Friday, November 29, 2013

2099 A.D. Apocalypse #1: "Midnight in Hell"

**** (four of five stars)

A news satellite shows "corporate forces" destroying the White House several weeks earlier.  An anchor's voice intones over the video that the station will be presenting a program detailing Doom's rise and fall.  In the news room, a producer for the station (NYFAX) asks one of the guys working the monitors if the anchor, Jack Whitlow, is doing the voiceover live.  The tech guy responds derisively, saying that Whitlow's in "the bathroom with his works..."  The producer, Ruth, gets a call that a reporter, Mirielle, wants to go live in  the Lower East Side.  Ruth goes to get Whitlow from the bathroom to handle the introduction while the station prepares to cut to Mirielle as she follows the Punisher fighting S.H.I.E.L.D.  In the bathroom, Whitlow takes his "works" (a.k.a. drugs) as Ruth pounds on the door.  Whitlow says that he's preparing for his adoring people and Ruth tells him that his "adoring public" is all in his head.  Whitlow exits the bathroom, telling her that it was a cruel crack; Ruth tells him that it's true.  Whitlow tells Ruth that truth has no place in show business and Ruth "reminds" him that they're a news station.  Whitlow tells her that news is show business.  She tells him that he should be nicer to his producer and he retorts that he would be if he weren't already sleeping with the executive producer.

On the Lower East Side, Mirielle follows the Punisher, remarking that she was just trying to find a story to make her rent.  Ruth informs her that they're ready to go live and Mirielle tells her that they'll have to amp up her voice since she'll need to whisper to avoid the Punisher discovering her.  Whitlow does the introduction and they go live, as Mirielle watches S.H.I.E.L.D. officers drop from the sky.  The Punisher opens fire on them with real bullets, killing them (since their armor is built to withstand laser beams).  S.H.I.E.L.D. returns fire but the Punisher escapes down an alleyway.  However, two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents ambush him at the end of it.  He kills both of them, leaving Mirielle shaken since she's never seen anyone die before.  Mirielle vamps, pontificating that the Punisher came at a time before Doom, when a "black card" bought a citizen safety from the law and the Public Eye sought to enforce the law, not impose justice.  Ruth wryly comments that she's seeking her 15 minutes of fame and the newsroom starts taking bets on whether the Punisher will survive the battle.  He then uses a special gun (a "modified scorch bore") to take down several agents at once.  The newsroom continues to root for him, but the mood turns when a wave spider arrives.  Gallows meets it with his gun held high, but it incinerates him.  The newsroom is in shock.  They cut to commercial, with Whitlow wishing Ruth luck in finding a way to spin a state execution on live TV.

Uptown, Miguel returns home, with a narration box informing the reader that it's been a year since he became Spider-Man.  Lyla shows him a recording of the execution of the Punisher when suddenly, "Captain America," now President, breaks into the news feed.  He announces the execution of the Punisher and notes that "creatures" like him have been "debasing the delicate system of American life."  Stressing that he wears a "uniform," Cap proceeds to say that the American people will no longer tolerate these creatures that wear "costumes."  At NYFAX, the guy at the monitor notes that the government is sending a kill order as a rider on the signal broadcasting "Cap's" speech.  He hands Ruth a copy of the Presidential Decree on the Death to Superheroes as Mirielle approaches the Punisher's body.  However, she's interrupted as an armored man near her escapes two agents with guns.  She tries to train her cameras on them when she's pulled behind a wall by a woman.  The woman tells her that the armored man, Galahad, is actually robotic armor developed by Stark-Fujikawa that responds to the mind control of her lover, Ethan Shields.  She tells Mirielle that the agents are killing Ethan since they're using HERF (high-energy radio frequency) blasts on the robot to overload the computer systems.  Mirielle asks why S.H.I.E.L.D. is attacking and the woman hypothesizes that Stark-Fujikawa sold out Ethan.  She tells her that Ethan is physically at Stark-Fujikawa, since he has no immune system and thus has to live in containment.  She says that Ethan only wanted to help people as the fight continues around them.  She tells Mirielle that Ethan is connected to Galahad by a "neurally-implanted telefactor chip," so the HERF blasts are traveling across the link and "boiling his brain in its own juices."  Ethan and Galahad fall and Mirielle escapes the scene with the woman.

At NYFAX, an assistant hands Ruth a file on Galahad; he appeared a few months earlier and, in his five subsequent appearances, acted in a "Heroic-Age pattern of risk/sacrifice."  She says that she can't put it on the air; when the assistant asks why she can't, Ruth says that "Rogers" ordered the heroic movement destroyed and hypothesizes that Stark-Fujikawa sold out Galahad for brownie points with "Rogers."  She tells the newsroom that any coverage of Galahad should reflect S.H.I.E.L.D. taking out a dangerous subversive.  Whitlow argues that they should cover it as a murder.  Ruth asks when he started giving a damn and he says that "Rogers" has moved the goal posts and that news now has use.  Suddenly, the screen goes blank and a new signal appears with unlock codes at the top of the signal; it shows some sort of fortress in a desert.  The guy at the monitor says that the feed is an "operational recording" and that either S.H.I.E.L.D. has commandeered their feed (unlikely) or they're getting bounced the feed deliberately.  Whitlow says to go live with it, since they wouldn't bounce the feed if they didn't intend for NYFAX to use it.  NYFAX prepares to go live as S.H.I.E.L.D. attacks the fortress.  The assistant pulls a file, saying that it's the location of "Metalscream," an alleged "magician supported by radiation evaluations not seen since the Heroic Age."  Metalscream appears outside the fortress and Whitlow narrates that it's the first documented use of magic in 100 years.  Metalscream curses S.H.I.E.L.D. for killing his 16-year-old assistant with their "stupid missiles."  He uses magic to throw daggers at them, but they use technology to tamp down the radiation, destroying the dagger.  Metalscream says that they've taken away the magic and an agent prepares to shoot him in the head, saying, "No such thing as magic."

The signal shifts to "Gammadion," the "ex-Californian region."  Whitlow refers to Galahad's murder as another live execution of the "extraordinary people" who disguised themselves so that they could help the people without being hunted.  He says that they're now being hunted for the crime of reminding the people of magic.  The images on the screen show the Hulk hiding in an abandoned building.  Whitlow IDs him, saying that he's the "last wild man of the American West, the independent man."  He informs the viewers that the Hulk was instrumental in the destruction of the studio system that terrorized the "isolationist state."  Whitlow notes that the kill order issued by President "Rogers" seems to have been in place before his address, since he figures that it took S.H.I.E.L.D. a while to corner the Hulk.  Whitlow notes that, ignoring the moral aspect, it's barely legal at best, more or less a firing squad.  He asks the viewer to feel what the Hulk is feeling.  After the Hulk lost everything to "the quake and the bomb," Whitlow rhetorically asks, as the Hulk attacks, if there's anything left for him for which to fight.  As S.H.I.E.L.D. kills the Hulk, other agents invade NYFAX, revealing that the bounced signal was a set-up to see if NYFAX would bite.  Whitlow tells Ruth that show business is "how you make the truth mean something" and then addresses the audience, telling the people that, if the fear hasn't gotten to them yet, they still have options to do the heroic thing and disobey.  S.H.I.E.L.D. kills Whitlow and announces that the employees of "un-American" news outlets are being interred to later face firing squads.

