Sunday, September 29, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue could be the first one that I haven't loved of this series (or "All-New X-Men").  It's a decent issue, but I'm not sure what to do with Bendis' portrayal of Dazzler here.  She seems completely oblivious to the chaos that she brings with her to the Medina household.  Was she really surprised that Pablo's father pulled a gun on her, after her repeatedly asked her to leave his house and she completely ignored him and continued delivering her canned speech to Pablo?  Did she really have to completely destroy the Medina's house, rather than simply trying to talk down Pablo's father or deflect the bullet using her powers?  It all seemed very rookie for a character who debuted in 1980.  Moreover, I'm disappointed that, even with the odd characterization that she had in this issue, she's replaced by Mystique so quickly.  It's almost like Marvel has a thing against her, since she's either assigned to the unseen "Street Team" during the Utopia days or leading a team in a series ("X-Treme X-Men") that Marvel never really publicized.  All that said, I did enjoy her interaction with Scott, particularly when she asked where Charles was.  After all, she's right:  he is the Sirhan Sirhan of mutants.  He may not think that he is...but he is.  It would've nice to have seen more of this Dazzler throughout the issue than the one we got.  Of course, it doesn't really matter, since Mystique is presumably going to stuff her into a cell somewhere and we won't see her again for another five years.  [Sigh.]

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So, one of the reasons that I felt like the "Age of Ultron" was a colossal waste of time was the fact that the only thing that seemed to come of it was the arrival of this Angela character to the Marvel Universe, which meant nothing to me.  However, I'm glad to see that I may have been wrong.

The revelation that "Infinity" has, at least in part, to do with the fact that Thanos feels that Earth must be punished for breaking reality totally works for me.  Bendis does a great job bringing us on Peter's journey to the truth.  It makes sense that he'd seek out Mantis, but it makes even more sense that he'd inevitably find himself facing down Thanos.  That said, Bendis still makes it a surprise when the moment comes on the last page, even though it's pretty clear that it can't be anyone else.  (Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't note the image of Rich Ryder in Peter's thoughts.  Given that Pete and Thanos are in the here and now, I'm really just sitting on my hands at this point waiting for Rich's return.)

Bendis also remembers that it's still a team book.  The scenes with Gamora, Rocket, and Tony are great, not only for the comic relief but also in giving us the first sign of Angela in action.  All in all, it's a particularly strong issue and gives you the sense that Bendis is only really getting to the good stuff.

Captain Marvel #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.  As Sana said, I did not see that coming.

First, the idea that the Magnitron was using the Kree Sentries to amplify the power of the piece of the Psyche-Magnitron lodged in Carol's brain was brilliant.  The fact that the Magnitron was doing so to create "New Kree-Lar" on top of New York City, punishing Carol by wiping out her city with the city that she robbed him from seeing for all these years, was even more brilliant.  It shows how carefully constructed this event was, given how tight the emotional motivations and the technical descriptions were.  I can't remember another cross-over event that left nary a loose end and resulted in the main character in a completely different (though still unrevealed) place.  Bravo, Kelly DeConnick.  Seriously, this event should be taught in comic-book school as how you construct a multi-part story.

Now, let's talk about Carol.  First, DeConnick reminds us how she's an absolute, flat-out hero.  She realizes that Thor won't be able to use Cap's shield to interrupt the Sentries' amplifying signal in time and sacrifices herself to disrupt the Magnitron's power source.  It's a powerful moment and the Avengers' reactions to her sacrifice show how well respected  and well loved she is.  Presumably, the part of the Magnitron that was in her brain is now gone, but it's unclear what sort of damage that its destruction has done to Carol.  I don't see how you read this issue and not be waiting impatiently for issue #15 to see where we go from here.

Now, can I make a request?  Can we get a super-star artist on this book, stat?  We have some moments in this issue where the story that DeConnick is telling is undermined by the art, like the scene where Carol is fending off a Sentry so her friends can get to safety, but looks so nonchalant about it that she might as well be drinking a venti Frappuccino while doing it.  (I'm not even discussing the scene where Cap's jaw is so big that you wonder if Jay Leno stole his costume.)  This series deserves a Ryan Stegman or a Humberto Ramos and I hope that Marvel gives it to us at some point.

Overall, though, I just continue to believe that this series is one of best plotted and scripted ones on the market today.  Excellence abounds.

(Also, honestly, after reading this issue, I absolutely don't understand how Marvel has room for an effing "Ant-Man" movie but not a "Captain Marvel" one.  Is it because it thinks that all fan-boys are sexist?  I just don't understand.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Detective Comics Annual #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Not often, but, sometimes, I know what I'm going to say about a certain issue before I've finished it.  With this issue, I was all set to complain that Layman and Eaton made it too easy to know that Jane Doe was Dr. Wilburn.  After all, the body that Batman was investigating when we met Dr. Wilburn looked remarkably like her and, once you noticed that similarity, it was easy to realize that Wilburn was the plant in the GCPD.  I mean, it wasn't too obvious, but, to a seasoned comic-book reader like myself, it was pretty clear.  I wasn't exactly going to take Layman to task for it, but I was going to note my disappointment.

Of course, I was totally and completely wrong.

Layman got me, because I didn't see the revelation that Jane was actually impersonating Harvey coming.  It was the perfect bait-and-switch and I should've trusted Layman enough to know that he wouldn't make it as obvious as I though that he had.  When the Batarang sails into Harvey's face, it took me a minute to realize just how wrong I was.

