Thursday, August 29, 2013

Batman #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Falcones!  Penguin!  Red Hood!  All in the first few pages!

I’m trying not to get too excited here, but Snyder seems to have found some of his old magic in this issue.  It reminds me of the early issues of this series, where he did such a phenomenal job building the mythology of the Court of Owls.  But, I’m worried that the parallels between this story and that one aren’t a good thing, given how the reality of the Court of Owls wasn’t anywhere near as interesting.

That said, maybe Snyder does better refreshing established characters then he does building new ones.  We don’t often see Joker (sorry, Red Hood), Penguin, and Riddler at work in the same issue and Snyder does a brilliant job showing how the patterns that will come to define their eventual relationships with Batman begin to develop.  Red Hood exults as Bruce attacks him on the blimp, expressing joy to have found an adversary as unhinged as he is.  It's obvious in this moment that Snyder is showing you exactly when Joker becomes hopelessly enchanted with Batman, starting them on the road to mutually assured destruction that we all know so well.  Bruce has a similar (if more tame) interaction with Riddler later in the issue, telling Edward that he’ll have to do better next time as he easily solves his riddle.  You can almost feel Edward's glee shine through his menacing threat.

These moments are not just important for giving us insight into the villains that Joker and Riddler will eventually become, but also because Snyder shows the role that Bruce played in making them.  Bruce’s arrogance and youth blinds him to the patterns that he’s establishing with the villains.  He’s so confident that he’s going to defeat Red Hood that he doesn’t see Joker’s attraction to the chaos that Bruce brings to their confrontation, doesn’t even conceive of the possibility that he could be responsible for inspiring Red Hood to commit future crimes simply to have a reason to tangle with him, to delight in that chaos.  Moreover, he similarly doesn’t see how he suddenly presents an intellectual challenge for Riddler that Edward has never previously had.  On some level, the criticism that Bruce created the villains who come to Gotham to face him has always struck me as unfair, since it seems impossible that he would've been able to foresee such a path in the beginning of career (and it would be too late to do anything about it by the time said patterns are established).  After all, who could've anticipated the levels of depravity that Joker will plumb?  (Did anyone else get chills at the line, “Nothing like sirens where they shouldn’t be on a sunny afternoon, is there?”)  It reminds me of a Riddler story, I think, maybe from the "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" anthology, where he talks about how everything had changed, how Joker and Penguin were now killing people.  It was a sly reference to the fact that comics -- and their villains -- have gotten significantly darker since their inception.  However, Snyder, now given a chance to give us a dark start, takes away some of the excuse that villains like Joker and Penguin "got darker," something that Bruce couldn't have predicted in the beginning of his career.  Now, Snyder makes it clear that the roots were there all along and implies that Bruce might’ve been able to see them if he was a little less arrogant (and listened to Alfred).

Capullo, as always, does a spectacular job on the art.  Though I had an immediate aversion to the oroboros design as a result of Morrison’s run on this title, Capullo’s use of it to display Bruce and Riddler’s inaugural dance of wits is spectacular, recalling the upside-down page that blew everyone's mind in “Batman” #5.

So, despite how great this issue was, I’m trying not to be too hopeful.  After “Night of the Owls” and “Death of the Family,” I’m skeptical that Snyder can keep the tight control over the narrative that he displays here.  But, if he does, it’ll be downright Millerian.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Batgirl #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Simone is taking us somewhere really interesting here.  First, it seems difficult to believe that James, Jr. is dead, given how much potential that he has as a character.  As such, when James, Jr. eventually reveals himself to be alive, Barbara will no longer technically be a killer.  But, Simone makes it clear that said technicality doesn’t really matter to either Barbara or the Commissioner.  They both know that Batgirl shot to kill that night.  Simone is using that knowledge to take both characters to interesting places.  Barbara is trying to move past the grief, something she manages to accomplish (at least for now) because of her date with Ricky, an affair that seems unlikely to be anything but tragic in the end.  But, it’s the closing sequence with the Commissioner and Batman that provides the real surprise, with the Commissioner starting down a road of revenge in his quest for Batgirl.  Batman’s words to the Commissioner here – both in terms of losing a child and in crossing the line into vengeance – should be well-taken by the Commissioner, but Simone does a great job of showing us how the Commissioner is too far gone to listen.  Choppy waters ahead, folks.

Venom #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If I'm not mistaken, this issue is the last issue of "Venom" in my to-read stack, which means that it's my last issue of "Venom" period.  I've been on the fence with this series for a while, probably since the ridiculous "Circle of Four" arc.  But, I kept giving it another chance, trying to make it work.  To be honest, I think that Bunn actually has a pretty decent take on Flash and is giving this series a narrative stability that it's never really had.  (Remember when Flash could only be in the suit for 48 hours or some such time period?  Remember "Project:  Rebirth?"  Remember when he was a Secret Avenger?  Remember all the demon stuff?)  Moving Flash to Philadelphia was a good call and Bunn seems to be using Lord Ogre and Katy Kiernan to great effect, giving Flash a serious nemesis and an unreliable ally.  But, I think I've just been burned too many times by this series to care anymore (or, at least, to start caring, only to have its whole modus operandi changed again).  So, good luck, Flash.  I hope you get the happy ending that you're probably not going to get.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

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

OK, I'll admit to initially having trouble following the plot, in part because I read this issue after maybe having a little bit too much to drink.  I'll also admit to being worried what Speed Demon did with the dog that he stole from the little girl.  (Hopefully, Inspector will meet Pizza Dog one day.)  But, suddenly, everything came together at the end and I realized that Boomerang's intricate plot to get the Superior Foes to spring him from prison was brilliant.  After all, we went from Shocker and Speed Demon delivering bird seed to Boomerang's apartment so that his neighbor could feed his birds while he was in prison to the bird seed being full of diamonds serving as a tribute to Hammerhead so that Boomerang and the Superior Foes could pull off a big score on his territory to Hammerhead actually being Chameleon and Boomerang revealing that said score didn't exist and that it was all a ruse to convince the Superior Foes to spring him.  I mean, I like Nick Spencer, but, man, he really punched above his weight on this one.

Although Spencer leaves it a little unclear why Chameleon would help Boomerang, other than Boomerang's seemingly vague promise to use the Superior Foes to commit crimes of which Chameleon would presumably get a cut, the reveal -- when you finally take a moment, review what happened, and realized where you are -- is one of the best moments in comics that I've read in a long time.

