Monday, June 24, 2013

Detective Comics #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Layman continues to do the best job of all the various Bat-family authors of telling self-contained Batman stories.  However, saying that the stories are self-contained doesn't mean that they're completely divorced from the rest of the Bat-family books, as the appearance of Harper Row in this issue shows.  As he did with issue #20, Layman manages to work within the confines of a complicated continuity while still telling his own story.

Mio's appearance here surprised me and Layman does a good job not trying to recap the events of "Detective Comics" #0 while giving us enough details to remember what we need to know about her.  Unfortunately, one of my complaints about this issue is the portrayal of Mio, who seems either unbelievably arrogant or incompetent for a "master" assassin.  You don't seem to need to be a master assassin to know that wearing a distinctively white costume and allowing a curiously persistent girl to follow you are bad ideas.  But, Mio does both, setting the stage of her downfall.

My other complaint is that Bruce seems to take a similar leave of his senses, shouting out Mio's name as if everyone in Gotham City -- and not just Bruce Wayne -- knew who she is.  You'd think that someone who basically lost his entire surrogate family for being too fast and loose with the possibility that one of his enemies knew his identity would've learned this lesson by now.

Harper Row is, in fact, the only character who seemingly acts intelligently and with type and her clutch performance here seems to win her Batman's grudging acceptance of her own vigilante activities as well as the open up the possibility of her taking up Damian's mantle one day.  I've worried consistently that DC was going to rush that story, but Layman does a good job of showing that Harper probably has to prove herself as a vigilante on her own for a while before she moves into the Batcave.

All in all, the oddly unprofessional behavior of both Bruce and Mio weigh down this issue, but I still enjoy this title more than any other Bat-family title.  Self-contained stories told well:  it's almost a novel concept at this point.

X-Factor #257 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, if we are really experiencing "The End," David is not surprisingly pulling out all the stops.

I've made it pretty clear, I think, that Layla isn't exactly my favorite character.  Even in David's capable hands, she's always been more or less a one-trick pony, a plot device used to move a story somewhere that it needed to be more quickly than it would have arrived without her.  However, David does a great job of making her a more complicated character here as she confronts the reality of losing some of that power, a consequence of her decision to resurrect Guido many issues ago.  The fact that she finds herself facing a different set of circumstances in the wake of the "Hell on Earth War" than she originally did makes particular sense given that Guido probably didn't become the overlord of Hell in the original timeline since, you know, he was dead.  Her resurrection of him directly creates the confusion that she experiences here.  In other words, she has no one but herself to blame.

Making sure that we're clear on the story that he's telling, David focuses this issue on someone else facing unexpected consequences after bringing back someone from the dead.  The death of the young boy at the hands of his demonic mother is sad in and of itself, but it's also a reminder of how Layla ultimately failed in her attempt to save Guido, since he's just as lost to her.  Instead of "the briefest of sideshows" that this tale constituted in the original timeline, the events of this issue result in Layla finding herself alone with a demonic husband and without a clear sense of how to help him.  Layla had always been emotionally isolated from her teammates due to her knowledge of the future, but now she's also physically isolated from them just as she no long can take comfort from "knowing stuff."  In making it so clear that she's lying in the bed that she made, David also leaves us wondering about the same question as Layla:  what happens next?  Somehow, I doubt that we're getting a happy ending.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Thanos Rising #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.  Aaron builds this story beautifully, showing us Thanos as he explores the universe in the pursuit of the meaning of life.  He does so by both creating life and watching others destroy it and Aaron portrays Thanos as remarkably passive in this endeavor, a helpless victim of his own lack of emotions.  You feel how lost Thanos is, though how much he still seems like that little boy that we first saw trying to find meaning in the life that he's living.  Knowing who Thanos becomes, it makes sense when he decides that death is the only thing that really gives him joy when he's forced to kill his captain before the captain kills him.  Correspondingly, he also clearly has little choice but to come to the conclusion that the mysterious girl on Titan, now a woman, who has fueled his murderous impulses since they first presented themselves, is the only woman for him.  However, her insistence, shocking as it is, that she truly be the only woman by ordering him to murder all his previous partners and children makes you understand that the Thanos that we see at the end of this horrible road will, indeed, be different than that little boy that we first met.

Superior Spider-Man #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you can get past the fact that the Spider-Slayer is remotely able to use his slayer-bots to almost instantly create exactly the right cybernetic implants to get Boomerang, the Scorpion, and the Vulture into fighting shape, then you're going to enjoy this issue.  If you can't (and I think that's a totally acceptable response), you might have some troubles.

For me, the most interesting part of this issue was the fact that Otto seems to be fraying at the edges a bit.  He's finding it hard to juggle romance, school, and work as Peter while at the same time excelling as Spider-Man.  Sure, he manages to anticipate almost everything that Alistair Smythe throws at him in this issue, but the Peter side of the equation suffers as he angers Dr. Lamaze by leaving class early and blows off Max Modell while removing Horizon Labs equipment that he needs to contain Smythe.  Plus, he doesn't anticipate everything:  it seems unlikely that he'll be able to take on Boomerang, the Scorpion, and the Vulture next issue and still be able to make sure that Smythe gets executed.  You've got to wonder how Otto is going to handle that failure (assuming that it happens), particularly when he's still going to be forced to apologize to Dr. Lamaze and Max for his rudeness in spite of his failure.

I will say, at this point, that I am enjoying this series much more than I originally did.  But, as I imply in the first paragraph, I still feel like Slott is taking a lot of licenses here.  I still don't buy JJJ, Jr. suddenly embracing Spidey as the guarantor of New York's security and I think he's overselling how technologically advanced Otto is compared to Peter.  But, so long as Slott continues to pay attention to Otto's struggle to be as "superior" as he thinks that he can be, I'll keep reading.

All-New X-Men #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, this issue is a little disappointing.  Don't get me wrong:  Bendis still does an amazing job of showing the ongoing (and surprising) repercussions of the original X-Men coming to our present.  Bendis' characters continue to leap off the page in no small part because of his strong grasp of how their personal histories inform their actual actions, from Scott marveling that Alex is alive to Wanda thinking almost constantly about M-Day.  

However, Alex's reunion with Scott, the emotional fulcrum of this issue, was an odd miss given how well Bendis has done in conveying emotion in this series so far.  First, Alex telling Scott, "I love you, man," was supposed to be a touching moment.  However, it came as a complete non sequitur, having little to do with the previous panel where Scott talked about how cool it was that Alex led a combined human/mutant team.  As such, it had all the emotional impact of a frat boy drunkenly thanking his wingman before he staggered home with someone.  Moreover, Alex wasn't just awkward in expressing his emotions.  He also seemed to have little concern for Scott.  I mean, if you discovered a time-displaced teenage version of your estranged older brother, don't you think you'd be a little more invested in him?  Alex seems to begin that way, telling Scott that they have to return to the past.  However, he then suddenly decides to let Logan (of all people) return to the School with him.  I mean, the X-Men are forced to concede that Scott escaped the School and ran into Mystique in New York.  I'd probably want to make sure, at the very least, that I had a conversation with Wolverine about keeping a better eye on him.  But, I think I'd also feel some sort of fraternal need to protect him, no matter how much I (perhaps unwisely) trusted the X-Men to do so.  From the unintentionally awkward emotions to the unexpectedly detached resolution, the entire reunion felt like it could've been handled better.

In fact, you have to wonder if Bendis just is struggling to convey emotions after eleven issues of high drama.  If he is, he at least seems to acknowledge it by seemingly segueing us to some action next issue.  It's time to see the kids do less hugging and more fighting and Mystique seems to be present just that opportunity next issue.

X-Men #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I honestly don't have too much to say about this issue, though that's not really a bad thing. The idea that John Sublime has a Cassandra Nova-esque sister out there, with the ability to infest technology instead of people, is certainly bound to deliver an interesting story for this introductory arc.  (My main question at this stage is how Jubilee's baby transfered the virus to the train, given that he appears to be human and not robot, but Wood makes it pretty clear that the child is supposed to be an enigma at this stage.)  However, the main challenge of this issue was to show, as Wood himself acknowledges in the letters page, that the all-woman cast wasn't merely a gimmick.  Wood does that well here, in part because he wisely decides to ignore the issue entirely. Perhaps alone among team books, the X-Men have always had one of the strongest rosters of compelling and powerful female characters.    It therefore makes perfect sense that Kitty, Rogue, and Storm would respond to a distress call without having a male member of the team with them, just like it makes perfect sense that Psylocke and Rachel can handle John Sublime on their own.  By making these developments feel entirely natural, Wood plays to the X-Men's strengths, namely their diversity and their relationships.  It's not exactly the most spectacular first issue of a new series that I've ever read, but it definitely gets the job done (and gives us a fine looking John Sublime to boot).