But, this issue isn't great simply because of the clever twist at the end.  It's also a much better example of integrating the Annual into the larger story that the author is telling.  Whereas Snyder gave us one page of "Zero Year" in the "Batman" Annual, this issue is all about Wrath or, more to the point, about the psychological damage that he's inflicting on the GCPD.  Once again, Layman incorporates into his story the emotional impact of events transpiring in other Bat-family stories, such as Joker's attack on GCPD HQ in "Death of the Family," Batman's fight with Clayface in "Batman, or James, Jr.'s death in "Batgirl."  Whereas Snyder never acknowledges a world outside "Batman," Layman's use of events in other series continues to make this series feel like a must-read, the only place where you get a full sense of Batman's world.

Moreover, by focusing on the traumatized GCPD, after Joker's previous attack and Wrath's ongoing attacks, Layman also lets you feel like you're really getting a sense of Gotham.  The supporting characters aren't just emotionless cardboard cut-outs, but real people pushed to the brink, as Officer Brookings is here.  Annuals are supposed to give writers the space to give us these sorts of insights and Layman uses that ability to great effect here.  It's clear that Harvey isn't shaking off the events of this issue any time soon and it makes you wonder where it's going.

Plus, Jane Doe continues to be creepy as Hell.  I know her only through her appearance in "Batman:  Streets of Gotham," but I remember thinking that she was creepy then and I think she's still creepy now.  In the hands of Layman, God only knows how creepy she can become.

All in all, it's a great issue.  It's not vital in terms of the Wrath story, so, if you don't want to spend $4.99, you can definitely skip it.  But, it's definitely more enjoyable of a read than its "Batman" counterpart.

Batman Annual #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Meh.  Snyder drags out this story way too long, with the Anchoress just continually repeating her, "This was a sanctuary!" line over and over again.  When she manages to escape the orderlies and re-engage Batman on the roof, it's pretty clear that Snyder was really just vamping for time, since this second battle doesn't break any new ground.  The only thing interesting that could come from this story is Eric Border, who Snyder seems to imply might have a future in the DCnU.  To add to my annoyance, DC pretty shamelessly advertises this issue as connected to "Zero Year," which it is for all of one of its 38 pages, simply to get you to fork over the $4.99.  My advice?  Don't.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Young Avengers #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


Ahem.  Sorry.  I didn't quite mean to shout that part.  It is, however, an accurate reflection of how I felt at the end of this issue, when Prodigy kisses Teddy.  I trust Kieron Gillen to do the right thing by Billy and Teddy, and, to that extent, I accept that they might not be together when we eventually learn what the "right thing" is for them.  But, it doesn't mean that I have to like it.

We've got a lot of stuff happening here, but trying to get a firm grasp of the plot is a bit like hugging Jell-O.  We learn that Billy may be some sort of deity on a planet inhabited by incredibly cute creatures in one Universe and that Noh-Varr is possibly destined to create a new Kree Empire that spreads across several galaxies in several other Universes.  Unfortunately, Loki implies that Billy probably shouldn't know too much about his alternate self and it's clear that the Kree Empires aren't all necessarily happy places depending on which Universe it is.  Again, trying to draw conclusions about Billy or Noh-Varr from either revelation is difficult, like reading a fortune-cookie fortune in a different language where you only understand two words:  "future" and a word that means either "despair" or "hope."  It's another sign of the long game that Gillen is playing, hinting at about dark possibly futures, but not tipping his hat to say whether the team members will meet these challenges successfully.  (We also learn that Noh-Varr fell in love with a girl on Earth at some point in the past, though which Earth is unclear.  In the meantime, lest we worry too much about him, Noh-Varr discovers country music and adorably grows a beard.)

At the same time, we're still running across the Multiverse in search of Patriot, who may or may not be working for the Mother.  Also, based on the smears on their faces, Loki, Prodigy, and Teddy possibly have some sort of disease, maybe related to Loki's comments about spore to Miss America.

Curiouser and curiouser!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue may just be the best one of this series.  Reading it, I realized that my main complaint with this series is that Aaron has always treated the students' emotions as cute, dismissing them as the sort of hormone-driven sentiments that adults find ridiculous but that teenagers find consuming.  For the first time, though, he presents those emotions as legitimate and, in fact, vital, from Quentin's willingness to sacrifice himself to save Idie to Idie's realization that she wants to find love before she dies, in effect deciding that she doesn't want to be consumed by hate.  When you add to those moments Toad refusing to fight Paige as she tries to kill him and Kade acting like a teenager for the first time, you get the most emotionally honest issue of this series.  I look forward to the teachers finally finding Idie and Quentin and realizing how different they are after this experience.  If they can acknowledge that -- and treat them better than they have so far -- the School might just be redeemed as something other than a factory churning out emotionally damaged and neglected children.

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

Although retitled, Yost essentially continues the story that he was telling in “Avenging Spider-Man,” of Otto increasingly isolating himself from the superhero community (a rather wry take on “team-up,” to be honest).  Here, Otto somewhat mends fences with the Avengers, despite pretty much admitting to Cap that he didn’t care whether or not he killed Hyperion in trying to eliminate the Carrion Virus from his body.  Interestingly, I noticed that Otto has really stopped trying to "sound" like Spider-Man.  In the early issues of this series (most notably, "Superior Spider-Man" #6 AU), Otto put some effort into sounding like Peter did when he was Spider-Man, chatty and quippy.  He's abandoned that entirely now, probably the reason that people like the Kingpin (in "Superior Spider-Man" #14) are putting two and two together and realizing that they're dealing with a different Spider-Man.  It's just one more reflection of how Otto is having a harder and harder time of seeing his starting point, particularly now that he's no longer carrying around Peter's memories.  It seems to support the idea that this series is going to show us Otto continuing to be estranged from his former allies as he "teams-up" with them.