The Review
Ellis seems a natural fit for the 2099 world and he doesn't disappoint here.  I thought the use of a (formerly independent) news channel as the lens through which we see "President Rogers'" declaration of war on the superhero community wasn't only clever, but effective.  I've often complained that 2099 writers miss the opportunity to draw larger conclusions about 2099 politics and society in their stories, but Ellis bucks this trend, using the news station to show how the freedoms that Doom extended are now revoked.  I can't imagine anyone finishing this story without a sense of anticipation and apprehension, wondering where we go from here.

The Really Good 
The news crew's focus on the extrajudicial nature of "President Rogers'" actions was interesting, since it showed how quickly the people of 2099 America had gotten used to the basic freedoms that Doom had granted them.  Based on Mirielle's comments about the Punisher bringing back justice before Doom came to power, Doom certainly seemed to have created a set of political rights that the citizens of 2099 America hadn't enjoyed in a long time.  I mean, I doubt that most 2099 Americans would've complained about the government or even the corporations abusing their authority in the early issues of the various 2099 series; they would've just accepted such behavior as a fact of life.  As a former political-science major, I thought that Ellis is giving us a fascinating commentary on the nature of these sorts of political rights.  Doom's rule is -- at least, indirectly -- lauded as a return to a set of values, like freedom of the press or right to a trial by jury, that the 1990s authors of these series would've espoused (as I also mentioned in my review of Waid's story in "Spider-Man 2099 Special" #1).  Ellis makes it clear that people quickly got used to the "new" freedoms that Doom extended, getting to the idea that certain rights are natural.  As I said, I've always felt that the best 2099 stories use the futuristic premise to reflect on current realities and Ellis really does a spectacular job of it here.  The fact that it's Dr. Doom championing the American way of life makes it all the more clever, obviously.

The Good
1) I liked the fact that Stark-Fujikawa sold out one of its own superheroes in order to curry favor with "President Rogers" after he announced the kill order on all superheroes.  It's exactly the sort of step that you'd expect a corporation to take and, frankly, a reminder that the nastiness that Doom kept in check has been lurking in the background the entire time.

2) I thought both the Punisher and the Hulk's deaths were handled really well.  First, it's the extrajudicial murder of the Punisher (himself a proponent of such measures) that fires up the NYFAX crew over the lack of justice.  Then, it's the murder of the Hulk, the last independent man, that inspires Whitlow to exhort the American people to resist the attempt to put them under the heel of the government and the corporations.  Both deaths serve a purpose that matches the spirit of the characters.  It's very well done.

The Unknown
Although I understand why anyone trying to run the United States would want the superheroes killed, I'm hoping that we get a more full explanation of Herod's plans are.  I'm assuming that "Doom 2099" has gone into more detail, but Marvel can't assume that we've been reading that.  Hopefully, "2099 A.D. Genesis" gives us greater insight into the behind-the-scenes struggles, particularly confirming that he's working for the "corps."

The Bad
I wouldn't really call this complaint too "bad," since it's a minor lament.  However, I felt like Ellis was a little too flexibly in having Whitlow go from a drug-using TV star to a freedom-proselytizing Chronkite wannabe.  Whitlow was actually an interesting character, but I felt like Ellis could've put a little more work into showing us that transformation.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Spider-Man 2099 Special #1: "The Menace of Man-Spider"/"After Image"/"Eye Spy"

** (two of five stars)

At 1:45 am at the "Synthia East Bio-Development Lab," an enormous spider yells at a fleeing lab technician while another technician hits the security alarm.  The spider catches her doing so and webs the two technicians against the wall.  Security guards arrive, with one complaining that someone called security but "compu-locked" the door.  They're shocked to discover the spider and proceed to open fire.  One shot hits the spider and it leaps out the window, thinking that it's too badly injured to fight and expressing concern that they'll discover its secret.  One of the guards looks out the shattered window to confirm that the spider has escaped while one of the rescued technicians tells another guard that they had returned from a late dinner to discover the spider in the lab.  Elsewhere, the spider crawls through a sewer, where it transforms into a man.  Apparently unable to control his transformations, the man, whose face is obscured by shadows, curses his early reversion, since he needed his "spider powers" to heal his arm.  He then loses consciousness over the lost blood.

Elsewhere, a "Roving Eye" attempts to capture Spidey, ordering him to halt.  Spidey responds by grabbing the floating orb with a Web-Line and slinging it into a wall.  He then proceeds to his destination, expositing that Roving Eyes were co-designed by his father and complaining that his father is still screwing up his life.  Changing into his civvies, he laments that Lyla let him oversleep, making him late for work and almost late for his lunch date with Dana.  (He decided to swing across town because it was the only way for him to get to Synthia on time.)  Dana asks why he's so late and Miguel tells her that security was extra tight.  Dana explains that someone broke into Synthia the previous evening and Miguel then asks where the "mad scientist" is.  On cue, "Antoine" arrives, telling Dana that Miguel had intended for him to hear that crack.  Miguel teases Antoine about the mess in the lab and Antoine tells Miguel that he's to blame for it.  Dana is shocked at the accusation, reminding Antoine that a witness saw a monster.  Antoine feigns fainting over the idea of a monster and Dana sticks out her tongue at him.  Antoine responds that he thinks of that face every night before he goes to bed.  (He was essentially saying that Dana sticking out her tongue made her face less attractive than usual.  Yes, it was super creepy.)  Miguel observes how odd it is that Antoine is making jokes since he's usually pretty tightly wound and, given that the "bio project" was his life, would expect him to be more upset over someone trashing the place.  He then notices some "luminescent gunk" on the floor and takes a sample of it before Antoine and Dana find him to take him to lunch.