Winter Soldier #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I really, really wanted to like this issue.  After spending most (if not all) of this arc totally lost, I was hoping that Latour would manage to pull a rabbit from his hat and arrange the pieces of this difficult puzzle so that they formed a clear image.  Unfortunately, the puzzle is still unassembled and we have no time left to finish it.

I get the Electric Ghost's desire to change her past, but the most confusing part of this issue is that she seems to simply repeating events that we've already seen, this time simply inhabiting the bodies of certain participants in those events.  If I'm mistaken and Tesla was actually changing the past, Latour never really clarifies her motivations or the consequences of her actions.  After all, if she planned on changing the past, why insist on using Hammer's body to assassinate her father?  Why not use it to ensure that Bucky doesn't kill him?  Why not go further than just preventing specific events and make sure that she and her father live happy lives in the United States?  Moreover, Latour never makes it clear why Tesla chooses the moments that she does, making this issue seem like a distorted, random series of moments.  To make matters worse, this series of moments simply comes to an abrupt end for no clear reason.  Does Bucky actually convince Tesla to stop?  Or, does the Tesseract simply stop working?  Latour again doesn't really tell us.  Finally, after the dust settles, we never learn the consequences if she did change the past.  As "Age of Ultron" shows us, killing one person in the past can have profound effects on the present, so Tesla's spree here should make something look different.  But, we never see that.  The entire world could be different, nothing could be different:  all we know is that a one-armed Bucky is just sitting on a beach drinking a beer.

My hope, at this point, is that Marvel will be using Bucky in the future, given that he'll play a key role in the upcoming sequel to the "Captain America" movie.  But, I just hope that Latour is not the person to tell that story.  As Kieron Gillen has shown in taking over the reins of "Young Avengers" from Allan Heinberg, it is possible to transition someone else's character to a new writer in a way that honors who they were but makes them even better.  We unfortunately did not see that here.  Latour seemed to understand Bucky, but the story that he told did little to tease out new aspects of his character for me, since I spent too much time just trying to figure out what the story itself was.  Bucky deserves better and hopefully he'll get it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Age of Ultron #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I...have no idea what we're supposed to think here.

If you look at the "Flashpoint"-esque ending of this issue, it appears that the whole point of the "Age of Ultron" was to send Galactus to the "Ultimate" universe and to introduce Angela to the Marvel Universe.  It also hints at the possibility that it will be easier for the various universes to blend into one another given the tears in the space-time continuum created by Wolverine, though it's unclear where Marvel really intends to go with that possibility.  For the time being, Galactus and Angela appear to be the only concrete outcomes.

I know nothing about Angela, other than the fact that Neil Gaiman apparently won her in some sort of legal settlement with Todd McFarlane.  Her inclusion here is suitably bizarre, since it forces the reader to be aware of (and excited about) a secondary character from another company to understand the impact of one of the two outcomes of this story.  (It wasn't like an alternate Jean Grey suddenly sauntered into our universe.)  Moreover, I'm pretty sure the settlement occurred well after Bendis envisioned the event.  The obvious question, then, is whether Marvel originally intended the Galactus switch to be the only real consequence of this event but decided to shoehorn Angela into it or if her inclusion displaced some other outcome (such as the transfer of Spider-Man 2099 to our universe).

Either way, it feels remarkably anticlimactic.  Sure, it was sort of cool to see how important "Avengers" #12.1 wound up being.  But, if I'm not going to get Miguel O'Hara, why do I care?  It reminds me of every Avengers story that Bendis ever told, ones that had all the trappings of an epic but never really delivered a story with any sort of lasting impact.  Parker Robbins escaped from jail, obtained the Infinity Gauntlet, lost the Infinity Gauntlet, and returned to jail.  In order words, everything ends where it started.  The world was fine, Ultron invaded, the world was destroyed, the Invisible Woman and Wolverine traveled into the past to fix it, they traveled to the future to see the results, the world was destroyed, Wolverine traveled into the past to fix it, they traveled to the future to see the results, the world was fine.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Taking another tack here, the failure of this event to shake up the status quo shows how differently the Avengers line has fared when compared to the X-Men line.  Events like "House of M," "Second Coming, "Messiah Complex," "Schism," and "Avengers vs. X-Men" provoked real change in the X-Men.  Scott assumed leadership of the X-Men, moved them to Utopia, fought about the direction of the team with Wolverine, led the more militant group, tried to save mutantkind with the Phoenix but lost himself, and currently finds himself an outlaw trying to save the dream (as he sees it).  We're talking change here.  Other characters, such as Havok and Rogue, have had their own heroes' trials that organically moved them from one place to a significantly different place.  In the "Avengers," Cap still throws a shield, Tony still makes wise-ass remarks, and Thor still speaks in a different font.  That's about it.  I'm hard pressed to find any concrete change that the Avengers have experienced over the last few years other than the constantly changing roster.  Whereas the X-Men are the "Dragon Age" of the Marvel Universe, the Avengers are the "Street Fighter."

In other words, I think this event is my last "Avengers" event for a while.  I know I'm supposed to be all excited about "Infinity," but, really, I'm hard pressed to find the energy (or money) to devote to another event that seems unlikely to change anything.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Spider-Man 2099 #33: "Strange Whine"

** (two of five stars)

Summary
Spidey and Strange burst through Morgez's skylight, demanding to know what's happening.  (Miguel initially threatens a piƱata due to his sight problems, but, thanks to Strange pointing him in the right direction, redirects his ire at Morgez.)  Morgez, holding his sister's skeletal hand, tells them that he wants to help his sister.  When Strange sarcastically notes that it might be too late, Morgez retorts that he knows that, blaming the amulet for not doing its job.  Strange takes the amulet from him but suddenly transforms into a demi-demon.  On the streets, the reanimated dead begin to mingle with the parade participants while Spidey and Strange fight in Morgez's apartment.  The demon controlling Strange reveals that it shares her body with her and wants the amulet for its power.  (It also wants Morgez dead.)  Morgez flees into the hallways where he runs into the super, who's brought in some muscle after their encounter last issue.  However, Spidey and Strange burst into the hallway and Strange goes after Morgez.  On the street, Gabe bumps into a skeleton who growls at him.  Gabe comments on how bad the skeleton's breath is and sprays breath freshener in its mouth.  The skeleton attacks him and Kasey tries to pull it off Gabe, warning it that it doesn't want to mess with him.  However, when she pulls off the skeleton's arm, she screams.  Elsewhere, the disembodied voice from last issue watches Strange fall under the sway of the demon, remarking that it's another example of why she needs its help.

Now on a balcony, Spidey webs Strange to the railing in order to disarm her, punching her across the jaw and helping Strange shake loose the demon's control.  She refuses to tell Spidey what happened, saying that it was "repressed hostility," and they go searching for Morgez.  Meanwhile, the reanimated dead begin attacking the parade participants and Kasey screams for Gabe to do something.  Gabe, however, ducks into a doorway, saying that he's helpless as always, with too many people between him and Kasey to get to her.  On the balcony, Spidey tells Strange to do something to calm the crowd on the streets, but she says that only stopping Morgez will help.  Morgez's sister suddenly appears behind them (as a reanimated corpse) and Spidey stops Strange from returning her to the "netherworld" that "spewed" her, because he has an idea.  In an alley, Morgez thinks on the moment from his childhood that precipitated these events, when his sister accidentally startled him while he was holding a gun stolen from his father and he shot and killed her.  On the streets around him, Kasey flees with the crowd, but gets knocked onto the ground and almost trampled.  Wondering where Gabe is, Spidey arrives and saves her.  Morgez, for his part, decides that he's going to take control over the reanimated dead; since everyone returned to life but the one that he loved, he decides that his sister's sacrifice was so that death could rule over everything.  A skeleton attacks Xina and she faints while Spidey continues attacking reanimated corpses.