We also get a better sense of Spidey’s plans for the Sinister Six, with him seemingly deciding that he wants to form a “superior” team with them (and not the Avengers).  The problem, of course, is that the Sinister Six are unlikely to agree to form an alliance with Spidey, particularly after he’s kept them captive.  It raises the question if Otto is going to reveal his identity to them, like he did to the Spider-Slayer (before killing him).  My theory has lately been that Otto’s over-confidence will be the end of him and revealing his identity to the Sinister Six (and believing that he could control all the repercussions of that) seems to fit the bill for a potentially fatal, arrogance-induced step.  (No longer trying to sound like Spidey falls into this category as well.)  But, Yost doesn’t tip his hand on where he's going with this plot, so we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that we get a better artist on this title than Lopez, who seems to have some trouble drawing faces.  After Ramos’ stunning work this month on “Superior Spider-Man” #14, the lower quality work was definitely notable here, surprising for a #1 launch.  (Sure, it’s essentially a re-launch, but that’s never stopped Marvel from hyping an event in the past.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Superior Spider-Man #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Another issue, another status quo change.

Thanks to yet another great example of the intro page spoiling a plot twist before it actually happens (pet peeve #1), we learn that Spidey uses his blackmail of JJJ, Jr. to include retroactive sanction for his crime-fighting activities.  Under normal circumstances, JJJ, Jr. might be able to live with that arrangement, claiming credit for Spidey capturing Morbius or killing Hobgoblin.  But, as we saw previewed at the end of last issue, Otto has turned Spider-Man into the general of his own private army, full of Arach-naught personnel-carriers and Spiderling foot-soldiers.  (Spidey’s even got an updated suit to boot, with a pretty wicked set of arms that are reminiscent of Otto’s.)  Spidey takes down Shadowland in this issue and, although Spidey manages not to harm any civilians in the process, JJJ, Jr. clearly sees what Otto’s arrogance blinds him from seeing:  one day, it’s not going to go according to plan and civilians are going to get hurt.

Although the Spider army is cool, I have to say that this issue didn’t really feel like a Spider-Man issue.  One of the problems of Slott pushing Spidey further and further into advanced crime-fighting is that we’re losing the things that make Spidey who he is.  When was the last time that we saw Otto try to juggle his personal life and his vigilante activities?  Where is Peter trying to hustle for money for Web-Fluid?  Even though Peter got over some of his money problems by working at Horizon Labs, he never could’ve afforded what Otto does here.  In fact, it’s unclear how Otto affords what he does here.  Is he really spending his personal fortune on fighting crime?  Moreover, speaking of Horizon, it’s pretty clear, if we ever return to focus on Pete’s personal life, that Max Modell is going to have to fire him, since Otto has ignored his warning not to use Horizon Labs as a weapons-building workshop.  Even if Otto built the Arach-naughts off-site, Peter’s obvious connection to Spider-Man is going to make it hard for Max to buy that.

In other words, this series suddenly became “Iron Man,” all about gizmos and toys and not really about the man.  In fact, the only insight into Spider-Man that we get this issue is when the Kingpin himself figures out that he’s not dealing with the same Spider-Man.  It makes you wonder how Carlie’s investigation is going.  (I’d mention MJ, but, honestly, I can’t remember how we last left her.  Is she still waiting for Peter to save her from the Vulture at her club?)  Slott needs to still include aspects of Spider-Man's previous reality if this series is going to feel like a Spider-Man story.  The return of the Green Goblin is a start, but it has to be Norman Osborn (if it is Norman Osborn) realizing that Spidey isn’t Spidey.  It has to be Norman wanting to fight his old enemy, not an interloper, and helping to bring back Peter Parker.  Otherwise, it’s just going to be more explosions with a different antagonist, and I can get that in any number of series that I'm reading right now.

(Along these lines, I'm in the process of reading old "Amazing Spider-Man" issues and I just re-read issue #200.  To review, Peter thinks that Aunt May is dead at the hands of Uncle Ben's killer and, despite losing his powers temporarily due to Mysterio, stalks the killer.  It's a fascinating issue, in part because Peter is totally and completely unhinged.  He unmasks himself to the burglar and then proceeds to scare him to death, something that he questionably claims isn't his fault.  To Peter, the burglar only died because he truly believed that Spider-Man would kill him, a reflection of his own murderous tendencies and not of Peter's relentless stalking.  I think it stands to reason that the burglar would think that Spidey would kill him, since he had just revealed his identity to him.  But, Peter's take on the situation is a reminder of how Peter hasn't always been the virtuous paragon of good that Slott and others have portrayed him as being; see, for example, issue #700, where Peter decides that he would have to give up being Spider-Man if he survived pushing Otto out a window, since he would've killed Otto.  I have to wonder if we needed to have Otto take over Spider-Man for Peter if Slott would've remembered that Pete was capable of some self-delusional morally ambiguous behavior.  Moreover, the issue was replete with familiar hallmarks of the Spider-Man mythos:  Aunt May, Aunt Anna, Spider-Man losing his powers, Uncle Ben.  It reminded me just how devoid of a connection to his past we are now, something that backed up the conclusions that I drew in this review, which I wrote before I read issue #200.  I'm not saying that we need to be having tea with Aunt Anna every issue, but, again, this series needs something familiar if it's going to keep feeling like a Spider-Man story.)

