Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spider-Man 2099 #34: "Mr. O'Hara Goes to Washington"

**** (four of five stars)

Summary
Miguel and Xina are driving through the desert in a convertible, returning from Mexico.  The conversation begins in media res, with Xina telling Miguel that he's being paranoid and Miguel responding that he's due some paranoia, given recent events (the corporate raiders, the bizarre dreams, and the Strange business).  Speaking of "weirdness," Xina tells Miguel that she's been thinking about Spider-Man a lot and realized that she was wrong to blame him for everything.  She notes that Alchemax had been suffocating everyone with its "regimentation," until Spider-Man appeared and plunged the world into a new "era of weirdness."  Saying that it's not a bad thing to feel like anything could happen, Xina reacts with surprise when she realizes that two police officers on a souped-up flybike have plucked Miguel from the passenger's seat.  The officers inform Miguel, who's getting his talons ready, that he won't be hurt and that his presence has been requested at the White House by Tyler Stone.  (!)  At that moment, in Washington, Dana is talking to Tyler through a vid-phone, asking him if he has to work late again.  She complains about being lonely in Washington, because she doesn't know anyone, and Tyler notes that he appreciates her patience.  He tells her that, after meeting "the man," he sees all sorts of possibilities.  Dana says that she understands and ends the call, only to be knocked unconscious by a mysterious fist.  At the White House, Stone enters the Oval Office, informing Dr. Doom that the field agents have picked up Miguel and are escorting him to Washington.

In New York, Gabe is shocked about the coup and Kasey asks what he's going to do about it.  Gabe says that he can't do anything about it, since Doom and the federal government are "up there" and they're "down here."  Kasey says that "he" can (obviously meaning Spider-Man, since she thinks that Gabe is Spider-Man), just as Gabe gets grabbed by the collar and pulled into an alley.  A couple of Fenris thugs are trying to rob him and Kasey attacks one, telling Gabe to stop "screwing around."  One of the Fenris knocks Kasey into the wall, but he and his buddy scramble as two "Watchdogs" appear.  In Washington, Miguel enters the Oval Office, declaring that it'll be his final showdown with Tyler, only to be stopped short when he sees Tyler standing next to "President Doom."  Doom asks Miguel if they've previously met, with Miguel responding that he doesn't recall, since he's lousy at faces.  Doom says that he appreciates how droll Miguel is, noting that it's a lost art, and compliments Miguel for not being easily phased.  Miguel asks what Tyler is doing there and Doom informs him that he's his Corporate Minister, responsible for making sure all the corps work together, rather than at odds.  Miguel asks who's running R&D at Alchemax, only to learn that Tyler wants him to do it.  Elsewhere, Dana awakens on a bed, bound and gagged, only to have a mysterious hand ignore her pleas, close a door, and prepare a gun.  On top of an unnamed building, Spider-Man laughs hysterically at the idea of running R&D and turning into Stone, though wonders why he told Stone that he'd think about it.  At that moment, he notices a bunch of Watchdogs trying to break up some Spiderites demonstrating against Doom.  Spidey protects the Spiderites, but the fight is ended when Doom appears and offers them a permit to protest peaceably and unharmed during normal business hours.  Then, he offers Spidey a Cabinet post as Minister of Supernormal Affairs.  Spidey chases after Doom, telling him, "I don't get this."  Doom tells him that there's nothing to "get:"  he fears no man or force on the planet, so he offered the Spiderites a permit because he doesn't fear something "as ephemeral as ideas."

In New York, Gabe confesses to Kasey that he's not Spider-Man, but Kasey doesn't believe him, thinking that he's trying to throw him off track.  Gabe tells her that he'd like to throw her off a cliff, that he only allowed her to believe that he was Spider-Man because he wanted her to look at him like she did Spider-Man.  He curses the Spider-Man costume as he has to walk by Spiderites peaceably protesting, with the on-lookers noting that Doom must be "classy" to let them do so.  In Washington, Tyler arrives home, telling Dana that she needs to make sure to arm the security locks.  Proving his point, he's stunned when he's shot in the chest, collapsing to the floor in a pool of blood, with a gun-toting Conchata standing over him.

In the "Young Miguel" tales, Tyler Stone tries to convince Angie to allow Kron to stay at the school, since it's the environment in which he's done the best, "putting aside the homicide attempts."  However, Angela has a call into "Mr. Herod," Tyler's father-in-law, and Stone leaves, telling Angela that she's just made a fatal mistake.

The Review

Before reading this issue, I contemplated buying all the various issues that deal with Doom taking over the U.S.  However, after reading this issue, I'm glad that I didn't.  I'm left with the same sense of confusion that Miguel and his supporting characters suffer, particularly since they were in Mexico when the coup d'├ętat happened.  It really contributed to feeling the tension in this issue, as everyone tries to acclimate to recent events.

The Good
1) OK, I was honestly shocked by the image of Conchata standing over Tyler's body.  Holy crap, I totally did not see that coming, either him getting shot or her being the gunman.  I mean, it certainly confirms that the mystery woman watching Dana and Tyler have dinner in issue #30 was Conchata, but I certainly didn't expect her to kidnap Dana and kill Tyler.  Oh, Conchata.  You are chaos incarnate.

2) I'm glad that David didn't decide to make Xina into the Aunt May of this title, in the sense that someone close to Miguel would hate Spider-Man.  Her decision to view Spidey in the larger "societal context" is a mature one.

The Unknown
With Kasey encouraging Gabe to do something about Doom as Spider-Man, I was wondering if she still had any powers from her Payback days.  I know that she doesn't have the armor anymore, but I'm pretty sure that Stark-Fujikawa made some sort of "upgrades" to her to interact with the suit.

The Bad
1) Dana and Tyler's relationship seems to have progressed extremely quickly.  I mean, Dana's in Washington with Tyler and asking him when he's going to come "home?"  Last we saw them, they were having dinner.  Now they live together?  I feel like they may've appeared in "Doom 2099" or some of the other series, particularly if Tyler wound up becoming part of Doom's cabinet after the coup.  But, still, given that Dana at the very least is a creature mostly of this series, I was surprised to feel like I had missed a few issues seeing how advance their relationship is.  I know time moves fast in comics, but Miguel couldn't have been in Nightshade and Mexico for more than a week or so.

2) I'm not entirely sure where Miguel is after he leaves the White House.  If he's in DC, then it's weird that Gabe and Kasey encounter the protesting Spiderites, since Doom gave them permission to protest in DC (though, I guess they could've gotten on the horn and arranged a protest in New York).  If he's in New York, then, damn, they moved quick to get there.