Moreover, along the way, you get some real insight into Boomerang.  I started off this issue liking him, as he complained that no one really wondered if he had any pets like they do Spider-Man.  But, then I wondered if it might just be an act.  Though, I then wondered if Boomerang didn't really wish that he was the type of guy to send his friends to feed his birds and is disappointed with himself because he's not actually that guy.  Then I wondered if maybe he was just fucking with us, trying to convince us that we wasn't all that bad of a guy just to dash our hopes when it's revealed that he is.  Then I wondered if maybe it's even more sinister than that.  But, at some point, you realize that Spencer has led us on an emotional roller-coaster ride that ends with you realizing what an asshole Boomerang really is, a realization made all the more profound by building up that temporary hope that he was really just a guy worried about his birds.  It's then when I realized that this series might be phenomenally better than the main Spider-Man titles and got very, very excited about where we're going from here.

Earth 2 #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The tempo of this issue is off a little, with Robinson rushing some sequences that probably should've gotten a bit more attention.  For example, I only vaguely remembered Green Lantern meeting with Dr. Fate and Flash (since it happened two issues ago, if you count the Annual), so it felt weird to see them more or less presented as a full-fledged team here.  I'm also not sure that Alan is really so arrogant that he thinks that the three of them can take down the Dherain army and Steppenwolf, even though he really does seem to legitimately think that they have a decent shot of that.  But, it's pretty likely that Robinson's upcoming unexpected departure moved up the time frame a bit, so I'm willing to cut him some slack.  After all, I think Alan et al. probably should've entered Dherain more stealthily (and having Sandman point out that fact doesn't suddenly make it an OK plot device), but I do believe that they would've entered Dherain all the same.  As such, I still bought the main event of this issue, namely Robinson maneuvering the various characters to the point where we suddenly find ourselves surprised with the core of a Justice Society at the end of the issue, when Dr. Fate, Flash, and Green Lantern find themselves on the same side as Atom, Red Arrow, and Sandman.  Well played, James.  Well played.

In other news, I was surprised to hear that Alan's goal is the end of the world government.  He seems to think that its demise will allow the Society a freer hand and, although that's probably true, it seems a pretty drastic step just to make sure that you can do whatever you want to do.  Moreover, I'll admit to tiring a bit of Khan always being right.  Even Captain America isn't always right.  As a result, Khan is starting to feel one dimensional, serving the purpose of a Cassandra foreshadowing for the reader what's going to come.  (Along those lines, continuing the previous discussion of Robinson rushing us into war, why did the world government decide to rush into war, given that it's unlikely that Steppenwolf is just bluffing?  If we don't get a good answer to that question, then it'll be all the more apparent that Robinson is just trying to hit his marks as quickly as he can before his time on this series finishes.)

But, regardless, Robinson seems to be setting up a pretty important arc.  Even though he's rushing a bit, the characters remain true to who they've been and the events that we see here build on previous events.  So, all in all, I'm still pretty happy with this issue and intrigued to see how Robinson wraps up his stint on the series.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Detective Comics #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, both the stories in this issue are awesome, so let's get right to it.

The first story is remarkably clever.  At first, it appears to be a standard story, with Layman hinting that E.D. Caldwell, a weapons manufacturer whose sudden arrival on the business and philanthropy scene in Gotham leaves Bruce suspicious, is Wrath, killing cops to create a market for his bulletproof vests and various weapons.  It's similar to Aaron's explanation of Kade Kilgore's motives in "Wolverine and the X-Men," creating the Hellfire Academy to create new super-villains to increase the sale of Sentinels.  But, the cover reminds us that the story goes deeper, with Layman portraying Caldwell/Wrath (if he is Wrath) as an inverted version of Bruce/Batman.  Whereas Bruce uses his wealth to help people, Caldwell "helps" people to increase his wealth.  Beyond just the parallel driven home by the cover, Layman underlines the point by having Alfred astutely note that Bruce's dislike of Caldwell has something to do with the fact that he feels the role of Gotham's benefactor-in-chief has already been filled (by him, obviously).  Truth be told, if Caldwell is Wrath (and Layman's too good of a writer to establish that definitively at this point), I'm surprised that we haven't really seen a Bat-villain like him.  It seems so obvious, a version of Bruce through the glass, darkly, but I'm hard pressed to think of one.  Hopefully, Wrath will last beyond this arc and, if he does, Layman's contribution of Emperor Penguin and Wrath to Bruce's rogues' gallery establishes him, to my mind, as one of the best Batman authors of the recent era.  (Moreover, ignoring Daniel's run on this series, it also really cements "Detective Comics" as the place where interesting stories get told, coming on the heels of Snyder's amazing run on this series when Dick wore the cowl.)

Turning to the back-up installment, The Man-Bat, or, shall we say, Woman-Bat story is just as clever and I honestly didn't see the surprise end coming.  I still struggle a little to remember the new history of Man-Bat, with Kurt being somewhat (though apparently not entirely) dependent on using the serum to change into Man-Bat.  But, Layman does a good job of reminding us where we stand and, in fact, uses this confusion to keep attention off Francine.  So, when it's revealed that she's been using a serum derived from a vampiric bat, it's particularly impactful.  These back-up stories are rarely ever as good as the main story, but this Man-Bat one is really top-notch.

All in all, this series is one of my top three for DC, if not my favorite.  Great, great stuff.

Young Avengers #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Jesus Christ, what the Hell was that?  Here I am, thinking I'm reading a tale of two young recovering superheroes finding someone to help them talk through their problems and maybe get their heads back in the game, when everything all of sudden goes batshit crazy.  Who's randomly animating Patriot's suit?  Why Patriot's suit?  Why rob the company where Prodigy and Speed were working?  Did it have to do with them?  The suit didn't really make an effort to hide itself, looking straight into the security cameras, so it seems like the theft was motivated by drawing out Prodigy and/or Speed.  But, why?  Did it want one, the other, or both?  What did it do to Speed?  What did it want Prodigy to do with the suit?  Why did it tell Prodigy that he was in denial?  Plus, where were Prodigy and Speed working?  A place that ran a superhero/super-villain technical-support line and assembled unspecified technical products?  Shady much?  Questions, questions, questions.  Man, I love this series.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

X-Men #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is decent.  I have to admit to being somewhat distracted by the Jubilee sub-plot, in part because I'm not sure why she doesn't seem to be a vampire anymore and in other part because I find it ridiculous that she would even remotely have decided to adopt a child (even if not expressly or formally).  Moreover, I'm still not really what the modus operandi of this title is.  A lot has been made about its all-female cast, but so far that seems more like a temporary situation for the first arc than a rallying cry.  It definitely has the potential to be another "Spider-Man," starting with a gimmick (the several-issue arcs in that case and the all-female team in this one), but quickly reverting to yet another title about characters who already have a lot of series dedicated to their exploits.  But, otherwise, Wood tells a pretty recognizable story of chaos and confusion as one faction of the team faces the threat and the other part of the team tries to get to them.  I'm not sure it's worth $3.99, so we'll see where we go from here in determining whether I keep getting it.  But, for now, it's not awful.

