he did what he did when it came to the Helmet of Fate.  (Maybe he got all chatty because the Tower of Fate was previously the Tower of Babel.)

But, as I often am, I'm willing to give Robinson a pass, if only because it's an interesting story.  Khalid used his knowledge of magic to expel the Helmet to the Tower of Babel, knowing that the Great Beast who guarded it would be able to keep the Helmet -- and, hence, its powers -- safe.  It makes sense that he would do so, particularly given that he's not so keen on possessing those powers.  Moreover, it also make sense that Wotan doesn't really want to go up against the Great Beast, preferring Khalid (and now Flash) to do so.  So, although Robinson may have found a way to cut down the narrative exposition or provide us the back story another way, it's still a pretty interesting (if overly convenient) story.

Beyond the Tower of Fate storyline, the revelation that Adam's lover Sam was actually the target of the assassination attempt is intriguing to say the least.  Robinson uses the twist to full effect, having it come from an emotionally honest encounter between Adam and Sam's disapproving but loving father as well as sending Adam to Hawkgirl for help.  It's notable that we're 11 issues into this series (including the #0) and we don't have a Justice Society yet.  Robinson is doing a great job of not rushing it, focusing on building the characters first.  We see that here by having him separate off Adam and Kendra, the two strongest characters, in order to give their relationship the space and time that it needs to progress.

So, although we were a little talky this issue, I'm excited to see the fight with the Beast next issue as well as GL and Hawkgirl's investigation into Sam's death.  It's nice to read a comic with such good stuff on the horizon.

Detective Comics #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Damian's death is mentioned for all of two panels here, which is pretty amazing considering the fact that, if you don't read "Batman Incorporated" or the comics press, you'd have no idea that it happened at all.  But, I'm actually willing to overlook that problem, because, if Layman had actually spent time to focus on it, it would've distracted from the kick-ass story that he tells here.

Penguin learns the depths of Emperor Penguin's treachery in this issue and it's a sight to behold.  Layman does a great job with Penguin, showing him at his egotistical heights when taunting Batman in the wake of Joker's scheme at Arkham Asylum and then brought down low when he realizes that Oglivy has taken everything (including his mother's name on the Children's Center) from him.  You can actually hear the old bird sputter and Layman infuses a certain reckless violence into Penguin that I can't recall seeing previously.  After building up Penguin as a philanthropist over the last few issues and showing him thoroughly enjoying  his new position on top of a pedestal, Layman makes his fall from that all the more spectacular.  You really wonder what he's going to do next.

But, Layman really excels with Emperor Penguin.  He's done what I'm always surprised that more comic-book authors don't do, taken the time to create his own super-villain.  I really hope that Oglivy isn't just a flash in the pan, because Layman portrays him as so criminally efficient and tactically brilliant hat he's an excellent addition to the rogue's gallery, the perfectly sane but really evil Gotham villain.  I mean, hiring Zsasz to kill Penguin's ballyhooed lawyers?  How good was that?  First, I didn't see it coming, figuring that Zsasz had just killed two random people.  But, the impact was made all the more profound when you realize that Oglivy is just that clever.

Honestly, with its focus on Gotham stories, this series is exactly what I want every Bat-book to be.  If you jumped off the ship during the Tony Daniel era, it's worth a look again.

Monday, March 11, 2013


First, I have to say that turning Flash Thompson into a high-school gym coach forced to face down the ghost of himself past is a brilliant move.  I could almost just read a whole comic about that issue alone!

The new job is an important step for this reborn series, in part because Flash needs SOME people in his new life.  As he mentions, Katy is his only friend (and I'm pretty sure that she doesn't live in Philly) and Peter has stopped returning his calls (for reasons that anyone reading "Amazing Spider-Man" understands).  If Flash isn't going to be sitting around his apartment by himself (not exactly a great idea for an alcoholic), he needs to be in the world.  The gym-teacher angle is just an inspired way to do it.