Secret Avengers #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As if the last page wasn't enough, the rest of this issue also rocked.  Spencer dispenses with any pretense that Maria Hill is the "good guy" and Daisy Johnson is the "bad guy" here.  If Daisy exercised questionable judgment in ordering the assassination of Dr. Forson, it was at least because she saw A.I.M. as a threat to global security (and maybe wanted some revenge for Reb).  Maria engages in equally questionable judgment, but for a lot less lofty of a reason.  As Nick Fury (the real one) himself implies, Maria is all about Maria and she's not going to let Daisy ruin her ascension to the Directorship by remembering all those secrets that Maria was uncomfortable with her having in the first place.  Assassinating a crazed dictator running a terrorist organization is one thing; wiping the memory of the former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to give yourself job security is another.  Sure, Maria is probably convinced that she's acting to protect global security, but it's not an argument that anyone other than her (even if her) would believe.  As I mentioned last issue, I was never a fan of Daisy becoming Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I did find her hit on Dr. Forson to be arrogant and naive.  But, Maria takes it so far here that you also have to wonder how suitable she is at this point to be running S.H.I.E.L.D.  Enter Bucky and, maybe, the possibility of all this mind technology being used for Natasha to remember who she was.  Color me effing excited.

New-ish Comics!: The "Infinity" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain Marvel #16:  This issue wraps up our "Infinity" interlude.  I can't say we really gain a better insight into Carol's situation, but I did actually find myself enjoying the focus on the Avengers trying to figure out a way to escape the Builders.  At first, I was surprised by how callously Carol dismissed the moral implications of destroying an entire sector of space to save Earth, but then I remembered that she's not really feeling emotions at this point, so it works in the context of the larger story that DeConnick is telling.  (I was a little more disturbed by Cannonball and Sunspot going with the plan so easily.  I mean, at least Hawkeye raised some opposition.)  The best moment was her banter with Jessica, whose affectionate teasing about them having to start from scratch showed that she's there for Carol for the long haul.  It made me all the more eager for us to return to the regularly scheduled programming.  But, given that these two issues are probably the only ones I'm going to read about the Avengers' battle with the Builders in space, I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with them.

Infinity #3:   My only real problem with this event -- to my surprise -- is that it's still feeling a little schizophrenic.  I get that the whole point is that Thanos is taking advantage of the Avengers being distracted by their off-world fight with the Builders to make his move on Attilan.  Although the idea is clever, it's still leaving me feel like I'm reading two entirely different events -- a cross-over event about the Galactic Council working together to repel the Builders and a miniseries about Thanos' attempts to find and kill his son.  Although I'm intrigued by both, I find myself wishing that Hickman had treated them separately.  For example, he has to rush through the capitulation of the various galactic empires to the Builders, somewhat underselling the awesome moment where the Shi'ar and the Skrulls decide to throw in their lot with Earth.  I mean, the Shi'ars and the Skrulls!  Dogs and cats, living together!  That said, I'm still happy with both stories, as loosely connected as they are.  Cap's gambit was pretty great to watch unfold, though you have to wonder how they're going to defeat the Builders when even this win seemed to have a limited impact on their overall operational capacity.  I guess we'll see!

X-Men #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seriously, I'm totally Team Kitty/Rachel here.  I thought Wood did a great job of having them take a moment, realize just how crazy everything had gotten (while eating leftover Chinese food), and decide to do something about it.  In fact, it took me a minute to remember that it's a perfectly natural thing for them to do, since they're closer friends from their "Excalibur" days than we've recently seen them portrayed as being.  (I'd love to see Colossus and Nightcrawler appear to help!)  Given Rachel's experience as a time-displaced warrior and Kitty's role as the original X-Men's mentor, it makes sense that they're the two X-Men who want to make sure that the kids aren't returned to their own time against their will.  Moreover, Wood plays up this tension in a really fun way; I loved seeing Kitty come into her own and tell Storm where she can shove her "orders."  Wood is having the two of them assert themselves against the senior X-Men not in an adolescent way, but in an adult way, demanding to be treated as the equals that they now are.  It's a great way for Wood to use the event to play up a storyline that he's already been pursuing here, namely Rachel's disapproval of some of Storm's decisions.

Moreover, Wood takes full advantage of the chance to show us original Jean and original Scott together, just the two of them.  Given how rocky their relationship has been since they arrived in the present, it's adorable to see their attraction to each other and significant to see them getting closer to one another.  (I loved Scott being willing to get shot in order to talk to Jean about his feeling, a sign that Wood really understands sixteen-year-old boys well.)  Finally, given that they couldn't call Excalibur, I, too, would've called the Brotherhood.  That revelation felt right to me, as did everything else here.  After three issues, this cross-over event just continues to go in surprising directions, but ones that feel organic.  It's been a long time since I've read an event this good.

X-Factor #262 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

In terms of the issue itself, David continues his pattern of me liking one "The End" issue and not liking another:  I wasn't a huge fan of last issue, but this issue is almost perfect.  The "deus ex machina with my own personal deus" line made me LOL, because it was true -- a convenient last-minute save -- but also because it wasn't the cheap device that it usually is.  Jamie does happen to have his own personal deus and Theresa arriving to save Jamie from his demon self so that he can raise a family with Layla obviously has a certain symmetry to it.  

In terms of "X-Factor," I really don't even know what to say.  This series was so consistently well written that it was often an oasis in a desert of mediocrity, a character-driven story that reminded you of why you read comics as other books descended into incomprehensible cross-over events or mindless slug-fests.  (I'm looking at you, "Avengers" and "Superior Spider-Man.")  Despite his usual talent in not leaving loose ends, David doesn't actually manage to settle all the accounts.  He never really got a chance to bring the Isolationist story to fruition, we never really learned what motivated Jezebel to plot with him in the first place (since she was often portrayed as a good guy after that issue), and it would've been nice to have a better sense of what happened to Tier.  Moreover, this issue itself raises some questions:  I'm also not really sure what happened with Mr. Tryp here, other than him providing the dramatic fodder by calling the police, and we have no idea who the man in the black suit is.

But maybe it's actually for the best.  At the end of this issue, Jamie is essentially saying that it's all someone else's problem now.  You get the  sense that, after the Hell on Earth War and getting turned into a demon, he's just, as he says here, done.  Someone else can worry about the Isolationist when he puts into effect his plan.  Someone else can try to solve the mystery of Jezebel.  Wolfsbane can go find Tier if she wants to do so.  All Mr. Tryp's plans and schemes are hopefully dead with him.  Surely the man in the black suit has enough mutants left to persecute.  Jamie?  Jamie's done.  At the end of the day, X-Factor in its present incarnation has been all about Jamie.  If he says it's done, then it's done.

As such, "X-Factor" is also done.  Thanks, Peter David, for making me so sad that this series has ended.  I worry that the world of comics is instantly the worse for it, shifting the balance to the "Forever Evil"s and "Infinity"s.  But, like Jamie Madrox, you can leave that to someone else to save.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Captain America #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!

With Steve's return to Earth, Remender does a great job of establishing Steve's new status quo.  He answers the most important question, informing us that Steve did spend 12 years in Dimension Z, though also letting us know that the Super-Soldier Serum prevented him from aging normally during that time.  He also confirms the full extent of Steve's injuries (as unbelievable as they are, given that he confirms that Steve has been doing everything in these last few issues with a Zola-sized hole in his chest.)  Moreover, we know that Steve considers both Ian and Sharon to be dead, giving us a sense of the incredible grief that he must be experiencing.  After just the first few pages, we understand the full spectrum of mental and physical trauma that Steve has to overcome as a result of his time in Dimension Z.