Wolverine and the X-Men #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Not a lot happens in this issue, with Logan and his team continuing their search for the Hellfire Club and Quentin trying to withstand the torture of the Hellfire Academy staff.  (Quentin was apparently rejected by the Siege Perilous so the Inquisitor is torturing him to make him "worthy.")  But, Aaron does a good job of deepening the tension, since you have to wonder how long Quentin can last before the team finds him.  (You also wonder how that reunion is going to go, since they currently think that he's a traitor.)  But, with the unveiling of the new Hellions and Logan finding Lord Deathstrike, next issue seems like it's going to be a doozy.

Uncanny X-Men #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis seems on the verge of finally moving Illyana passed the "tortured soul" routine that has defined her character pretty much since her inception.  As I've mentioned previously, Bendis makes you wonder why it took so long for someone to put Illyana together with Dr. Strange, but it's exactly that combination that holds so much promise when it comes to moving Illyana to a more stable place.  The idea that she was able to collapse Limbo into her is brilliant, really establishing how deeply tied to that dimension she is, something that she herself really only seems to realize when she manages to do so.  I really can't wait to see where Bendis goes with this plot.

In other news, the kids return from Limbo with their eyes open, both to the dangers that they face and the, um, limitations of their professors.  One of the best parts of this sequence is seeing Scott so completely and totally unhinged over the fact that he has no control over pretty much anything.  After the smug arrogance that he's exuded for the last few years, it's great to see him start to realize that he's not as masterful as he thinks.  Now, we just have to wait and see if Fabio is the only one who wants off this crazy thing.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the art.  Whoever chose Irving for this arc did a spectacular job matching his talents with the tale, since his unclear lines and dramatic colors give Limbo the sense of dread-inspiring awe that it often lacks.  You truly understand why everyone's always so damned afraid of the place.  This style makes it a little difficult to follow the story later, since it was hard to keep all the various blond women straight when they returned to Earth, but it was worth some late confusion for such a spectacularly rendered Limbo.  Well done, all around.

Secret Avengers #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was enjoying this issue until the whole "permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council" business.  Um, no.  Simply because the unconfirmed director of S.H.I.E.L.D. ordered an assassination attempt -- that, might I add, didn't work -- the United Nations doesn't just hand a permanent seat on the Security Council to the country whose leader was targeted, particularly when said country happens to be the domain of a terrorist group.  The United Nations didn't give a seat to the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan simply because the U.S. assassinated Osama bin Laden (and he was actually assassinated).  I get where Spencer was going here, but it was definitely a bridge too far.  That said, the rest of the issue is decent, particularly now that we've moved past the Daisy-Johnson-as-Director nonsense.  But, the permanent-seat bit spoiled the issue as a whole for me.  The good news is that I'm actually glad that Dr. Forson is alive, since his ability to bedevil S.H.I.E.L.D. is really quite fun.

Scarlet Spider #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is fun.  It's not super complicated.  In fact, it's pretty predictable.  But, Kaine is as darkly witty as ever and the addition of an equally cranky Wolverine gives him an excellent sparring partner who I hope we see appear more often (and I hate Wolverine normally).  The thought of their silent and broody plane ride from Westchester to New Orleans makes me downright giddy.  After the Other business, it's just fun to return to some mayhem, murder, and snark.  Faith restored.

Nova #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue doesn't have the most complicated story ever written, but Sam's confrontation with Titus follows a logical trajectory and wraps up this introductory arc pretty nicely.  Moreover, Loeb ditches two of the series' more forced sub-plots by having Sam's identity revealed to his mother and by confirming that Sam's father is alive.  Sam's quest for his father promises to be a pretty decent framing device for him learning about his powers, so I'll hang with this series for a few more issues at least.

Justice League of America #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's no coincidence that, as the team started to click together in this issue, this series started to click with me.  I'm still considering dropping both this title and "Justice League," because $4.99 an issue is a lot to be spending on two titles that I can't say I've enjoyed all that much.  But, this issue opened the door to the possibility that I may revisit that decision.

Beyond the attention given to the team starting to work together, Johns creates a mystery that I actually find intriguing (and not just one that I know will result in me rolling my eyes when it's answered).  The leader of the Secret Society seems pretty clearly to be connected to Batman, given his comment about knowing where Batman lives, his reference to the Joker, and his possession of Two-Face's coin.  I'd guess that he's the Riddler, but Johns clearly has a few more aces up his sleeve, so any guess is probably premature.  Beyond just his identity, we also don't know why he wants to take down the Justice League.  Why would one of Batman's villains want to take down the entire Justice League?  To up the intrigue, we learn that the Society appears to have some connection to Pandora's Box, meaning that it may play a role in the upcoming "Trinity War" cross-over event.  All in all, it's a honest-to-goodness mystery and one that I actually find myself interested in seeing answered.

Johns also drops all sorts of other hints about future storylines in here, from Chronos' failed hunt for Booster Gold to Dr. Light's malfunctioning powers.  If only "Justice League" had such interesting developments...

Justice League #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The resolution of the Shazam! saga that's been running through "Justice League" is exactly what I hoped that it would be.  It's both emotionally satisfying and narratively clever, giving us perhaps the best reboot of an established character in the DCnU to date.

Johns made it pretty clear that Billy was going to wind up sharing his powers with his foster siblings and, when the moment comes, it's pretty great.  First, Johns ensures that it makes sense to the story, giving Billy the ability to evade Black Adam's attempts to take his powers.  But, it's also an important moment for Billy, showing him trusting people in a way that he hasn't previously been able to bring himself to do.  (Similarly, I have to admit that I teared up a bit when Billy "activated" Tawny.)  In fact, given how emotionally driven this story was, I was reminded how disappointed I've been in the main story in "Justice League," since it's lacked anything near the level of emotion that this one had.

In terms of the story itself, the resolution shows Billy's cleverness and, in so doing, his promise as a hero.  Most of this arc has been dedicated to Billy having fun with his powers, raising the question of whether he had what it takes to be a hero.  The conclusion here shows clearly that he does, particularly as he sends his foster siblings to save innocents while he confronts Black Adam.

In other words, I'm not only reminded by how much I've disliked the main story in this series, but how I would quickly drop it for a "Captain Marvel" series, which is hopefully coming.

Hawkeye #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not sure what to think about this issue.  I mean, it's remarkably clever and well executed in an art sense.  Moreover, it's about Pizza Dog, who's pretty much my favorite character in comics right now.  But, it generally leaves me scratching my head, both from a plot and a story perspective.