At lunch, Miguel asks Antoine why the attack was his fault and Antoine says that it's not his fault personally, but his "masters'" at Alchemax.  Miguel asks why Antoine has been nothing but "sour grapes" since Synthia asked Alchemax to join the project and Antoine responds that he believes that Alchemax wants to use his "fusion process" for military applications.  (Antoine wants to use it to feed the world.)  Miguel says that he came to him as a friend to warn him that he's reviewed his calculations and should postpone the project.  Antoine screams at Miguel, telling him that he knew that he should've conducted his work in a secret lab.  Dana (somewhat randomly) responds, "Like that hiding place we had as kids, remember?", and informs Miguel that they had a clubhouse by an old filtration-plant where they shared their first kiss.  Antoine says that he even carved their initials on the wall.  Miguel marvels to himself at Antoine hitting on Dana, but Antoine then continues his exposition, (unnecessarily) informing Miguel that his bio-fusion process with meld animals together, creating breeds able to survive in any environment.  Dana grabs Antoine's arm to calm him, but he recoils (presumably because she touched where he had been shot) and then leaves in a hurry. He stumbles onto a mag-lev track, realizing that he's transforming, and transforms right before he's hit by a car, trashing the car.

At Alchemax, Dana, as the Synthia liaison to Alchemax, observes Tyler Stone rushing two techs into testing Antoine's bio-fusion process, so that Alchemax can take advantage of Synthia's operations being suspended to beat it to a patent.  Dana realizes that Alchemax wasn't behind the attack from Tyler's "tone."  Meanwhile, in his lab, Miguel examines the gunk that he found in Antoine's lab.  He recognizes it as a spider's DNA entwined with a human's and uses civilian records to ID the human.  In the other lab, Alchemax proceeds with its test, splicing together a caterpillar and a bull.  The cater-bull escapes its hold as an Antoine (as the spider) watches through a skylight; he's there since he knew that Alchemax built a copy of his bio-fusion reactor and he hoped to use it to cure himself.  He briefly considers not stopping the cater-bull, but realizes that he doesn't want to put innocent lives at risk.  Then, as he engages the animal, he spots Dana and calls out her name, resulting in Dana recognizing his voice.  The cater-bull hurls Antoine into lab technician while the security guards open fire on the cater-bull, killing it.  However, they believe that Antoine killed the technician (whose neck snapped) and Antoine begs Dana to tell them that he wasn't responsible.  Dana is scared and Miguel enters the scene from his lab to see Antoine disappear with her.

Spidey pursues Antoine, realizing that he's gone over the edge.  In the aforementioned filtration plant (revealed to be Antoine's sewer lair), Antoine tells Dana that he was sure that his recombinant process was ready, so he crossed two spiders to prove Miguel wrong when he questioned his calculations.  However, the "radiation seals" were faulty, causing their DNA to splice with his.  He returned the next night to cure himself, whereupon he encountered the lab technicians returning from their late dinner.  He's now distraught over the loss of the equipment that can help him, asking Dana for help.  She says that she wishes Miguel were there and Antoine loses it, wondering why he should waste time on her as his body is being reborn.  Declaring himself the Man-Spider, he goes to attack Dana, but is stopped by Spidey.  In the melee, Man-Spider bites Miguel, injecting him with venom that makes him weak.  Spidey tries to fight Man-Spider, but Antoine gets an advantage; Dana notices Spidey's disorientation as Man-Spider hurls him into a wall and threatens to "rob [his] very life from [him]!"  Dana hurls a rock at Man-Spider (who's standing near the place where he had carved their initials), resulting in Antoine lamenting her betrayal.  Then, a recovered Spidey uses a Web-Line to hurl Man-Spider into the water, with the current carrying him from the area.  Later, Miguel downloads a database of Antoine's theories to see it put to good use in the hands of the "right" people and then deletes it from Alchemax's files.

Gabe destroys a "virtual vampire" in the Net.  (No, really, that's it.  Ten pages, but that's it.)

A guy calling himself Cathode Ray attempts to sell a vid of Spider-Man getting beaten by a bunch of street punks to a customer.  (Ray apparently pirates Public-Eye camera feeds and sells the videos.)  The customer wants something "hot" and Ray promises all sorts of videos:  murders, sky-crashes, "wicked" suicides, etc.  However, the customer wants a video of a woman changing.  Disappointed, Ray recommends instead some "snuff" stuff, namely a video of a serial killer called "Jumpcut" who murders people and then teleports from the scene before he gets caught.  The customer says that he heard that Ray had images of Jumpcut, but insists on the peeping-Tom video and departs.  Ray goes to wipe the video of Spidey, since it's not selling, but then realizes that he has a blurry image of Spidey's unmasked face; with a little computer-enhancement, he realizes that he can get a clear image.  He then comments aloud that the Public Eye could put away Spidey if it had access to that video.  At that moment, Jumpcut arrives.  He tells Ray that he's heard that he has video of him and demands the disc of Spider-Man, mistakenly thinking that it has Jumpcut's face on it.  Ray tries to tell him otherwise, but Jumpcut fires at him.  Jumpcut said he overheard him talking about the Public Eye and Ray stalls, telling him that he has other videos as well.  Jumpcut warns him not to play any tricks on him just as Ray uses a cable to trip him and escape.

Three days later, Spidey sees a holographic projection of the video of him taking off his mask playing in a loop on a nearby building.  (The loop restarts just before he fully unmasks himself.)  Miguel recognizes it from the fight with the street punks, expositing that he took off the mask because he was tired and had to check himself for injuries.  Spidey follows the projection angle to the source, discovering a "holobox" on a building rooftop.  He grabs it with a Web-Line, only for Ray to appear and grab it, telling Spidey that it's a precision instrument.  Ray tries to bargain with Spidey, but Miguel grabs him by the ankle and dangles him from the rooftop.  Scared, Ray tells him that he's been on the run for three days and used the image to get Spidey's attention, since only Spidey could save him from Jumpcut.  On cue, Jumpcut arrives, demanding the disc; Spidey realizes that he has to protect Ray (since, after all, he has the disc).  However, before he can land a punch, Jumpcut collapses the roof under Spidey and fires at Ray.  Spidey throws off Jumpcut's aim by grabbing him with a Web-Line and then webs up his lasers, but Jumpcut responds by repeatedly teleporting to land numerous punches on him.  Jumpcut approaches Ray, but Ray uses the holobox to project multiple images of himself to confuse Jumpcut.  It gives Spidey time to knock Jumpcut unconscious.  However, at that moment, the Public Eye arrives and opens fire.  Spidey grabs Ray and flees as the flyboys pursue him.  Hiding from their view, Spidey asks Ray why Jumpcut wants the disk; Ray tells him that Jumpcut thinks that he's on it, not Spidey.  Ray's afraid to tell Jumpcut the truth since then Jumpcut has no reason not to kill him.  Spidey tells him that's not his problem, but Ray says it is, because he owes him for saving his life with the holobox diversion.  Spidey reminds Ray that his life was in danger in the first place thanks to him.  Jumpcut then arrives, grabbing the disc and telling Spidey that he killed the flyboys.  Spidey tries to stop him, but he teleports.  Spidey tells Ray that anyone that Jumpcut kills is on Spidey's head since he let him escape and laments that his secret is going to be exposed.  Ray tells him that Jumpcut's not after his identity and says that he knows where Jumpcut is.