That said, the answer that we don't get is how Steve will overcome that trauma.  The reason isn't because Remender is remiss in showing us that process; it's because Remender understands Steve well enough to know that he himself has no idea how to do it.  In a worrisome sign, Steve goes beyond just refusing assistance here; he's actively trying to keep people from knowing the full scope of his trauma, given that he and Jet have colluded to keep Ian's existence a secret.  Remender does a great job of showing how everyone -- Bruce Banner, "Nick Fury," Maria Hill, Hank Pym -- defers to Steve to such an extent that it doesn't even dawn on them to refuse his request to return to work as quickly as possible.  I kept waiting for the Falcon to arrive to suggest that Steve might not be in a place where he gets to make a decision about his best course of treatment.  The fact that he goes home and burns all his possession to sever his link to his past is probably a good sign that he's not doing so well, mentally.

That said, something also feels right about that moment.  After all, burning all his artifacts from the Second World War shows that Cap's time in Dimension Z eclipses that experience, at least to a certain extent.  In a way, Remender is clearly trying to make Steve a more modern character.  He keeps him as a man struggling in a time that he doesn't recognize, but it's now not because Frank Sinatra isn't at the top of the charts.  Steve is completely forced to reconcile the experiences of one period of his life with the experiences in the time where he finds himself.  In Brubaker's most recent run on this series, Cap was portrayed as struggling with the disillusionment that he felt over the political discourse in the 2010s, with an implicit parallel to the similar discourse from the 1940s.  I was never really a fan of that parallel, since it seems too simple.  In a way, Remender goes after it in his portrayal of Steve's youth, since an orphan of Steve's young age living in Depression-era New York would certainly be able to cope with the fact that America didn't always manage to deliver on its promises.  By burning all his artifacts, Steve is somehow acknowledging that Depression-era New York, Nazi Germany, and Dimension Z all inform who he is, but he has to find out who he is in 2013 America.  At this point, he has his mother's exhortation to always stand up and a shield.  The rest is now an open book.  If Remender brings Cap to a good place at the end of his run, it'll be a Cap who embraces his optimism that America will always deliver, based not only on those past experience but also on the experiences he has after his return from Dimension Z.  In a way, it'll be a repudiation of Brubaker's Cap, who struggled to find that optimism in a politically polarized world.

Of course, he could also just go crazy.  I think it would actually be interesting for Remender to explore this idea, similar to the road that Brubaker took with the Winter Soldier upon his return.  It's pretty easy to see Steve break, driven mad by being displaced from place and time to such an extent that he has no cultural, ethical, or political moorings; 2010s America might as well be 2110s America, because his experience in that iceberg and Dimension Z have robbed him of any frame of reference.  Maybe sometimes you just can't always stand up, even if you're Captain America.  I actually hope that Remender takes us down that road for a while, because I think it'll mean more when we find ourselves in the place of optimism that we all hope we'll eventually see.

Anyway, the fact that I've written this much about this issue shows just how incredible I think what Remender is doing with Cap is.  I can't wait to see where you go from here.

All-New X-Men #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All-New X-Men #16:  Man, I did not see that coming.  I was actually sort of rushing through the last half of the issue, because I thought that we had already seen the big reveal, that original Jean might be right and the future X-Men aren't who they say they are.  As a result, I thought that Bendis was being overly dramatic with Xorn taking off her helmet, since it was pretty clear to me that it would be a scarred Rachel.  I was obviously wrong at least on one (though possibly both) accounts.  

The revelation that Xorn is Jean Grey is interesting on several fronts.  First, original Jean tells original Scott that she doubts that Professor X will be able to completely erase her memory of their time in the present now that she's developed her telepathy.  In my last review, I expressed a similar doubt.  I had been thinking that it would be difficult for physical reasons, like original Bobby inexplicably being able to use his powers better.  But, that same logic obviously applies to original Jean, whose powers are mental and not physical.  So, she's making essentially the same argument, that it's probably unlikely that Professor X will be able to make them "forget" their progress.  I'm glad that Bendis addressed it, not only because it keeps the story more realistic, but also because this added level of uncertainty about how everything is going to wind up resolved really ups the drama.

But, building off that premise, that Professor X won't be able to erase their memories completely, you obviously have to wonder if original Jean remembering something about her future leads her to make different decisions, resulting in future Jean being alive and well, as we see here.  If you go with the way that Bendis has portrayed the space/time continuum so far in this series, this change would have to be something that hasn't yet been realized in the present continuity.  After all, original Scott's near-death experience caused present Scott to disappear; it implies that future Jean would have suddenly appeared by now if original Jean made a different decision in the past (like not letting Xorn kill her).  I'm not sure how it would work -- original Jean would somehow make a time-lapsed decision that hasn't yet activated -- but Bendis has eight more issues to clarify that situation.

Finally, the revelation that "Xorn" was future Jean doesn't remove original Jean's fear that the future X-Men aren't who they say they are (or at least don't have the original X-Men's best interests at heart).  Simply because this woman looks like Jean doesn't mean that she is.


Essentially, I have no idea where this story is going and it's always a pleasure to be able to say that in a good way.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3:  It's actually hard to review this issue, on some level.  In the plus column, the narrative is spectacularly well done.  I'm hard pressed to think of another issue that I've read where the author managed to deliver so much narrative without breaking character or slipping into excessive exposition.  I could not only hear Boomerang saying every line, but Spencer was also using it to show us the story, not just exposit it at us.  Boomerang behaves exactly as you expect him to behave, selling out his crew because they didn't include him.  It's the distinct voice that Spencer gives Boomerang -- clever, but immature and petulant in a way that we don't normally see in superheroes -- that makes this series and this issue is a great example of how compelling it is.  However, in the minus column, I will say that it was a slog at certain points.  Even if Spencer managed not to make it an exposition-a-thon, long narrative stretches can be tiring to reader, particularly in the comic-book medium where you're waiting for some sort of action to happen eventually.  Even the introduction of other characters during the Super-Villains Anonymous meeting (hilarious, by the way) resulted in another soliloquy, just by a different character.  I want Spencer to keep up Boomerang's narration, because he does provide the aforementioned distinct voice, but, now that we understand him better, I think it's time to introduce either more dialogue or more action to mix it up a bit.

Infinity #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is, honestly, a lot better than expected.  I had assumed that Black Bolt's secret was that he was holding onto the remaining Infinity Gem, so I was surprised by the revelation that it is actually the fact that the Inhumans are harboring his son.  Moreover, Hickman actually manages to infuse some emotion into the scenes related to the Battle of the Corrdior.  It's not quite Giffen's amazing portrayal of the trials and tribulations of the United Front in "Annihilation," but it at least manages to show the emotional impact of the Galactic Council's fight against the Builders.  As I said, it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New-ish Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Secret Avengers #7:  Holy crap, shit hits the fan in this issue.  I really enjoyed that Spencer had Daisy be so arrogant and naive that she did, in fact, order Dr. Forson's assassination.  I've never understood why Steve Rogers decided to make a teenager head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daisy's comments about not caring about the politics of her actions (when all that matters as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the politics of your actions) show how bad of a move that was.  To prove the point that the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to make difficult, politics-driven decisions, Spencer has Maria Hill take out Mockingbird in order to keep Dr. Forson alive.  (I can't wait to see how Bobbi manages to extract herself from A.I.M. Island.)  However, she's also forced to re-write the memories of the other agents in the field, removing their memories of Bobbi being on the mission so that they can leave the island as quickly as possible.  This action obviously raises some serious moral questions that go beyond just "Maria Hill can make difficult, politics-driven decisions."  After all, Clint and Natasha agreed to have their memories of missions wiped; they didn't agree to an ongoing mind-control process.  This series keeps raising questions about S.H.I.E.L.D. and its moral code and, as such, keeps getting better and better.

