Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Red Hood and the Outlaws #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about this issue.  Something clearly happens in "Batman and Red Hood" #20 to make Jason lament his dark past, implying that it serves as some sort of stumbling block to his reconciliation with Bruce (if not for Bruce, then for Jason).  As such, he asks S'Aru to take away every memory that the darkness touches and, not surprisingly, given that it's Jason, S'Aru is forced to take all his memories.  If Tynion is using this story as a way for Jason to truly come to grips with his dark past so that he can become a hero again, then I'm all for it.  (Also, when I say "hero," I still want him to be Jason.  I still want him to essentially have a "no questions asked" approach with Bruce.  I don't suddenly want him to become Dick.)  But, if it's just another way of delaying his return to the Bat-family by having him wallow in his troubled history, then I really just want it done.

Nightwing #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly?  This issue was difficult to take seriously, since it felt like the hundredth time that this series has changed its M.O.  It's hard to even remember how many different approaches that we've had over the last 20 issues:  first, we had Dick setting down roots in Gotham after leaving Bludhaven, then we had him traveling around the United States with Haly's Circus, then we had him installing Haly's Circus as a permanent fixture on Amusement Mile.  Now, we've moved to Chicago, at least for a few weeks.  I'll make sure not to get attached to Mike.

Trying to move past my annoyance over the constant upheaval (heh) of this series, Higgins does an OK job establishing our new reality in this issue.  At the very least, Dick has a clear sense of purpose:  he wants to find Tony Zucco and he wants to find him bad.  My main criticism here is that Higgins throws a lot of characters at us at once.  I want to say that he makes tracking down Zucco a little too easy with the introduction of the "Dealer" character, but, given how many other series rely on a similar character to provide the hero with information, I can't fault him for it too much.  Plus, he actually makes the Dealer into something of a character, with the whole card shtick.  I was less impressed with the crazy woman in the bar, simply because she seemed to be a completely unnecessary distraction.  I think we would've been better served by him spending more time on the Dealer or on Dick adjusting to Chicago.  But, I'll also say that I find the Prankster intriguing; I love how s/he has the child trafficker burn his money to stay alive.  Higgins uses that moment to seemingly install the Prankster as an anti-hero, though it's still unclear why s/he would tip off the cops that Nightwing was in town.

Speaking of the Chicago authorities, Higgins introduces two mysteries related to them here.  The first is the fact that something clearly happened in Chicago to turn the city against masked vigilantes. The second is the fact that Tony Zucco happens to be the Mayor's driver.  I'm guessing that we're going to revisit both mysteries soon.

So, overall, it was a decent opening to Dick's time in Chicago, even if it was a bit of a mixed bag.  I'd like to think that it was a permanent shift and allow myself to get accustomed to the setting, but, again, given this series, I assume that he'll be rooming with Flash Thompson in Philly by the end of the year.  But, if Higgins actually manages to stay with this approach for, like, six whole issues, I could see myself really enjoying it.

Justice League #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After twenty issues, I have to say that one thing that still bothers me about Johns' writing is that every issue seems to have a moment where the characters do something that doesn't really make sense.  I mean, don't get me wrong, Johns is great at the small moments of characterization; Firestorm's one-sided conversation in this issue is a great testament to that.  But, we always seem to have a moment where I'm left scratching my head.

In this issue, I don't understand why Superman and Wonder Woman decided to invade Kahndaq to rescue the prisoners taken by the Sons of Adam terrorist group.  After all, Superman tells Wonder Woman, after they've freed the hostages, that he made the decision long ago to use his powers "to inspire, not interfere."  But, he did interfere.  I mean, he interfered in a way that resulted in Kahndaq threatening to attack U.S. interests.  In terms of interfering, he chose a really big way to do it.  But, Superman never really answers the question why here.  In fact, Johns seems to be implying that Clark is only there because Diana wanted him to help her.  Diana takes a stronger position on her right to interfere to make the world a better place and in so doing proving Bruce's point that people are going to be scared about what the two most powerful people on Earth could do when it's revealed that they're dating.  Given how portentous this event is, you'd think Johns would've spent a little more time explaining why Clark and Diana decided to initiate it.  Plus, why those hostages?  Why not any number of other people who needed help elsewhere in the world?

The answer seems to be so that Johns could get them in Kahndaq, since, as we learn in the back-up story, it was the home of Black Adam in ancient times.  Given that Billy's confrontation with Adam is reaching a head, it seems like we're close to the moment where these two stories are going to merge.  Although that moment seems long overdue, I still expected Johns to bring it together in a more carefully constructed way, not just having Clark and Diana go rogue in a country to which Black Adam is connected.  (Speaking of the back-up story, I thought Johns did a great job having Billy project his fears onto Black Adam.  Billy calls Adam a kid "lashing out to hurt people" "before they can hurt [him]," who doesn't "trust anyone -- because people have always taken advantage of [him] for it," and who's angry "because [he's] trying to hid how scared [he] really is."  Sound familiar?)

We also have the mysterious stranger who invaded the Batcave for kryptonite and the arrival of Despero in the mix.  I'm still enjoying this series, but I just wish Johns would spend a little bit more time making the characters feel a little less like chess pieces that he's obviously moving around the board.

X-Factor #254 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although I can't say that it's my favorite issue of "X-Factor," David does a good job here in focusing more on the characters and less on the Hell on Earth War.  He reminds us that Tier is just a scared kid by having him confess to Rahne that he doesn't want to be forced to kill the Hell Lords.  He also reminds us that X-Factor is the good guys by having them agree to help Tier find another way to end the war.  OK, Lorna isn't too thrilled with that plan, but, honesty, you can't really blame her, given that she suddenly finds herself in a leadership role that she didn't ask to have (and a war between Hell Lords that she has to stop).  I still can't say that I'm really digging this arc, but at least this issue showed us some of the group dynamics (and internal fighting) that makes this series what it is.

Venom #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)`

OK, sure, it's not too hard to write a great symbiote-vs.-symbiote story, but I have to give credit to Bunn all the same, because I really enjoyed this issue.  Bunn made it pretty damn clear that Flash was getting his ass handed to him and his "Hail Mary" play at the end showed the kind of tactical decision that a former combat veteran like Flash should make but, frankly, often hasn't.  (For a moment, I was worried that he was going to play dead...again.)  Bunn built the tension to that final moment really well, in no small part thanks to Shalvey, who really goes to town here in showing just how much more powerful Toxin is than Venom.  Moreover, Bunn's makes it clear in this issue that Venom is still going to be spending the next few issues cleaning up the U-Foes' mess, since the Symbiote Slayers seem to be from the same batch of experiments as the Figure was.  It's an approach that at least explains why this number of crazies have suddenly flooded Philly's streets.  It can't last forever, but, for now, at least, it's working.  Good stuff.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Superior Spider-Man #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So, here we go.  It looks like next issue Slott is going to lay all his cards on the table and show if he really intends to take Peter Parker from us.  For once, I'm actually intrigued by the answer.

On the plus side, Slott cleverly pulls together a number of plot threads from previous issues to bring us to this moment.  Last issue's conflict with Cardiac over the neurolitic scanner leads to this issue's confrontation with the Avengers, where Otto learns that he has a minor anomaly in his brain pattern.  That revelation leads to this issue's confrontation with Cardiac over the scanner, where Otto discovers that Ghost-Peter is, in fact, the "minor anomaly."   Moreover, Carlie Cooper comes to the conclusion that Spidey isn't Spidey, setting up a race against time for her to act on this revelation.  With just one villain and a clear conflict over a specific device, Slott is able to produce a believable series of events that brings us on the cusp of resolving the Ghost-Peter issue and ending the transition phase of this experiment.  Given that I honestly don't know which way that this story is going to go, I'm actually excited to see where it does go.

(On a philosophical note, I thought that it was interesting that Otto described Ghost-Peter was "all of Peter's memories[,] taking on a life of their own."  Otto seems to be dismissing the idea that Ghost-Peter is actually Peter, preferring instead to think of him as a simulacrum of some sort.  But, even if it is "just" Peter's memories taking on a life of their own, isn't that enough to constitute Peter?  Are we more than the sum of our memories?  I'll have to ask my philosophy professor!)

On the minus side, I will say that I still find it difficult to deal with Otto's mood swings.  In fact, this issue provides possibly the best example of this problem, making me realize just how much it's bothered me.  Here, Otto goes to pieces upon realizing that his attempt to destroy the world with his Octavian lenses left the girl at the center of this issue's conflict brain damaged.  It's here where I still have issues with this series, because I still don't feel like Slott has given us a clear reason for Otto's change of heart.  Is it Peter's memories that make him a better person?  Is it his selfish drive to outdo Peter's heroism?  Is it both?  Without any real clarity on this front, I'm still left rolling my eyes at the idea that Otto suddenly cares about a girl whom he was going to happily kill only a few issues ago.