Clearly unhinged, Morgez continues to gather undead, but gets interrupted when Strange appears with his sister.  His sister asks what he's done to her and he says that he wanted to restore her fully.  She asks him to return her and all the others like her to the light.  He agrees, but vows to go with her this time.  Strange tries to stop him, but the siblings disappear in a burst of flame.  Spidey observes the rest of the reanimated dead heading for their graves and he finds Strange, who tells him that Morgez fell for the ventriloquism and mild hypnotic push enough to believe that his sister was talking to him.  But, she express grief that Morgez killed himself, since she just wanted him to stop animating the dead or put down the amulet.  Spidey tells her that she did what she had to do and she decides to destroy the amulet.  Spidey notes that he left New York to get "away from all the weirdness" in his life, but suggests that returning the U.S. would actually be a return to normalcy after the craziness of the last few days.  (An image of the White House flying Doom's flag implies that he's mistaken.)

In the back-up story, Miguel reveals that Kron had previously tried to drown him, which Tyler Stone uses to note that Miguel has a history of lying, given that he had told everyone that it was an accident.  Miguel says that he can prove it, since Kron was wearing a skull-head ring that dented Miguel's head.  Kron says that he wasn't wearing one when he tried to drown him, falling into Miguel's trap of admitting that he did so.  Enraged, Kron leaps at Miguel and Tyler pulls him off Miguel.  Angela suspends the session, saying that they've seen enough her and will render a decision shortly.

The Review
This arc felt rushed and I wonder if David was under pressure to get Miguel to return to New York so that he could participate in the "One Nation Under Doom" event.  If he wasn't under pressure to do so, the "Young Miguel" back-up story didn't help matters.  I'm giving this issue two stars, despite not having any goods, because I did enjoy the story overall.  I just wish David had spent more time developing it.

The Unknown
1) Strange is an interesting character, but we don't really learn all that much about her.  She's apparently sharing her body with a demon, which makes her feel a bit like a carbon copy of Ghost Rider, and she's got some disembodied voice that might be using her for its own means rather than really helping her.  But, again, we don't really get more details, because David is sometwhat rushing the story.

2) I'm not entirely sure why the demon possessing Strange wanted Morgez dead.  I get that it wanted the amulet, but did it want Morgez dead simply because the amulet burnt Strange when she took it?  I guess we don't need to dwell too much on the motivations of demons?  Also, what happened between Strange threatening Morgez in the hallway to Spidey and Strange suddenly fighting outside on a balcony?

3) I'm guessing that Kasey is going to persist in believing that Gabe is Spider-Man, since he wasn't present when Spidey saved her.

The Bad
1) How did Spidey know where Morgez was or, for that matter, what his name was?  We ended last issue with Strange saying that she wasn't really sure what was happening, implying that she didn't know that Morgez was the source of the problem.  They presumably simply followed the light to him, but it doesn't explain how they discovered his name.  (Also, how many skylights does he have?  He already broke one last issue and Spidey and Strange break another one in this issue.)

2) I'm surprised David killed off Morgez.  The moment halfway through the issue where he seems to have some sort of psychotic break after realizing that he failed in resurrecting his sister seemed to set up him becoming, I don't know, the Lord of the Undead or something.  It would've been pretty damn cool had he sent the undead after Spidey and Strange in a more organized fashion.  He could've even come after Miguel in New York in later issues, blaming him somehow for his failure to resurrect his sister and seeking revenge.  Instead, he falls for a pretty simple ventriloquism trick and commits suicide to be with his sister.  It seemed like a real squandered opportunity to me.

3) Rather than getting a 44-page story over these two issues, we got a 36-page story with an eight-page back-up story.  Given the lack of a more complete origin-story for Strange and the squandered opportunity with Morgez, it's clearer to me than ever that the back-up stories are making David compromise on the main story.

Spider-Man 2099 #32: "Day of the Dead"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "At ease, S-Man.  I'm not this Risque person.  I'm Strange."  "And I'm whacked out.  What's your point?"  "Now I get why the other guy had a medical degree.  Makes for better intros."  -- Strange and Spider-Man

Summary
In Mexico City, a guy robbing a grave is caught by a security guard, who he then promptly kills.  Elsewhere, a young woman looks at an image of Spider-Man in a glowing orb and a disembodied voice tells her that Spidey will be her ally in her mission.  From his hotel room, Miguel watches the crowds gather on the streets of Mexico City for the Day of the Dead celebration, reflecting on how it was the desire to have a sturdy suit to party at a previous Day of the Dead celebration that led to the creation of his current costume.  Xina (archly) compliments him for being a gentleman and sleeping on the sofa and Miguel reminds her that they agreed to be friends.  She asks what "romance" has to do with lust and he responds that she's not Miss Super-Irresistible.  Offended by the comment, a naked Xina makes her way into the bathroom.  Miguel looks out the window again, remarking to himself that he would've been unable to act on any feeling of being ungentlemanly because the people in the neighboring room killed the mood by making "noises like wounded rhinos half the night."  On cue, Gabriel appears in the neighboring window and falls from it in shock that Miguel is staying next to them.  Miguel grabs him with a Web-Line and pulls him into his room.  Xina enters naked with a towel over her head (post-shower) and suddenly realizes that Gabe is in the room.  Xina retreats to put on some clothes while Miguel tells Gabriel to keep his hand covered (since it's covered with webbing).

Meanwhile, at an apartment building, a superintendent pounds on "Morgez's" door, telling him that people are complaining about the smell.  The shadowy figure of the graverobber answers the door, telling the super that he'll never leave if he enters the room to discover the source of the smell.  The super, seeing a body on the floor, flees, telling Morgez to take care of the problem.  Morgez closes the door, breaks his skylight, and promises the corpse, "Soon, my sweet...very soon."  On the streets, Xina tells Kasey that she should've seen it coming that both brothers would've wanted to come to Mexico to relive the good old days.  Kasey disagrees with Xina's comment that they think alike, saying that they're nothing alike, since Gabe is "forceful, dynamic."  She asks Xina if she's offended that she doesn't like Miguel and Xina tells her that she's "ecstatic."  Behind them, Gabe admits that he's having trouble telling Kasey that he's not Spider-Man, since, every time he tries, she initiates sex.  Kasey and Xina ask what they're discussing, but Xina is distracted by a guy in a Spider-Man suit.  Miguel notes that a lot of people wear the skull image there and Kasey asks why she thinks that Spider-Man would be following her.  Above them, in a sky car, the young woman arrives in Mexico while, in his apartment, Morgez uses some sort of amulet to try to resurrect the corpse.  On the street, Xina tries to convince Miguel to enter the parade, when a bright burst of light (from Morgez's apartment) bursts into the sky, blinding Miguel (due to his hypersensitive vision) and serving as a beacon for the young woman.

In his apartment, Morgez is devastated that his spell failed to resurrect his sister, after searching for years for the amulet and incantation.  However, in a nearby graveyard, skeletons begin to emerge from their graves.  At the hospital, a doctor notes Miguel's unique "corneal arrangement" and Gabe tells him that it's a family trait because their grandfather ate some "radioactive carrots."  The doctor says that Miguel's flash-blindness should pass if he stays in a darkened room with bandaged eyes.  The doctor tells them that Miguel has asked that they all go enjoy themselves, while, in reality, Miguel has left his hospital room to go find the source of the burst of light, despite his "fuzzy" vision.  He encounters the young woman levitating in front of him and mistakes her for Risque.  She tells him that she's "Strange" and that she's there to check out the disturbance in Mexico.  She asks for his help, telling him that she's not sure what's happening.  Meanwhile, skeletons walk the streets of Mexico.

In the back-up story, Miguel hitches a ride with Dash (from last issue) and asks to go to the city.  He's explaining to Dash that he's fleeing a "nutcase" at school when Dash accidentally hits and kills a raccoon.  As other raccoons cross the road, Dash notes that the "little masked hero" died trying to check if the coast was clear for his friends, getting the job done.  Miguel notes that it left him as roadkill, an apt metaphor in his mind.  Dash says what the raccoon did was admirable and Miguel asks if he's "worth less than a dead raccoon" just because he's playing it "smart."  He asks Dash how he'll know what the right thing is and Dash tells him that everyone knows deep down what it is; it's just a question of whether they'll do it.  At school, Tyler Stone presses to wrap up the meeting, since Miguel isn't there to back up Xina's story, but Miguel arrives (and sticks out his tongue at Kron after he growls at him), inviting the panel to ask him whatever they want to ask.