Scarlet Spider #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For an arc that started with such promise, I have to say that I’m a little disappointed here.  I sort of vaguely remember Candra from her "Gambit" appearance, so I was all for the grudge fight between her and Wolverine.  But, I never really understood why Belladonna, a businesswoman at her core, suddenly decided that the Assassins Guild was a religious cult dedicated to Candra's glory.  Yost should’ve given us some sort of background on why Belladonna was so obsessed with Candra since, without it, it just felt weird (or, more to the point, overly convenient, from a plot perspective).

Speaking of background, I don’t really remember the Kingpin owing Kaine a favor, but I’ll make sure to check my back issues to see.  Although it was a clever move for Kaine to pull in the Kingpin as a back-up plan, in case he and Wolverine didn't succeed in stopping Belladonna, it still felt anticlimactic.  Given that we’re dealing with a team-up story with Wolverine, I was looking for a great fight sequence, not a surprise corporate merger, to end the arc.  It just seems like it could’ve ended in a better way than it did.  (I did, however, enjoy Kaine consistently referring to Candra as a “half-naked zombie lady.”)

Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So, the League of Assassins is working with the All-Caste and the Outlaws are working with the Untitled?  And, somehow, an amnesiac Jason is in the middle?  Man, I’m glad I’m dropping this series.

Monday, September 16, 2013

2099 Unlimited #9: "Night of the Impaler"/"The Secrets of Spider-Man 2099"/"Steel Rain"/"The Dump"

** (two of five stars)


Public Eye officers burst into Miguel's laboratory, demanding that he come with them.  With co-workers watching with a mixture of suspicion and sympathy, Miguel is marched down the hallway, wondering who discovered his secret identity.  He's then presented to Stone, who reveals the reason why he had Miguel arrested:  some "reliable information" indicated that an aggressive corporate head-hunter firm was coming to poach him.  Although Stone claims that he knows that Miguel is loyal to Alchemax, he declares that he's not taking any chances.  Miguel asks why someone would try to steal him from Alchemax and Tyler informs him that he simply knows that some intercepted intelligence said that they were after an O'Hara.  The Public Eye officers then take Miguel to his home where he'll be under house arrest.  However, they're attacked en route by the head hunter, Vlad the Impaler, who destroys the flybike that one of the escorting Public Eye officers was using.  Unwisely, the other officer (the one carrying Miguel) fires on Vlad in revenge for the loss of his partner, but Vlad disarms him and grabs Miguel.  However, upon scanning Miguel, Vlad realizes that he's not after him.  Vlad hurls Miguel from him and Miguel breaks his bonds in free fall so that he can shoot off a Web-Line and stop his fall.  Miguel is then collected by the remaining Public Eye officer, who brings him home, where a message from Tyler confirms Miguel's hunch that Vlad is actually after his brother, Gable.  Tyler informs Miguel to stay home and not do anything "foolish" to try to warn Gabe.  In reality, Miguel's options to do so are limited, since other Public Eye officers are on the scene (and rummaging through his apartment).  When one of them finds his Spider-Man costume, Miguel convinces him that it's a Day of the Dead costume and then sends him and the other officers to the kitchen for food.  He then has Lyla release a tryptophan gas in the apartment so that he can escape while they sleep.  (He exposits that the tryptophan function came with the apartment as an anti-insomnia device.)  Instructing Lyla to tell them that he's in his lab when they awaken, Miguel heads downtown.

His thoughts exposits that head hunters track down talent for a client, kidnap talent and sell them to the highest bidder, or hold them for ransom.  Since they're often "rough customers," Miguel is worried about Gabe, who he discovers just as he's being attacked by three thugs.  Miguel makes short work of them, only to discover that they're not head hunters but Fenris gang-members.  Miguel instructs Gabe to stay put while he collects Gabe's stuff from the Thorite camp where he's been saying, since he figures Vlad has probably staked out the place.  At the camp, Vlad finds his target, a young boy whose parents are preparing him for a scholarship interview so that he can go to school uptown at Alchemax.  Miguel saves the boy's father from Vlad's attack and then chases Vlad into the sky, using his Web-Lines to grab him.  But, Vlad uses his spears to cut himself free, sending Miguel plummeting to a nearby rooftop.  Vlad doesn't recognize Spidey, mistaking him for a rival head-hunter, and plans on killing him.  The young boy, who's hanging from a tower by his cape, feels badly that Spider-Man could die for trying to save him and hurls his helmet at Vlad, ruining his aim as he hurls his spears at Spidey.  Vlad grabs Spidey and attempts to use his tentacle ribs something to him, but Spidey uses one of the spears that Vlad shot at him to fry his circuits.  He then fills Vlad's "ROM drive" with Web-Fluid, sending him careening uncontrollably into the sky.  Meanwhile, the boy's cape snaps and Miguel catches him while he falls.  Telling Spidey that he's "Gedde O'Hara," Miguel realizes that he's the "G. O'Hara" that Tyler said was Vlad's target.  Miguel returns home to discover that Lyla has won the officers' clothing in a rousing game of strip "Go Fish."