First, it doesn't really do much in terms of the larger story that Fraction is telling.  It's still unclear why the clown killed Grills, whether it had to do with his obsession with Kate or with his association with the bros.  Given the fact that the old woman in the building is seen associating with said clown and said bros, maybe it's the latter?  But, to what purpose?  I'm generally assuming that it had more to do with Clint than it did with Grills, but why?  Are they trying to push Clint over the edge?  If so, it doesn't seem to be working.  Clint and Kate appear to go to Grills' funeral here, but Hawkeye seems too involved with his dispute with Kate and his troubles with the police to care that much.  (I'm still hoping that we'll get some sort of insight into how Grills' death affected Hawkeye in a later issue, but I might be hoping for too much.)  Fraction seems to want us to glean something about the ongoing mystery from this issue, but I'm not really sure what it is.

Second, I still enjoy this issue even if we didn't get a clearer sense of where the larger plot is going, but I also had trouble with the story itself in certain parts.  On several occasions, it felt like certain moments were happening outside chronological order, despite the issue clearly progressing in chronological order.  For example, Pizza Dog attacks the clown and the bros, who open fire on him, and he and one of the bros fall off the roof.  Then, suddenly, they're all in the old lady's apartment like nothing happened.  It seems unlikely that they would survive the fall and, even if they did, it seems even more unlikely that they'd just invite Pizza Dog into the old lady's apartment for bandages and snacky-cakes.  At first I thought that it meant that this scene happened before their fight, but then Lucky races downstairs to Hawkeye, who finds the bro's shoe, thereby establishing that it did, in fact, happen after the fight.  I'm all for experimental story-telling, but it helps if you're actually telling a story that makes sense.

I had high hopes for this issue, since, after all, Pizza Dog!  But, I have to say that I'm unfortunately disappointed.  I'm really looking forward to returning to Clint being the focus of the book again...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, everything you need to know about the awesomeness of this series is summarized by one scene, when the Spartax royal guard arrives at the Mos Eisley canti...I mean, the unnamed space dive...and the team tries to blend into the crowd.  Because a human man, an orange woman, a green man, a talking raccoon, and a walking tree "blend."

When the team fails (surprisingly) to blend, we get yet another impromptu fight with authority figures.  (I loved Drax being so happy that they had another fight on their hands.)  This series would be fine with me if it proved to be a never-ending series of bar fights in space dives.  However, Bendis (probably wisely) hints that he's going to start addressing the darker threats that lurk around the corner.  After all, who tries to assassinate the deadliest woman in the galaxy?  What interest does J'Son have in Earth?  But, in the meantime, we get a lot of bar fights and I, for one, am a happy camper.

Captain America #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, this issue is almost too devastating to recap.  When I saw the cover, I had a hunch that Sharon would arrive and kill Ian, but, when the moment came, I was totally wrecked by it.  Although I felt like Remender had Ian shake off Zola's programming a little too quickly, it was still a happy moment, the redemption of the suffering that Steve had endured on behalf of his son.  It's of course what makes what comes next all the more terrible, to have that hope snatched from Steve when he needs it the most.  Remender and JR, Jr. go to great pains to make it appear that Ian's death is irreversible, with his body falling into the vat of liquids below them, and you have to wonder where we go from here.  Can Steve forgive Sharon for "saving" him by killing his son?  Does Ian get reborn with all his memories like "Captain Zolalandia?"  Do any of Ian's criticisms of America -- a land that uses force to protect the wealthy, but pretends to be a beacon on the hill -- shake Steve's faith in himself and his mission?  Remender leaves open all those questions and I'm sure that we'll have to address them at some point.  Right now, though, we have to have our battle royale with Zola and I honestly can't wait.  I seriously hope Steve hands him his ass after everything he -- and the reader -- has endured so far.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

All-New X-Men #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this series just keeps getting better and better.

One of the many things that makes this series so outstanding is that Bendis continues to give us really refreshing new takes on old characters.  Beyond the obvious examples of the original X-Men, he's also doing great work with other characters, such as Mystique.  As a character, Mystique has suffered from a long history of inconsistent portrayals, in part because so many writers overplay a connection between her shape-shifting ability and her fluid moral compass.  But, Bendis actually makes her more complicated than that.  Rather than portraying her as she usually is portrayed, as someone willing to play all sides against each other for unclear reasons, Bendis explains her as someone who has never been particularly convinced by either side, causing her to switch between them with some frequency.  In other words, she wasn't just amorally using everyone to her own ends (though she certainly did that, too); she was also weighing the various philosophies presented to her to see which one fit better.  Now, after everything, she finds both philosophies wanting and wonders why she spent so much time worried about making a choice between them in the first place.  In all honesty, it feels like the first accurate portrayal of Mystique that we've ever had.  Moreover, her conclusion, that she should stop worrying and use her power to benefit herself, flows directly from that portrayal.  That said, Bendis also makes it clear that she probably has something up her sleeve, so it's not like he's playing her like someone with simple criminal motivations.  But, her portrayal as someone finally deciding to stop letting others influence her and develop some plans of her own adds a level of nuance to her portrayal that I honestly don't think that she's previously had.

Moreover, Bendis continues to throw in great small moments that make the characters feel more like human beings and less like plot devices.  My favorite one this issue is Bobby wondering how Alex managed to confront them in "All-New X-Men" #12 and deliver his speech in "Uncanny Avengers" #5, all in the same day.  (Be careful, Bobby:  questioning the mechanics of the Wolverine Space/Time Continuum is a dangerous thing.)  Speaking of Bobby, Bendis continues to use him to express the group's time shock, but finally has him do something other than exclaim things like, "People have phones without cords!"  It's a welcome development.  Also, not all the great character moments are small or humorous.  Kitty's speech about Alex's plea to be seen as a human (from "Uncanny Avengers" #5) is a tour de force and raises a number of interesting issues.  (After seeing the Avengers discuss the speech in "Uncanny Avengers" #10, I thought Marvel did a great job by having Bendis raise it as well, showing how closely connected its titles are lately.)  I generally agree with Kitty's sentiment here; as a gay man, it's hard to argue that I'd want to be hiding my sexuality.  But, I'm also sympathetic to Alex's argument; it's hard to be seen as different all the time.  Taken together, Alex and Kitty's views are representative of the discussion every minority group has about its role in society and Remender and Bendis really should be applauded for handling the discussion so well.

In other words, it's a particularly strong issue.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I love this series, but, man, this issue is rough, since Remender covers little actual ground here for the amount of space spent on dialogue.  Moreover, the ground that he does cover doesn't make a lot of sense.