Secret Avengers #8:  Unfortunately, after I wrote the above review, I'm now forced to write a not-so-great one.  I was really excited about this issue, because I wanted to see Bobbi's ingenuity on display as she escaped from A.I.M. Island.  However, Spencer leaves a lot of this issue unclear.  For example, I don't understand why Bobbi doesn't know that she's not the A.I.M. scientist.  Isn't she just using a cloaking device (a.k.a. "camotech")?  Wouldn't her body feel the same as her usual body?  Also, what the Hell happened with Jude the Entropic Man?  At first, I thought that he melted Dr. Forson, but it was only in re-reading the issue that I realized that it was just some random A.I.M. dude.  Why exactly is he killing off scientists?  Does his power grow from that?  In the end, those questions left me wanting a lot more answers than I got here, particularly when they seem to come more from logic gaps than intriguing conundrums.


Wolverine and the X-Men #34:  Holy effing crap, Bobby as Voltron is about the best thing I've ever seen in a comic ever.

Wolverine and the X-Men #35:  Honestly, for all the grief that I've given this series, I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of this arc.  Broo returns to us, thanks to some divine inspiration from Nightcrawler.  (I love that this connection came thanks to Broo biting a Bamf.)  Toad saves Husk, though I'm eager to learn why she lost her mind in the first place.  Idie discovers the redemptive power of first love, finally seeing the beauty in the world again.  It's all hugs and puppies and it's about damn time that Broo, Husk, and Idie get a happy ending.

But, it's really all about Quentin Quire, a statement that would thrill him.  In fact, reading this issue, you realize that this whole series has always been all about Quentin.  We finally see him complete his journey to becoming a hero, a conclusion that he reaches organically (with maybe a little inspiration from the aforementioned redemptive power of first love).  Aaron never rushed the story, letting Quentin get there himself.  It's what makes the reflective moment that Quentin enjoys after the battle so powerful, where he says to himself, "So that's how it feels to be a good guy" as he watches everyone's tearful reunion with Broo.  (My second favorite moment of this issue is clearly Quentin punching Kade after he says, "I think I'd like a hug before I die.")  This epiphany feels hard won, not a sudden change of heart that we see so often from authors taking short cuts.

Of course, one of the reasons that it took so long to get here is that Aaron has only recently started treating the kids as people.  He often focused on the hijinks at the expense of the emotions.  Here, he got the formula right, to a really fantastic degree.  Quentin still gets to be snarky when it comes to telling Idie that "girlfriend" sounds too "human," but he also allows him the emotions of a teenage boy who grew up a bit.  It's why I teared up a bit at the good-guy quote, because I could actually feel Quentin feeling that way, for once enjoying a victory won for the right reasons.

It's really rare that a series wraps up so many plot lines in one arc, an aversion born, I think, from the worry that people will see it as a good time to drop the series.  But, I had the opposite response to this issue.  With Aaron no longer treating the kids as simply vehicle for one-liners, I'm excited to see them continue to grow, particularly as a team.  In other words, welcome, the next generation's "New Mutants."  You're finally here.

New Comics!: The "Uncanny X-Men" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Uncanny X-Men #10-#11:  I'm recapping these issues together because they pretty much tell one continuous story, of the Brotherhood showing their support for a pro-mutant rally in Ann Arbor only to be attacked once again by a Sentinel virtually upon arrival.

Bendis uses this attack to confirm that the Brotherhood is essentially being stalked at this point.  Scott is seen at wit's end with rage over the mystery of the attacker's identity, though Bendis gives the reader a little more insight, showing the figure in his HQ.  However, given that his face is covered by a helmet, it actually isn't all that more clear for us than it is for Scott.  

The only part of this two-issue arc that made me raise an eyebrow is that you have to wonder how this guy is able to find the Brotherhood the minute that they materialize somewhere but S.H.I.E.L.D., with all its resources, can't.  I'll also say that I'm not really sure what Bendis is doing with Dazzler/Mystique at this point.  My guess is that we're not really going to get more information on either plot until the dust from "Battle of the Atom" settles.

Finally, I'll also say that I think, at this point, we could probably use an issue focused just on the kids.  Bendis has done a great job of showing them make progress in terms of their powers, with Eva using hers in a new way here and Chris, Fabio, and Hijack showing an increased comfort using theirs.  But, I still don't have a great sense of who they are as people.  It would be nice to turn to that after "Battle of the Atom."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

X-Men:  Battle of the Atom #1:  Well, that was intense.  Bendis really gets your attention here, with past Scott almost dying and present Scott temporarily disappearing.  I thought that he did a great job focusing on the ramifications of that event, with the adult X-Men drawing the logical conclusion that the original X-Men pose too much of a danger to the time/space continuum to be able to stay in the present.  The arrival of the future X-Men, though, seems to call into question that hypothesis, since they seem to imply that it's sending back the original X-Men to their appropriate time that will end the mutant race.  I'm intrigued to see where we go with that.

Beyond just doing a good job introducing the larger plot, the issue itself is well plotted and scripted.  I thought Bendis did a great job reminding us how green the original X-Men are, from Kitty making the point that they survived the Sentinels' attack because they followed her orders to Scott almost dying when he disobeyed them.  As present Scott does here, you do have to wonder why Kitty decided to bring the original X-Men to confront a dragon-conjuring criminal in the first place.  (Of course, you also have to wonder why Scott brought his own green new X-Men to Ann Arbor in "Uncanny X-Men" #10, given that he knows that the Sentinels tend to appear everywhere he does.  So, you know, he probably needs to dial back the judging a little.)  Bendis also continues to have a great ear for dialogue, using the conversation between the original and present X-Men to show how it's all become such a big mess, with the adults trying to keep their focus on the big picture despite knowing that it means ignoring the teenagers' feelings.  (I also loved present Scott and Kitty's restrained patter during the confrontation in Phoenix)

I debated including this next part, but I feel like I should.  Bendis loves him a time-travel story and I generally hate them as a rule.  That said, Bendis is actually better than most at dealing with the inherent logical inconsistencies that comes with these sorts of stories.  But, I feel like this issue raises some issues that really start to unravel the sweater if you pull at them.  We have pretty much accepted, until this point, that the original X-Men coming to the future changed their time line, essentially severing it from the present X-Men's.  Essentially, it created a whole new time line.  However, if it did, in fact, create a new time line, original Scott's death shouldn't have affected present Scott's existence, since they were, at this point, essentially two different Scotts.  (Now you see why I hate time-travel stories.)