At Ray's, Jumpcut arrives infuriated since the disc he stole wasn't the right one.  Hurling it from him, Jumpcut inadvertently throws it to Spidey, who's waiting there for him.  Jumpcut attacks and starts to monologue, revealing that he believes that the real enemy is the Public Eye, constantly watching and judging.  He posits that the only escape is death, which he delivers to his victims ("the scrutinized") like an angel.  Spidey webs up Jumpcut's eyes so that he can't teleport (since he can't see where he's going), but Jumpcut does so anyway, rematerializing in a bank of monitors, killing himself.  Ray complains that his place is ruined and Spidey berates him from not turning over his vids of Jumpcut to the authorities.  Ray says that he just wanted to watch and Spidey tells him that he's as twisted as Jumpcut.  Ray pledges that he's leaving the "biz" but asks for him cleaning up his place.  Spidey refuses and tells him that they'll meet again if he discovers that Ray's watching him.  Later, Ray shows a vid of that exchange to a customer, pledging that it's the cornerstone of an all-new video empire.

The Review
This issue reminded me of "2099 Unlimited" and, unfortunately, it's not a compliment.  The first story isn't terrible, but Peterson missed a lot of opportunities to make it better.  The second story is almost nonsensical in its simplicity.  The third story is much better, but even a young Mark Waid can't pull this issue to three stars for me.
The Good
1) After complaining about the "Women in Refrigerators" nature of Dana's death in issue #37, it was nice to see Dana save Spidey from Man-Spider in the first story.  In fact, I actually liked Dana a lot more here than I do in the regular title.  She showed some spunk, rather than constantly whining as she normally does.

2) I thought Waid did some interesting stuff in the third story, really exploring the psychological impact of the 2099 society.  First, I thought Jumpcut was interesting as an example of someone driven over the edge by a surveillance society stripping him of his right to privacy.  But, Ray is even more interesting.  He's the type of amoral character that you'd expect the 2099 world to produce and I'm surprised that we haven't seen more of him.  Most of the characters to whom we've been introduced in the 2099 series have been superheroes or super-villains.  Rather than accepting the chaos of the 2099 world, they generally want to impose more order, either because they want the world to be a better place by limiting the powers of the corporations (Spider-Man) or they want to use that order to run the world themselves (Doom).  Ray doesn't have the power to change the world; he can only live in it.  So, he doesn't have the luxury of taking a grand moral stand.  In fact, the whole concept of morals doesn't really do him any good.  He just goes about his day trying to make a living, not even realizing that he could be doing it another way.  If this issue serves any purpose, it's to highlight the inherent amorality of the 2099 world as we've seen it.

3) Man, lab technicians are the Ensign Jones of the 2099 world.

The Bad
1) Peterson really didn't even try to hide Man-Spider's identity or motivations.  OK, sure, he briefly made it seem like Miguel could've been the Man-Spider.  But, once Antoine's last name was revealed to be "Tarantella," it was pretty clear that it was going to be him.  (In fact, I was shocked that Marvel didn't bill him as Tarantula 2099.)  Moreover, I immediately noticed the graffiti in the sewer that Man-Spider used as his lair, since I couldn't imagine a more un-romantic place for people to carve their initials.  When Antoine later mentioned that he had done so at his and Dana's childhood hiding-place, Peterson didn't really leave any doubt that he was the Man-Spider.  Now, I recognize that I just got done praising Layman in my review of "Detective Comics" #24 for not belaboring the mystery of Wrath's identity.  But, the interesting mystery of that arc was Wrath's motivations, not his identity.  Layman made it interesting because the obvious answer -- that he was attacking GCPD officers to drum up business for the bullet-proof vests that his weapons-manufacturing company produced -- wasn't the actual one.  Here, it's clear from the start that Antoine wants to cure himself.  So, we fairly quickly know his identity and motivation, denying this story any sort of dramatic tension.  We're then left only wondering whether he'll kill Dana, which seems unlikely to happen in a "Special" and already happened in issue #37.  It doesn't really leave you with a gripping story.

2) Along those lines, the timing of the first story is weird.  We get a note mentioning that it takes place before issue #34, since it involves the Public Eye (which Doom disbanded when he took over the United States in that issue).  But, Dana and Miguel functionally haven't been dating since issue #26, where he screamed at her to leave him alone while he was still reeling from the revelation that Tyler Stone was his father.  So, it's weird to see them together here, 11 issues later.  Moreover, based on the "2099 Bitmapped" page, this issue was released the same moth as issue #37, where Dana dies.  Needless to say, it's bad timing, since, again, it really ruins the last chance at some dramatic tension.

3) So, Dana sees Tyler Stone totally take advantage of Synthia's problems but still decides to date him?  Seriously, does she have any standards?  Also, she realizes "from his tone" that Tyler wasn't responsible for the attack?  Really?  He sounds pretty damn responsible to me...

4) In terms of missed opportunities, I thought it was particularly weird that Peterson doesn't have Miguel even remotely see the parallel between him and Antoine.  After all, Antoine is just as desperate to find a cure as Miguel was in the first arc of "Spider-Man 2099."  He also would likely want revenge on Alchemax, one of Miguels' primary motivations when he accepted that he had become Spider-Man.  Plus, Antoine did save Dana from the cater-bull.  In the end, their stories really only diverge when he attacks Dana later, but we get the sense that he's been driven over the edge by his transformation.  Peterson could've really had Miguel contemplate that, in a "there but for the grace of God go I" way.  Instead, we're left with Man-Spider as a villain simply because Peterson says that he is, despite matching the profile of Miguel in his early days of Spider-Man pretty closely.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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

The Otto-Spidey of this issue doesn't really sound much like the usual Otto-Spidey.  He's...nicer.  But, I'm down with it since this friendlier (though still prickly) portrayal means that we get the awesome display of "Prof." Spidey teaching the original X-Men how to use their powers.  Hilarity, as one can imagine, ensues.