The Review
This issue was certainly more fun than the last few issues, due for the most part to the light but loaded banter between Gabriel and Miguel.  (The puns, however, were almost criminal.)  It more or less delivers on the early promise of the idea of getting Miguel outside New York; going one step further and sending the brothers O'Hara to Mexico City was definitely inspired.

The GoodThe Day of the Dead festival has obviously played an important role in this series from the first issue so it makes sense to use it as a way to bring together a lot of different plot threads.  First, we get Gabriel and Miguel in the same place so it's pretty clear that Kasey is either going to be more convinced than ever that Gabriel is Spider-Man if he's not present when Spidey appears or learn the truth if he is present.  Second, we get the introduction of the 2099 version of Dr. Stranger and her presence is Mexico is pretty understandable given that someone has just called forth an undead army.  Plus, we seem to be getting somewhere with Xina, who clearly is going to play some sort of role in Miguel's life for the next few issues.  It's all a great combination of old and new plots.

The Bad
This issue again feels artificially truncated to make way for the back-up story.  I would've preferred a little more insight into why Morgez felt the need to raise his sister from the dead or why Strange is who she is.  If the back-up story had been decent, I'd be OK with waiting until next issue for those answers, but David instead uses a fairly heavy handed metaphor to convince Miguel to return to school and testify against Kron.  Although we do discover who Dash from last issue was, he seems unbelievable preachy for a simply cabby picking up a hitchhiking kid.  Sure, the story speaks to Miguel as a reluctant hero from the start, but we already know that; a raccoon didn't have to die for us to be reminded of it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Young Avengers #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, this issue is just as good as a good issue in a regular series, which, given how amazing this series has been, means that it feels something like a disappointment, if I'm being honest.

First, Gillen reveals that Kid Loki is actually Adult Loki, who destroyed Kid Loki's soul and took up residence in his body.  I'm not sure if we saw this story told elsewhere (like "Journey into Mystery") and Gillen is just recapping, but it definitely adds a layer of lurking intrigue to the story.  Moreover, unlike Peter Parker's annoying presence as a ghost in "Superior Spider-Man," Kid Loki's ghost serves a helpful role here, prodding Adult Loki into good behavior.  Adult Loki also confirms that Kid Loki's body somehow also "confounds" his nature, making him seemingly more susceptible to good impulses (and Kid Loki's prodding)  than he would normally be.  I think we're probably going to need more of an explanation than that, but, for the moment, I'm willing to accept that Adult Loki can't be as mischievously evil as he would normally be and happy to enjoy the idea of watching Adult Loki forced to act as a good guy.

However, this reveal isn't the issue's biggest.  Instead, we learn that Kid Loki's diminished powers means that Adult Loki can't completely banish Mother.  As a result, the kids have to avoid places where their parents are (or were) in order not to...well, I'm not entirely sure.  Kid Loki explains that Mother "subverts parents to her side," so I'm not entirely sure why she wouldn't do so with or without the Young Avengers near.  Like, if Billy flees to Los Angeles, why wouldn't she just re-appear, take control of his parents again, and then go after him?  I'm not sure how his presence (or the other Young Avengers') is necessary for her to re-appear.  I wish Gillen had done a better job of explaining that part, since, without it, it just feels like an overly convenient plot device.

So, it was a regular issue.  But, it doesn't detract from a pretty damn spectacular opening arc or how excited I am to see where we go from here.

Age of Ultron #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, so, somewhat as expected, Bendis uses future Tony Stark's time-bomb suggestion as the potential solution to the Ultron problem.  He actually manages to sell it pretty well here, with the Logans and Sue convincing Hank that he has to allow all the other damage that Ultron does before the "Age of Ultron" to happen, so that they don't change the existing timeline.  In this way, Bendis walks us to the brink of "Flashpoint" without actually seemingly crossing that line; if Hank does what he's told to do, nothing really will change in the Marvel Universe that we know.  At this point, it would be easy to cry over spilled milk, lamenting how we got here that our best solution means the total preservation of the status quo that existed before this event started.  But, taking the story on face value, this solution is probably the one that makes the most sense, so I'll give Bendis credit for that.

At this stage, the final question, of course, is if Hank does what he's supposed to do.  The cover for the next (and last) issue shows the heroes battling Ultron, which raises several questions.  After all, if Hank's plan works the way that it's supposed to work, we wouldn't see this battle:  Ultron would suddenly self-destruct in the future, since it's from the future where he launches the attack.  As such, it's unclear how the heroes would find themselves in some sort of face-to-face confrontation with Ultron (assuming the cover depicts actual events).  Did Hank deviate from the plan?  Or, is it just an unexpected consequence?

The real question post-"Age of Ultron" is what effect it will have on the Marvel Universe.  The advertisement for "Age of Ultron" #10 A.I. says that it's the beginning of the Marvel Universe's "next evolution."  If true, it would imply that we do actually have a Flashpoint moment on our hands.  Something happens that permanently changes the past and the characters that we used to know are no longer the characters that we knew.  I'd be surprised if Marvel totally committed to such a scheme, given that it hasn't really worked out that well for DC.

In other words, we need to see why Marvel bothered.  Is it a "Fear Itself" type of event simply to boost sales?  Or, are we really going to see something different?  If so, how is that going to happen?  This next issue could somewhat save this event, if it gives us a believable conclusion that leads to reasonable changes.  If not, and we really do return to the status quo, hopefully it will bolster my commitment to stop reading all these events.  I guess we'll see.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, the good:  I like the idea of Roy getting his start as a superhero by building weapons for Green Arrow.  I don't know much about Roy in the DCU, but I do know that he's one of the better (or worst) examples of how editorial changes made his character's history and personality muddled.  Here, Tynion actually uses the DCnU the way that it was supposed to be, giving us a more streamlined version of his history that actually makes him a better and more interesting character.  I'm still not sure how Green Arrow knew how smart Roy was (and thus deciding to bail him from jail and get him to work for him), but it's a detail that I can wait until later to learn.  Right now, it's just nice to have a clear picture of Roy and his motivations, something that I'm not sure that we ever had in the DCU.

Now, the not-so-good:  I'm kind of already over this amnesia story.  Sure, I just said in my review of issue #20 that I felt like Tynion sold it better than he did in the previous issue, but I just don't think this story really has legs.  We all know that Jason is going to eventually remember who he is, which means that we're going to have to suffer through him "finding his destiny" on his own and Roy and Kori trailing him while he does so.  It feels repetitive, since we already essentially just had that exact story in "Death of the Family" and its aftermath.  I'm not saying that this part of the issue wasn't well written, because it was:  Jason responds to the discovery that Roy and Kori haven't been honest with him about his past about how you'd expect him to respond.  However, I'm just not sure that it's interesting enough (since, again, we just went through it) to be the main focus of this series.  Hopefully it won't run too long.

Earth 2 Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue gives us exactly the sort of ambitious and wide-ranging story that we should be getting in annuals.  It's damn near perfect.  Robinson has so far kept the scope of this series pretty tight, focusing mostly on the Wonders as they deal with one another.  However, he uses the annual format to pull back the lens, showing some of the more day-to-day realities of the Earth 2 world.

With the revelation that humans are using the technology from the previous war to turn themselves into metahumans, we are essentially introduced to the possibility of an essentially unending cast of villains, minor and major.  I thought the idea that Kanto, another "son" of Darkseid (in addition to Steppenwolf), is out there helping to arm humans is interesting.  Given that his motives for doing so are unclear (though seem connected somehow to his persistent loyalty to Darkseid), it's the perfect type of mystery for a new Batman to be investigating.

So, let's talk about this new Batman.  His first appearance -- a camera shot, if you will, over his shoulder as he watches Roy interrogate the Atom -- is spectacularly cool.  Between his appearance in Phnom Penh and his fight with Mr. Icicle in Spain, Robinson makes it clear that he has similar resources, both in terms of intelligence and wealth, as our Batman.  At this stage, it's unclear why he's so focused on Kanto, though I'm sure we'll get that story.  But, he's a welcome addition, since it gives us some insight into the shadows of this world, something that we haven't seen as the main Wonders just keep fighting each other.  In fact, I'll admit that this world is getting sufficiently crowded that you've got to wonder if Batman isn't eventually going to get his own title.  More attention paid to someone focusing on the street-level realities of Earth 2 would certainly help flesh out this world all the more.