That said, the rest of this issue is a little weird.  Flash patrols the street trying to find the experimental weapons that some group of criminals apparently released onto the streets in Philly, but I was distracted since I don't remember who did that.  I thought the U-Foes only had one weird weapon, not a whole bunch of them.  So, I'm not sure if I'm remembering it wrong or Bunn is alluding to an event that I forgot entirely.  Either way, Flash locates a guy who's been turned into a monster by the experimental weapons, sparking a flashback sequence that also oddly seems that Flash and Toxin were subject to experiments by the same doctor as the one who experimented on the guy.  I was definitely confused here and I'm not sure if it was Bunn not explaining or Shalvey making different flashbacks look the same.  At any rate, Flash seemed pretty distracted here, since it seems weird that he could take on the entire U-Foes team but not be able to keep this guy from escaping.  But, I guess that stopping him would've kept him from stumbling onto Toxin, who, for reasons also unclear to me, is just sitting in alleyways waiting for people to eat to stumble into his path.

As I said, it was a weird issue.  I like the gym-teacher angle, but I feel like we could tighten up the action sequences a bit, particularly since it's getting a little hard to believe all these menaces are just wandering around Philly.  I mean, I get that Bunn uses the release of the experimental weapons as the excuse for this sudden uptick in meta-human activity, but it doesn't help when the details of the release are unclear.  Hopefully we'll get more information next issue.

Winter Soldier #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The key to telling a good spy story is making sure that your reader doesn't get lost in all the twists and turns.  With all the agents and double agents and triple agents, you've got to give your readers some sort of road map so that they don't wind up wondering who's doing what when and why.  Latour unfortunately doesn't do that here, making it difficult to follow what seems to be a decent story.

If I'm piecing the pieces together correctly, Bucky killed Agent 16, Robard's lover, in 1983 while she was guarding, I believe, a doctor named Tarasova and and his daughter, Tesla.  After killing Agent 16 and Tarasova, Bucky seemingly handed over Tesla to the KGB, who sent her to the Red Room, where Black Widows was trained.  Tesla is now apparently on a mission for revenge, but, unfortunately, we don't know against whom.

The missing ingredient here is that Latour doesn't make it apparent why Bucky was after Tesla in the first place.  In fact, he refers to the incident as the Tarasova Extraction, making it unclear if he was after the doctor or Tesla.  I'm assuming that it was the latter, since it makes no sense that he would assassinate someone that he was supposed to extract.  But, why was she important to the Soviets?  Why was the doctor (and/or she) so important to S.H.I.E.L.D. that Agent 16 was guarding them?  Latour doesn't answer those questions here and it makes it somewhat difficult to follow the story as a result.

But, it also distracts from the larger issue, namely why Latour went crazy when he did.  Why did he blow 30 years of cover?  Latour keeps seeming to imply that he's done so because he's mourning Agent 16, but I don't understand why he suddenly decided to mourn her 30 years after she died.  Moreover, how long could he have known her if he met her undercover?  If he's been undercover for 30 years and she's been dead for 30 years, it seems like they would've just been ships in the night.  Moreover, if he didn't meet her undercover and went undercover after she died, why would S.H.I.E.L.D. risk sending someone with that emotional baggage undercover?  I could be wrong, but I don't think that this issue or the last one really shed light on those issues, making it all the more confusing.

The best part of this issue was actually Nick's conversation with Maria on the docks, establishing that he's essentially serving as Bucky's private handler.  It's a good use for Nick and I think that it has a lot of potential.  We'll see how it goes.

Overall, I'm hoping that the weaknesses of this issue are just growing pains.  Latour's getting somewhere here and hopefully he finds his way to it in a way that strengthens future arcs.  But, for the time being, we probably need some clarity fairly soon before this arc starts feeling like a bad episode of "Alias."

Superior Spider-Man #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Here's the thing.  If I thought, for a minute, that the events of this issue were going to have a lasting effect on Spider-Man's reputation, I might be intrigued.  But, they're not.  And they won't.  And so I don't really see the point of continuing to read this series just to see Dan Slott ruin Peter's life, only to have it all revert to normal at some point in the future.  It's not like he's actually done the hard work of changing a character, like the various X-authors have done with Cyclops.  This story might actually be interesting if we were talking about Dan Slott deciding that Peter Parker had finally had enough and started taking the law into his own hands.  But, Dan Slott isn't telling that story.  He's telling a gimmicky story that, like all gimmicky story, will end and be forgotten.  So, I think I'm done.  For the first time in the 30-something years that I've been reading comics, I won't be getting the main Spider-Man title.  Good job, Dan Slott and Steve Wacker.  You "won."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cable and X-Force #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Before we begin, I just have to let you know that, no, Hope does not hold a gun to Cable's head, as depicted on the cover (pet peeve #2).