But, to end on the plus side, "Ends of the Earth" also provides a good moment here, with the Black Widow relying on the connection that she and Peter developed during that experience to encourage him to talk to her as he slides into a darker M.O.  It's a great moment of character work on Slott's part and allows the reader to feel like the Avengers aren't simply washing their hands of the conundrum of a more brutal Spidey once they learned that he wasn't a Skrull.

So, in the short run, I'm excited to see where we're going, but, in the long run, if Otto is going to stay in control of Peter's body, I think Slott still has work to do in clarifying Otto's goals and motivations so that we're not constantly wondering if bad Otto or good Otto is in charge.

Nova #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Meh.

My first problem with this issue is that Loeb relies on a pretty formulaic approach to Sam as he adjust to his newly discovered powers.  "I just went to the Moon!"  "I think I'm missing a math test!"  On some level, it's a necessary step, Sam adjusting to his new circumstances and wondering how they're going to complicate his daily life.  But, Loeb doesn't really put too much effort into doing anything unique with this story, giving us the same "teenager gains powers" story that we've all read a hundred times since "Amazing Fantasy" #15.

I could live with that, seeing it as a temporary bump in the road as we start to gather speed, but I can't say that I'm thrilled with other parts.  We still don't know how Sam's father became a member of the Nova Corps and why no one seemed to be aware that he had been one (since everyone thought that Richard Rider was the first human Nova).  We also don't know why he wasn't called to help the Nova Corps when it was destroyed (the first time), though I assume we're going to discover that he was off-line or something.  In fact, we still don't know what happened to him or why he was suddenly called when he was, though Rocket Raccoon acknowledging that whatever happened to him was his fault makes you think that he'd be a little less hard on the kid.  Finally, we don't seem to be getting to the point where we eventually need to be, namely, "Marvel Point One" #1, when Sam warns everyone about the coming of the Phoenix Force.  Instead, we spend time sending Sam against the Chitauri, which seems like an unnecessary movie distraction given that "Avengers 2" doesn't hit theaters until 2015.

Essentially, I could deal with weak characterization or a weak plot, but we seem to be getting both here.  Fingers crossed that Loeb is able to move past this awkward phase and start telling some better stories.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Captain Marvel #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Damn, this issue was good.  DeConnick and Sebela really bring everything together here, from the mysterious villain to the brain tumors to Helen Cobb.  It adds to the ongoing sense that this series conveys that you're really immersed in Carol's life, something that makes you all the more nervous about where it's heading.

First, the authors did a great job of splicing the battle between Carol and Deathbird with the conversation between the two doctors.  Usually, this sort of back-and-forth approach winds up stalling the momentum of the story, as the less energetic tale drags down the other one.  However, here, the doctors' conversation about Carol's affliction heightens the tension of her battle with Deathbird, making it clear that the stakes are higher than Carol knows.  Moreover, the battle itself is thrilling, with Cap's sky-cycle becoming almost a third character in their dance.  Andrade does a great job with these scenes, keeping you guessing how each character will outmaneuver her equally skilled opponent.  By the time you reach the end of the issue, you're on the edge of your seat.

At this point, I'm not entirely sure how whatever Yon-Rogg did to manipulate Helen Cobb into thinking that she took a ride with a former beau would result in her smelling like old gasoline, but the authors seem to be holding out the possibility that Yon-Rogg is manipulating reality somehow.  Moreover, we don't know why Yon-Rogg chose Deathbird to attack Carol, unless it was just that they were pretty evenly matched.  But, the authors don't seem to be rushing the story, so I'm pretty confident that we'll get those answers.  At this stage, Yon-Rogg seems to be draining Carol's powers to survive, which seems, you know, bad.  The upcoming involvement of the Avengers certainly raises the stakes in this story and I'm excited to see what happens when all Hell breaks loose.

Captain America #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, this issue was hard to read.  Remender gives us a totally broken Steve Rogers here, a man willing to commit murder to save his son from a lifetime of Zola worship.  The fact that he crosses that line and may have done so for nothing makes it almost too much to bear.

Before getting to the good parts, I will say that this issue isn't perfect.  First, it was the second one in a row where the events of the previous issue were difficult to recall.  I felt like I had missed an issue, a familiar feeling when I'm reading stories that are expressly written for the inevitable trade, as this one is starting to feel like it is.  I didn't remember Zola's forces eliminating the Phrox, as they seemed to have done here (or, at least, as Ian seems to think they have done) and I was bewildered by Zola's claim that he was in love with Ian's mother, Mary.  The only human woman I remember in this series other than Jet or Sharon is the woman who Zola kept in a box and tried to turn into a dog.  I mean, sure, I could buy that Zola would possibly express his love that way, but I'm guessing that Remender has something else up his sleeve here.  But, it would've been nice to have seen an example of Zola's devotion to "Mary" before him professing it to Ian, since it's hard to judge if Zola's just trying to pull a fast one on him or really believes it.

But, for its faults, this issue is still a decent installment in this story.  As I mentioned in the first paragraph, Remender builds the tension here as we watch Steve unravel.  He pulls in flashback sequences of previous issues to show us Steve's motivation, not to abandon Ian in a world surrounded by enemies as his father did to him.  He also beautifully depicts Jet's crisis of faith as she finds herself confused by Steve's nobility.  Speaking of beautiful, JR JR is also on fire here:  I was particularly impressed by the creepily religious, Kirby-inspired Zola painting that took up a full page.  It conveyed the totality of Zola's control of Dimension Z, reminding you just why Steve has been driven to the place where he now finds himself.  Along those lines, the revelation that Zola has spent all this time trying to perfect a process to turn the Phrox into Steve-cloned Super-Soldiers so that he can invade Earth also upped the diabolical stakes significantly.

If we're going to stay in Dimension Z much longer, it would be nice for Steve to get a win at some point.  As I said in the beginning, this issue was hard to read and, given that Steve is going to fight Ian next issue, I'm guessing that the next one isn't going to be a walk in the park.  But, lest we become completely inured to Steve's misery to the point that it stops having meaning, we need something to give him hope, even if it's just going eventually to be taken from him.   Without that hope, it's hard to differentiate between shades of black.

Cable and X-Force #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not entirely sure why Scott appears in this issue, other than Hopeless' need to distract Cable so that he can't help Domino and Boom-Boom as the mission start to go off the rails. I also can't remember how he learned where Cable et al. were last issue, but the fact that he found them makes you wonder how good of a job Cable's doing cover their tracks.  Moreover, he's apparently there to help, but doesn't really do much of anything, allowing Cable to go by himself after the insane alien who's taken Domino and Boom-Boom hostage.  Again, it's an odd appearance.

Moreover, with the alien off the planet, the main drama driving this arc appears to have passed, now that the alien is off Earth.  Cable just has to round up his team and they can move onto the next crisis.  It's hard to be too excited about the oncoming slugfest, since we all pretty much know how it's going to go down.

The best part of the issue is Hopeless' focus on Colossus and Domino's "relationship."  Hopeless appears to be using Domino as a way to redeem Pete, which could work so long as she doesn't become some love-lorn schoolgirl.  It's definitely better than Nemesis' awful banter with Forge.

Wolverine and the X-Men #27 AU (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue gives a little more insight into Logan and Sue's journey from Antarctica to New York to stop Hank Pym from creating Ultron, as seen in "Age of Ultron" #6.  It's reminiscent of "Wolverine and the X-Men" #11, where we got similar insight into Logan and Hope's journey from Antarctica to the Moon (as depicted in "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4).  Unfortunately, it's not quite as good as that issue.  Logan randomly gets all humanitarian, deciding to rescue a Brood hatchling but unwittingly helping the Brood adapt to his powers.  Most bizarrely, Sue decides to warn Reed that S.H.I.E.L.D. is watching him, but, curiously, neglects to warn him about Ultron.  After all, if she and Logan fail, wouldn't it make sense to let past Reed know what Hank's doing and why it's important to stop him?  Right there, you have a great example of the problem with time-travel stories, since it's usually hard to argue that the actions that the characters take are the ones that make the most sense.  Man, this event is going downhill quickly.

Age of Ultron #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a complicated one.  On one hand, it's seriously ballsy, but, on the other hand, it was somewhat predictable and occasionally sloppy.