Costa keeps this issue rooted in science, as the Beast and the Hulk race to find a way to contain Dr. Jude.  We learn that his career studying gamma radiation was sidetracked when the scientific community shunned the field after several of its experts -- notably, the Abomination, Dr. Octopous, and the Hulk -- turned themselves into monsters.  It's Jude's response to that setback where Costa asks us to stretch our ability to suspend disbelief probably a bit beyond reason:  Jude constructed the LMDs of the Abomination and Dr. Octopus in order to cause anyone using a time machine to believe that they had somehow broken the space/time continuum.  He figured that he'd be invited to study the hypothetical machine, given that he's a chronal scientist, and then use his access to travel in time to prevent Bruce Banner from becoming the Hulk.  Oh, he also turned himself into a gamma-powered monster, presumably in case he had to force his way to access said machine.  It's all...a stretch.  When you think about how much energy Jude put into creating the LMDs, studying chronal sciences, and turning himself into a gamma-powered entity, you have to wonder why he didn't just, I don't know, change to study X-rays or something.

That said, I still enjoyed this issue, mostly for Otto-Spidey's interaction with the original X-Men.  In fact, his decision not to screw with the time machine so that he could return to the past and become a good guy was touching, particularly because it shows an Otto craving that sort of affirmation, as we saw in "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" #4.  He envisions himself a member of the Avengers, not as the Superior Spider-Man, but as Dr. Octopus.  It's a nice coda to the work that Rodi did when it came to Otto's motivations in issue #4.  (Though, in another digression, I'll note that Scott starting off a conversation with Bruce Banner by asking why he hasn't killed himself yet is a bit...abrupt.)

All in all, this issue is probably two stars for the overly convenient action-forcing event and the odd conversation between Bruce and Scott.  But, it would be underselling how much I enjoyed the issue and this arc, so it's getting a three.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue could've been just a pro forma bridge issue, the one between where the villain reveals his plans and where the heroes stop it.  But, Remender doesn't take his foot off the accelerator here, using the opportunity to spend some time on characterization.  To that end, we get all sorts of interpersonal drama that advances plots established in previous issues in a strong way.  In fact, Remender shows that he really understands the two most important hallmarks of an "Avengers" book:  romance and squabbling.  In the first instance, we've got Havok and Wasp's budding relationship and Wanda and Simon's rekindled one.  Will Wasp survive to deliver on her promise of nookie to Alex?  Will Simon be able to defend Wanda when she pulls off her plan to stop the Twins?  Of course, segueing to the second instance, Simon may have to defend Wanda from Rogue.  Willing to believe that Wanda is the bad guy that she always knew that she was, Rogue follows Logan's exhortation to stop Wanda before she can conduct the Rapture.  Will Rogue's lack of trust in Wanda mean that she stops Wanda before she can save mutantkind from the Twins?  It's these questions that show how tightly constructed this story is.  The romance and the squabbling isn't just there for fun; Remender makes them integral to the plot, since their outcomes will have a direct impact on the larger story that he's telling.  Finally, you add in the somewhat heavy-handed (but pretty hilarious) metaphor of a deaf Cap not being able to hear Alex and you realize just how good this series is.

**** (four of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

See, I knew it.  I knew that Peter Quill just needed one more human to make this series even better than it already was.  Last issue, he exchanged awkward 80s-catchphrases with Iron Man.  This issue?  This issue, he goes to the P.E.A.K. and rescues Abigail Brand from Thanos' men; she then thanks him for not making a Princess-Leia reference, the Princess-Leia reference that he, and we the reader, were all thinking.  Awesome sauce.

Beyond Bendis taking the witty banter to even greater heights, we also finally get some emotions here as he (again, finally) acknowledges the events and relationships that came before this series.  Peter telling Gamora that he would've killed Thanos in the Cancerverse if he could have, simply to give her peace of mind?  Maybe it brought a tear to my ear.  Maybe.  But, Bendis doesn't stop there, with Gamora finally asking the question that we've all waited to have answered, namely how Drax, Peter, and Thanos escaped the Cancerverse.  (Unfortunately, no, he didn't mention Richard, but we all know that he's teasing us at this point.)  Peter doesn't answer, of course, but Bendis makes it clear that he knows that he has to do so at some point.

As if quips, emotions, and intrigue weren't enough, we also get some of the best action sequences I've seen...since the first issue of this series.  Francavilla isn't a natural choice for this sort of series, but, man, he really draws you into the scenes, conveying both the emotions of the characters and the grandeur of the settings.

Last issue, I hinted that "Guardians" didn't have to be deep for it to be great.  But, with Bendis suddenly going deep, this series could really be set to launch.

***** (five of five stars)

Scarlet Spider #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ugh, I felt like I was going to hurl by the end of this issue.  After such an emotional roller-coaster, I'm not sure where we go from here.  Yost makes it pretty clear that Kaine will leave Houston, since he's unlikely to exit this fight with Kraven believing that he can keep his friends safe.  (That said, I was confused why Aracely wasn't able to help here.  She's at the very least a telepath.  She managed to use her powers to sneak Kaine and herself into the Jean Grey School, but she couldn't knock Ana unconscious before she attacked Donald?  I get that she's a little dazed, but, still...)  However, Yost also sets up another potential reason for Kaine leaving Houston that I don't like at all.  It seems like Wally could decide that he has to take in Kaine for his murderous past, something that could prompt Kaine to flee as a fugitive.  If so, I don't buy it at all.  No matter how upset Wally may be over Ana's attack on Donald, Kaine has always been open about his past, about who he was.  It would be a terrible way to close this series to see Kaine spurned by the people that he had come to call friends, something that he never thought that he'd have.  I would've been happier if he had just reverted to the monster that he had been, realizing that his path to redemption had too many hurdles to completed.  But, we'll see where Yost goes with it.  Fingers crossed that it's not where I'm worried that it's going.

*** (three of five stars)

Young Avengers #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, so it's clear that we're approaching the denouement.  But, before we get there, Gillen has a few treats for us along the way.  I thought the transformation of Kid Loki into Teenage Loki was brilliant, something that Gillen has clearly planned from the start.  It was getting a little awkward for a group of teenage superheroes to have an eight-year-old with them; just imagine the trouble a teenage Loki could cause.  Moreover, Kate's quarter-life crisis was hilarious, a nod to the adults in the room that, despite the reverence this series and the readers clearly hold for these kids, they're still self-indulgent at times in a way that they themselves don't fully grasp.  Conversely, Gillen reminds us that it's said adolescent angst that not only brought this team together, but also enables Prodigy to assemble all the Marvel Universe's teen heroes to fight the oncoming horde of alternate versions of the Young Avengers sent to Earth by Mother.  They're flipsides of the same coin and it's impressive that Gillen is able to navigate that fine line between self-indulgence and community so deftly.  (That said, I'm not entirely sure the import of Noh-Varr shaving his beard.  Is it because this Oubliette woman asks him to do so?  If so, I hope Kate really stomps her.)  But, it's really Billy and Loki's budding rivalry that takes the cake here, with the two of them increasingly uncomfortable with the bond that they have to share to achieve their goals.  I don't know how it's all going to end, but I'm sure that it's going to be awesome and troubling all at the same time.  Just like adolescence.