As such, if original Scott's death did affect present Scott, it implies that they're in the same time line.  If they are, then why does only this event affect the present?  For example, wouldn't Jean developing her powers earlier than she did in the original time line affect the present in some way?  I feel like the answer to that question is that the original X-Men are eventually returned to their time line and Professor X is able to undo anything that happened to them in the present; original Scott dying, obviously, would be something that he wouldn't be able to undo.  But, the longer that they're in the present, the more difficult it is to believe that.  That conclusion isn't contradicting anything Bendis has done so far; after all, the whole reason why the present X-Men want to send back the original X-Men is exactly that issue, that the longer they stay, the more damage they do.  But, we're getting awfully close to the point where it gets hard to believe that everything that happens to them in the present can be undone simply by Professor X making the original X-Men forget about it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Comics!: The "Trinity War" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Justice League of America #7:  So, the Secret Society sent Dr. Psycho to Khandaq, possibly to convince Superman into killing Dr. Light, except maybe Amanda Waller did it first.  So, is Amanda Waller colluding with the Secret Society or did she and its mysterious leader just happen to have the same idea on how to discredit Superman?  Also, what exactly is the Box, since it apparently isn't what we think it is?  At this point, Johns has pretty much jettisoned any effort at characterization, letting the mysteries propel the story.  It actually works, but I'm still not really sure that I care all that much about the answers.

Justice League Dark #23:  It's not a box, it's a doorway and Amanda Waller claims that she didn't get Superman to kill Dr. Light, though no one really believes her.  Onto the conclusion!

Justice League #23:  OK, I acknowledge that this ending would've been a lot cooler if I knew more about the DC Multiverse and, specifically, Earth-3.  I'm sure Wikipedia will reveal a lot, though I know enough that I recognize Owlman as Earth-3's Bruce Wayne, making the revelation that Alfred was the Secret Society's leader all the more awesome.  ("The butler did it."  Heh.  Hilarious.)  I was also impressed by how well Johns delivered the revelation that the Atom (a.k.a. Atomica) was playing all sides; I was really honestly shocked not only by the revelation that she was an Earth-3 villain but also by how well her treachery explained Superman's illness.  (The confirmation that the Secret Society played Dr. Psycho by using him as a diversion was also welcome.)  The transformation of Vic's armor into a super-villain -- activating the threat inherent from the start when his father used a poorly understood technology to save him -- was just icing on the cake.

That said, Johns leaves some things on the table, if only because this plot has been building for so long that it's hard to remember all the details.  I don't really recall how the JLA discovered the Secret Society and I don't think we ever really got a full understanding of how Alfred recruited so many DCnU villains into the Secret Society, since it's unclear what they had to gain.  But, in the end, these are minor quibbles and, in fact, probably due to my own faulty memory and not Johns' plotting.

Turning to the item at the center of this story, the fact that Pandora's Box did actually unleash evil onto the world -- in the form of the Crime Syndicate -- is pretty great.  I will say, though, that I don't understand how Pandora "opened" the Box in the first place if only someone from Earth-3 could do so.  Did the gods, whoever they are, trick her into thinking she did?  Why would they do that?  Moreover, we never really learn why Earth-3 put the Box on Earth in the first place.  Was it exactly as a back-up plan in case they had to abandon their Earth?  I get the sense that Johns isn't leaving those questions on the table so much as they're answered in one of the side mini-series, like "Trinity of Sin:  Pandora."  I'm not all that curious about the answers, so I'm happy to leave them be.

Honestly?  I'm really tempted to get "Forever Evil."  I can't believe this issue would convince me to do that, but it was actually that good.  I was ready to turn my back on "Justice League," but I think I've got some back ordering to do.  What an awesome surprise.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Comics!: The "Uncanny Avengers" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


Uncanny Avengers #10:  Reading this issue, I almost felt like Remender was talking about American politics, given the events of recent week.  Wanda wondering whether the violence is ever going to end with people like Apocalypse, Cyclops, and the Red Skull taking such extreme positions.  Moreover, she notes that she's essentially lost hope that it will because no one seems to care, talking about how the riots that the Red Skull inspired faded from the public's attention after two news-cycles.  Given that the shutdown is already a distant memory, Wanda's instincts here ring remarkably true.  Remender has done an excellent job of making you feel like you're reading events that are happening in reality and this issue's eerie parallels to American politics increases that feeling all the more.

Given how much I loved Remender's arc in "Captain America," I'm thrilled to see Steve talking about the repercussions of Dimension Z here.  However, it also made me realize that Steve was there for longer than he's been an Avenger (something that I think I read somewhere else in another review but only really realized here).  It continues to raise some interesting questions, particularly the idea that Steve is off his game at a time when the Avengers really can't afford it.

Along those lines, Remender does a great job of reminding us just how great of a threat the Twins are.  They've chose their Horsemen perfectly, though why they're attacking the specific Avengers remain unclear.  Why do the Twins need Wanda and Wonder Man?  Why do Havok need to be saved and Thor need to be removed?  Is Daken supposed to kill Logan?  We don't know the answers to those questions yet, though Daken (along with the other Horsemen) make it clear that the Twins themselves have those answers.  In fact, Daken does really make you wonder what weakness the Avengers could possibly exploit to defeat the Twins.

Uncanny Avengers #11:  Although it veers close to the bright burning sun of excessive narration, this issue does manage to give us a LOT of information.  We learn that Kang intervened in Eimin and Uriel's life in order to convince them to save mutantkind from its eventual massacre at the hands of the Red Skull.  To do so, he suggests removing them from Earth, for the selfish reason of removing future opposition to his eventual rule.  However, despite disagreeing with Kang's reasoning, the Twins come to accept the answer and create Planet X.  We learn that it's why they wanted Wanda and Simon, for her to perform the Rapture spell, using Simon's power to amplify her hex and whisk away mutants to Planet X.  Then, the Twins were be the gods who saved mutantkind.

Or, will they?

Remender places some doubt on the Twins' motives there, as we learn that it wasn't the Twins who ordered Thor to survive, but the Sentry himself.  (In fact, the Twins wanted Thor dead lest he stop the Rapture.)  The Sentry implies that he saved Thor to help save humanity, so some part of him seems through the Twins' words.  Are the Twins going to wipe out Earth once they "rescue" the mutants?  Are they really just trying to get the mutants to Planet X to harvest their energy or something?  Remender isn't saying.  Meanwhile, we still have other remaining mysteries, like Logan's role in this affair, since they do seem to be harvesting his energies, for an unclear purpose.

Curioser and curioser.

New-ish Comics! (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman/Superman #3:  This issue would've been great if not for the completely unlikely story involving a young Bruce playing baseball with a young Clark in Smallville.  Pak and Lee have been telling a story that's often difficult to follow, requiring a re-reading (or two) to get a full sense of the story.  However, that effort is generally rewarded with a greater appreciation of the story.  Unfortunately, with the random flashbacks to an imagined childhood, it made this process all the more difficult, since it prevented them from focusing on the story at hand.  For example, I'm still unclear on why the government was developing a crystal meant to take down Superman.  In fact, I'm not entirely sure which Superman (of the two) is the target.  Moreover, the crystal's connection to Darkseid is left virtually unexplored.  Pak really could've used the four or five pages spent on the childhood digression to clarify the actual story.  The whole thing reeks of editorial interference.  Hopefully, we can just forget about it and get some answers next issue.