This issue is slow, in part because it's a down-time issue.  Colossus and Domino do the sensible thing and get drunk on tequila before having sex and then Colossus does the unsensible thing of turning himself into the authorities.  Forge and Dr. Nemesis do the similarly unsensible thing (given that they're trying to lie low) of building huge robots to fight each other in front of a crowd as Cable does the equally unsensible thing of visiting Hope (whose house is monitored by S.H.I.E.L.D.) to tell her that he can't take her with him this time.  (We also have Cable inexplicably becoming part of a motorcycle gang, which, honestly, didn't make a whole lot of sense.)

The point of this issue seems to be to give the team a moment before they become the bad-ass outlaw X-Force.  Cable has another vision, delaying their ability to get to the bottom of the Eat-More incident and clear their names.  It's an overly convenient excuse, but it does at least fit in the context of the story that Hopeless is telling.

Anyway, it was a weird issue.  Hopeless might be better to stick with the fighting and leave the characterization for later issues, once we've got the concept a little better defined.

All-New X-Men #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


I thought I was going to wind up talking about how much fun this issue was.  I loved how Bendis has the Angels go for a joyride and then uses that joyride not only to bring the Avengers into the loop on the presence of the original X-Men in the present but also to make original Warren realize that something goes terribly wrong in his life.  I thought that Bobby and Kitty mimicking the conversation that Beast and Cap was having was one of the most innovative narrative techniques that I've seen in a long time and that it also showed how nicely their relationship is developing.  Even though I thought that young Scott was MIA, I also loved him ending the argument between Beast and a shocked Cap, even though I'm not entire sure why him approaching Cap resolved it.

But, it seems ridiculous to talk about those things after the last two pages, where Jean Grey goes totally and completely bad-ass.  Seriously.  I had no idea where Bendis was going with Warren's blank stare, but the revelation that it was Jean controlling his mind absolutely floored me.

Not your father's X-Men, indeed.  This series effing rocks.

Age of Ultron #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I will admit to a certain reluctance to dive into a world where Bendis is writing the Avengers again, particularly since I've liked him so much now that he's writing the X-Men.  But, given that I loved "Siege," I have to hope that Bendis manages to do better here than he did on "Avengers" and "New Avengers."  Fingers crossed.

Bendis starts in media res, sidestepping the continuity question entirely.  It's unclear, therefore, whether we're dealing with an alternative timeline, such as "Age of Apocalypse," or merely a future event that hasn't happened yet.  Bendis hints that we seem to be dealing at least with a future event in that Spider-Man sounds like Peter Parker and not Otto Octavius and Emma Frost is part of the superhero resistance (and not presently a mutant terrorist), but an alternative timeline could also explain those continuity discrepancies.  But, for the time being, Bendis doesn't address that question.  Rick Remender has taken a similar approach in "Captain America," compensating for the ambiguity for telling an amazing story.  It works there, since Remender's only dealing with one character, but I do feel like Bendis is going to have to address the continuity question fairly quick in this event, given that the entire Marvel Universe roster seems involved.

But, focusing on this issue, it's a pretty simple story, showing Hawkeye rescuing Spider-Man after he's been captured by Hammerhead and the Owl.  In telling this story, we learn that the super-villains are paying some sort of ransom to Ultron to keep operating and that Ultron itself has some sort of virus that it uses to control people.  We also learn that the surviving superheroes are completely without a plan, a situation shows in its profundity by the image of Captain America sitting essentially in the fetal position in a back room.

In other words, so far, so OK.  It's not a spectacular issue, but it's a serviceable one.  Although Hitch does a great job showing the magnitude of the devastation of New York, the prolonged action sequence that takes up 2/3 of this issue actually felt somewhat slow to me, lacking the sort of explosive energy that it probably needed.  But, the stage is at least set, so we'll see where we go from here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Even though we've been living in the post-"Avengers vs. X-Men" world for a while now, Bendis gives us some insight into what the Brotherhood members are actually feeling in this issue as they sit on the eve of revolution.