In an indy city-state called Hollowpoint (an artificially created "shunt" island in the "intercorporate waters adjacent to the Alchemax seaborder"), a spy named Dawn contemplates dying if she gets caught.  She's there because Hollowpoint is developing a new "combatech and c-space raiding gear" and Alchemax wants her to steal it so that Hollowpoint doesn't get an edge.  However, she's really there because she's a wet engineer working in secret and hoping no one will steal her advances in "liquid machinery."  She exposits that, 20 minutes earlier, a cop tried to arrest her for crimes against the state.  He decided that she was resisting arrest, but, before he could kill her, she manages to grab his gun and shoot him in the face, since his "hardbonded bodysuit" is proofed against his own gun, but doesn't cover his face.  She races home, where she called her boss, who informs her that he's been demoted and someone named Payne Northedge has taken his place.  Her boss breaks into Payne's secret codes to help her escape from Hollowpoint, but discovers that Payne signaled to Hollowpoint that she was there.  Her boss tells her that someone is coming and then the line goes dead.  In the present, Dawn exposits that she's been building a wetsuit, "Steel Rain," which replaces the wearer's blood with the suit itself.  Calling it the terror of Stark/Fujikawa for its military and police applications, she decides to activate it on herself, since she had sunk exchange ports into herself for small tests.  She begins the transfer, which will give her an armor with four basic settings, and marvels at how cold she feels.  Hollowpoint guards attempt to break into her building, but she sets it on fire.  The guards fire on her, but she's proofed her armor against their repulsor beams, since Stark/Fujikawa has been using them for a century.  She uses her spitgun to kill one of the guards with "globules of wetmetal" and then her chaingun to disrupt the atomic bonding of things around her, killing the rest of the guards in the ensuing explosions.  She then takes to the air to return to New York and find Payne, seeking revenge for him making her leave her blood and innocence in Hollowpoint.

En route to New York, two Alchemax "Edgerunner" border-patrol jets identify her as a foreign body.  Before they catch her, she enters a stealth mode and drops off their screens.  Dawn enters a dive and lands on a rooftop in New York.  Finding some clothes, she discovers that Northedge has wiped his logs and her boss has gone missing.  Noting that he never knew her, Dawn decides to show him "what he sold [her] for -- Steel Rain."  She tracks down Northedge's address, a junk yard located in the middle of a clique of Freakers who act as his bodyguards.  Apparently also on site are the Priory of Iron, a "paramilitary sect of combat surgeon-engineers and metal fetishists."  Dawn runs a program to hide her presence, since she doesn't want to hurt anyone other than Payne; however, she trips an alarm that she didn't expect them to have.  She discovers her dead boss tied to a burning car just as she's attacked by the guys responding to the alarm, enabling her clash mode to repel them.  She uses her chaingun, but it's not enough to kill everyone.  She switches into her riot mode as the Priory is firing depleted uranium-shells at her, which her onboard computer tells her that she can't survive.  She's then attacked by the leader of the group, Saint Carcrash, who notices that she doesn't have any guns in riot mode.  He attacks her with his Wolverine-esque "adamantium lanxide blades," cutting into the wetsuit.  Carcrash gets the upper-hand, telling her that his "hide" is laced with flakes of an adamantium derivative.  However, Dawn deploys her "blue beams," which she notes were used by labs to cut adamantium derivatives in the first place.  Carcrash -- completely dismembered -- calls for help, but Dawn leaves him, discovering a Shudderbox, which exists outside time.  Dawn somehow enters the room, knowing that Payne is there by reading his "Kirlian aura."  Payne opens fire on her, telling her that it was all just pure business:  Hollowpoint offered him money and, since he opines that her life wasn't "real important," he sold her.  Dawn then uses her microwave ability to burn him.  As the junkyard burns behind her, she notes that, now that she quit, she's going to sleep in late in the future.  

The Review

Meh.  As I note in "The Bad," I've been really disappointed in the writing in these "2099 Unlimited" issues.  The Spidey story is completely forgettable and Ellis spends so much time in the "Steel Rain" story focused on finding new and innovative ways to use futuristic terminology that he forgets to tell a good story.  At its best, this series has the potential to give birth to dynamic new characters for the 2099 world, like Hulk 2099 (even though the scripts on those stories left something to be desired).  At its worst, we get the author using the opportunity to write a futuristic story to deliver a never-ending stream of techno-babble that gets in the way of enjoying said new character.  This issue is full of the latter, unfortunately.

(To be honest, the story that most stuck with me is Rick Parker's five-page cartoon at the end, where two guys discover a stash of comic books that they decide to burn for fuel.  One of them takes a couple of the issues to learn how to read and we later see him totally engrossed in them.  It's actually a somewhat sad and sentimental rumination of the emphemeral nature of possessions but also the power of comic books to capture the imagination.  You can imagine him carrying around those comics, the only ones that he'll get.  It makes me appreciate my 5,000+ collection more and understand why I'm so attached to it.  Too bad that this story is stuck at the end of a bad issue.)

The Good

1) I wasn't a huge fan of the Spidey story, since it's a pretty basic story.  But, I thought it was interesting that Tyler arrested Miguel to prevent him from getting obtained by another company.  It totally feels like something that Tyler would do but also something that would be a completely acceptable practice in the 2099 world.

2) One of the interesting things I find, in general, about the 2099 line is how well the authors do in predicting technology that would later be commonplace.  OK, sure, we see a computer with a floppy-disc drive in the "Steel Rain" story, but she also mentions "monatomic" computer chains, which essentially presages nanotechnology.

The Bad

1) I continue to be disappointed in the writing in "2099 Unlimited."  Of the four issues that I've already read, I only gave one three stars, with the others getting two.  Looking over those reviews, I'm generally cool with the plots of the stories, but the scripts really leave a lot to be desired.  Collins does a decent job in the Spider-Man story in this issue, but the dialogue and monologue in the "Steel Rain" story were clunky at best.  In retrospect, I remember thinking this way about a lot of the "Unlimited" titles from the '90s.  I always wanted them to be showplaces for new talent, but it seems like the "new" part of that equation meant that the authors were still too green to deliver on the promise that these issues held.  (Interesting enough, Warren Ellis wrote the "Steel Rain" story, so I can't blame it entirely on a novice problem.  But, I've actually always had problems with Ellis' dialogue, so it sort of makes sense.)