Bendis takes the interesting step of refocusing the past storyline on just Wolverine and Sue Storm.  (Unfortunately, he never explains where the other characters who traveled into the past with them went or why a young Nick Fury just conveniently arrived at his Savage Land base when Logan and Sue desperately needed a vehicle.)  Bendis uses this narrowed focus to have Logan and Sue argue the ethical dilemma at the core of the mission, weighing the life of Hank Pym against the lives of Ultron's victims.  (On a continuity point, Sue mentions that Ultron killed her children, but, per "Fantastic Four" #5 AU, I thought they were just stranded in space.  Did she just forget that she left them there?)  However, the predictability part comes into play with the end result; it seemed pretty unlikely that Sue would stop Logan from killing Hank with all those lives on the line.  (Continuing the parenthetical notations of sloppiness, one of my problems with this issue was the fight scene itself, since Bendis has Logan announce his presence to Hank.  Although I get that it sets up Sue's moral dilemma later in the issue, it seems unlikely that Logan would've taken that chance.  It would've been better to have an alarm sound or something.)

With Hank now dead and the future team defeated, it appears that we're going to be entering the Marvel Universe's version of the DCnU.  (That's the ballsy part.)  Assuming that Marvel isn't actually taking that step, Bendis now has two actions to undo to restore the Marvel Universe we all know.  First, he has to unkill Hank Pym and, second, he has to stop Ultron before he invades.  My guess is that Logan and Sue will serve the same role that Bishop did in "Age of Apocalypse," the institutional memory of the previous reality.  Sue seems the most likely candidate for getting the MnU's heroes to undo what's happened, but I'll admit that I'm not sure how excited I am about it.  It seems increasingly unlikely that anything from this event is going to persist after it concludes, sapping some of the energy from the book.  I mean, I'm not saying that should be the measure of how good the event itself is, given that I am overall enjoying it.  But, I'm starting to wonder whether the ending is going to be worth the effort.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I don't have too much to say about this issue, since most of the plot was covered by "All-New X-Men" #10.  The revelation that Angel was the other student to defect (besides the Cuckoos) was pretty easy to spot, so this issue didn't really do much to advance the story that Bendis is telling in these two titles.  (Moreover, Emma's conversation with the Cuckoos wasn't fascinating enough to make it feel like it added a new twist on the story, particularly since the Cucooks' defection was also pretty predictable.)  The best part of this issue is Bendis' work developing the personalities of the New Xavier School's students, since he makes it clear that Scott may see defections of his own soon.  Overall, as I mentioned in my review of "All-New X-Men" #10, it's clear that Bendis is bringing the first phase of this brave new world to a close.  With the teams now more or less set, I'm intrigued to see where we go from here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Batman and Robin #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Frankenstein's monster?  First, we're supposed to believe that Bruce has decided that he's going to resurrect Damian and then we're supposed to believe that the only way that he can think of doing so is turning him into Frankenstein's monster?  Really? I know I have a love/hate relationship with Tomasi, but, man, this issue definitely falls into the latter category for me.

Batman #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After "Night of the Owls" and "Death of the Family," we seem to get a break with this next arc, given the fact that Clayface isn't usually the type of villain who gets himself a named story.  The story itself starts with a bang, with Bruce Wayne not only holding up a bank and taking a hostage, but shooting Commissioner Gordon in the chest and allowing him to see his Batman costume under his opened shirt.  Questions, we have them.

First, you've got the first part of that sequence to reconcile, namely the robbery and the hostage.  Snyder goes to great pains to underscore that it's genetically Bruce committing these crimes, leaving the reader to assume that he's either under some form of mind control or has been replaced by a clone.  Clayface seems the obvious answer, but Snyder complicates matters by making it seem possible that Batman's suffering a side effect of the toxin to which he was exposed while fighting the Reaper a few days earlier.

But, given that we know Bruce Wayne's name is eventually going to be cleared for the robbery and hostage, it's the second part of that sequence that gets really interesting.  When Snyder reveals that it was, in fact, Clayface who committed the crimes as Bruce, he portrays Clayface as motivated by a desire to take down Batman, going after Bruce presumably due to his link to Batman via Batman, Inc.  But, it seems pretty clear that Clayface now knows that Bruce is Batman.  Moreover, it seems hard to believe that Commissioner Gordon also doesn't know that Bruce is Batman.  Even when Bruce is inevitably cleared for Clayface's crimes, he's going to have to explain why Clayface had him wearing the Batsuit under his street clothes.  Moreover, even if he does adequately explain it, it seems likely that Commissioner Gordon is going remember the association.  As Tim Drake said in the DCU, once you go into the endeavor knowing that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it's pretty easy to see the evidence in front of you.

Snyder also makes reference to Bruce and Commissioner Gordon's association during the "zero year," teasing his upcoming homage to "Batman:  Year One."  By having Gordon refer to it by name, it implies that it's some sort of event that people in Gotham remember (and not a literary term describing an origin story).  He certainly piqued my interest.

I'll admit that I rolled my eyes over the first few pages, knowing that Bruce is never going to be held accountable for the crimes depicted there.  I even had a moment, when Damian appeared during the fight with the Reaper, where I wondered if we weren't in some sort of shifting multiverse, seeing different versions of Bruce's life.  But, Snyder does manage to bring it all together in the end, setting up a pretty decent Clayface tale.  After spending his entire run on this title on sweeping arcs that haven't really delivered, it's nice to see him return to a more focused story.

Batgirl #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of the problems with "Death of the Family" when it comes to this title is that it hijacked the much more interesting story that Simone was telling about James, Jr.  Although Simone and Fawkes did a decent job showing James using the arrival of Joker to his advantage (trading Barbara for his mother), it really distorted the momentum of the story.  When we pick up the trail here, it's hard to remember where we were exactly.

I'm really not all that shocked that Barbara (allegedly) killed James, Jr.  After all, she seemed to have decided to kill Joker in issue #16; she never gets the chance in that issue because James, Jr. chloroformed her before she could.  I actually believe that Barbara would have a more nuanced version of killing than Bruce would.  One of the problems of the heroic prohibition against murder is that it relies almost entirely on the slippery-slope argument; in other words, Bruce can't kill Joker since, if he did, he'd suddenly be unable to control himself from murdering your run-of-the-mill mugger.  Barbara, on the other hand, somewhat understandably views James, Jr. and Joker as special cases.  She takes out James, Jr. here because, like her mother, she realizes that he won't stop until they're all dead.  Although it seems likely that Barbara won't be wanted for murder for long, given that James, Jr. is likely to reappear soon, Simone completely upends Barbara's relationship with her father, something that we've never really seen happen.  It should make for good reading.

My real problem with this issue is that Simone really sullies James, Jr. here by giving him such a remarkably jejune motivation.  Jealousy?  Really?  James, Jr. himself is brilliant, so it's hard to believe that he would've been jealous of Barbara for her accomplishments, as he claims here.  James, Jr. was better when he had no clear motivation, no real rage:  he was a psychopath with a vision of the world very different from everyone else.  By making him essentially an angry little brother, Simone strips him of the characteristics that made him almost unique in the DCU and DCnU.  When James, Jr. first appeared, he was easy to compare to Joker because he had such grandiose goals, like poisoning Gotham's water supply so that its children would grow into psychopaths just like him.  Now, suddenly, Simone has narrowed his focus to simply seeking revenge against his family, something that, honestly, seems beneath him.  Honestly, it's a revelation that I hope is forgotten when he next appears, so that we can resume pretending that he's the unpredictable psychopath that we've all come to know and fear.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't have much to say about this issue, given that the point of it is advancing a storyline that we, the reader, haven't really seen unfurled yet.

Kang, in Loki-esque fashion, maneuvers Apocalypse to attack Thor in 1013 AD, informing him that Thor will prove troublesome for him in the future.  Kang then manipulates the young Thor, thirsty for revenge after barely surviving their encounter, to ensorcel his axe, Jarnbjorn, with a spell that allows him to pierce Apocalypse's Celestial armor.  The point of this conflict is clearly to allow Jarnbjorn and the ability to pierce Apocalypse's armor to fall in Kang's hands, though why he needs that power we have yet to see.  (I'm still not entirely sure where Apocalypse is.  Does Kang need the axe to take on the Apocalypse Twins, despite the fact that he's now in possession of them?)

I'm less sure why Kang sent Apocalypse after Logan's ancestor.  Although Apocalypse is unsuccessful in killing him, thanks to the timely intervention of Thor, I'm not sure what Kang intended here.  Did he know that Thor would intervene and (inadvertently) save Logan's ancestor?  What would he gain from Apocalypse killing Logan's ancestor?  It's clear why he needed Apocalypse to attack Thor, but why he needed him to attack Logan is still a mystery.