First, the main event of the issue, the division of the team into X-Men (and Thor) and Avengers (and Havok), makes little sense if you take a moment and reflect on the circumstances that lead to it.  It happens essentially because Cap suddenly decides that Wolverine is little more than a murderer.  I have a number of issues with that.  First, as a soldier, it seems unlikely to me that Cap would be that upset that Wolverine would kill a child Apocalypse.  Would Cap not have killed a child Hitler if he had the chance?  I know that we're dealing with a high level of moral relativism here, so it's entirely possible that Cap see a difference between assassinating a child Hitler and a child Apocalypse.  However, Cap really focuses more on the murder part rather than the child part.  As such, we're really left with the impression that he's more upset that Logan murdered anyone.  Again, I'm not saying that Cap wouldn't be upset, but his rage here seems disproportionate.  I mean, do we not remember that Thor essentially murdered Jan to save the world?  It would seem hard to forget that, since they're both standing right there!  Moreover, Logan made this decision as a member of X-Force, not the Avengers.  It's not like he was running a secret squad of Avengers...like Cap was, during the Secret Avengers days.  Remember when Cap stepped aside to have other members of the team torture someone?  I do.  Maybe he wants to confess that to the group.

But, for argument's sake, let's say Cap was really outraged that Wolverine killed a child Apocalypse and that he feels betrayed because Logan really did commit to putting aside his murdering ways when he agreed to become an Avenger.  Fine.  However, he and Alex decide that the best way to handle the situation is to have this discussion in front of the entire team?  A team that is volatile on a good day?  Logan didn't merit a discussion about these issues behind closed doors, just the three of them?  Even if Cap didn't think he deserved such a courtesy, neither he nor Alex anticipated how accusing Logan of murder in front of the team might force everyone to take sides, particularly given how many times the issue of murder has divided the Avengers in the past?  Really?  To me, it's completely unrealistic and, more upsettingly, unnecessary.  Remender had already done a good job of building any number of issues that could've split the team in the way that it splits here.  For example, it would've been totally plausible for Rogue and the other X-Men to leave because they felt that Alex was debasing mutantkind by calling on the world to see him as a person before a mutant.  Why chose an issue with so many obvious flaws when you could have used a better one?

I was also less thrilled with other parts of this issue, such as the somewhat awkward attempt to make Uriel human.  (Also, did Remender need to rub in the fact that Havok is straight?  Sigh.)  But, the disastrous Logan plotline overshadowed any other qualms that I had about this issue.  Hopefully, everyone will reunite next issue and I'll be able to pretend that this one never happened.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Superior Spider-Man #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue seems to address two of the things that have been bothering me for a while.

First, I never really believed Otto's conversion to a good guy.  I could see, I guess, why he would be inspired to have Spider-Man stay a good guy, if only for the selfish reason of not finding himself a hunted criminal again.  But, his commitment to saving innocent lives, even if only to show Peter how superior he was as Spider-Man, never really felt true to me.  Here, we see Otto more or less ditch that oath to protect innocent lives, leaving Gloria, Norah, and the remaining civilians on the Raft to their fate at the hands of the Vulture in order to pursue the Spider-Slayer.  Otto is clearly chosing eliminating a threat (and a rival) as well as currying favor with JJJ, Jr. over saving lives.  That, I buy from Otto.  Otto sees everything in terms of power, so taking out the Spider-Slayer is more important to him than saving people.  Interestingly, Slott doesn't make a direct connection between Otto's more aggressive behavior here and his loss of Peter's memories.  (He was previously aggressive, but, even when he murdered Massacre, he was doing so to protect innocent people, at least tangentially.  Here, he's willingly sacrificing them.)  Otto losing his moral compass with the memories was a working hypothesis after the events of issue #9 and this issue seems to confirm that.  I wonder where Slott is going to go with it.

A corollary to Otto not feeling bound to protecting innocent lives is that Otto's over-confidence is leading him down this road.  This issue, we see Otto exult after manipulating Smythe into leaving the scene by expositing ("like a Bond villain") that he relied on the generators to power his devices.  Otto knew that the Raft had back-up generators, so he was really just trying to distract Smythe.  However clever Otto might have been here, it seems a sign that Otto is once again being blinded by his over-confidence.  He manages to pull of his plan regardless here, but it's not hard to see that he won't always be able to do so.  After all, Otto clearly believes that he can kill Massacre and the Spider-Slayer and still have the support of New Yorkers.  But, will he continue to have that support if innocent people get sacrificed along the way?  If Peter's memories are no longer providing him with a moral compass or a realistic assessment of his actual abilities, this blind-spot could push Otto into areas that undermine the public's support and lead him further and further into a publicly perceived villain category.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, we see JJJ, Jr. poised for some level of come-uppance.  Ever since he ordered the police chief to take out Massacre in "Amazing Spider-Man" #656, JJJ, Jr. has made it clear that he viewed the law as only a guide.  Assuming that Spidey recorded JJJ, Jr. ordering him to kill the Spider-Slayer and that said record will be revealed to the public at some point, JJJ, Jr. seems to have finally passed the point-of-no-return.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Captain Marvel #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

And away we go!  After spending the first two installments of this cross-over event setting up the story, DeConnick really hits the gas here.  She displays an amazing ability to keep control over many characters at the same time, as Carol's crew of civilian colleagues work on figuring out the identity of Carol's nemesis while the Avengers take on the Kree Sentries that Magnitron activated last issue.  DeConnick really has a stunning ear for dialogue, with all the characters here managing to sound distinct (and in character), even if they're given limited "panel" time.  DeConnick also displays her usual wit along the way; I particularly liked Carol's "Star Wars" reference and Cap's ensuing confusion.  (Also, I thought Carol marching her entire supporting cast down the hallway of her apartment building to confront her crotchedy old neighbor was nothing short of hilarious.)  Moreover, in terms of the plot, we're really getting the sense of how deep of a game Magnitron is playing.  Whereas the Brood, "Deathbird," and the Grapplers were distractions, it's clear that Magnitron has kicked it up a notch with the Sentries and you start to wondering whether the Avengers are going to be able to contain the threat before a lot of people get hurt.  Great characterization, witty dialogue, and a compelling plot:  I'm not sure what you'd want that this title isn't delivering.

X-Factor #258 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, this issue isn't a terrible read, but it ends disappointingly abruptly.  The apparent revelation that Tier is dead (maybe even really dead) is upsetting and David makes it clear that Rahne hasn't come even close to coming to terms with it (what with hugging polar bears and everything).  Rev. John's offer to have her take over the position of deacon at his church is an elegant conclusion to her story.  However, it's the elegance that's the problem, because it seems unlikely that John would've managed to focus on Rahne enough to conceive of it after watching his congregation get slaughtered by a parishoner's jealous husband.  "Hey, my parish just got murdered in front of my eyes, but, sure, tell me all about how the new Lord of Hell murdered your son, the Beast of Earth.  Wanna cuppa?"

Moreover, it does leave open a lot of doors.  I mean, is Tier really dead?  After all, Darwin met an older version of him in "X-Factor" #214 and we never saw a body, he just disappeared in a flash of light after Guido stabbed him.  Darwin meeting him could presumably be explained as happening before Layla resurrected Guido, meaning that Guido's unexpected presence could've disrupted Tier's previous destiny as the Beast.  But, it feels like David is trying to make it clear that Tier's story isn't done.  He just doesn't have the time to lay the careful hints that he usually does, in part because he probably isn't going to be the one to take up Tier's tale.  So, instead, we have to settle for getting Rahne in a safe place before moving onto the next story, leaving Guido and Tier for later.  Again, it's not terrible, but it is disappointing.