We also get some insight into the Atom here, though none of it comes as particularly unexpected.  A taciturn character from the start, we watch Al quietly struggle across the last five years with the guilt that he feels for surviving when his men died in the atomic blast that gave him his powers and the responsibility that he and Captain Steel share as they take on the burden of being the world's only Wonders since the death of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.  I'm pretty sure that this issue is the first one where we meet Captain Steel and it serves as a reminder that we still don't know a lot about the five years since the deaths of Batman et al., particularly when it comes to that first generation of new Wonders.  (See also the "Red Arrow" comment.)

Speaking of the Wonders, one of the fun parts of this title is trying to figure out who everyone's Earth analogue is.  Henri Roy's son appears to be the next candidate and I thought that Robinson did a great job of using him as a way to show how much progress Al has made.  After watching his struggle throughout the previous pages, we see that he has more or less come to grips with the world that he now inhabits, putting his hand on the kid's arm and telling him that he might be setting the bar too high when he declares that he wants redemption for his father's crimes.  Al knows something about setting the bar too high and it shows that he might just be a regular guy somewhere underneath the drill-sergeant demeanor.

(Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't also praise the artists for giving us the awesome sequence of a full-sized Al chasing the robot-suited Roy across the rooftops of Phnom Penh.  I read comics for this sort of imagery, people!)

The only part that I didn't understand here was for whom Big Barda and Mr. Miracle are working.  They seem to be working for Steppenwolf to find Batman (which makes you wonder if Kanto is in league with Steppenwolf, since I'm not sure why else he would care).   However, they're then captured by Rage at the end of the issue.  Had they gone rogue?  I'm not really all that sure.

But, the last part is a minor quibble (and one that'll clearly be resolved next issue) about an otherwise great issue.  I still find this world a lot more interesting than the DCnU's Earth.  This series continues to be the best of the New 52!, hands down.

Justice League of America #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's becoming increasingly clear that Johns views reading this title as essential if you're reading "Justice League" and vice versa.  "Paleface" has a map of the Batcave, which seems to track with the revelation in "Justice League" that someone broke into the Batcave to steal the kryptonite ring and give it to Despero.  Moreover, the fact that the Atom was revealed in "Justice League" to be a spy for the JLA has clear implications for this title down the line.

The problem, however, is that I can't say I'm really enjoying either title all that much.  This issue was so boring that I actually stopped reading it halfway through it, picking it up later.  The back-up story about Martian Manhunter was the best part (similar to the Shazam! back-up stories in "Justice League"), but, since I'm not a long-time DC reader, some of it went over my head.  Basically, if I'm supposed to be shelling out $7.98 for both issues each month, I'm more inclined to shell out money for neither title, "Trinity War" or no "Trinity War."

Friday, June 7, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I am glad that I accidentally picked up this issue since, OMFG, I am thrilled that Iceman and Storm admit what remarkably crappy teachers they are to have ignored Idie's suffering.

(Also, Kitty's response to the discovery that one of the teachers was a traitor was a little disturbing.  They have filters that regulate what e-mails the students can get from the outside world?  She uses a "localized thought enhancer" to read people's minds?  Maybe the kids aren't wrong in thinking that they couldn't do worse at the Hellfire Academy.)

The most intriguing part of this issue is whether Quentin really is working with the Hellfire Club.  He initially doesn't seem to be, particularly since he was apparently surprised by Idie joining with them.  That said, Toad also seems to be expecting him, so it's possible that his confusion over Idie joining just came from the fact that it wasn't part of the plan.  The main surprise, of course, is Husk, though, given her mental state lately, it's not all that shocking.  At some point, Aaron is going to have to explain why she's losing her mind, whether the Hellfire Club is manipulating her or if something else is happening.  But, for now, it certainly ups the emotional impact of the story.

Either way, though, I'm glad that we've at least finally moved into active conflict with the Kiddie Hellfire Club.  Their existence has dragged down this entire series since their first appearance and I can only hope that this arc will end with them finally leaving these pages and Aaron turning his attention to the students, as this series seemed to originally promise.  Fingers crossed.

Venom #35 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm torn where to go with this series at this point.  Unusually, Bunn wraps up this arc in a way that it would be pretty easy to leave the title now and feel satisfied.  Eddie agrees to allow Flash to try to live a normal life and hopefully Flash will do exactly that.  Sure, he'll have some challenges to overcome, but at some point he'll hopefully settle into his role as a teacher, maybe meet a girl, and live a regular ol' superhero life.  The problem is that this series rarely allows Flash that sort of chance and I'm just not sure I want to be here as Flash continues to get broken more and more.  Moreover, I'm not a huge fan of Bunn's.  For example, Eddie's sudden decision to allow Flash off the hook was as convenient as Flash and Eddie miraculously defeating the techno-creatures, who seemed nigh unstoppable last issue.  It just felt like Bunn decided that he wanted to be done with both stories, rather than them coming to their natural conclusion.  Decisions, decisions.

Captain America #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, it just keeps getting worse and worse for Steve.

On one hand, he does catch a break here, with Jet Black discovering that the nagging nausea that she's felt throughout this arc is guilt over her father's extermination of the Phrox.  Her conversion here feels totally organic, a tribute to the careful character-building that Remender has done with her since her first appearance.  One of the interesting things about this story is that Remender had Zola allow Jet to enjoy a certain level of independence in raising her.  Zola was aware that he couldn't just have a mindless slave, since she would need this independence if she were to truly be able to rule in his stead.  It was a calculated risk, since it leaves her open to the epiphany that she has here.  But, Zola clearly calculated that the risk was worth it, because, despite understanding the threat that Cap poses to him (hence why he launched the invasion early), Zola underestimated Steve's determination and never expected him to do what he does here.

That said, though, the betrayal of Ian is clearly the low moment of this arc.  It's made all the more profound because it's really unclear where Remender is going to go with it.  The final fate of Ian is something that's helped inject this arc with excitement and tension and the closer we get to it the less certain I am of the outcome.  Moreover, Zola's invasion is so well planned that it seems hard to believe that Steve will find a way to ruin it.  I wondered throughout this arc how the action was going to turn to Earth and the revelation that the whole point of Dimension Z was to give Zola shock troops to invade it was brilliant.  One of the other questions about this arc has been the final fate of Steve, since it's unlikely that we're going to get a 12-years older Steve in the current continuity when the dust settles.  Along those lines, it raises the question which Earth Zola is going to invade:  the Earth that Steve left 12 years ago (thereby answering how Steve is going to re-enter our timeline) or one that also aged 12 years (and leaving open that question).

Essentially, similar to his work in "Uncanny Avengers," Remender manages to raise more questions than he answers with each progressive issue and makes you excited about those questions.  I rarely have less of an idea of where a story is going than I do this one, making it really one of the best written titles out there right now.

New Avengers #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is one of the issues that I accidentally got when I picked up three weeks' worth of comics, having intended to drop the title.  I'm glad that I got it, though, because Hickman does make the story a little more interesting here.  The addition of the threat of the Mapmakers means that the Illuminati aren't just standing around Necropolis wringing their hands over having to destroy worlds.  But, I still don't find it enjoyable.  Something about Hickman's writing is remarkably cold, leaving the characters as little more than chess pieces to advance, and I'd rather spend my money elsewhere.  But, it's a good issue on which to end.

Avenging Spider-Man #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, I have to mention the cover.  WTF?  Spidey appears standing on a rooftop, but he's also somewhat randomly holding a Web-Line dangling from nowhere above him in particular.  Moreover, the Chameleon appears as a Godzilla-esque threat behind him.  Given the fact that the entire issue occurs on the Helicarrier, I have no idea where Rivera was going with this image.

Turning to the issue at hand, Yost wraps up this arc pretty well, with Otto scrambling to respond to the unexpected variables (the Hulk, the Saints, etc.) that threw off his plan to kidnap the Chameleon.  (Apparently, we really are blaming it all on the Parker luck.)  Yost doesn't really pull any punches here, showing a more brutal than normal Chameleon (given that he's wearing the face that he cut off a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychologist) and an equally brutal Spidey.  We still don't learn why Otto is collecting members of the Sinister Six, but it's fun to watch Otto forced to improvise on the way to successfully sneaking the Chameleon off the Helicarrier.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Justice League #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I would be done with this title if it weren't for the Shazam! back-up stories.