But, despite the fact that the point of this issue if moving along a still-unfolding plot, Remender does a good job making it entertaining, showing us a young Thor who still has a lot to learn.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Secret Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

You know, I'm really digging this new series.  Spencer's doing a great job of building an extremely competent cast of characters facing some problems that truly challenge said competency.  After all, I did find myself questioning whether Daisy didn't inappropriately provoke A.I.M. at the weapons expo.  I mean, sure, A.I.M. stole the Iron Patriot armor after Daisy and Nick attacked, but we never learned what it planned on doing had it not been attacked.  The best types of these stories show the characters not as rank amateurs but as trained professionals outmaneuvered by a worthy adversary and Spencer makes Dr. Forson exactly that here.  Plus, he makes it personal besides with the death of the Senator, something that could push Daisy into being more reckless than she normally would be.  We end this issue wondering what Dr. Forson has planned for the armor and why Jocasta knows Phil Coulson's name, which is a pretty great cliffhanger either way you cut it.  Plus, on top of the excellent plot, we get to see Clint bumble his way through missions with his ex-wife and, as Matt Fraction called Natasha in "Hawkeye," his "work wife."  How good is that?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hawkeye #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If this issue needed a different title than "Girls," it would be "Clint Barton and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."

For most of this series so far, Fraction has played up Clint's charming ability to screw up his life while trying to help other people for laughs.  Although we've certainly had some serious moments, this series has mostly revolved around Clint's ability to get himself involved in someone else's trouble and his inability to resolve the problem in a strategic way.  Instead, he usually storms buildings full of mobsters or gets himself captured by femme fatales.  He usually finds a way to win, but he leaves a lot of loose ends in the process.  In this issue, Fraction shows that Clint's charm doesn't always mean that the loose ends just fade into the background.

First, before we get onto the rest of the issue, I love how Fraction just has Clint be an asshole to Jessica.  (I'm just going to ignore the somewhat unbelievable way that Jessica discovered that Clint was cheating, when Penny just happened to plant one on him when she appeared at Avengers Mansion last issue.  I'm going to give Fraction that pass.)  He doesn't give any sort of complicated defense for Clint's actions.  We don't see some version of Peter's endless justifications to Mary Jane.  Nope, he just flat out cheated on Jessica.  I've possibly never seen a more emotionally honest scene between two characters ever written in comics.  Fraction really conveys Jessica's devastation not over Clint's cheating but over the idea that Clint wouldn't have even thought of it as cheating.  It's an extraordinary adult moment and Fraction uses Kate's presence in a really brilliant way to stress that, given her adolescent response to Jessica.  It's damn near perfect.  Moreover, Fraction establishes that Clint feels something down there in his soul when it comes to Jessica, but, being the emotionally stunted kind of guy that he is, he fails to convey that to Jessica.  Grills gives him the great idea that he should write Jessica a letter...shortly before someone kills him.

We'll get to Grills in a minute.  But, I just wanted to stress how Fraction really lets the reader feel the reality of Clint's life in this issue.  It's not all fast cars and fast women.  In fact, it's rarely that.  It's usually Clint feeling like he's in over his head, scaring away vans full of regular people from his building because he's so panicked that it's a van full of Russian mobsters come to take out their revenge on his neighbors.  It's usually Clint not acting like a mutant superhero with some sort of healing ability, but a regular guy with a lot of fresh bruises and old scars, a point stressed by "Darlene" when she asks Black Widow if she knows what Clint does when he's not with the Avengers.  It's Clint not being strong enough to handle his emotional baggage and not hurt the women in his life, like Bobbi and Jessica.  It's...a lot.  In fact, Fraction really goes to Clint's origin story here, since you really do get the sense that the Avengers are the only thing that keeps Clint on the straight and narrow, from falling into a really morally ambiguous pit.  I feel like you really get that here, how sad Clint is, how overwhelmed Clint is.  It drives this whole issue and it's a marvel to see.

But, man, he's really going to go off the rails when he learns about Grills.  You could feel the moment coming and I felt it in the pit of stomach.  When it happens, it just makes a sad issue all the sadder.  Sorry, Grills.  You deserved a lot better.

Seriously, it was an outstanding issue of an amazing series.  I'm starting to feel the way I did about it that I did about Jim and Pam in "The Office," where I almost dread reading the next issue given how badly it can go for Clint.  I guess we'll see.

Avenging Spider-Man #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

In reviewing "Avengers Assemble" #14 AU, I noted that Ewing never really got down Black Widow's voice.  The issue should've conveyed the fear that she and everyone else around her felt as they watched the Ultron invasion occur, but Ewing failed to really build an emotional connection between the reader and the character.  Creating this connection is a fine art, clearly, and identifying it often feels like Potter Stewart's comments on pornography, namely I can't necessarily definite it but I know it when I see it.  In other words, I don't know why this issue is different from "Avengers Assemble" #14 AU, but it is, because Yost really gets into Otto's head here.

We've seen Otto's fear of his father in previous issues of "Superior Spider-Man," but Yost puts it front and center here, using it to drive the nightmare that Otto is experiencing as a result of the fearworm's attempt to get a hold in our reality.  I can't say that I'm personally a fan of Sleepwalker, but Yost does a good job of using his shtick to develop Otto as a character.  He finds strength through his role as Spider-Man to overcome his fear of his father and defeat the fearworm, something that he seems unlikely to have been able to do had he just been plain ol' Otto.  In this way, Yost shows how being Spider-Man is starting to change Otto for the better.  I'll admit, though, that this issue might've been a little more ho-hum if not for the amazing work by Checchetto.  As just one example, the splash page where Otto is revealed to be facing Sleepwalker was spectacular.

Of course, one of the most interesting moments here is Otto contemplating whether Peter trying to get back his body was part of the dream or real, amping up the sense that a confrontation between the two of them is coming to a head.  But, at the very least, this issue does exactly what this series is supposed to do, provide an interesting pairing to show different sides of Spidey.  It continues to be my favorite of the two Spider-Man series.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Age of Ultron #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, the wheels went off this bus pretty quickly.

My first gripe with this issue is the sudden disappearance of Nick Fury's alleged master plan.  At the end of last issue, Red Hulk, Moon Knight, and Black Widow arrived declaring that Nick Fury had a plan that they could use to defeat Ultron.  I mean, their exact words were:  "And we wipe even the idea of him out of existence."  "Entirely."  "And God bless Nick Fury, because we know just how to do it."  We don't really have a lot of ambiguity in those statements.  They know how to defeat Ultron, how to "wipe even the idea of him out of existence."  However, that knowledge seems to be completely forgotten in this issue.  Instead, all they seem to know is that Nick Fury has a secret bunker in the Savage Land.  Moreover, when they eventually find the bunker and Fury himself, Nick doesn't actually have a doomsday plan.  Sure, he has a plan to use a Doom Platform to go the future to take out Ultron.  But, he only has that plan because he knows that Ultron is attacking from the future as a result of some data he was able to obtain when Ultron attacked S.H.I.E.L.D.  Nothing in this issue implies that Fury had some sort of pre-existing plan that could have given the group some advantage in the fight with Ultron.  Plus, even if the plan did exist, it seems likely that it was to go into the past to destroy Ultron, not to go into the future to do it, as Fury actually recommends here, given that it seems unlikely that Fury would've predicted that he was attacking from the future.

But, beyond even the sudden loss of a plan that happens between these two issues, I'm not entirely sure what Fury and his team are expecting to accomplish in the future.  After all, if they defeat Ultron, they're still left with a completely devastated world.  It seems unlikely that they could ever possibly rebuild Earth, given the destruction that we've already seen.  As such, Wolverine seems to be on the right path, believing that they should go into the past to kill Hank Pym before he can invent Ultron.  However, to give Bendis credit, he makes it clear why this strategy is so problematic.  In a flashback, Hank Pym mentions to Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic that he wished sometimes that he could into the past and convince himself not to make Ultron.  (Somewhat hilariously, Mr. Fantastic admits that he would go into the past and be nicer to Dr. Doom in college.)  But, all three acknowledge that at some point you're going to go to "the Garden of Eden and smack that apple out of Eve's hand."  Even beyond these ethical considerations, Spider-Man makes it clear that the Butterfly Effect of destroying an Avenger would be enormous.  Wolverine, however, isn't exactly concerned with the metaphysical ramifications, convincingly arguing that it seems difficult to believe that a different present could possibly be worse.  So, we're now facing down two time-travel stories in the coming months.