2) Why exactly were the Public Eye officers rummaging through Miguel's apartment?  OK, Lyla posits that they're bored, but Miguel is still Alchemax royalty.  He hasn't done anything wrong, as Tyler admits, so it's not like they've got broad license to treat him as a threat.

3) I'm not sure why Payne sold out Dawn.  She says that she's there to steal "combatech and c-space raiding gear," but later she notes that Payne sold her for "Steel Rain."  It actually makes sense that the combatech is Steel Rain, except for the fact that Dawn initially said that she was doing her real work in secret, making it seem like they're two separate things.

4) I also have no idea how Dawn gets into the Shudderbox.  She mentions that blue beams are actually "focused tachyon-guns" and that tachyons "travel backwards in time three seconds after their release."  Therefore, I think she somehow used the tachyons in the blue beams to enter the Shudderbox, which she describes as a room "that for every other second is two seconds ago."  However, it's really, really unclear.  By this point in the story, I was used to a certain level of techno-babble, so I just sort of went with it.  But, it would've been nice to have been able to focus on the final confrontation without being distracted by, "Wait, what about the tachyons?"

New Avengers #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As I think I’ve mentioned previously, I’m pretty sure that Jonathan Hickman’s writing style is to write a script and then delete 25 percent of the words.  This issue continues his pattern of never having the characters discuss something directly.  We have no idea what Black Bolt said to make Medusa so angry nor do we know about whom Reed and Tony are speaking when they return from their trip (wherever it is that they went).  It’s left unclear how Namor could benefit from a partnership with Black Swan and we don’t really know who actually leads the invasion that we see at the end of the issue.  In other words, I continue to have no idea what’s actually happening in this series.  I realized in reading this issue that Hickman’s writing is the narrative equivalent of high-school friends knowing a secret but purposefully talking about it in coded language around you to make you jealous.  The good news is that I’m not in high school anymore so I don’t have to tolerate it.  Ciao, “New Avengers.”

Justice League Dark #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The problem with this issue is that Lemire is forced to remix the three existing teams into three entirely different teams, with each character taking up a different side for a specific reason.  However, with so many characters, Lemire never really gets to spell out those reasons for all the characters.  It’s not like we’re really give insight into why Atom, Element Woman, and Firestorm decide to defy Waller’s orders and follow Superman.  Moreover, for the characters whose motivations are identified, they don’t always make sense.  I kind of doubt Batman would just take the Phantom Stranger’s word that Wonder Woman approaching Pandora would make matters worse.  He acts against his teammate (and someone who knows a thing or two about the box) simply because a stranger (heh) tells him to do so?  I get that Lemire is pressed for time here, but this issue reads as little more than a fantasy-football draft.

Moreover, the plot is getting extremely difficult to follow.  The search for Dr. Light’s soul, John Constantine’s mysterious side quest with Shazam!, Superman following a newspaper clipping conveniently stating that a mind-controlling super-villain was present in Khandaq the day before he got there:  it’s all a bit much.  I'm starting to doubt that Johns and Lemire are going to be able to cover the ground that they want to cover in a six-part series.  That generally means that a lot of action is going to happen in the tie-in issues, which usually means that I'm going the ending, when it comes, is going to make little sense to those of us not collecting all the tie-in issues.  We'll see, but color me skeptical that I'm going to be happy at the end.

Captain America #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender really shakes up Steve here, with Sharon claiming that it was Zola’s manipulations that left him thinking that he had been in Dimension Z for several years.  When she tells him that it’s only been 30 minutes or so, Steve clearly doesn’t believe her.  Of course, Remender plays his cards close to his chest and so I’m not quite sure whether he wants us to believe her, either.  It's pretty unclear what the truth is going to wind up being or, really, if we're going to get one truth.  It was always unlikely that Remender was going to have Steve age 12 years, given the impact it would have on his status quo.  Given that some sort of de-aging ray would be too incredible to believe, even for this story, it seems likely that Sharon’s right.  But, that said, Ian and Jet were real people, evidenced by Sharon interacting with them.  It couldn’t have all been some sort of fever dream; Ian was a baby and grew into a child, for sure.  The answer to this question is going to have a significant impact on where we go from here so I’m anxious to see what it is.

Meanwhile, Zola exits, stage right here.  Remender tries to make Zola into an emotional, if not sympathetic, character here, sacrificing himself so that Jet could live.  The problem, though, is that I’m not quite sure that I buy that.  We are talking about the guy with so little regard for human life that he mutated his maid with a dog.  I get that it’s his daughter, but I’m still not sure that Zola is capable of love, particularly given Jet’s betrayal.  It does raise the question, though, where Remender is going to go with Jet.  She seems the only possible candidate to cross into Cap’s ongoing status quo, though I wonder if Remender will allow her that.  It seems it would be all the more devastating if Steve were to leave Dimension Z with no proof of what he experienced there, which leads me to believe that it's the most likely outcome.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Batman/Superman #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, comics got good again while I wasn’t looking!