*** (three of five stars)

Hawkeye #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I like comics where I have to put in effort.  I do.  They annoy me at times, but it doesn't mean that I don't see the endeavor as worth it.  As I predicted last issue, Fraction fills in the gaps here, making me retroactively appreciate the last three issues.  Well, I actually appreciated last issue, to be honest.  So, I guess that I now retroactively appreciate issues #10-#11.

On some level, we actually don't really know more than we did last issue.  We still have no idea why the Clown killed Grills.  He seemed to have killed him, based on the information that we had in issue #10, because he was in love with Kate and thought that Clint was also in love with Kate (as opposed to Jessica).  But, in this issue, it seems to have more to do with the bros, as it sort of did last issue as well.

But, this issue fills the emotional gaps, if not the plot ones.  We see Kate make a passionate speech to Clint on the way to Grills' funeral, telling him that they're a team and that they both know that they're the people that they want to be when they're acting like one.  However, Clint sleeps through it, setting up Kate's departure with Lucky later in this issue; we originally saw it happen at the end of issue #11 and again in issue #12.  We also see the full conversation between the cops and Clint about Grills' death; previously, we had only seen it through Lucky's eyes (without dialogue, natch) in issue #11.  We see Clint tell Grills' dad that he was killed, because he didn't want him to hear about it on the phone, satisfying my request in issue #11 that we eventually see Clint's emotional response to Grills' death.  Finally, we see Clint discover the shoe that presumably fell when Pizza Dog attacked the bro (in issue #11) and we realize that Barney was in the bathroom while Kate fought with Clint (in issue #11 and #12).

Essentially, we realize how much Clint's life has taken a dive in the last three issues, how much Clint's supporting cast is in flux.  Kate has been replaced by Barney not only on the title page but in his life.  (Presumably, the events of the annual have happened and she's currently in space with the Young Avengers, based on Gillen's comments about coordinating with Fraction in a previous letters page.)  I loved Fraction mentioning Barney threatening to kill Clint in "Hawkeye:  Blindspot," since it confirms my sense that he's trying to bring together all the disparate portrayals of Barney into a definitive one.  ("I threatened to kill a backpack just a second ago...")  We also see Jessica make it clear that it's over between them for now, one more person no longer there for him when he needs it, once again his fault.  In the end, Fraction shows how he's left with his family in the building, making it all the clearer why Grills' death is a big deal in the first place.

As Kate said here, I am totally ready for the full-on assault on the bros and the Clown.  It's time.  Now that Fraction has brought Clint to the place where he is now, chronologically and emotionally, I want me some revenge.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Infinity #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wait, so everyone could just magically kill the Builders if they believe that they can?  Did Tinkerbell suddenly arrive?  Honestly, I have no idea what happened here.  I thought the Builders were supposed to be unstoppable, but suddenly everyone could stop them simply because they saw Thor stop one.  Then, suddenly, they weren't a threat anymore and everyone just merrily moved onto fighting Thanos on Earth, as if the Builders never happened.  Really?  We never even, I don't know, see them depart the galaxy?  Or, see the last one of them die?  Also, are the Infinity Gems ever going to appear at any point?  Man, I really don't like Hickman.

* (one of five stars)

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, that was incredibly disappointing.  Bendis leaves pretty much all the mysteries driving this series unanswered.  Let's review, shall we?

First, we never learn who killed future Dazzler, so we never learn why the future Brotherhood felt like humans would always try to kill mutants (essentially invalidating Xavier's dream).  After all, future Dazzler was killed by dragons, not Sentinels.  If she had been killed by Sentinels, it would've made sense, given the revelation at the end of this issue that S.H.I.E.L.D. has its own Sentinels.  But, she wasn't.  She was killed by dragons.  If we're supposed to believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. gets into the sorcery business and uses that knowledge to assassinate a President-elect, we really need to see something that remotely confirms that (other than an off-hand reference by future Wiccan to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s sorcery division).

Second, I'm still not sure why the future Brotherhood wanted to send back the original X-Men in the first place.  I originally thought the future Brotherhood was trying to prevent the original X-Men from unifying the splintered present Brotherhood and X-Men, since it would bring mutant harmony and set the stage for future Dazzler's election.  But, not only does future-original Jean specifically pin the future's problems on the Logan/Scott schism, but Aaron completely discredited that theory in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #37.  In that issue, original Jean says that the Brotherhood is trying to prevent one of them from doing something "horrible," but we don't learn what it is in this issue.  However, how horrible could it be?  I mean, future Dazzler still got elected President.  It's not like the story that Remender is telling in "Uncanny Avengers," where the camps are literally going to open in a week.  Does s/he not do something terrible, but something good?  Does s/he unify humankind and mutantkind?  Is that the horrible thing?  The Brotherhood would have to see that as horrible, I guess.  Otherwise, it makes no sense that one of them does something so horrible that it turns humans against mutants, but the United States still elects Dazzler as President.  (Also, original Jean not knowing the horrible thing that one of them does is total bogus.  When she read future Jean's mind, it was totally clear that she was sufficiently panicked to change her mind about them returning.  It couldn't have just been on the possibility that one of them does something "horrible.")

Moreover, the Brotherhood's need to send back the original X-Men seemed urgent at the start of this event.  If it was, it implies that the "horrible" thing that the original X-Man is going to do is going to happen in days.  But, in the end, it didn't really seem all that urgent, unless we're going to see something huge happen in the next issue of "All-New X-Men."  Is it Kitty taking the original X-Men to the present Brotherhood?  It seems unlikely, since, after all, the present Brotherhood sees things more in line with the future Brotherhood?

Along those lines, I absolutely don't get Kitty bailing on the X-Men.  I get that she was upset at them for not protecting the original X-Men, but, as present Iceman said, she really didn't understand their point that they were protecting the space/time continuum?  I'm not saying that they were right, but she decides that saving the space/time continuum was such a totally inconsequential reason to justify their behavior that she leaves the X-Men?  Unbelievable.

Finally, we don't learn why the original X-Men can't be returned to the past.  Not even a hint.

Essentially, we're left in exactly the same place we were, except for Kitty and the original X-Men joining the Brotherhood.  I'd be OK with that, except for the fact that we didn't even get answers to the story that Bendis et. al told along the way.  (I'm not even going to touch the four epilogues and varying artists.)  I can't believe an event that started with such promise ended with such a whimper.