The problem, at this point, is that it's unclear where Marvel is going with this story.  We do have the potential for a "New 52!" reboot here, if Marvel were to have Wolverine and his team be successful in killing Hank Pym before he invents Ultron.  Moreover, it seems the only likely possibility since, as I said, even if Fury and his team succeed in the future, it's not going to undo the damage caused by Ultron in the present.  On some level, I'm intrigued to see what they do, since I honestly can't tell how we're going to revolve this problem short of the creation of a MnU.  But, the problem is that I'm not really hopeful that I'm going to like the answer, given the likelihood that it'll be a third option that leaves the pre-"Age of Ultron" status quo unchanged.  Bendis is clearly struggling to keep control over this story and juggling two time-travel stories doesn't seem like it's going to make it an easier on him.  Given the liberal use of deus ex machinas in last issue and the lack of attention to detail in this one, I am not hopeful that we're going anywhere good here.

Avengers Assemble #14 AU (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

"Avengers Assemble" is sort of Marvel's "Batman Incorporated," a series that seemed to exist outside continuity but suddenly exploded into it in a big way.  Not only did a previous arc apparently re-incorporate Thanos back into the Marvel Universe, but this issue shows us how everything went bad for Natasha in San Francisco.

To be the honest, the issue started off rough for me and never really recovered.  I'm not sure if it's Ewing or Guice's fault, but the two pages of dialogue between George, Natasha, and Richard was extraordinarily difficult to follow.  I never read the "Champions," so I had no idea who they were, making it hard to know who was saying what.  In fact, at first, I couldn't even tell whether George or Richard had been Stuntmaster.  (George seemed the more obvious candidate, but Richard's name is on the business card with the words "Original Stuntmaster" on it.)  I eventually sorted out everything after re-reading these two pages a few times, but, by then, I was already more annoyed than I was intrigued with where Ewing was going.

Moving past that introductory sequence, the rest of the issue still didn't click for me.  We're supposed to feel the building terror as we watch Ultron's invasion happen from the perspective of Natasha and the people at the restaurant with her.  But, despite this sequence being the only one so far in this event to show us the actual invasion, I never really felt the building hysteria that this sequence was supposed to convey.  By the time the Ultrons appear, I was mostly ready for it to end.  Ewing does manage to get in some emotion, such as Natasha describing that she was lying to the crowd when she told them that they were "saving" the wounded by running from the Ultrons in the opposite direction.  But, I felt like this issue was too rushed to do what it could've done.  It's a shame, too, because it could've really been a great story.

Ultron #1 AU (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue provides us our first real vignette of the "Age of Ultron" saga, with Victor from the Runaways trying to do his best to save kids trapped in the post-invasion chaos of Los Angeles.  It's a sad story, but an important one, particularly as the main title moves onto other matters.

My knowledge of the Runaways is limited to their appearances with the Young Avengers, but Immonen quickly makes Victor accessible to the new reader. After all, he's the "son" of Ultron, so it's pretty easy to see why he's been seriously affected by recent events. Immonen makes real his guilt over his cyborg side, using it to get across how alone Victor feels, even surrounded by people.  The story gives an emotional grounding to the event that the most recent issues of the main title have lacked.  Issue #2 of "Age of Ultron" was probably the last one that focused on the impact of the invasion on the heroes, with the more recent ones focusing on their plans to stop Ultron.  As such, this issue is a well-time story, keeping some focus on the personal side of the greater tragedy as the main title gets swept into the larger drama.

Along those lines, Jaime's comment that he knew he was in trouble when his father told him to find someone to follow (given that his father usually wouldn't let him go to the park by himself) reminded me of "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. It's heart-breaking, but Immonen doesn't dwell on it, making it clear that the kids have other worries at the present.  Despite all his sacrifices, Victor realizes that his attempts to defy Ultron meant little in the end. As Cait and Cloudy's fate is left uncertain (and Jaime and Marcus certainly dead), Victor sacrifices himself to buy them some time.  Although heroic, it's meaningless, underscoring just how complete Ultron's victory has been.  Dark days, friends.  Dark days.

Earth 2 #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This Dr. Fate interlude has been an awkward one and I really find myself just biding my time until Alan and Kendra re-enter the scene.  It has unfortunately played to Robinson's major weakness, namely his affinity for forced exposition.  Here, this issue begins with Wotan having a nice chat with Jay's mother where he casually reveals not only his history but also his strengths and weaknesses to her.  By the time Wotan stops talking (six pages into the story), Robinson had already mostly lost me.  It also doesn't help that I haven't really clicked with Khalid, so I was somewhat unmoved by the burden that he feels in accepting the mantle of Dr. Fate (particularly since I don't necessarily understand why he necessarily has to go insane as a result).  Hopefully, it'll be better now that this show seems to be getting on the road.  At any rate, it's a rare miss for this title and I'm hoping that Fury's pursuit of Mr. Miracle will open the door for some more interesting (and fun) stories.

Detective Comics #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of the problems of the DCnU, at this point, is that it's jarring when you're confronted with a familiar figure from the DCU who isn't familiar now.  In this issue, we encounter that problem with Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a., Man-Bat.  Although this lack of familiarity allows Layman to create a compelling new origin story for Langstrom, it also distracts you as you spend a few panels wondering why Batman has no idea who he is.

In this version of events, Langstrom is a scientist using experiments on bats to try to help cure deafness, a problem that runs in his family.  But, his cure was apparently stolen by Talia al Ghul before he could resolve the unfortunate side effect that the cure's recipients experienced, namely, they tended to turn into Man-Bats.  Talia actually wanted the serum for its side effects, though, using it to create an army of Man-Bat soldiers in "Batman Incorporated."  Emperor Penguin at some point gets his hands on the serum (though I'm not sure if we learn how that happened) and uses Zsasz to turn it into an airborne virus, unleashing an army of Man-Bat Gothamites onto the city while his agents take advantage of the chaos to make some big scores.  Langstrom is forced to use his own DNA to create a cure, turning himself into Man-Bat while everyone else returns to normal.  It's a clever twist to Langstrom's origin, though, as I said, I was distracted for a while when Batman didn't know who Langstrom was.  Moreover, I got somewhat lost in the science.  I'm not sure why Langstrom had to use his DNA to overwrite the virus, though his sacrifice in doing so certainly makes for a great story.

Beyond this issue itself, Layman actually does the best job of any Bat-family author at this point in pulling together all the disparate stories that have happened in recent months.  As I mentioned, the Man-Bat soldiers are apparently straight from "Batman Incorporated" and both Barbara and Dick ignore Bruce's calls for help as a result of the events of "Death of the Family."  The back-up story even manages to connect Bane with the "Night of the Owls."  It leaves you with the impression of an overwhelmed Bruce forced to lean even more than usual on Alfred.  Given that "Batman Incorporated" suddenly burst into continuity, it's an admirable effort to bring together all those plot points, given that everyone else seems to be too busy to try to do so.  Moreover, Layman still keeps his eye on his own ball, using the events of this issue to show how Emperor Penguin continues to make his presence felt.  Showing how integrated this issue was (making it almost worth the $7.99 price tag), the Mr. Combustible back-up story does a great job of fleshing out Emperor Penguin's story, showing how Oglivy used the chaos to have his men steal $85 million worth of cash and prizes.  Plus, I believe that it's the first time that Bruce learns of Emperor Penguin.  I'm just impressed by how Layman isn't rushing this story, showing Oglivy becoming more and more of a threat as he gets comfortable with his position and building up the tension as we head to an inevitable confrontation between him and Bruce (and him and Penguin).

I think that I've gotten to the point where this book is my favorite in the Bat-family.  Layman manages to stay above the drama of the other series (even while still incorporating it into his own stories) and focusing on Batman's investigative skills, as "Detective Comics" is supposed to do.  Although it wasn't perfect, this story still flowed a lot more logically than a lot of stories have lately in the Bat-family.  Moreover, Layman has an ear for dialogue; both Batman and Alfred having strong voices in this issue.  Finally, Jason Fabok has a great eye for detail, really immersing you in Gotham itself in a way that other artists often struggle to do.

All in all, this series continues to do what I want the other Bat-family books to do but don't, tell tales that really showcase Batman as a crime fighter and not as megalomaniacal asshole.  It should be getting a lot more attention that it is.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Winter Soldier #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this title went downhill quick.  Seriously, I felt like I missed an issue.

I read my recap from last issue and I realized that I'm yet again left piecing together the story without a lot of faith that I'm getting it right.  After Tesla was trained in the Red Room, it seems like she was then sold to the highest bidder and it seems like her treatment at the hands of the espionage agency that hired her fueled her need for revenge.  However, I don't get why the Soviets would sell such a powerful weapon in the first place.  Moreover, her handler in the flashback sequence seems like he intended to go rogue with her, since he has his men attack Bucky.  If Bucky was simply following orders, then attacking him would be tantamount to breaking those orders.  So, it seems unlikely the handler would break the orders...and then just appear at the Red Room with Tesla as if everything was normal.  But, if he wasn't breaking orders, why have his men attack Bucky?