This issue is great.  Although it takes some focus to keep the future separate from the past, it’s worth the effort.  The women really provide the framework for the story here:  Martha figures out that younger Clark’s pain comes from losing them so early, Lois gets fake-angry at older Clark for younger Clark’s clear attraction to Wonder Woman, and older Selina simply enjoys watching the Bruces fight one another.  They provide the emotion and the humor to the issue, as the men just simply bumble from moment to moment.

But, the men do eventually pull themselves together and we’re promised the battle royale with the Trickster next issue.  I’m hoping that Pak tries to explain why she did what she did, but it honestly doesn’t matter all that much.  Pak really channels the old-school “World’s Finest” stories, where the reason for Bruce and Clark getting thrown together matters much less than the fun of watching their worlds collide.  I can tell that I’m going to re-read this arc from start to finish once it ends, but I have to take off my hat to Pak for not writing for the trade, for still making it an enjoyable read, issue after issue.

X-Factor #259 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The thing is?  It makes total sense.  You knew it had to be weird, but David doesn’t confuse that with meaning that it had to be complicated.  Mephisto sent Shatterstar into the past of the Mojoverse where Arize used the fact that he was the only thing in the Mojoverse that Mojo didn’t create to clone him, giving the rebels an advantage.  Thus, he created Longshot.  Then, later, Longshot married Dazzler and they conceived Shatterstar.  The (creepy) circle is complete!

In order to keep this timeline in order, Shatterstar is forced to re-write their memories and send his newborn self into the future where he was actually raised.  In all honesty, it’s only this part that’s a little iffy, to me, since it doesn’t really address why Shatterstar would’ve been sent to the future in the first place (though does explain why Dazzler and Longshot don’t remember him).  Before Shatterstar found a pregnant Dazzler, who actually sent his newborn self into the future?  David doesn’t directly address that (and maybe if I knew more about Shatterstar's past I would know).  However, he now doesn’t really have to address it, since the time loop that Mephisto has now created makes it irrelevant.  The answer is that Shatterstar sent himself into the future, regardless of who may’ve done so in the original timeline. It's a bit of a dodge, but it still works.

Although it doesn’t address the “Benjamin Russell” problem, this issue does provide a totally internally consistent explanation of Longshot and Shatterstar’s origins, something that I really never really thought that we’d get and something that only Peter David could provide.  The story unfurls itself beautifully, with the initial confusion over why Longshot doesn’t remember Rictor getting clarified with the unexpected arrival of a “newly employed” Spiral.  At some point, I hope some author takes up Rictor and Shatterstar, particularly to address whether Shatterstar, now freed from secrecy by having his past meet his present, tells Dazzler and Longshot that he’s their son.

But, it’s a story for another day.  In the meantime, I’m going to appreciate possibly the best time-travel story that I’ve ever read.  David really never gets lost in the time-travel shenanigans and maintains the implications of the time loop throughout the story.  It makes it all the harder to accept the fact that this series is coming to an end.

(On a totally random side note, I realized suddenly that I wonder if David is going to going to reveal the plot that the Isolationist and Jezebel were hatching.  Three issues left!)

Thanos Rising #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It’s been clear throughout this series that Thanos’ “admirer” was Death, though Aaron wisely held off confirming that fact until now.  In so doing, it allowed us to think that Thanos might not be insane, to see Death through his eyes, as a woman whose favor he’s trying to court.  When the boom is lowered in this issue, with Death revealed, it helps you understand the tragedy of Thanos’ insanity.  After all, your average man wouldn’t kill entire planets just to curry the favor of one woman, no matter how much he loved her.  But, somehow, Aaron did a great job of actually making Thanos’ quest feel sane, if evil.  He really thought that he was simply trying to win the affectionate of a woman that he loved, as if slaughtering his former lovers and offspring was the same as going to buy her favorite ice-cream during a fierce rain-storm.  Now, we realize that Thanos was never sane, that he always had this capacity for murder, seen by his mother and encouraged by Death.  The fact that he thought he was sane makes him a sympathetic character, but Aaron makes clear, now that he knows where he stands, all semblance of that troubled boy is gone.  Long live Thanos.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Justice League of America #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

With the first issue of this arc establishing the questions, this issue starts the characters on the hunt for answers.  Wonder Woman approaches John Constantine and (the ridiculously named) Justice League Dark for help in tracking down Pandora to discover how her box affected Superman and the Question breaks out Superman to get to the bottom of Dr. Light’s death (and, presumably, identify the leader of the Secret Society).  It’s not really all that exciting, but I’m intrigued where Johns is going.


You know, I really want to like this series.  It’s had its moments, but, throughout this issue, I just kept feeling like I was reading a story that I've read 1,000 times already.  Teenage superhero can’t tell the girl that he likes that he’s a superhero.  Check.  Teenage superhero struggles to keep up his obligation to his family.  Check.  I know it’s unfair to compare Nova to Spider-Man, since everyone everywhere writing about a teenage superhero has to carry that baggage.  Maybe it’s because Wells is so used to writing about Spider-Man that he can’t help himself.  But, he doesn’t really seem to have his heart in trying to carve out Sam’s own experience here.  This issue just felt like a color-by-the-numbers effort and, given that Marvel is charging $3.99 for this title, I’m wondering if my money is better spent elsewhere.

Batman and Robin #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I haven’t been a huge fan of this “five stages of grief” plotline in “Batman and Robin,” mostly because it has seemed forced.  It’s resulted in weird confrontations like the one between Jason and Bruce in the first issue or Barbara and Bruce in the last one; I call them weird because they seem unlikely to have happened naturally, resulting more from Tomasi's need to match them to stage of grief that the issue is supposed to depict.