New Avengers #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not sure why I'm still collecting this title, as I've previously mentioned.  I get that Hickman views this series as a sort of "game of kings," but he seems to confuse regalness with coldness.  I've never gotten a sense that any of these characters particularly care about the outcome.  Although the dialogue may sound like them, the characters here -- some of the oldest ones that Marvel has -- are virtually unrecognizable, from a combative Dr. Strange to a conciliatory Namor.  In a way, this issue was supposed to be a pause in the ongoing story of multiple Earths colliding into one another, a chance for us to catch our breath and see how the events of these past few issues have affected these men with the weight of multiple worlds on their shoulders.  What we learn is that, given such a break, they return to their petty squabbles and ongoing feuds.  Only Namor seems to be able to put aside differences, but that depiction shouldn't be celebrated, since he's the one least likely to do so.  In other words, it's a mess and I'm done.  (This issue is also a great example of pet peeve #2, given that Namor and T'Challa do the exact opposite of what's depicted on the cover -- they make peace, not war.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Batman and Robin #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have a love/hate relationship with Tomasi and, unfortunately, this issue falls more in the latter camp than the former one.  (Man, it's been a seriously bad run of comics this month.)  Tomasi actually does a great job picking up the threads of Barbara's struggles in "Batgirl" and I spent most of the issue wondering if she would confess to Bruce that she (may have) killed her brother.  I kept waiting for her to shout it during their confrontation, telling him that she wasn't worthy of wearing the mantle of the Bat as a result of her actions, and wondering what Bruce's response would be.  But, weirdly, Tomasi goes in a totally random (and opposite) direction.  Barbara goes from asserting that she's not worthy of being part of the Bat-family...to offering to serve as Bruce's Robin.  Nothing during their argument implies that Bruce is looking for a Robin (in fact, quite the opposite), so Barbara shattering the case with Jason's costume and offering to replace Damian seems incredibly disrespectful for no good reason.  Was she just trying to shock him?  Was she looking for a surrogate father as a result of her fear of being disowned when her own father finds out the truth about her?  Tomasi could've made those arguments, but he doesn't, leaving you scratching his head and wondering what happened here exactly.

Venom #36 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly?  I decided to finally drop this series in the comic store when I was holding issue #38 in my hands and just didn't feel excited about it.  After reading this issue, I realized that it's because I just can't handle the melodramatic narration that frames every issue.  Flash seems to give us a recitation of his sad history every...single...issue.  It's seriously distracting, since you often don't actually get to the point of the issue until somewhere at the half-way mark.  I've got one issue that I already bought in my stack and then I'm done.

Wolverine and the X-Men #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As ridiculous as it is, the idea that Kade Kilgore opened the Hellfire Academy to train super-villains so that they will eventually increases sales of Sentinels actually sort of makes sense.  I mean, it does so in a weird, "willful suspension of disbelief" way, but I've got to admit that it's more clever of a motivation than anything else that we've seen drive the events of this series.  I also liked what Aaron does with Quentin here, showing us that he's not a spy and that he actually followed Idie to the Academy to make sure that she didn't get hurt while trying to find Broo's assailant.  If I've liked anything about this title (and it's unfortunately not much), it's the fact that Aaron has given Quentin a moral compass that he previously lacked, making him a lot more three dimensional (or, I guess, two dimensional) than he's been portrayed.  It doesn't mean that he does the right thing even 50 percent of the time, but it does mean that he's not entirely an uncaring sociopath.  That's progress.  Anyway, I guess that I'm saying that I'm on board.  I'm still hoping that we never hear from the Kiddie Hellfire Club again after this "saga," but at least the ride to the end seems pretty fun.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Unfortunately, I think I've finally gotten to the last straw when it comes to me and this series.  I was hopeful when Tynion took over this title that we'd ditch the All-Caste business and the bad "Star Wars" homages and focus more on Jason, K'ori, and Roy fighting bad guys in a way that didn't nicely mesh with superhero ethics, as this series first seemed to promise.  However, we're now embroiled in a battle between the League of Assassins (who want Jason to lead them) and the Untitled and I can't say that I care.  Moreover, Tynion reverses track on a number of plot points, with Essence suddenly becoming an ally because it suited the story for her to exposit Hugo Strange's betrayal and the Untitled announcing that the bounty that they placed on the team's head was a ruse so that they could...actually, I'm not really sure what it was supposed to do.  I think that I have one more issue left in the stack, but, unless it's phenomenal, I think I'm finally dropping this title.  Sorry, Jason.  You deserved better.

Nightwing #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dick's move to Chicago has really injected some energy into this series.  Although I'm still skeptical about the decision to resurrect Tony Zucco, Higgins does a good job here of showing that Zucco is, in a way, little more than a MacGuffin.

As Dick's narration implies at the end of this issue, the real point of the decision to bring back Zucco is to show the moral dilemma that Dick faces as he breaks all sorts of rules in his quest for justice.  His moral quandary deepens when he discovers that Zucco has reinvented himself -- possibly legitimately -- as a family man.  Does he go after a guy who possibly turned around his life?  Then again, maybe everything isn't exactly what it seems.  Higgins starts to fill in details of Zucco's missing years, but enough questions remain -- like why the Mayor of Chicago would hire his brother's former cell mate as his driver -- to keep it interesting.  Although I think it might have been possible to pull off a story exploring the same themes without resurrecting Zucco, Higgins does make a good case for the fact that few others besides Zucco could motivate Dick to break the rules that he does.

Moreover, we get some more insight into why Chicago doesn't have any "capes" -- namely, because someone murdered all of them.  To me, the most brilliant part of that revelation is that it turns one of the more essential aspects of comics reading -- the willful suspension of disbelief that costumed heroes could so often escape perilous situations with their lives -- on its head.  I've got to give Higgins some serious props for that.  Overall, it's actually just nice to see this title finally humming along smoothly.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Batman/Superman #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The first time I read this issue, I thought to myself, "O-kay, I'm going to have to read it again before I even try to say something coherent about it."  I mean that in the best possible way.  This issue is a trip from start to finish and I can honestly say that I haven't been more excited about a new title in a while.