Captain America #10:  Honestly?  I can think of few multiple-issue runs that were anywhere near the same level as this one.  The only ones that come to mind are the Kang War ("Avengers" #41-#55) and the Black Mirror ("Detective Comics" #871-#881).  Remender kept us guessing to the very last minute, when you weren't sure if the "ghost" helping the Phrox was going to be Ian or Sharon.  The revelation that it was Ian (and the brilliance of branding him "Nomad") literally made me gasp.  Moreover, his resurrection of sorts reminds you just how much Remender leaves on the table.  Dimension Z is a weird place, where you truly believe that a child can survive getting shot at point-blank range and falling into a chemical-fueled river.  If you believe that, you also believe that Sharon Carter may be alive (and possibly Zola's host) or that Steve Rogers might really have lived ten years without aging more than a few minutes.  The consequences didn't just completely disappear at the end of this arc, wrapped into a neat package.

As such,
Steve's status quo is completely unclear at this point.  After all, who does he mourn first?  Ian?  Sharon?  Himself?  What are the physical repercussion of his ten years in Dimension Z?  Did he actually age?  When he briefly returned to Dimension Z from the tunnel, the ruins of the destroyed battle-station had already aged, seemingly implying that Steve is a decade older.  How does that work?  Also, how does he handle Jet Black?

But, we have next month to worry about those questions.  For now, it's time to bask in Remender delivering the quintessential Captain America story.  Remender made this storya bout Cap and his faith in himself.  He reminds us of that faith in this issue, when Cap tells his mutate clone that a few derogatory comments about his mother aren't going to make him doubt the lessons that he learned from her.  Moreover, Remender reminds us that this faith in himself is bigger than Cap, that it inspires the entirety of the Marvel Universe; here, this faith inspires Ian in exactly the way that Cap hoped, leaving behind his legacy in Dimension Z even if he's unaware of it.  Moreover, Sharon is perfect here.  Remender treats her as the bad-ass that she's always been, completely in charge of the situation and doing what needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.  Even Brubaker, who freed her from the "Gal Friday" role that she often played, rarely portrayed her as strong as she is here.  It's one of the few times where I've felt sad at losing a character but actually OK with the way that their story ends.

Can we also just talk about the craft on display here?  Remender's amazing narration of the epilogue, where you had no idea where it was going until you arrived at the Nomad revelation?  JR JR's insane landscapes and even more insane Zola?  This entire arc was a tour de force in terms of the talents of everyone involved.

It's a big, crazy, epic story.  You're left wanting so much more; I found myself hoping that we're going to get a Dimension Z series that follows Nomad.  But, Remender isn't rushing anything.  I was hestitant about this story in the first few issues, but Remender has finally give Cap the sort of ongoing series that he deserves.  I can't wait to see where we go from here.

Captain Marvel #15:  The obvious problem with this issue, which Sana herself acknowledges in the letters page, is that you feel like you're not missing one issue, but several.  First, we're presented Carol's memory-loss as a fait accompli, despite the fact that it wasn't particularly clear at the end of last issue that it was the repercussion of severing her telepathic link with Yon-Rogg.  Moreover, Carol is notably not in New York, but somewhere in deep space with the Avengers, fighting the Builders.  I stopped reading "Avengers," but I am reading "Infinity" and I don't remember this ground being covered in issue #1.  (When exactly did Earth join the Galactic Council?  Do they no longer consider it an irrelevant back-water?  Of course, I had trouble following "Infinity" #1, so maybe it's just me.)


But, DeConncik actually, somehow, manages to move you past all that.  She embraces the chaos, showing Carol as somewhat thankful that she's lost her memories, because the lack of emotional investment makes it easier to deal with the insanity around her.  In fact, DeConnick seems to be speaking to the reader and Carol on the same level, promising all of us answers so long as we make it thorugh the "Infinity" business.  It's remarkably clever, just as we've all come to expect from this series.

Scarlet Spider #21:  Buddy's going to be OK, right?  Right?  I mean, everyone's going to be OK, right?  Kaine is going to remember that he's a hero now and save everyone, right?

Unlike the past few issues, Kraven is a villain from Kaine's past whose presence here makes sense.  After all, it's Kaine who led to his defeat at Spider-Man's hands during "Grim Hunt."  Kraven's not likely to forget that easily.  Moreover, under normal circumstance, I'd be totally fine with Kraven posing as Ben Reilly in order to torture Kaine, since it's exactly the type of crazy that you'd expect from Kraven.  However, on the heels of the cross-over event with "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up," I have to say that it didn't work the way that I think Yost hoped that it would.  I spent most of the issue worried that it was a continuation of the Jackal's plot, something Yost clearly wanted us to think to make the revelation that it was Kraven all the more impactful.  But, instead, it proved to be distracting, since it not only reminded me of a plot that I find overplayed but also makes you wonder what the Jackal is doing now that he's returned to the background and when some other remnant of the Clone Saga is going to darken Kaine's door.  So, although it was clever, it would've been even better had it not come on the heels of the "Clone Saga 2.0" story that we just had.

Regardless, I'm definitely anxious to see where we go from here, both in Kaine's confrontation with Kraven and the status of his supporting cast.  Interestingly, unlike the Assassins Guild or the Clone Saga, Kraven is a ghost of Kaine's past as a hero, not as a villain, and I wonder if it'll play out differently than the other stories have.

Thanos Rising #5:  Aaron makes it pretty clear here that he doesn't believe that Death has guided Thanos through the years; Thanos himself is responsible for his actions.  In fact, if Aaron raises any questions here, it's not whether Thanos really sees Death, but it's if his construction of Death is a sign of mental illness or a convenient excuse for his behavior.  In other words, is Thanos mad or, as Monitor says, is he really just selfish?  Either way, we emerge with a more complete and sympathetic view of Thanos here, though one that actually somehow makes him more responsible for his crimes.  It's been a complicated story for a complicated character and Aaron really did a great job of giving us a definitive approach to a character who's too often been used simply as a powerful bugaboo.  "Infinity" is unlikely to add any nuance to the character, so I finished this issue glad for this mini-series and a chance to understand Thanos better.

Young Avengers #9:  Ugh.  Heart-breaking.  I mean, OK, I trust Kieron GIllen and I really believe that he has no intention of keeping Billy and Teddy apart forever.  Moreover, as Teddy himself implies here, Billy's decision to let Teddy go seems to signify that he's not making Teddy love him.  I mean, I don't think that we're ever going to get a definitive answer to that question, since it essentially requires proving a negative, that Billy isn't making Teddy love him.  But, if he were, it would seem unlikely that he would allow Teddy to go.  Instead, it seems more likely that he believes that Teddy loves him and equally believes that Teddy will return to him, a conclusion that we all hope Teddy will also make.  Because I trust Gillen, I also know that Teddy has to go through this journey.  They are, after all, just kids and the people who live the kind of life that they live don't just get to marry their high-school sweetheart and live happily ever after.  For them to be happy, Teddy needs to believe that Billy isn't making him love him and that requires some time on his own for a while.  (I mean, if Billy is really an multidimensional messiah, he can probably make Teddy love him from afar, but, really, let's not go too far down that road.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New-ish Comics ("HERE BE SPOILERS!")