First, he spends some time showing the new recruits in an understandable stage of mild panic as they contemplate the changes that have happened in their lives so quickly.  One of the more interesting aspects of this scene is the somewhat loose structure of the "School."  Everyone is just sort of sitting around the meeting room, with the teachers more or less openly disagreeing with one another.  Illyana thinks Scott isn't being realistic in assuming that the kids shouldn't be scared of their powers, Emma overrules him in deciding to allow the Australian girl to go see her family, etc.  Even the kids themselves see their "gifts" in totally different ways.  The old Xavier School, the New Xavier School is not.

But, most fascinatingly, Bendis gives us Emma Frost like we've never seen her previously.  She exudes anger at the loss of her powers, but it's an anger reserved most significantly for herself, at having betrayed Scott.  It's her reflections on her destroyed relationship with Scott that are the most heart-breaking, particularly when Scott himself enters the picture and they begin to talk.  Here, Bendis also manages to humanize Scott in a way that no one's done in a long time, particularly when he agrees with Emma's remark that he assumes that she hates him because he hates himself so much that he assumes that everyone hates him.  Bendis reminds us here just how totally alone Scott is and how very aware he is of what he's lost.  He may still be trying to justify his actions to himself, but he's under no illusion that he's ever going to justify them to anyone else.

Even more powerful, though, is Emma admitting that she misses Scott because she liked who she was with him, she liked how safe he made her feel.  I mean, Bendis does the unthinkable here and gives Emma real, identifiable emotions.  I actually found myself wanting them to get together again.  In fact, I found myself actually liking them again.  Bendis accomplishes that in part because they're both pretty charming here.  I mean, Emma is always charming, but even Scott has his moments, playfully bantering with Emma in a way that I've never seen him do.  Bendis hints at a version of Scott who may actually be free to be human by becoming a villain.  He's no longer the once and future king of the X-Men and maybe he'll be happier for it.  It had never dawned on me before this issue, but Bendis portrays him in a way here where it seems plausible, where maybe he realizes that he doesn't want to be the person that everyone's been telling him he is since he was 16 years old.

Moreover, Bachalo shows both Emma and Scott a little younger than I think we usually see them and it totally works.  In this way, it just supports what Bendis is doing, showing us a young couple with some baggage try to find a way forward.

So, onward and upwards.  Magneto's betrayal is a lot more imminent than I figured it would be and it raises the question of how quickly Scott is going to be kept in the dark when Magneto just happens to miss these sorts of attacks.  I guess we'll see.  I just can't believe how amazing these last few months of X-Men books have been.

Hawkeye #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seriously, if you aren't reading this comic, you're pretty much missing the best thing happening in comics, like, ever.  No, really.

OK, I could talk about a lot in this comic.  I could talk about Fraction and Aja and Wu using the comic-book covers to detail Penny's entire backstory just as effectively as if they had spent pages of expository narrative on it.  I could talk about the fact that Fraction really calls into question Clint's motives here as he helps a woman that he doesn't know commit a crime (even if it's a "virtuous" crime, if you will).  But, first, I really want to talk about Clint playing asshole with his ex-lover, ex-wife, and current "friend."

When Hawkeye first slept with Penny, it seemed to provoke the obvious question:  "What about Spider-Woman?"  But, it was early days in the series and it seemed possible that Fraction was shooting at something more or less outside continuity.  Maybe not exactly outside continuity, but it appeared that Fraction wasn't going to let the series suffer under the weight of trying to reconcile his stories with Clint's appearances elsewhere.

But, by answering the question "What about Spider-Woman?", Fraction makes this series all the stronger.  I mean, Clint plays asshole with his ex-lover, ex-wife, and current "friend."  The guy invented charm.  But, he invented a certain bad-luck sort of charm, the type of charm that means, sure, the women you dated still want to spend time with you, but they're also unfortunately going to be there when a former one-night stand appears at the door of Avengers Mansion announcing that she shot someone and asking you to help her commit another crime.

Fraction doesn't just stand on the hilarity of that moment (hilarious, though it is),  In the middle of the fighting and the "bros," Clint mentions that he's not necessarily ready for a relationship with Jessica.  It's a brief comment, but it's probably the first time we've seen Clint actually address his relationship with Jessica.  Bendis just kept throwing them together and, if I'm not mistaken, she hasn't appeared in this title yet.