From a plot perspective, Pak uses a somewhat dreamy narrative structure, making it unclear (in a good way) what we're actually witnessing at times.  The first few pages depict the meeting of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent in a Gotham park.  At first I thought that we were dealing with an alternative universe, given the revelation that the Kents died in a car accident.  However, a trip to Wikipedia revealed that this change came with the DCnU.  However, the entire sequence has an Earth-One vibe, so I'm still not entirely clear if we're supposed to believe that this moment is the first time that Bruce and Clark met in the DCnU.  Before we can get some context clues to help us ascertain that, though, Bruce and Clark are transported somewhere else, with a possessed Clark encountering an older Bruce.  Pak deepens this mystery by making it clear that the older Bruce had been warned by an older Clark to be "prepared," though it's unclear what they were doing that led them to this place or why Clark knew that they had to be "prepared."  (It seems clear that next issue will depict the younger Bruce confronting an older Clark.)  Why the mysterious figure who possessed Catwoman and now possesses younger Clark decided to transport Bruce and Clark (and their older counterparts) to this place remains to be seen and I expect that we're not going to get that answer next issue.

In terms of the art, Lee and and Oliver help contributed to the dream-like atmosphere that characterizes this issue.  I've never been a fan of Lee, but, OMFG, his Bruce and Clark are beautiful.  Bruce in particular shines here, almost literally, as he sits in his army uniform watching the children fight, his blue eyes smoldering.  With limited background imagery, Lee manages to convey how nightmarish Gotham is, where even its park structures seem to evoke the worst of humanity's imagination.  Lee also accomplished the impossible when he managed to make me feel emotions over Bruce's parents' death, something that I long thought impossible given how overused it is.  Something about a young Bruce cuddling against his father one last time, after Pak explained how comforting Bruce had found his father's presence when he read him bedtime stories as a child, made me feel Bruce's pain at their loss to an extent that I possibly never have.  It made you actually feel the pain of that young boy and not just the refracted pain of an adult Bruce reminiscing about that terrible night, as is often the case.  Not only is conveying this pain so clearly a remarkable artistic feat in and of itself, but it also shows how Pak and Lee are working in concert here, with Lee really drawing out the emotions that Pak is expressing.  Given how distinct Lee's artwork is, I also have to say that Oliver does an excellent job picking up the baton almost seamlessly from him.

Needless to say, after reading this review, it should be clear that I feel like we really witnessed something special with this issue.  I feel the need to read it again, because I gathered so much after the second reading.  This book feels the way that I wanted "Justice League" to feel, injecting an excitement over seeing two iconic characters interact for the first time that the DCnU promised by seriously failed to deliver.  If Pak manages to save the DCnU concept a bit, as he seems poised to do here, DC owes him big time.

Guardians of the Galaxy #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Huh.  OK, it's not that I didn't like this issue.  It's not quite as fun and witty as the first few issues of the series, but it definitely has its moments.  (I particularly liked Peter telling Gamora that the squad of Spartax elite guards that they faced was her birthday present.)  But, I feel like Bendis is writing a story that might just be a little too complicated for him to pull off successfully.  He's not really the sort of writer who does well juggling shadowy actors and subtle intrigue.  He's much better at more direct stories (although still capable of some emotional nuances, as we've seen in "All-New X-Men").  But, he's for some reason decided to veer a little to the Morrison side and make this opening arc all about the mysterious intentions of Peter's father, J'Son.

We were more or less initially led to believe that J'Son had orchestrated the pact with the other members of the galactic council to leave Earth alone in order to make a move on it himself.  We've since learned that the Badoon were the ones that made such a move, although it's clear that his focus on protecting Earth isn't entirely benign.  J'Son gets all snippy during a council meeting, but even the other members wonder what game he's playing.  The problem is that I'm not sure that the answer is all that interesting.  For a while, Bendis led us to believe that he might be acting simply to maneuver his son into returning to the fold and taking his place by his side ("to rule the galaxy as father and son!"), but it seems pretty clear that he's dropped that gambit.  (Or, his plan for doing so involves provoking his son to overthrow him in a coup, which seems a little...extreme when it comes to planning for a generational shift.)  As such, he just sort of seems like a villain.  Sure, we're not sure what his motivations are, but they pretty clearly involve him gaining more power.  It doesn't really seem any more interesting than that.  I mean, we still don't know what he'd want to do with that power, but, again, I'm not sure that that answer is all that interesting.  Conqueror Earth?  Conqueror the galaxy?  Meh.   Plus, still villain stuff.  It just seems unlikely that he's got more complicated motivations.

As such, I'm hoping that Bendis spends less time on this sort of plot and more time on the reasons why most of us are reading this title, namely the witty repartee and action sequences.  This title is the equivalent of a summer action-movie and, although I want Bendis to give us strong plots that make it into more of a "Dark Knight" than a "Batman and Robin," I also want him to remember that it's not Shakespeare in the Park.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Batman #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I’ll admit that I’m not exactly excited about this storyline.  After the “Night of the Owls” saga and then the “Death of the Family” business, I just feel like Snyder has been more focused on leaving his mark on Bruce’s new past (the irony of that phrase speaks for itself) than he is about telling the types of stories that he did during his run on “Detective Comics.”  As I’ve said in other reviews, I’m enjoying Layman’s “Detective Comics” because he’s successfully integrated the world-building with the story-telling.  Snyder is instead emulating Grant Morrison's obsession with clues, hints, and misdirections to the exclusion of almost everything else (most notably, a clearly defined plot).  (The Riddler sequence at the end of this issue seemed particularly Morrisonesque, encouraging us to pour over the scene so that we can be amazed, 50 issues from now, when one of the phrases scribbled on one of the cards is used.)  After 20 issues or so of Snyder "cleverly" embedding himself into Bruce's past, it’s gotten old, just as it did when Morrison did it.  Anyway, I say all that by way of stressing that this year-long “Year Zero” arc feels like old wine in new bottles to me.  After how badly DC fumbled the Bat-family's origin stories int he zero issues, color me concerned about an entire year of such shenanigans.  But, we'll see how it goes.

To begin, Snyder starts us in the past, six years ago, to be exact.  Gotham City is unrecognizable, an abandoned city overgrown with flora and bursting with fauna, and we’re led to believe that it’s the work of the Red Hood.  Snyder then moves us backwards in time again, five months earlier, where the story that he’s going to tell begins.  I’ll say that I had a little trouble seeing the (amazing) scenes of a devastated Gotham that Capullo delivers here and believing that Gotham City could ever recover from that destruction by the time we get to "Justice League" #1, five years later.  But, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and see where we go.

The rest of the story is fairly uneventful, to be honest.  We see Bruce six weeks after he’s returned from the dead, trying to convince Alfred that he wants Bruce Wayne to stay dead.  However, his uncle has other plans for him, namely to become the figurehead behind Wayne Enterprises, but Bruce is adamant that he’s not interested.  Along the way, Snyder and Capullo introduce some themes and imagery that will clearly be explored for the rest of this arc:

-- First, obviously, we have the almost total destruction of Gotham City and how the Red Hood (assuming that it’s him) manages to do it.