But, at least he was trying.  In this issue, he just abandons the concept entirely.  Catwoman doesn’t even mention the loss of Damian, despite the fact that she has to be aware of it.  I know that this Catwoman is a bit…colder than the DCU’s Selina Kyle, but, reading this issue, you wouldn’t know that she and Batman even remotely know one another, aside from some playful flirting on her part.  I was expecting Selina to help Bruce take his mind off Damian, but I thought it would be explicitly about taking his mind off Damian.  Instead, it's a consequence of her actions here, not the goal.

Instead, the Damian-related emotion of the issue lies with Bruce’s interaction with Carrie Kelly.  The problem with that, unfortunately, is that it seems hard to believe that someone as sharp as Carrie would be falling for the subterfuge that Bruce employs to keep her from realizing that Damian is dead.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why we’re not telling her.  Does the public at large not know?  If not, how long does Bruce really think that he can keep it quiet?  Why keep it quiet in the first place?

Carrie not seeing through Bruce’s ploy is a bit like Tim Drake no longer having discovered Bruce and Dick’s secret identities; it degrades the character, to the point where you question why they're special enough to be Robin in the first place.  Carrie is going to have to be more than just the dog-walker to justify the amount of space that Tomasi dedicates to her, but it seems unlikely that Bruce is going to make her Robin simply because she has spunk.

In other words, I’m not sure what either the Catwoman or Carrie stories have to do with “despair” or the future of this title.  Though, honestly, I think I'm done caring about the future of this title.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Avengers Assemble #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, DeConnick is telling a story here, people.  I love that we’re in the fourth installment and the threat is only just now becoming clear.  Last issue, it seemed like the Sentries were activated simply to wreck havoc, but, now, DeConnick continues to deepen the plot, showing Magnetron using them to create some sort of energy field shaped like the Hala Star, ominously centered on New York.  Plus, I thought that Magnetron getting the last piece of the Psyche-Magnitron was bad enough; I totally didn’t expect that he would start drawing in all the energy and pieces connected to it, including Carol and her powers.  Is he going to absorb Carol?  Although it seems likely the answer is that he’s going to absorb the tumor that has been plaguing her, DeConnick really keeps you guessing about the impact that his actions will ultimatley have on Carol.  If he does absorb the tumor, will she be left powerless?

Plus, DeConnick is giving us a great script in addition to a stellar plot.  You could really feel the Avengers’ apprehension and disappointment as they failed to prevent Magnetron from forming the energy field.  It didn’t feel like just another obstacle that of course they’re going to surmount; DeConnick – with the help of Buffagni, of whom I definitely want to see more – manages to do what’s so difficult to do in comics, convey a real sense that the Avengers will fail and the Northeast will be destroyed.  Add onto that the great moment in Marvel team-ups that is Hulk and Spider-Woman and you’ve got the best cross-over event that I’ve read in ages.

All-New X-Men #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

"Konnichiwa, fancy pants" is perhaps my favorite line of the month.

This issue doesn't exactly advance any plot lines, but, man, it really delivers a fun fight.  Bendis does a great job of showing the original X-Men learning how to use their powers and work as a team, but still capable of kicking some serious ass in the process.  For example, even if it didn't go exactly as planned, Kitty was right in applauding Jean for her ballsy Dark Phoenix gambit.  It shows that she's growing increasingly comfortable using her powers, even if she needs to work on her execution.  Similarly, Beast and Cyclops switching off sparring partners shows Scott getting more effective in moving the X-Men around the battlefield as a team and not just individuals.  Add in Kitty and Wolverine kicking their own share of ass and a good time is had by all.

Moreover, Bendis brings the story to a conclusion in a reasonable way.  The Avengers arrive to clean up the mess and realize that Mystique was manipulating everyone.  It's a pretty straightforward story, the type that we almost don't see anymore, obsessed as we are with lurking sub-plots and cross-over spectaculars.  Bendis is usually guilty of exactly this problem, but he doesn't overstay the story's welcome here.  Instead he delivers a great arc that establishes a foundation for the team on which he'll obviously continue to build in future issues.  They're learning their powers, trusting the older crew while still challenging them, and working as a team.  We weren't necessarily there in the first issue, but we are now.

As usual, we also have a series of great moments.  I loved Bobby throwing a snowball at Thor to see if he was real and, on a more emotional level, Alex getting a chance to develop a relationship with Scott that he didn't have in his own reality.  Of course, all these moments are made better by Immonen, who infuses them with the necessary humor and emotion to deliver the reaction that Bendis wants you to have.  He also does a great job of reminding us that they are, at the end of the day, still kids; Alex towers over Scott, reminding you how inverted their usual younger/older brother dynamic is and making the "high-five moment" all the more meaningful.

The only negative here, for me, was that I wasn't quite sure how Mastermind came into play.  Last issue, Lady Mastermind seemed to be using the image of her father to prod Jean into becoming Dark Phoenix, but, here, Jean seemed to be in control of the situation from the start.  Bendis clearly wanted us all shocked by the image of Jean becoming Dark Phoenix in part because she seemed to have been manipulated into it, so it was weird for her not to address the manipulation during her fight with Lady Mastermind.  She could've at least acknowledged that she turned Regan's trick to her advantage.  It's not exactly a minor complaint, since we were either supposed to believe that Jean was manipulating everyone else into thinking that she was Dark Phoenix or that Lady Mastermind was manipulating her; instead, we got something in-between.

But, regardless of this complaint, this issue shows why this series is one of the most consistently satisfying titles on the racks today.  Action, emotion, humor, visuals -- I can't find anything that I don't love here.