We also still have no idea why Latour went rogue when he did, though you'd be forgiven for forgetting that sub-plot entirely, given how much attention it's given in this issue.

Remember when I was worried that this series was going to become a series of bad episodes of "Alias?"  I unfortunately think that we're there.

Venom #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is definitely better than the last one.  Bunn clarifies that Figure was indeed one of the U-Foes' experiments and, although I don't remember there having been several experiments, I'm willing to roll with it at this point.  Moreover, Toxin is at least no longer just hanging in alleys waiting for someone to eat, now that Figure can lead him to Flash.  I'm not sure why Eddie couldn't have found Flash on his own, but, again, I'm rolling with it.

Shalvey really nails the fight between Figure and Toxin, showing how Figure's flexibility is more than a match for Eddie.  It managed not to be your typical slugfest, because I really didn't know where we were going to go in the next panel, so I really have to applaud them for that spontaneity.  Bunn also does well with Flash in the quiet moments, showing him really struggling to make his civilian identity work.  I thought Bunn highlighted that struggle well with the Flash's participation in the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where he clearly felt almost ridiculous for talking about one of his problems given how many other ones that he has (and can't discuss).  The use of Beast via Skype was possibly the most interesting addition and one that Bunn should consider maintaining.  As we've established, Flash needs some friends and, given the way things are going in Philly, it seems unlikely that he's going to develop any soon.  So that this title doesn't descend into the morosity that previously defined it, somebody has to care about Flash and help him stay on the straight and narrow.

The move to Philly has definitely injected some life into this series, though I still wonder how much longer I'm going to get it.  We'll see if we slip into the old ways or if Bunn can find a way to have Flash battle his demons without being totally consumed by them.

Thanos Rising #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS)

Marvel has made it pretty clear that the relaunch of the Marvel Cosmic line is based in no small part on the role that its characters will play in the upcoming "Avengers" sequel and its various side films.  Here, Thanos gets the star treatment, with a look at his origins.  Aaron does some interesting stuff here, so much so that I wonder where we're going with it, despite already knowing how it all eventually ends.

First, I'm not sure if I knew that Thanos was a mutant.  His mutation so far seems limited to his physical appearance, but I'm not really sure if I had thought all that much on why he was purple but his brother, Eros, wasn't.  (They are from Saturn, after all.  I just thought that's the way they rolled over there.)  I originally thought that Aaron was going to have his different appearance lead to his eventual ostracization from Titan's society, establishing why he turned into a super-villain.  But, Aaron doesn't take the easy way here, showing Thanos as an intellectual, serious child who's eventual brought into "frivolous childhood games" by a sympathetic classmate.

It's another classmate, a girl, who pushes Thanos down a darker path, encouraging him to explore a forbidden cave with some friends.  I'm guessing that this girl is going to have something to do with Death, give how significantly she manipulates events here.  Although I don't think that she caused the collapse of the cave that killed Thanos' friends, it seems possible that she did.  Either way, the collapse is the moment where Thanos eventually begins to separate himself (or finds himself separated) from Titan's society.  The scene where Thanos kills the lizards who ate his friends is heart-breaking, given that he had previously been repulsed by his father dissecting an already dead lizard and had vowed not to eat the lizards when he was trapped in the cave.

All in all, it's a really interesting start to this origin story.  I thought Aaron cleverly avoided too obvious of a story by having Thanos' mutation not be the reason for his eventual hatred of Titan society, pinning his start on the path to darkness on a simple accident.  But, the role of this mysterious girl is going to be the key element in this story (particularly given that she set the stage for said accident).  Has Death been manipulating Thanos all along?  Or, does Thanos come by his villainy naturally?  His mother allegedly saw death in his eyes the day he was born.  Is he merely a pawn of destiny or was he choosing his own path?  I'm intrigued to see how Aaron answers such weighty philosophical issues.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Superior Spider-Man #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I didn't hate this issue!

I mean, it wasn't my favorite issue of all time or anything, but Slott seemed a lot more focused during it.  We weren't juggling every sub-plot at the same time, bouncing from Horizon to MJ's to NYU to the streets.  By focusing on Spidey and his fight with Cardiac, I feel like Slott was able to tell a more coherent story than he's told so far on this title.

But, most importantly, I think that it's because the Ghost Peter sub-plot actually started going somewhere.  I mean, I'm not expecting that the Avengers or Peter are going to be able to resolve the issue any time soon.  But, for the last few issues, Peter's simply served as annoying narrator, adding little to the story (and, in fact, generally detracting from it).  Here, at least we started getting some dramatic tension in terms of Otto and Peter fighting over Peter's body now that Peter can exhibit some control over it.  It ups the stakes sufficiently to make it less of a odd curiosity and more of an actual plot.

It still all begs the question where we're going with it.  I know some people hypothesized that Slott is using Peter as a transition device for people to adjust to Otto.  So, rather than Peter winning back control of his body, Otto will find a way to eliminate Peter's consciousness entirely.  Slott doesn't rule out that possibility here, since Otto seems aware that Peter might be controlling his movements and seems to want to find a way to stop it.  Only time will tell, I guess.  But, at least I wasn't filled with rage this time.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

All-New X-Men #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I hadn't really connected the dots when Mystique broke out Lady Mastermind last issue that she would use her to pin their upcoming crime spree on the X-Men.  But, it's a great move on Bendis' part, since it definitely contributes to the sense that the X-Men are fighting a war on multiple fronts.  It helps give a certain "Empire Strikes Back" energy to this book, where the team keeps getting outmaneuvered by its opponents, as Scott demonstrates this issue, and leaving you wondering how they're going to get in a few wins.

Bendis portrays Scott as just as haughty and pontifical as Magneto was back in the day.  We heard much of Cyclops' stump speech already in "Uncanny X-Men" #3, but Bendis shows us the X-Men's reaction to it.  As expected, they're less than thrilled with him running a "school" called the New Xavier Institute.  But, the main contribution to this ongoing debate is Scott's extremely well-tailored argument that he's doing nothing different than Hank did in bringing the original X-Men to the present, namely, fighting to make sure that his vision of the world wins.  It's a compelling argument, particularly since Hank's rebuttal that Cyclops is at fault for relishing the Phoenix power seems particularly dishonest given Hank's adventures in the time stream.  Essentially, didn't Hank do the same thing as Scott?  Young Scott certainly thinks so, particularly given that he feels that Hank lied to him by omitting the fact that Scott killed Professor X while possessed.  Bendis hasn't done a lot with young Scott yet but we begin to see him increasingly assert himself as he's confronted with the mistakes of his elders.

My favorite part of this issue is probably the fact that Kitty clearly seems to be in charge here, not only of the original X-Men, but the existing X-Men as well.  She's the one who leads the charge onto the lawn to confront Scott, she's the one answering Maria Hill's call. etc.  I hope we get to see more of her taking on this leadership role in coming issues.

Bendis sets up a cliffhanger here in terms of making us wait to see who joins the Brotherhood besides the Cuckoos.  My money is on Angel if we're assuming that the X-Men didn't decide to send in a mole; if they did, it's probably Jean.  But, the more important point seems to be that Bendis is bringing the first phase of the relaunch to a close.  The teams have confronted one another and everyone will have chosen their side.  From there, we'll see where we go.  Great stuff as usual from this title.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Red Hood and the Outlaws #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I only realized that I had missed this issue when I was putting away issue #18 and now, after having read it, I sort of wished that I hadn't.

Lobdell does some weird stuff here with Jason, making it unclear if he misunderstands Jason's history or if we're supposed to believe that certain aspects of it are now part of the larger ret-con.  For example, Jason comments that he had to die to get the chip off his shoulder, despite the fact that it was dying (and Bruce not avenging him) that actually put the chip on his shoulder.  He's also weirdly protective of Tamara, pledging to protect her every day of his life, as if they were married.  (Also, thank God that Lobdell wasn't given the responsibility of writing "Nightwing."  Dick claiming that his relationship with Starfire cost him the ability to care about anyone else is about the most un-Dick thing that I could possibly imagine him saying.  I can't fathom the damage that Lobdell could've wrecked to his character had he been writing that title instead of this one.)