Nova #7:  So, Sam Alexander arrogantly assumes that he can solve the world's problems, but instead screws up everything he touches.  He calls an actor wearing a wig "she-male" and "weird" and implies that a director who wants to cast him in a movie is a pedophile.  He wants to save the world, but only if it's sexy, meaning that he only grudgingly helps fix the playground that he destroyed in the first place.  Yeah, I'm really inspired to follow this character.  Bye, "Nova." You're pretty much a disgrace to the name, but, thankfully, everyone'll forget you in a few years.  (How's that feel, Wacker, huh?  Pretty good, right?  You're against continuity, as you saw in the letters page, so I guess that means you want everyone to forget everything you've done so that future authors don't sacrifice the story.  "Steve Wacker?  No clue.  Did he work at Marvel?  Really?  Huh.  Must've not had an impact.  Hey, I have an idea:  let's make Otto Octavius Spider-Man.  No one's tried that!")

Superior Spider-Man #16:  Honestly, I’m not really sure what Otto or Slott are trying to do at this point.  Phil went on a crime spree and Spidey decided to stop him.  OK, fine.  But, why the vendetta?  Given his aggressive approach and new technology, Otto would’ve likely made pretty quick work of Phil, had he engaged him one-on-one.  Instead, he throws everything he has at him – revealing his secret identity to the public, deploying his Spider-Patrol to find him, etc.  I mean, it wasn’t like he was trying to stop Dr. Doom from blowing up New York; he was trying to stop a twenty-something kid from robbing a few more jewelry stores.  Sure, Peter has always subscribed to the "broken windows" approach to crime-fighting as a result of his accidental role in Uncle Ben's death; Otto himself acknowledges in his public announcement why catching a small fish is important, given Spidey's history.  But, we're not dealing with Peter.  We're dealing with Otto (who no longer even has Peter's memories, making his comments about Uncle Ben all the weirder.)  Phil seems pretty beneath him, given the scale that he feels befits him.  I'm not saying that he wouldn't have confronted Phil if he had crossed his path, but it seems unlikely that Otto -- who previously expressed disdain for stopping the random purse-snatching, even with Peter's nagging voice in his head -- would see Phil as a threat that merited the level of attention that he pays him here.  (Otto even acknowledges that Phil was a minor threat in his TV interview after Phil is rescued.)  It actually makes him look weak, as if he were scared of Phil.  Unfortunately, Slott gives no real reason for why Otto attacks Phil the way that he does here, leaving you scratching your head at the end.

Moreover, the ease with which Otto dispatches Phil means that this issue has absolutely no tension.  I mean, Phil doesn’t even have the chance to turn into Hobgoblin.  He barely manages to pull his sword.  You have no doubt that Spidey and his superior force are going to stop him.  The only part of this story that could've captured the reader would exploring Phil's emotional response to watching his life collapse in such a spectacular fashion.  But, Slott has crammed so much into this issue – Captain Watanabe and Carly going after the Spider-Patrol, Captain America calling to reprimand Spidey – that he spends no time on it.  We just get random images of Phil under pressure, thanks to Ramos, not Slott.  (Even Norah's firing barely gets more than a panel.)  This issue seems like a great example of the missed opportunities that we’re seeing lately on this title.  The days of using Otto’s predicament as a meditation on the difficult decisions that Peter Parker often had to make as Spider-Man are gone.  Now, we’re just left with color-by-number fights with no emotional depth whatsoever.  Do we really think that Otto isn't going to be able to use his resources to take down a second-rate Green Goblin?  (Also, on that note, I'm increasingly convinced the "Goblin King" is Vin.)  Even Carly's search for answers lacks excitement, since it seems unlikely that she's going to find a way to expose Otto that doesn't expose Peter's secret identity and that results in someone being able to act on that information?  This series is just getting worse and worse.

X-Factor #261:  For every one of "The End" issues that I like, I seem to have one that I don't.  This one is unfortunately in the latter category, though, given that it involves two of my least favorite characters, I guess I'm lucky that it was this one and not the Rictor/Shatterstar one.

Like the Rahne story, this story feels rushed, leaving you wonder what David could've done if he had more than one issue to tell it.  For example, Darwin admits here that he was misled about Tier bringing about the end of the world, seemingly blaming it on Hela's possession.  But, why would Hela possessing him make what he thought he knew about Tier wrong?  In fact, if mass death was involved in his previous vision, wouldn't he more likely be able to ascertain that Tier was a threat rather than less likely, given Hela's possession?  We never really get an answer to those questions, in part because we move onto the revelation that Darwin is in love with Monet.  I've read "X-Factor" long enough to find that assertion plausible, so it's not a complete non sequitur.  Moreover, it makes sense that this confession and its consequences come a time when both characters are searching for someone to make them feel again.  But, we have to move quickly off exploring what it all means and onto Hela.  David seems to imply that Darwin and Monet found what they wanted here, something that I'm happy to believe.  But, I'm still not sure why Darwin would pass up the chance to be cured of Hela's possession.  Does he think that Monet only loves him this way?  If so, I'd buy that, I guess, but David doesn't really get a chance to fully explore that possibility.

You'll notice at this point I've spoken mostly about Darwin.  Monet is really a ghost here, barely having an impact beyond as a foil for Darwin.  Now that she's returned from the dead, she seems to conveniently have dropped her opposition to it, shown previously when she dismissed Guido as a soulless monster and inadvertently set the stage for the Hell on Earth War.  It would've been interesting for David to explore that, maybe even set up a conversation with her and Guido where she might tell him that she understood how he felt now.  But, again, David didn't really have time for that.

In the end, this issue is fine in and of itself.  In fact, the problem with it is that David really has struck on something in playing Darwin and Monet off each other, so it's a disappointment when you consider how much David is forced to leave on the table when it comes to both characters.

X-Men #4:  The parts of this issue that focus on the X-Men are the best, with Wood doing an amazing job of invoking the yesteryear's X-Men, full of leadership battles and personal tension.  But, man, I am over Jubilee.  Honestly, she and Wolverine are almost both unrecognizable here, making me just grit and bear their panels until I returned to the main story.  I'm pretty sure I'm done with this series post-"Battle of the Atom."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New-ish Comics (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #23:  Ugh.  My heart dropped at the last page.  I'm not really sure where we go from here.  Barbara killed James, Jr. and Commissioner Gordon killed Ricky.  They're both taking people from each other, but it's even more complicated than that.  Simone leaves us with two questions that will drive the rest of this story.

First, did Commissioner Gordon kill Ricky not in self-defense but because he didn't want Barbara to be with him?  (Gordon had discovered a photo of Ricky and Barbara in Ricky's apartment and, I have to say, I think that it's probably unrealistic that Ricky had such a photo given that they had been on one date.  But, I'm willing to give Simone a pass, since time has to pass quickly in comics; otherwise, a several month relationship would take a decade.)  Gordon seemed to be a little bit more disturbed by shooting Ricky than a cop with his experience would otherwise be.  Plus, Ricky wasn't exactly aiming at him; the gun was pointed to the ground.