* (one of five stars)

Wolverine and the X-Men #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't have much to say about this issue, since it pretty quickly devolves into a "Who's on first?" comedy of multiple identities.  It's not a terrible issue, since Aaron plays up that confusion for laughs.  But, it doesn't really go much beyond that.  Throughout the issue, I had trouble remembering who injured whom in the last issue and I'm still not entirely sure what the future Brotherhood's plans are.  Future-original Jean seems to think that the original X-Men, the present Brotherhood and X-Men, and the future X-Men are going to think that S.H.I.E.L.D. attacked them, when she was the one who commandeered the Helicarriers.  But, with the sheer number of telepaths on the other side, it seems pretty reasonable to expect one of them to see through that ruse.  Moreover, it's still unclear why the future Brotherhood hate humans, since I'm still not convinced one of them attacked future Dazzler.  This last issue has a lot to cover.

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, we don't exactly make any real progress here, but it at least feels like we do.  In an example of pet peeve #1, we learn from the title page that the original future X-Men are, in fact, the future Brotherhood (a revelation that'll at least make it easier to write these recaps).  But, we still don't know why future-original Jean and future Hank would decide to join any version of the Brotherhood, since we still don't know who organized the assassination of future Dazzler (or why).  Second, we learn that the original X-Men actually can't be sent into the past, though we're only given future Hank's theory that they've created too strong of a space/time paradox to be able to return as an explanation.  Although my guess is that we still have a final reckoning coming at some point on their ultimate destiny, it at least takes the threat of the future Brotherhood successfully sending them into the past off the table.  In doing so, it clears the way for a battle royale between the present X-Men, the present Brotherhood, and the future X-Men against the future Brotherhood.

We're still waiting to learn how the future Brotherhood came into being and why they're trying to send back the original X-Men.  With the revelation that the original X-Men may wind up staying in the present, it's starting to feel like the reason that the future Brotherhood want them returned to the past is because the original X-Men accomplish present Hank's goal of promoting harmony between the present Brotherhood and present X-Men.  (After all, assuming that someone frees the present X-Men, they'll all be fighting together, against the future Brotherhood, for the first time.)  In so doing, it seems likely that they'll heal this rift and bring together mutantkind, setting the stage for the assassination of Dazzler.  It seems like it's that harmony that the future Brotherhood is trying to prevent, particularly given the peaceful images of the future X-Men's world.

*** (three of five stars)

Indestructible Hulk Special #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This arc is starting to remind of the cross-over event that James Asmus wrote for the "Namor:  The First Mutant," "Steve Rogers:  Super-Soldier," and "Uncanny X-Men" annuals.  It's a rollicking good time, with excellent moments of characterization and a good sense of fun.  Plus, Costa keeps us guessing:  I really didn't see Beast's professor becoming the bad guy.  (I can't wait to see Otto-Spidey recant his confession that he was willing to believe that the original X-Men had created a disturbance in the space/time continuum!)  That said, I wonder how Dr. Jude knew that original Beast had come to the present and how he could benefit from exploiting confusion related to that by LMDs of Abomination and Dr. Octopus.  I guess that we'll see next issue!  (Also?  The Hulk cuddling puppies to return to Banner?  Well played, Costa.  Well played.)

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Avengers #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a great example of why events suck.  Whereas DeConnick managed to connect the "Infinity" tie-in issues of "Captain Marvel" to the ongoing story in that series, Spencer disappears from this title, along with the ongoing saga of A.I.M. Island.  How's Mockingbird?  Doesn't the assassination crew wonder what happened exactly on A.I.M. Island?  What's Daisy doing with Bucky?  Why would Bucky agree to help her depose Maria Hill?  All those questions get shelved for the requisite "aliens are invading New York...again."  I mean, yes, it makes sense that, in real time, those questions would get shelved since, after all, aliens are invading New York.  But, aliens seemingly invade New York weekly at this point in the Marvel Universe, so it's hard to see this tie-in issue as anything other than an unwelcome distraction from the pretty detailed and involved story that Spencer had been telling.

** (two of five stars)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Justice League #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although this issue is filling space in much the same way that "Justice League of America" #8 was, Johns effectively uses it to get to the heart of this event, the struggle between good and evil.

One of the challenges for Johns from the start with "Forever Evil" is that the Crime Syndicate debuted in 1964, at a time when comics tended to tell stories that oversimplified "good" and "evil."  Lex Luthor couldn't just want to defeat Superman; he also had to kick puppies and steal candy from small children.  Since 1964, comics have evolved, adopting a view of "good" and "evil" that more accurately reflects the complicated guidelines that drive the moral judgments of people's actions.  For example, the Brotherhood of "Evil" Mutants eventually became just the Brotherhood of Mutants.  In fact, Marvel has gone even further, with Scott Summers' Brotherhood claiming that it's actually the legitimate inheritor of Xavier's legacy, a bit of deconstructionism that shows how far we are from the good/evil dichotomy of the 1960s.  (Truthfully, I find that DC hews more to this dichotomy than Marvel does (particularly in portrayals of characters like Joker or Lex Luthor), but it certainly allows for more nuance than it did in the 1960s.)

Johns has so far addressed this problem by mostly just accepting the Crime Syndicate as it is, embracing the anachronism.  He does so in particular with Ultraman's origin in this issue;  we're treated to a brutal and petty "Kal-Il" and the spousal- and substance- abusing Kents.  By the end of this tour of Ultraman's childhood, it's no surprise that he is who he is.

However, Johns also embraces the anachronism on the other side by using the "Daily Planet's" newsroom staff as the embodiment of "good" to Ultraman's "evil."  Ultraman goes to the "Daily Planet" to confirm his suspicions about this Earth's weaknesses; for him, this weakness is embodied in the goodness of Jimmy Olsen as compared to Earth-Three's Jimmy Olsen, who apparently skinned alive someone for peeking at his X-rated photos of Lois Lane.  With this conflict, Johns sets these extremes against one another in a way that allows him to comment on the true nature of heroism.  It's about Jimmy Olsen telling Ultraman to spare everyone other than him.  It's about Lois Lane smashing her typewriter on Ultraman's head to save Jimmy.  It's about the newsroom staff charging Ultraman when he throws Lois into the wall.  In a more morally relativistic world, it's harder to define "heroism."  If Lex Luthor kicks puppies but gives candy to small children, what conclusions are we supposed to draw from that?  Johns reminds us of the value of this over-simplified dichotomy for defining what heroism means.

Moreover, Johns uses this incident to give us a glimpse into the panic that regular people are feeling as the Crime Syndicate consolidates its hold on Earth in the absence of the Justice Leagues.  We haven't see that before this issue; the focus has primarily been on the villains themselves and, after that, the heroes.  It's a worth-while addition to the story.  