The weirdest part, though, is that we never really get an answer to Joker's assertion that he created Jason.  After Lobdell seemingly confirming that sequence of events as canonical during "Death of the Family," Bruce denies it here.  Given that we learned at the end of "Death of the Family" that Bruce is generally right about Joker, we're essentially left to believe Bruce's version.  Lobdell could be leaving some wiggle room, since Bruce doesn't outright deny the facts, just the conclusion that Joker "made" Jason.  But, again, if Joker did know those facts, then he definitely knew Jason's identity and we get on the identity issue that was the core of my problem with "Death of the Family" all over again.

Speaking of Bruce, it seems odd that he simply more or less forgives Jason for being a murderer.  So much of the breach between Jason and the Bat-family in the DCU was based on the fact that they felt responsible to bring him to justice for his crimes.  Here, Bruce essentially tut-tuts his methods but congratulates him for his results.  It's a bizarre moment and one that I'd more or less like to forget.

At any rate, issue #18 is an infinitely superior issue to this one.  In fact, I think I'm going to re-read it, just to make sure I remember it that way.

Nova #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I liked this comic.  It's a great example of everything that this sort of series should be.  You've got the hero getting mysterious hints of something happening outside his limited world, learning that his family has a secret history, and then finally expanding that limited world thanks to the lessons of the secret history and the discovery of an unexpected power.  Loeb grounds the story in an believably earnest character and starts to set up a strong supporting cast.  (How great was Rocket Raccoon here?)  Plus, McGuinness gives it all a sense of grandeur that only the high desert and deep space can inspire.

But, I have questions.

First, in terms of the story itself, we clearly need to learn why the Nova Corps suddenly called on Sam's dad after all these long years.  In fact, it really begs the question why he was allowed to be on a temporary hiatus in the first place, given that Rich could've used some help during that whole period where he thought the entire Nova Corps had been destroyed and he had to defend the galaxy by himself.  Given that we've already ret-conned the fact that Rich was the first Earth-based Nova, Loeb has to move a lot faster in answering these questions.

But, we really need to know about Rich.

No, seriously.  Wacker implied in the letter page of "Guardians of the Galaxy" #1 that Rich returned in this issue, but, unless he's also somehow Sam's dad, it clearly didn't seem to happen.  In this issue's letters page, he promises that we'll learn more, but it's not enough. I effing love Rich Rider.  "Nova" and the various "Annihilation" series are some of the best comics that I've ever read and I feel like we've somehow returned to the bad old days, where Rich is treated like a joke, rather than the good past days, where Rich is the guy who saves the whole effing galaxy while the Earth heroes were fighting over whether they should be forced to reveal their secret identities.  He deserves better than he's getting here and someone better acknowledge that soon.

I have questions and I want answers.  Until then, this series is going to be hard to enjoy, no matter how exciting and fun Loeb and McGuinness make it.

Young Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG.

I just don't know where to start.  What did I love more?  The underage drinking while discussing how to save reality?  Teddy putting his arm around Billy at the club while Billy texts Kate, "We're in deep trouble.  Also, hugs."?  America, Billy, and Teddy's amazing death glares at Loki after America reveals that he tried to hire her to kill Billy?  Who am I kidding?  I loved it all.

First, the premise behind this first arc is brilliant.  To quote Will Smith, parents just don't understand.  I mean, what a better start to this series than that, a reminder that we're dealing with teenagers whose parents really don't understand.  They're trying to save the world, but they've also got homework.  Gillen really recalls some of the best early issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" here and I can't think of a higher compliment than that.

I also thought that Gillen really put in the work to explain the events happening here in as logical of a way as possible.  I liked the explanation for why all the parents are acting insanely, since i it seems believable that Loki's attempt to negate Billy's misfired "dead parent" spell instead wound up altering it and expanding it to all their dead parents.  Plus, I bought the explanation why they're having problems undoing it, since it also makes sense that Billy's power is still tied to the spell and Loki is too weak in his child form.  (The conversation where Loki tries to get Billy to loan him his power for ten minutes was hilarious.)  Finally, Gillen also wisely reminds us that the real motivation here is Teddy's mom trying to feast off Billy and Teddy's souls:  the involvement of the other parents is all just an unforeseen complication for the guys (and boon for her).  It is as tightly written plot as you're going to find.

But, despite this amazing plot, the best part about the book is the relationships.  I love the guys' initial reaction to America and I feel like Gillen is laying the seeds of a great friendship that could develop between her and Teddy (who could really use a friend).  I also love that Gillen gives a nod to who Billy was in the beginning, a Norse mythology geek.  It really shows that he's done his homework and explains why these characters feel the way that they always have.  But, he really manages to flesh out their characters even more, showing them as real people even more than Heinberg did.  I loved Billy telling Teddy that Kate keeps texting about Skrulls and cute boys and Teddy replying, "Two of my favorite topics."  In fact, of every series that I currently read, I'm hard pressed to think of one where the characters' voices are just so strong.  I could hear Loki say, "Now cease your texting!"  McKelvie is part of the reason why this effort to portray the kids as real people is so successful.  In just one small example, I adored Teddy making air quotes when telling America that they know that they can't trust Loki since, after all, "Loki."  I'm not sure most author/artist duos would've included that moment, but it's such a great one, summing up all the irreverence and snark that this title promises.

Moreover, Gillen sets the stage for future plots, such as Loki teaching Billy how to use his magic more efficiently and the guys (and us) discovering why America is doing what she's doing (particularly after she pointedly ignored Teddy's question to that effect).

"Young Avengers" always runs the possibility of getting dragged into maudlinness given the various tragedies that the team has shared, but Gillen makes you wonder if anyone has really ever had this much fun saving the world.

Age of Ultron #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

My history professor is fond of saying that you need to ask not only why something happened in history but also why it happened when it did.  In this issue, the first is a lot easier to explain than the second.

Every mini-series like this one has the issue where the author has to hit fast forward and get to the place where s/he needs to be to move into the next phase.  This issue is that one for "Age of Ultron."  Bendis brings the three groups together, but it's a somewhat bumpy ride.  The most believable sequence is the primary story, involving the main group of superheroes.  Jennifer and Luke learn from Vision that Ultron is attacking from the future, resulting in She-Hulk sacrificing herself to get that information to the heroes in the Savage Land.  Bendis has some good moments here, from making it clear that Luke's rage over Jessica and Danielle's deaths drives him to succeed to showing how weary the superheroes are when they barely comment on the nuclear explosion that the Ultrons unleash to try to stop Luke.

The secondary story, with Black Widow and Moon Knight, stretches your credulity a bit.  We not only learn that Nick Fury conveniently has a secret base in the Savage Land, but that he also has a secret plan for taking down Ultron in just this scenario.  I'm going to reserve judgment on the plan until we get more details, but the fact that Nick has a secret base in the Savage Land is the "why it happened when it did" moment that I mentioned earlier.  Although it's totally believable that he would have such a secret base, Bendis doesn't really make any attempt to address how remarkably convenient it was for Marc and Natasha to stumble across this information just in time to meet the other superheroes there.

It's the tertiary story, with Red Hulk and Taskmaster, that Bendis totally phones-in.  Red Hulk not only survived the attack from a few issues ago, but he happens to recover just as Taskmaster is strolling by him.  Moreover, despite having a distinct lack of allies, he decides to kill Taskmaster (who's doing exactly what he said that he'd do, escape Chicago with Ultron tech) and then somehow knows to go to the Savage Land.

But, I'm not going to spend too much time crying over spilled milk.  Bendis could've gotten everyone together in a lot more eloquent way, but what's done is done.  It's a transition issue and I'm willing to leave it at that.  Looking ahead, the clear question to me at this point is if Bendis is going to bring us the battle that we saw in "Avengers" #6, where Kang and Earth's heroes attack Ultron in the future.  In that arc, we learned that Kang and the heroes lose the battle and that Kang's repeated attempts to win it wind up fracturing the time stream, setting up the events of that arc.  Looking at future issues, Kang does appear on the cover of "Uncanny Avengers" #8 AU, so it seems possible that we're going here.  If so, most importantly, at the end of "Avengers" #6, old Iron Man hands young Iron Man a device to use to defeat Ultron.  Given that he now knows where Ultron is, it seems like a good time for Tony to use that device...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #27 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Blech.  I'm not entirely sure what Aaron meant to happen here.  After last issue, he wants us to empathize with Dog, given the abuse and misfortune that he's suffered.  But, here, Dog's pretty much the butt of the joke when he fails in his task of training the students to fight better than Wolverine could.  Plus, I'm still confused that Dog chose teaching as the arena where he would challenge Logan.  After all, I don't think Logan himself puts a lot of stock in his teaching ability, so it doesn't seem like it would emasculate him if Dog proved to be a better teacher than he is.  Is it all leading to Dog being put on the faculty or something?  Again, I can't tell if we're supposed to be viewing Dog as looking for redemption of some sort or looking for revenge.  I'll be glad when this arc is over.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After the epic start to this title, Remender brings us a character-focused story that winds up being even more imaginative and impressive than the Red Skull stealing Professor X's brain.