Johns juggles way too many sub-plots in this issue.  To wit, we've got the Atom working as a spy for the Justice League of America (JLA) and apparently carrying around secrets beyond just that one, we've got someone who knows that Bruce is Batman and that he had the kryptonite ring and who arranged to have it stolen and given to Despero, we've got Despero attacking the League for unknown reasons related possibly to revenge, and we've got Martian Manhunter apparently not wanting the League to know that he took down Despero.  We've also got the Atom commenting on the looming war, though it's unclear if she knows about that from her work with the JLA or from whatever other secrets that she's holding.  It's all just a bit...much.  Two or three of these sub-plot running at the same time could be interesting, but all of them at once just feels hurried, like Johns is trying to clear the decks before another reboot or something.  (God forbid.)

Meanwhile, the Shazam! back-up story nears its conclusion, as we learn that Black Adam wasn't the young boy that we saw in the last installment, but instead the boy's uncle who murdered him to be the sole possessor of the Wizard's power.  It's an emotional story and one that makes you realize how dangerous (and sadly twisted) Black Adam is.  I can't wait to see how it ends.  But, after it does, if Billy and the kids leave this title, I'm starting to doubt that I'll still be getting it.

Uncanny X-Men #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have possibly never been happier reading a comic in my whole damn life than when I turned to the last page and saw "Dazzler, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." splashed across it.

The main story in this issue -- the team suddenly finding itself at the mercy of Dormammu as he tries to take Limbo from Magik -- isn't all that thrilling.  It mostly sets up the possibility that some of the new recruits will bail for the Jean Grey School, since they're all maybe a little overwhelmed at finding themselves in Hell within a few days of joining the X-Men.  But, they have to survive first and we get to see them in action for the first time, thanks to a shot of courage from the Cuckoos.

But, it's the S.H.I.E.L.D. side of the story that I found the most interesting.  First, Bendis shows that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s appearance in this title wasn't just limited to Magneto approaching it to (allegedly) take down Cyclops.  Maria knows that she not only needs to protect humanity from Cyclops and the Brotherhood, but she also needs to protect the mutants from the Sentinels that someone apparently has at hand.  She takes a step on the first party by enlisting Dazzler to get to the bottom of Cyclops' revolution, to determine if they're motivated by good or evil.

It's a brilliant move, since Dazzler is exactly he kind of old-school mutant who Cyclops could trust to come to his side, but who also would have reservations about his side in the first place (see her comment about Magneto).  She's been such a criminally underused character for so long that I'm just really excited to see her in play in such a major way.  But, it's also a great move to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. in play here, because it helps contextualize the Brotherhood, reminding us why they exist and how people see them.  In other words, it helps ensure that this title doesn't devolve just into Cyclops ranting.

Man, I love this series.

Superior Spider-Man #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We get our first look into the post-Peter era and it goes pretty much as expected, which honestly isn't a bad thing.

First, Slott makes it pretty clear that Peter may be gone, but he's not forgotten.  Without Peter's memories, Otto struggles more than usual to "perform" as Peter, botching his interaction with Mary Jane to the point where she (finally) begins to suspect that something is wrong.  Meanwhile, Carlie's investigation into Spider-Man's odd behavior gets the support of Cpt. Watanabe, though Slott makes it clear that it's not going to go anywhere too soon.  Slott maintains a range of options for bringing back Peter in a way that would explain away Otto's behavior and, after Carlie's comments here, I'm guessing that we're eventually going to see a story about someone else taking on the mantle (since the public clearly doesn't know that Peter is Spider-Man, so it would be pretty easy to explain that it was just someone else behind the mask).

But, in the meantime, Otto is the man in charge.  I wondered why Otto would still keep up the superhero shtick now that Peter is no longer acting as his conscience, but, given his comments about getting revenge on the Owl, it seems that Otto isn't exactly completely altruistic here.  I'm hoping Slott continues along this line, since it would be interesting to watch Otto go further and further afield without Peter's influence guiding his actions as Spider-Man.  The good news is that I'm thinking that he's going exactly that way.  Although I'm not entirely convinced that the Goblin King is Norman Osborn, a conflict with the Green Goblin would be just the thing to send Otto over the edge, since I'm guessing he'd be a little too confident about his ability to do what Peter couldn't do in terms of stopping the Goblin and get his ass handed to him early in the story.  After all, I doubt that he's going to be happy to discover that someone disabled his spider-bots.

At any rate, I'm really just glad that this series is doing what I wanted it to do, focus on Otto as he tries (and probably fails) to be a good guy.  It's a much more interesting story and I'm legitimately excited to see where we go from here.

Scarlet Spider #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy crap, this issue was AWESOME.  Seriously, it was full of action, banter, and intrigue.  What more could you want?

I rolled my eyes at first when I saw the cover, because the idea of Kaine fighting Logan felt so 90s, when Wolverine was used to boost flagging series' circulation by appearing all over the place.  However, Yost really sells it.  By having the Assassins Guild call in the favor it secured from Kaine in exchange for not killing his friends, Yost gives us a pretty plausible reason why Kaine would find himself trying to infiltrate the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning to kill a guy who's pretty much impossible to kill.  Plus, it's clear that the Guild (or someone) is double crossing Kaine, so Yost makes sure that the plot isn't as cut-and-dried as it first appears.

The fight itself is really well scripted.  Yost has a good read on the characterization of the various X-Men and I thought he did a great job showing Beast and Iceman go from bantering to serious as it becomes clear that Kaine is more of a threat than he first appeared.  Plus, Aracely makes it clear how powerful she is as she pretty much single-handedly takes down the School's telepaths.  But, part of why the fight is so enjoyable is that the momentum does move between the sides, with Kaine and Aracely occasionally faltering under the X-Men's counter-attacks.  It was really unclear who was going to win the fight for most of the issue (which appears to be an almost impossible accomplishment, since most authors rarely make you feel that way).

Speaking of Aracely, I do (heart) her.  I love that she gets a costume and a codename in this issue.  Yost hasn't rushed that moment, even though we've been obviously heading in that direction for a while.  But, infiltrating the School is the type of thing that Kaine would clearly need Aracely's help to do, so it makes sense why her costumed-hero career starts here.  (I also love the name, Hummingbird, a nod to her constantly buzzing around Kaine, as she does throughout this issue.)

All in all, I'm glad this issue is returning to form after the weird Other excursion.  Plus, if you're not a long-time reader of this title, it's pretty easy to start here if you're intrigued by Logan's appearance.  You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Fearless Defenders #4 AU (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To paraphrase Jermox from X's blog, remember when "Age of Ultron" was about Ultron?  Man, those were the days.

This issue isn't bad.  I don't read "The Fearless Defenders," so I know little about Hippolyta (other than the fact that "Warrior Woman" is a terrible name) and how this story fits into the storyline currently running through this series.  But, Bunn does a decent job of setting up the central tension of this issue, namely how Hippolyta's need for revenge dovetails with Caroline Le Fay's, and to Doomstadt we go.  Shenanigans, needless to say, ensue.

The oddest part of this issue is that it exists at all.  With the switch to this alternate future, Marvel gave us this issue and "Uncanny Avengers" #8 AU to flesh it out a bit, similar to the previous tie-in issues in "Avengers Assemble," "Fantastic Four," and "Superior Spider-Man" did the same for the world when it was run by Ultron.  But, at this point, when we've strayed so far from the central conceit of this mini-series, languishing in a second alternate history, it's hard to care.  I mean, maybe if we had more than two issues left in the mini-series I could invest some energy into learning about this new world.  But, given that the curtain is already partially closed, why bother?

Uncanny Avengers #8 AU (HERE BE SPILERS!)

Of all the "Age of Ultron" tie-in issues, this one is the most clever, advancing the story that Remender is currently telling in "Uncanny Avengers" while at the same time giving us a glimpse of the new future created by Wolverine after he killed Hank.  Remender accomplishes this seemingly impossible task by focusing on Kang and the Apocalypse Twins, with Kang using this new future as a proving ground for the Twins.