-- We have the ballcap that Bruce (and later a younger Bruce and his father) wears sporting an R that closely that resembles the Robin insignia.

-- I think (though, don’t quote me, because I’m not really all that well steeped in Batman lore) that the idea that Bruce had no intention of resurrecting Bruce Wayne after he returned to Gotham is new.

-- We’re teased by Alfred’s mysterious question about why Bruce is doing what he was doing, a question that’s only mysterious because Alfred insists that he was referring to something other than Bruce being motivated by his parents’ death.  However, we never get to hear his explanation of the question that he was really asking, because “Uncle Phil” appears at the front door.

-- Speaking of good ol’ Uncle Phil, I also think that his presence in Bruce’s life is new.  Martha may have had a brother, but I certainly don’t remember ever hearing about him.  That said, Snyder has clearly introduced him as an enigma (no pun intended, given that the Riddler is working for him), using him to represent an unknown threat lurking in the shadows.  Uncle Phil making the “heh” noise seemed particularly nefarious at first, implying that he’s the Red Hood, given the number of times that we’ve seen him utter that word.  But, then, Bruce’s father does it, making it less clear if he is a threat of if everyone in Gotham is just big on half-laughs.  That said, Phil’s comments to a pre-Riddler Edward Nigma at the end, about the Red Hood gang being hellbent on stealing from Wayne Enterprises, implies that he’s not the Red Hood.  (That said, Snyder definitely doesn’t close that door, given that Batman lore is full of people acting in one persona without that other knowing it.)

-- Finally, we’re given the origin (of a sorts) of the giant penny, though I’m still not sure what it has to do with the rebirth of Wayne Enterprises.

All in all, it’s an OK start.  It’s slow and I think that you’d probably be best served re-reading “Batman” #0 before this issue, because you’d at least get a burst of action (which concludes in the first pages of the flashback).  Otherwise, this issue is a lot of set-building, with long narrative sequences that take a while to read.  But, again, I’m willing to give Snyder a chance and see where he goes with it.  (If nothing else, we at least get to see a young Bruce who isn’t exactly hard on the eyes.)  I just really hope that he draws within the lines.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Batgirl #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Simone does a lot with this issue.  It feels a little jumbled in parts, but, on the whole, it's a solid story that shows how Barbara's world is deteriorating quickly around her.

Before I begin, I will say that Simone almost seems to be setting up Barbara to resume her role as Oracle here, laying the foundations for her to hang up the mantle of the Bat as a result of killing James.  (If you're reading any of the other Bat-books, you'd know that we have so many potential candidates to fill her shoes that JT from X's blog has dubbed them "Batgirl, Inc.")  I don't think that Simone is actually going to take that step (if she does, it's likely only to be temporary, given how significant the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is), but she hints at it enough here to keep you intrigued by the possibility.  The most obvious hint comes with Barbara remembering how good she is at computers as she hacks into the GCPD database.  Again, I don't think that Simone is rushing into anything, but I'm intrigued to see how far Simone takes this crisis of confidence.

Turning to the plot at hand, Babs starts this issue in a bad place, reeling from seemingly killing her brother last issuewhile still trying to find the new Ventriloquist and her hostage.  Simone uses Dick deftly here to show how distraught Barbara is, but I almost wonder if it would've been better to wait an issue before bringing him into play.  It not only distracts us from the main conflict of the issue, Barbara's pursuit of the Ventroliquist, but it also means that Barbara's explaining her mental state for the first time to Dick and not the reader.  It might've been better for him to call after her fight with the Ventriloquist and given us some time to get a sense of where she was in her own head.  (Moreover, it makes you wonder why Barbara is taking the time to chat with Dick with she still has a starlet in the custody of a lunatic out there.)

But, when Simone turns Batgirl's attention full force to the hunt for the Ventriloquist, she really shines, showing Barbara struggling to cope with the increasingly high levels of violence that surround her while still staying on top of her game.  We're left wondering how exactly the Ventriloquist does what she does, since she actually seems to animate the dummy (as opposed to her predecessor), but Simone wisely doesn't make her into more of a threat to Barbara than she merits.  In fact, after seeing Barbara struggle to put down villains earlier in this series, such as Mirror and Gretl, it was satisfying to see her so easily dismiss the Ventriloquist when given the chance (even if it felt a little rushed).

Finally, I can't say that I'm totally buying this budding romance with Ricky, but I'm willing to see where it goes.  In general, Simone leaves you wonder where everything is going, something that I continue to enjoy about this series month after month.

Avengers Assemble #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is OK.  It's not great, since DeConnick has to engage in a lot of exposition, not just to bring up the folks who don't read "Captain Marvel" to speed, but also to explain where Yon-Rogg has been for the last 35 years or so and why he suddenly appeared now.  But, DeConnick does the needfull as painlessly as she can and does a great job of setting the stage for the rest of the cross-over event.

Even though the reveal that Yon-Rogg was discorporated as a result of the explosion of the Psyche-Mangetron is somewhat clich├ęd, it makes sense in terms of the original story and why he only now appeared in the present era.  Moreover, it isn't just that he was discorporated; DeConnick reveals that Yon-Rogg has in fact, become one with the Psyche-Magnetron.  It's this revelation that really drives the story, since it explains why Yong-Rogg was so desperate to get his hands on the last shard of the machine (which Carol had kept).  Now fully charged, Yon-Rogg is a seriously formidable enemy, something he already appeared to be, given how effectively he's been disrupting Carol's life.  Recent cross-over events rarely seem to involve a villain who truly requires various superheroes to band together to defeat him, but DeConnick makes it clear why Carol would need the Avengers help to defeat Yon-Rogg (now re-named Magnitron).

The only real downside to this issue is, oddly for DeConnick, the weak characterization, with everyone pretty much just serving as a basic copy of their usual selves.  Moreover, the cast is so large at this point that DeConnick is forced to ignore Black Widow and the Hulk almost entirely.  However, I'm guess that it's a rare misstep, given how well DeConnick usually does in juggling a large cast and giving everyone a distinct voice.  Hopefully, with the stage set, she'll be able to turn on her usual charm.  If she does, that, combined with the intriguing conflict that she lays out this issue, would make this cross-over event the first one in a long time that didn't disappoint me.

We're Back!

Hello, blog, it's been a while.  I just moved (again) and it's been a challenge just to get my hands on comics, let alone find the time to read them.  I've got a backlog of 50 issues or so, so it's probably going to take a while to get current.  (But, of course, the name of the blog is "Untimely Comics," so you really shouldn't be expecting up-to-the-minute reviews here.)  The good news is that all my stuff is currently on a boat crossing the ocean and since, obviously, I brought said 50 issues or so in my carry-on luggage, I've got not much else to do other than read comics and write posts. So, here we go!  I'm aiming for three a day, so hopefully we'll be current before too long.