First, I love that Remender harkens to the old days of the Avengers, where everyone was constantly fighting over leadership.  I'll caveat that comment by noting that those stories can get old quickly, but, here, Remender rally uses these conflicts to tease out the tensions in this group.  I think we all expected Alex and Cap to struggle over leadership, but I thought Remender did a brilliant job of showing Wanda also gunning for the title.  On one hand, he uses it to show how desperate Wanda is for redemption.  (He also has her wisely come to her senses in a conversation with Cap.)  But, he also uses it to add to the sense that the Avengers in the group view this whole endeavor as their ballgame, a sense also echoed by Jan where she expressed outrage with Rogue for replacing the portrait of the original Avengers for one of Charles Xavier.  This tension -- not about leadership, but about identity -- is fascinating, since it gets to the heart of this whole human/mutant issue as it currently exists in the Marvel Universe.  Scott has repeatedly called out Cap (most recently in "Uncanny X-Men" #3) for not doing enough to promote human and mutant harmony.  Here, you get a glimpse at why it's going to be difficult to do so when the Avengers aren't so sure that the X-Men are their equals.

Along those lines, my favorite moment of this issue was Alex responding to the question about what he wanted to be called if not mutant with a simple, "How about Alex?"  First, it underlines the point that "mutant" is a dirty world in the post-"Avengers vs. X-Men" world.  But, it also shows how absolutely on top of his game Alex is, despite his own doubts, and how much he earned Rogue's comment that Xaiver would be proud of him.  With the X-Men largely disbanded, Alex is the face of Xavier's dream.  In fact, he's really the only one left out there fighting for it, on the front lines.  He's not lurking in the background or hiding at the School, but taking the high road like Xavier did.  He's trying to keep the peace within the team while everyone is quick to let their prejudices and pride rule them, but he also asserts his authority when Cap challenges it.  But, more importantly, he's telling the world that humans and mutants are equals (despite what some members of the Avengers might think) and he's here to prove it to everyone.  I don't think anyone, including Alex, ever saw a Summers brother not named Scott doing that, but here we are.  At long last, Alex Summers is a man in full and I absolutely can't wait to see where that goes.

Finally, if the old-school Avengers have always been about by-laws discussions and leadership votes, the X-Men have always been about redemption.  Wolverine offers it to Sunfire here and it's probably the most emotionally charged sequence in the issue.  Sunfire is shown as a broken man, not believing himself even remotely deserving of redemption or even all that desirous of it.  But, he accepts the chance and it helps to make this team about something more than just press conferences.

(On the P.R. note, I will say that I thought Jan and Simon as a P.R. team was a somewhat weird conceit.  I'm willing to see where Remender goes with it, but it seems like the type of plot device that'll eventually get dropped and they'll just be on the team.)

I haven't even really mentioned the Apocalypse Twins or the Grim Reaper or Kang.  The Grim Reaper's appearance seemed particularly random and I'm not really sure why we're supposed to worry about Rogue killing him if the whole point of his attack is the fact that he can't die unless Wanda lets him die.  Also, the introduction of the Apocalypse Twins was a little clunky, even if I did guess that it was Kang speaking.  But, honestly, I'm so much more fascinated by the characterization in this series that I can sort of let the villains and their illogical fantasies slide.

Finally, seriously, I hope Coipel stays for a few issues, because I could really stand to see a lot more panels of him drawing Alex and Cap.  No, really.

Scarlet Spider #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

What the hell happened here?  Seriously, where did the series that I loved go?

I don't really know where the begin here, but I guess let's start with the Lobos.  Yost appears to want us to empathize with them as a deranged Kaine makes short work of them, as if the fact that they're cold-blooded assassins isn't really their fault.  The problem is that Yost hasn't really done anything to make them into sympathetic characters, except perhaps establishing that Carlos is motivated, in part, by resurrecting their brother, Eduardo.  On a side note, I just realized in this issue that the Lobos are supposed to be the same characters as the ones who appeared in "Spectacular Spider-Man" and "Web of Spider-Man" in the 1980s.  But, according to Wikipedia, Esme was Eduardo's lover, not sister.  So, I'm not really sure how Esme became a werewolf, given that Carlos and Eduardo were werewolves because they were born mutants and Esme, presumably, wasn't.  Maybe she got the Man in White to turn her into a werewolf, something that he could presumably do if he could also resurrect Eduardo?  Yost probably needs to go into some detail here.  But, honestly, clarifying the relationship within the Lobos is the least of our worries.

Moving onto another gripe, the Man in White apparently wants Aracely dead for some sort of event to begin, but, instead of killing her, just puts her in the shipping container where Kaine originally found her.  If Roxxon wanted the immigrants alive and not dead, as the Man in White stresses, then why would he put her in there if he wanted her dead?  Why not, you know, just kill her?  But, again, as annoying as this loose end is, we have bigger fish to fry.

The most serious problem here is that the Other storyline makes no sense.  It almost feels like a double-exposed negative, like Yost is telling two stories accidentally at the same time.  I have no idea why he decided to insert the Other into this storyline since, as I established above, the Lobos could've used some more attention to flesh out the concept.  But, just as soon as we establish that Kaine is no longer human, he zips off his Other skin like he was just wearing a Halloween costume, apparently no worse for wear.  Seriously, WTF, Yost?  It was so totally random.  I mean, I get that he allegedly broke the hold that the Other had over him because he was going to kill Aracely, but it again begs the question why Yost decided even to use the Other storyline in the first place if it was just going to be ditched after one issue.  Plus, I don't get why we've now apparently decided that we're a monster.  I mean, he died.  He got resurrected.  It's not exactly like he was totally in control of his actions.  Why does this sequence of events prove to be the thing that makes him consider himself a monster?  Plus, are we still on this hobby horse?  I mean, at what point can we just let him, I don't know, stop some muggers and call it a day?  Do we still have to keep harping on this problem?  I thought Donald's talk with him settled this issue.  Why are we re-hashing it yet again?

Finally, the end is just bizarre.  Yost flips through several events, such as Aracely suddenly getting possessed, Julia Carpenter muttering Kaine's name to herself in her coma, and the Man in White (now Brown) preparing for some Mexican god (possibly the one giving Aracely her powers) to come after him.  I think it's supposed to show how crazy the next few issues are going to be, but it actually left me just wishing we could actually wrap up some stuff and put this series on more equal footing before we get all metaphysical.

[Sigh.]  Man, this series has taken a turn for the worse.  I'm hoping we get back to the great stories about Kaine struggling to be a hero soon.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, I have to say that I don't know when we decided to make Peter Quill super-hot, but, man, I am all for it.  Damn.

I think Bendis is totally going in the right direction by focusing on Peter as some combination of Han Solo and prodigal son.  It helps give his character a certain motivation that he's always been lacking (even though I don't think that I realized it previously).  It also gives the series a propulsive energy that you can see in the opening sequence where he goes from hitting on a Kree girl to arguing with his Spartaxan father.  Even if they were a little Bendis-y, I still really enjoyed Quill's conversations with both of them, establishing him as a rakish rogue who's a good time at a bar as well as a serious man with a surfeit of righteous anger.  Bendis also has plenty of room to explore this duality in the coming issues.  For example, why doesn't Peter want to be the Spartaxan prince?  Is he just mad at his father for abandoning his family?  If it's more than that, why doesn't he trust him?  Or, is he just that reluctant to take on that responsibility?  Bendis sets up the possibility that Quill's father betrayed him, something that doesn't initially feel right to me but certainly seems to be something that Quill himself would believe.  If he did betray him, then it becomes all the easier why he's reluctant to trust him enough to agree to return to Spartax and rule by his side.  Again, this intrigue seems a good decision from a plot perspective.  As I said, it gives Quill (and the series) a depth that he's previously lacked as just a guy "cavorting around the galaxy with [his] broken friends," to quote his father.

Beyond the focus on Quill, Bendis and McNiven deliver a great action sequence here, drawing in the rest of the cast in a way that reminds us that it's not just going to be a Peter showcase.  It's fun to see Iron Man outside his element and looking to cues from Peter for how he should proceed.

Finally, I'm particularly impatient for us to get to the story of his flight from the Cancerverse, particularly since it seems like it will have to answer the question about what happened to Nova.  But, in the meantime, I'm totally happy with the monthly shenanigans of Peter Quill, "questionable women," and the other Guardians.