We don't really learn anything new about the "Age of Ultron" storyline here, other than the fact that Thor died at some point, causing Odin to lead the departure of the Asgardians from Earth and ceding it to Morgana Le Fey.  (Previously, it was unclear to me whether Thor was dead or departed with the Asgardians for reasons not yet revealed at the time.)  Remender does confirm certain pieces of information that we've previously gleaned in the "Uncanny Avengers" storyline, such as the Twins spending time in Red Skull's camps after his onslaught on mutantkind and the death of Angel at Wolverine's hands.  But, for the most part, Remender uses this issue not to advance the plot, per se, but to develop the Twins as sympathetic characters.  Kang's the one who sent them to the camps (repeatedly) to crush the humanity from them, hardening them to serve as the saviors of mutantkind when the time comes.  However, the Twins know that he's evil and it's clear that they're trying to find a way to reconcile their need to save their endangered people with their desire not to further his own personal agenda.  Uriel in particular is shown struggling with the need to appease Kang (and keep his sister safe) while preserving his humanity and Remender uses Rogue brilliantly to tease out that struggle.

It still remains to be seen the role that Kang plays in this new dark future, particularly if the Red Skull is seemingly running the camps.  Does the Skull work for him or is Kang just biding his time to take on the Skull, something that has happened by the time the adult Twins arrive in our world?  But, that question is actually not an "Age of Ultron" question, but an "Uncanny Avengers" one, which shows how well Remender did in blending the two storylines together.  In fact, if you're not reading "Uncanny Avengers" and got this issue only for the "Age of Ultron" tie-in aspects, you're probably disappointed.  But, given how the reverse is generally true, it was a pleasure to be on the positive side of that situation for once.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As much as I initially disliked the mindwipe, I have to say that Tynion really sells it here.

By having S'aru (the creepy baby guy) take Roy and Koriand'r on a tour of Jason's memories, he reminds us why Jason really would want to forget the "darkness."  From cradling his mother's body to dying at Joker's hands to feeling Batman's betrayal, Jason's life has been an unrelenting marathon through the darkness.  It makes sense that he'd want to take a water break.  I particularly liked Tynion summing up Jason's murderous period as a necessary part of his revenge against Joker and Batman, refusing to the read the words that Joker wrote for him (to use Joker's own words) by rejecting Bruce and his teachings.  It's an insightful approach to the character, because it feels emotionally accurate.  But, it also embraces the progress that Jason has made in the last few issues of moving past that phase.  If his rejection of Batman was motivated in part by his need for revenge against Joker, coming to terms with the damage that both Joker and Batman has done to him would lead him to this moment, where revenge was no longer enough.  He'd want the pain to be gone.  In that way, the mindwipe isn't obliterating the progress that we saw after "Death of the Family," but in a way enhancing it.

But, Tynion's no less effective in showing Roy's emotional response to the mindwipe, in part because it's not as simple as it appears.  It would be easy to dimiss it as selfish, a friendless boy trying to keep his only friend, but Roy's clearly onto something when he says that Jason hasn't stopped being a pawn but rather just changed chessboards.  The summit of Ducra, Essence, and S'aru seems to confirm that hunch.    Moreover, Tynion uses the opportunity to wipe away Lobdell's portrayal of Starfire as an emotionless sex fiend, restoring her to the empathetic (and enigmatic) character that she was before the reboot.

The result is an emotional issue that reminds us just how damaged these characters are and why Roy is so insistent that they need to band together.  I really wonder how they're going to get through this phase intact as a group, which means that Tynion has me a lot more invested in this series than I've possibly even been.

Nightwing #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So far, Higgins is showing why moving Dick to Chicago was a good idea, since this series has an energy that we haven't seen in a while (if ever).  Rather than the constantly shifting cast of supporting characters with muddled motivations, Higgins has begun to develop the type of supporting characters that Dick should have -- the wacky roommate, the Jimmy Olsen, the crooked mayor, the wily villian, etc.  Although Dick's past is at the center of this current arc, he's also paradoxically freed from it by moving to Chicago, allowing him to come into his own in a way that we haven't seen in the DCnU.  In just two issues, this series suddenly feels like it's going somewhere.  Hopefully, with "Batman" going on a year-long hiatus from the present, we won't have any Bat-family cross-over event hijacking the series and ruining its momentum as we've previously had.  Fingers crossed.

(My only real criticism of this issue is that I find it a little hard to believe that the Prankster would be able to hack into Dick's goggles.  Has Lucius gone so soft that his technology is so easily hacked?)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Batgirl #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

SInce this series has begun, Simone has introduced a number of new villains:  Mirror, Gretel, Grotesque, Knightfall.  The first three weren't really all that interesting, amounting to little more than plot devices to help Barbara get back her sea legs (so to speak).  Knightfall was different and her appearance in this issue confirms that Simone sees her as Barbara's arch-nemesis, someone who'll constantly be lurking in the shadows.  However, since then, we've had the "Death of the Family" digression and the battle with James, Jr.  Now, Simone introduces another new villain, but one that serves as more than a plot device.

The introduction of the Ventriloquist here does serve a plot point, with Simone using her as a vehicle to explore the darker world that Barbara now inhabits since she seemingly killed her brother last issue.  Unlike the first three villains, however, the Ventriloquist is a well developed character, posing a real threat to Barbara.  She's so dangerously unstable that Barbara would seem to be justified if she chose to eliminate her, so Simone raises the obvious question whether she will.

The Bat-books have never really gone here.  Sure, Jason returned from the dead a committed killer, but it's the fact that Barbara isn't a committed killer that's interesting here.  Having stepped over the line, will Barbara stay on that side of the line, without becoming the maniac that Jason eventually became?  Will she bring reason to her pursuit of justice, deciding which villains have the potential to be rehabilitated (like Ricky) and which ones pose such a grave threat that they need to be eliminated (like James, Jr.)?  Barbara brings a unique voice to that discussion and I really can't wait to see where Simone goes with it, particularly since the Ventriloquist seems like a great character to raise the question, existing somewhere between Ricky and James, Jr.  Man, am I glad that Simone is still on this title.

X-Factor #256 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, so, Rictor and Shatterstar clearly aren't dead, which leads me to believe that Tier also isn't dead.  In fact, when you add the five Hell Lords, Madrox, and Monet to the list, this arc had a number of people die who didn't actually die.  Maybe it's why it felt so meh.  Despite the stakes seemingly being really high (you know, like, the fate of the world), they wound up being fairly low.  Guido snaps his fingers and essentially we're exactly where we were when we started this arc.  As a result, we can hopefully forget that it ever happened and just return to regularly scheduled programming.

Wolverine and the X-Men #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As I mentioned in my review of "Cable and X-Force" #8, I accidentally picked up some issues of series that I intended to drop this month, including "Wolverine and the X-Men."  However, unlike the "Cable and X-Force" issue, I can't say that I'm happy to have had a chance to visit this corner of the X-Universe one more time.  (Actually, it'll be two more times, since I wound up getting issue #30 as well.)

First, the time-travel narrative that exists at the center of this story is bizarre and confusing and not just in the way that such stories are typically bizarre and confusing.  The students of the present Jean Grey School for Higher Learning put items into a time capsule to be opened 25 years later.  It's an innocuous enough storyline, but one made bizarre from the fact that neither Logan nor Eye-Boy (now Eye-Man) recall doing so when it appears in the future.  It implies that something happened that made them forget, but Aaron never actually clarifies that.  In fact, Logan seems less interested in finding out the answer to why he didn't remember burying a time capsule than he does with being inexplicably obsessed with altering the past.  Unlike the "Age of Ultron," however, Logan doesn't really have all that compelling reason to try to do so.  The School has several campuses throughout the world and mutantkind seems to be flourishing.  Why risk making it worse?  Sure, Logan wants to avoid painful events that happened after the time capsule was buried, but Logan, of all people, should understand that suffering comes with life.  Aaron doesn't even have him momentarily consider the repercussions of fooling with the time stream.  Instead, Aaron uses this struggle as some sort of heart-warming anecdote to reveal how important to Logan the School really is.  (He cares so much about the kids that he's willing to alter the past to save them from heartache!)