Second, does Gordon's badge really give him the authority to kill a suspect not directly threatening him, whereas Batgirl isn't allowed to save someone's life from a murderer if it means killing the murder?  After all, Barbara killed James, Jr. to save her mother.  Even McKenna raises the possibility that she might not have had a choice in the matter.

Simone's making it clear that Gordon's blinded by his emotions to these questions and it makes you wonder if we're really heading to a confrontation where he discovers Barbara's identity.  It seems like that confrontation would be the only thing to make him confront the answers to those questions, though I imagine everything'll go to Hell in a hand basket from there.

Batman and Robin #23:  My love-hate relationship with Tomasi goes back several years at this point and, on some level, I feel bad dropping a book that produced two issues that I consider candidates for "Issue of the Year" this year.  But, I've felt like these five issues depicting Bruce's grief over Damian's loss have been a real low for this series, an unorganized tour of some of Bruce's worst traits.  They contributed little to my understanding of the character or his emotions, despite the fact that they were clearly intended to do just that.  Moreover, this contemplation of Damian's loss made the title feel increasingly marginalized from the Bat-family continuity, with Damian already having faded to a distant memory in "Batman" and "Detective Comics" (after having been barely mentioned in "Batgirl" and "Nightwing").  It seems a good time to make my break, particularly since I'm not really sure how Tomasi's going to keep going when half the duo that gave its name to this title is no longer with us.  So, thanks, Tomasi, for some really spectacular issues that got to the heart of Bruce Wayne in a way that few other authors have managed to accomplish. 

Batman #23:  You know, I'm not really sure why Snyder decided that he had to change the nature of Bruce deciding to become Batman.  But, if he was going to do it, he could've at least had it make sense.  I don't really understand what happens here.  The gem that Bruce opens seems to magically transform a room of the Manor into a cave.  Is Bruce seeing things because of his concussion(s)?  If so, Snyder probably needed to make that a bit more clear.  Otherwise, we're left to believe that Thomas willed him a gem that magically transforms rooms into caves.  I'm guessing that's not the case.  That said, I did appreciate the idea that Joker was inspired by Bruce's parents' death, since it made him realize how random and violent the world was.  It fits, particularly in keeping with the theme that Batman and Joker are flip-sides of the same coin, both children of Gotham who learned the opposite (though violent) lessons from the Waynes' death:  Bruce tries to force some order onto Gotham, Joker embraces the chaos that clearly rules Gotham.  I can't say that "Year Zero" is setting my world on fire, but I think it would be getting closer if Snyder spent more time providing original insights like the one just mentioned and not focusing on changing the details of the established story to leave his mark. 

Nightwing #23:  OK, color me intrigued.  Zucco seems to know who the Prankster is and that knowledge leads him to believe that things are going to get even worse for Chicago.  It definitely deepens the mystery, making you wonder what exactly Mayor Cole did to the Prankster to make "him" hate Cole so much that "he" wants to take down the city.  I have to say, I'm excited to see how it all comes to a head.

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2:  Man, I forgot how beautiful Checchetto's work is.  Truthfully, the various "Scarlet Spider" pencilers rarely depict Kaine as a brawnier version of Peter; if you didn't know he was Peter's clone, I don't think that you'd read an issue of "Scarlet Spider" and think, "Hey, he looks a lot like Peter Parker."  But, Checchetto manages to achieve that "brawnier version of Peter" effect here.  Moreover, he does an amazing job with conveying emotions through facial expressions, such as Kaine's look of confused pain as "Peter" unexpectedly attacks him in his apartment.  With twice the handsome and twice the feeling, this issue is really all about Checchetto.

I say that, because Yost is surprisingly a little thin on the plot.  It's unclear why Kaine comes to visit Peter.  We're left to assume that it's to see what's gotten into him, but Yost doesn't actually make that point.  (I recall from one of the Spider-Man titles a flash of Kaine watching coverage of the newly aggressive Spider-Man, but nothing more than that.)  We also don't know how Jackal knows that Kaine's in town, why he decided to attack the Spider-Men when he did, or why he's re-activated the Stacy clones.  Has he been tracking Kaine and waiting to bring the Stacy clones on him and Peter for when they're together?  We never really discover the plan here.

But, perhaps most importantly, this Otto is more reckless than he's been, even lately.  He forgets completely that he's not Otto when he's seized with the need for revenge against the man that killed him.  It's only seeing Kaine's face and hearing his voice that remind him that he's Peter now.  We're left to wonder if his behavior is going to lead Kaine to realize that he's not dealing with Peter, adding to the choir of voices (Carlie, MJ, etc.) who suspect something is amiss.  But, we have to wait for confirmation of that next issue.  It's entirely possible that Kaine will just leave disappointed in his frayed (if not ruined) relationship with Peter, something too sad to contemplate.

Scarlet Spider #20:  As opposed to "Nightwing," color me concerned.  This title is at its best when it serves as a meditation on a man seeking redemption.  It's why the most poignant part of this issue is the last page, when Kaine reels not only from Peter's unexplained loss of faith in him but also from the return of his degenerative disorder.  It seems to be proof to him that he can't escape his past, throwing into doubt the progress that he's made so far.  The good news is that this title generally uses Kaine's supporting cast to help remind him of that progress and to stay on the path to redemption.  Yost seems to be setting up a story that'll give them a real run for their money.

However, this title is at its worst when it wallows too much in the details of that past.  Using the return of the degenerative disorder is one thing, particularly since it's essentially a visual gimmick that underlines how Kaine views himself.  Bringing back the Jackal, Carrion, the Gwen Stacy clone, and "Spidercide 2.0," all at the same time?  It's just too much.  (I'm not even going to mention the whole Other/"I've already got a monster living in my head" debacle.)  Kaine has done nothing but mediate on his past for this entire title.  Even if you didn't read the "Clone Saga," you know the basic contours of Kaine's past at this point.  We really, really don't need to relive the 1990s for Yost to make the point.  I just don't see how throwing the entire kitchen sink at us, particularly this early in the run, is going to leave us with any interesting insights into Kaine that we already haven't been given not only in this title already but also ad nauseum in the "Clone Saga" itself.  Let him remember who he was to understand where he is now; don't make us relive it all again.  We get it.  We've gotten it for 20 years.

In terms of Spider-Man, this issue is also troubling, because Otto continues to be a total nutjob.  Yost does a good job of reminding us that Otto no longer has Pete's memories, but it's hard to believe that Kaine could leave this encounter with Peter and not be seriously worried about his mental health.  After all, Otto kept screaming about getting revenge for what Kaine did to him.  Since Kaine never really did anything to Peter, he never really once stopped to think, "WTF is Peter talking about?"  I just wonder how long I'm going to be asked to believe that Peter could be this obviously unhinged and NO ONE, other than possibly Carlie, is going to wonder why.  However long it is, I can tell you already that it's been too long.