Together with helping Penny commit a crime, Fraction actually portrays Clint as spiraling out of control.  He shows us how he's a guy who tries to do the right thing, but often does it in a way that might not exactly have been ideal.  So, when things inevitably go wrong, he tries to compensate, making matters worse.  In nine issues, he's possibly screwed up his relationship with Jessica, invoked the wrath of seemingly the entire underworld, gotten arrested helping a woman he barely knows commit a crime, and provoked a war with a local gang that puts his neighbors at risk.  But, he does it with such a great amount of charm that you forget that, somewhere under the nice hair and handsome smile, is a guy who maybe needs some help.  We'll see if he gets it.  (I'm assuming not.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

There's so much here that it's hard to know where to start.

There's a moment in this issue where I wondered if Remender and Cassady hadn't gone too far.  In describing the dystopic America that Red Skull sees before him to Steve Rogers, they portray a gray landscape of overweight rednecks shopping at Wal-Mart stores, dousing themselves in "antibiotics to offset their diet of sugary sweet drink and mounds of carcinogenic cow flesh!!"  Zounds!  I mean, I get where they're going with this approach.  The Skull is trying to get to Steve's inner '50s man.  In fact, the Skull is pretty insightful, questioning whether Rogers is fighting to preserve the current America or trying to bring back the old one.  It picks up the theme that Brubaker pushed in the last series of "Captain America," but does more with it than Brubaker managed to do.  But, at some point, I just felt like maybe Remender and Cassady had gone a little too far in portraying "rednecks" the way they did, as some sort of monolithic enemy of American ideals.

And, then, Rogue appeared and told the Skull, "Don't you go dumpin' on rednecks, Nazi....we're awful hazardous when riled."  And that's when this issue became one of my favorite ones ever.

As that sequence shows, this issue is a tour de force of characterization.  Remender portrays Wanda as finally forced to let go, losing the restrictions that she had placed, sub-consciously, on her powers since M-Day as she faced down Thor.  But, no matter how assured Wanda is of her performance, how renewed she feels for not falling prey to the Red Skull's manipulations, Remender does what almost no one does in comics:  he doesn't let it trump her past.  In Rogue's eyes, Wanda will never, can never be redeemed.  Remender reminds us that the unity squad isn't just about human-mutant unity:  after the events of recent months, mutant-mutant unity could use a push as well.

Amidst it all, though, Remender doesn't lose sight of Alex.  He's quiet here, but he drives the issue.  Remender presents the tragedy of Alex and Scott's parents' death (or, at least, apparent death) in a more emotionally frank way than I think I've ever seen it presented.  He speaks to the difficulties that Alex has faced in his life in just that one page and then has him explode onto the field.  He supports Wanda, emotionally and physically, as they push back the Red Skull.  He makes the call to trust Wanda when she says that she can take Thor and goes to save Rogue's life.  He's there to absolve people of their sins after the Skull's control has faded and people realize the crimes that they have committed under his influence.  He is the leader that Captain America thought that he could be, something that I don't know if any of us -- Alex, included -- thought possible.

It was all really just thrilling.  I can't remember any issue so emotionally charged and draining, any issue that really conveyed what it would be like for actual people and not just fictional characters to be placed in this harrowing situation.  Maybe it was Cassady having everyone hugging -- Cap hugging Wanda, Alex holding Rogue.  But, whatever it was, they really just sold the emotion of it.  You felt the relief that they had managed to stop the Skull and the frustration that they had not been able to capture him.  Remender reminded us how deadly of a threat the Skull is by telling us that Cap and Havok both seemed ready to kill him.  Although they survived, Remender made it clear that it was only a matter of time before the Skull returned.

And then you flipped the page.

Cassady's amazing recreation of the "Days of Future Past" cover earlier in the issue takes on all new meaning in the epilogue, where it appears that Red Skull is still using Xavier's brain, this time to become Onslaught.  A dead Immortus?  Apocalypse Twins "locking" the era as "prime?"  "The moment the Seven became One?"  We are engaged in storytelling on an epic scale.  But, it's not Jonathan Hickman's definition of emotionless automatons.  Remender is giving us characters that I have loved my entire life and reassembling them into the best versions of themselves under the most difficult circumstances.  I love Alex Summers and I love Wanda Maximoff, and seeing them at the height of their individual powers but possibly unable to stop the threat looming in front of them (literally) is emotionally powerful.

This is superhero comics at its very, very finest, people.