This entire sequence actually sums up my objections to this series perfectly.  Clear threats and obvious dangers are ignored in favor of schlocky moments that don't feel remotely organic.  Why wouldn't future Logan try to discover why he didn't remember burying the time capsule?  Why did present Logan take the kids to the Savage Land rather than hunting down the Hellfire Club?  In fact, this issue presents yet another example.  Why wouldn't present Logan do more to make sure that Idie was OK?  After all, the entire schism between the X-Men came because Idie killed people at the opening of the Museum of Mutant History in San Francisco.  However, no one has even remotely kept an eye on her. I actually can't remember the last time that a faculty member spoke to her, despite the fact that, on top of everything, her best friend was nearly killed.  Apparently, Logan's too busy burying time capsules and giving embarrassing speeches to notice a girl burying her Bible and abandoning her friends.

In the end, it's all more emotional schlock and no character development.  I'm going to be very happy to be done with this series.

Nova #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Meh.  This series is going off the rails pretty quickly for me.  This whole issue revolves around some pretty unbelievable exposition on the part of the bad guy, who conveniently tells Sam that he's managed to create an Ultimate Nullifier.  Then, when Sam shockingly manages to use his Nova powers to their fullest extent like a seasoned veteran (and not a distracted rookie) and steal the weapon, he proceeds to "hide" it in the trash can.  Yup.  I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be here for this ride.  I know we're supposed to be wondering where Sam's dad is and why he decided to go after Titus in the first place, but I spent most of this issue just wishing that Richard would return.  Sad, but true.

Cable and X-Force #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I wasn't in town for three Wednesday, so I wound up getting a whole stack of comics at once last week.  I didn't really have time to go through them at the store, so I inadvertently picked up some titles that I had intended to cancel:  "Cable and X-Force," "Justice League of America," "Wolverine and the X-Men," etc.  In the case of this title, at least, I'm glad to have had one more issue.

Hopeless wraps up this arc, about X-Force freeing an alien from the Raft to prevent the armada coming after him from destroying Earth in the process, better than I expected.  He shows Colossus coming to the realization that X-Force is doing serious enough work that he doesn't exactly have the luxury of abiding by the law, as he was trying to do when he declined Domino's offer to spring him from the Raft.  It's an organic moment, with Pete deciding not to wallow in shame for his behavior as one of the Phoenix Five and instead start trying to redeem himself.  Hopeless also continues to do great stuff with Domino, showing her wiliness in dealing with the alien to keep the team alive and her independence in telling Peter not to view her as his damsel in distress.  These two characters -- and their burgeoning relationship -- continue being the heart of this book

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters, Cable included, serve mostly as chess pieces to be moved across the board to advance whatever story Hopeless is telling.  I have faith in Hopeless that he'll eventually start developing them, but, given my need to shed some books, I'm just not all that interested in the journey.  But, I'm glad that I at least got to see Colossus standing on his own two feet before my time with this motley crew came to an end.

Justice League of America #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I think Johns is actually doing a better job on this series than he is on "Justice League."  But, I'm having problems justifying getting two Justice League series a month, particularly when neither one of them is particularly setting my world on fire.  Given the upcoming "Trinity War," I guess I'm going to have to stick with "Justice League" and say good-bye to this one.  Good luck, JLA.  Hopefully I'll see you in the main title every once in a while.

Batman #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue confused me greatly.  It seemed so uncharacteristically chock full of logical inconsistencies and forced moments that I found myself assuming that it had to be me misunderstanding what Snyder wanted us to believe and not Snyder writing so poorly.  After all, Snyder wrote such tightly plotted stories for "Detective Comics" that I found it hard to believe that he could stumble so badly here.  However, I can't see anyway around coming to just that conclusion.

Clayface claims to have engineered the kidnapping of Bruce Wayne in order to draw out Batman, all so that he could touch Batman and learn his identity.  But, all he seemed to have to do was look in a mirror to learn Batman's identity.  When Clayface took on Bruce's appearance, he also took on his clothing, including the Batman costume.  The costume is clearly displayed throughout the chase sequence with the GCPD.  In fact, as he steps into the elevator at the end of the chase sequence, "Bruce" has buttoned up his shirt to hide the costume.  So, Clayface clearly looked at his chest at some point.  It seems like even Clayface could put two plus two together when discovering that Bruce Wayne is wearing a Batman costume under his street clothes

Beyond just this logical confusion, I was baffled by the inartful inclusion of Clayface taunting Batman over Damian.  I get where Snyder was going with this scene, but it felt really forced to me.  Does Clayface really care about rich people enough to hate them for failing to pay attention to their children?  It seems weird that he would even bring up Damian, since Clayface seems like the type of guy who cares little why the rich do what they do, so long as the keep the "little green streams" coming.  Claiming that he targets people like Bruce because they're insensitive rich people just seems uncharacteristically deep for Clayface.  In the end, it's clear that Snyder had to sacrifice characterization to work in some mention of Damian's death before plowing into "Year Zero," showing exactly my problem with the long arcs that have dominated this series.

I've been disappointed with this series for a while, but, man, this issue was just a new low for me.  Hopefully, "Year Zero" will go better, given that Snyder has had a while to focus on it.

Uncanny Avengers #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As Cap himself says, Remender is playing a deep game here.  Every issue, I think we're heading to a resolution and yet every issue Remender raises more questions than he answers.  Most of the time, this description is the tell-tale sign of an author (or, more likely, editors) desperately trying to prolong a story that has long passed the point of being interesting (***cough****the Clone Saga***cough***).  However, here, Remender's story is so ambitious here that the new questions only serve to make it all the more fascinating.

More than anything, I was surprised by how much we learned about the Apocalypse Twins in this issue without really knowing what their actual plan is.

First, Remender is surprisingly direct in laying out the Twins' goals and motivations.  They reveal that the Red Skull's crusade against mutantkind brings about the dark future that the X-Men have often confronted, where mutants like Rachel Summers were used as hounds for Ahab.  Moreover, they reveal that several heroes inadvertently helped Kang manufacture this future.  They blame Thor for giving Kang Jarnbjorn, allowing him to crack Apocalypse's Celestial armor and prevent anyone from ascending to Apocalypse's throne.  As a result, no one is able to rally mutantkind and defeat the Red Skull, leading to mutantkind's decimation.  Similarly, Wolverine and his X-Force did little to help the situation, killing En Sabah Nur as a child and allowing Archangel to die, also ensuring that no one would ascend to Apocalypse's throne.  With mutantkind decimated, Kang clearly is able to take control.

But, the beauty of Remender laying out the "past" of this dark future is that it doesn't necessary spoil what he has in store for the future of our actual present.  (Follow that?)  The Twins note that they have found a way to use Jarnbjorn to undo Kang's "crime," but they don't tell us how they will do so.  In fact, it's unclear exactly what Kang is doing in this dark future.  Is he its overlord or is he acting more behind the scenes?  Moreover, we learn that the Twins are planning their own version of Ragnarok, but they reveal few details.  Do they plan on eliminating all humankind?  Plus, we don't know everything that we need to know about their past.  How did they come to turn against Kang?  It seems that he simply dumped them into the concentration camps where mutants lived in this dark future.  If so, why didn't he just kill them before they had the chance to betray him?

Furthermore, Remender keeps several other mysteries on the back burner.  Who's the "her" who the Twins thought would join them after the destruction of Rio?  Who manipulated Captain America into South Sudan?  Kang?  Is he trying to recruit him to stop the Twins?  Moreover, Remender seems to lay the groundwork for the reveal that the current Angel isn't who we think he is, given the Twins' comment that Archangel was replaced by a fraud and Logan's comments that Warren is dead.  Remender also doesn't turn his focus entirely from the Avengers dysfunction, showing how the secrets that they all keeping (Thor and Jarnbjorn, Logan and Archangel) not only reflects how little trust they have for one another but also makes it worse (such as when Janet discovers Logan and Rogue colluding in the back of the jet).

Moreover, amidst this grand story, we have moments of real characterization.  Remender portrays the Twins as sympathetic characters, scarred by their past and trying to prevent it from happening in the future.  They feel the burden of their responsibility, even as they seemingly plan genocide.  He also spends time playing Sunfire off Thor, reminding us of the potential that this series has as characters with previous experience with one another try to find a way to work together.

Eight issues into this series, I have little idea where we're going, but I'm entirely confident that it'll be awesome.