The Black Adam "save" is a little convenient, robbing us of the possibility of the newsroom staff using its ingenuity to escape (if not defeat) Ultraman.  (It's really the only reason that I gave this issue three stars instead of four stars).  But, the scenes in the "Daily Planet" make this issue an almost necessary tie-in issue for anyone reading "Forever Evil," to give him/her the missing sense of impact that the event is having on regular people and a contemplation of this definition of "good" and "evil."  It encourages you to see the Crime Syndicate as caricatures of the challenges that people face and the newsroom staff as examples of how we can overcome those challenges, by staying true to ourselves and the people around us.  It might not be deconstructionism or moral relativism, but it's honestly all the better for it.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League of America #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Martian Manhunter awakens to discover that the Justice Leagues are being held in some sort of mental prison, stuck in rooms where their worst insecurities are exploited.  Wonder Woman is driven to fight male soldiers by a fear that she's not going to die a warrior's death (apparently due to her feelings toward Steve and Superman), Flash decides that he wants to use his powers to experience everything the world has to offer all at the same time, Superman is trying to turn back time to prevent himself from murdering Dr. Light, and Green Lantern (Simon Baz) becomes a terrorist because people expected him to be one.  It's a dark issue, but it's still mostly a placeholder.  We don't learn where the Justice Leagues' physical bodies are.  I'm left to assume that Batman's absence in this issue and his comments at the end of "Forever Evil" #2 mean that he and Catwoman somehow avoided/escaped imprisonment.  However, it's still not clear how the Justice Leagues were imprisoned in the first place.  But, I'm guessing that we'll get there next issue.  Although it's a finely constructed issue, I'm only giving it two stars mainly due to the fact that the vamping was a little too obvious.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series is occasionally hard to recap, since the joys of it are rarely plot-driven.  After all, at this point, it's not like a lot has really happened in this series.  Peter told his father to take a flying leap, he chatted with Thanos about the space/time "event," and the Guardians engaged Angela in a fight.  It's not exactly "Uncanny Avengers."

But, it's not supposed to be "Uncanny Avengers."  It's supposed to be Peter and Tony competing over the most awkward '80s reference while Rocket tries to flirt with Angela, Groot says, "I am Groot" a few times, Drax broods impatiently in the background, and Gamora attempts to keep a handle on her disdain.  It's a good time.  But, as Bendis reminds us, these characters are also good people.  After all, Bendis uses a great exchange between Angela and Peter to make the point that the Guardians aren't being paid to be guardians.  They're just heroes.  But, he goes even further when he allows Peter's humanity to shine through his jokey exterior by having him not only release Angela but also essentially put her under the Guardians' protection.  It's a good time with good people.  What more could you possibly want?

Also, on a side note, this issue was the first one where I was glad that Iron Man was here.  I could become convinced that Peter needs another human on the team so that he can interact in a way that we Earthers can understand and appreciate and that makes us appreciate him all the more.  I'm just hoping that person is eventually Richard Rider, but I'll take Tony Stark for the time being.

**** (four of five stars)

Nightwing #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, so, Dick's roommate isn't Prankster.  Instead, he's a kid looking for revenge.  But, the cop who might have a vendetta against Nightwing is a former hero and Tony Zucco is a good guy for a minute but becomes a bad guy again.  [Sigh.]

First things first, I really don't follow the Prankster story as Higgins has told it.  So, the Mayor and his brother convinced the city to build a train line through their old neighborhood.  But, why is that a bad thing?  Was it some sort of corrupt deal?  Did they make a lot of money from it?  It's not like they owned the neighborhood, so I'm not sure how they would've benefited from the line going through it.  But, whatever, fine, I can use my imagination.  But, why did the electrical engineer on the project (Prankster's father) die?  Was he murdered?  He looks murdered from the way Conrad portrays him, with cuts all over his head.  Plus, young Prankster found him in his Halloween costume seemingly outside their house, so it doesn't seem like he died on the job from an accident.  Did the Mayor's brother kill him?  If not, why did he "take the fall" for the death?  All that would make sense, except for the fact that the Mayor claims that it was an accident.  If it was, then why would someone have to take the fall?  I can't believe that Higgins doesn't answer these questions, given how central that they are to the plot.  But, I re-read this issue and they really aren't there.

Moreover, no one guessed who Prankster was, other than Tony Zucco?  The Mayor's brother goes to jail for killing young Prankster's father, young Prankster mails him his Halloween mask as a souvenir (a mask that looks identical to the one that he later wears as Prankster), and not a single person beyond Zucco makes that connection?  Moreover, Zucco only decides to make that revelation now, when Prankster's imminently going to destroy the South Side?  When Prankster first arrived on the scene, Zucco couldn't tell that he'd be gunning for the Mayor at some point?

Plus, I'm not really sure what Prankster's plan was.  He releases the Mayor with the switch to disable the bomb that he planted under the train line, but the Mayor has to make it through a gauntlet of his own citizens to get there.  What did Prankster want to happen?  For the mob to kill the Mayor and then the South Side to be destroyed?  Why destroy the South Side if you just wanted revenge against the Mayor?  Why not just put him on the street for the mob to kill him?  I mean, what happened to Prankster as avenging hero, going after sex traffickers?  Isn't blowing up the South Side just for a fun a little bloody for a guy who saw himself as a hero righting wrongs?

I thought that the Prankster story was going to end similarly to the Batman/Wrath one from "Detective Comics," with Prankster being a version of Dick through the glass, darkly.  Moreover, unlike Wrath, Prankster seemed to have staying potential as an anti-hero, using his anger at the establishment (represented by men like Mayor Cole) as a way to avenge the common people.  It would've been an even more nuanced take than the Batman/Wrath duality, exploring the real fine line between hero and anti-hero (and not the thicker line between hero and villain).  But, Higgins unfortunately ditches all subtlety here by making Prankster into a sociopath with revenge as his only goal.  Wrath wanted revenge on the entire GCPD, hence the scale of his operations.  Prankster wants revenge only against the Mayor, but is willing to kill virtually everyone in Chicago to get it.  Again, we're not talking about the guy that I thought that we were going to see, a guy motivated by revenge, but with a larger vision of the world that he wants to see implemented to right that original wrong; we're talking about a homicidal maniac on the same level as Joker, regardless of his motivation.

I also don't know what to say about Tony Zucco suddenly going from killer to family man to killer so quickly.  His wife allegedly divorces him and moves her kid somewhere else and he decides to unlearn everything that he's learned since coming to Chicago and become Tony Zucco again?  Really?  Given that Higgins never really sold me on Zucco-as-family-man, his immediate reversion makes everything that Higgins has done with him feel overly convenient, a plot device to move forward the story that he wanted to tell.  Now that Higgins no longer needs him as a family man, he can resume being a bad guy?  It might've even been better had Higgins killed of Zucco's wife and kid, since Tony's return to the dark side would be more understandable.

Finally, I'm not really sure what to do with the revelation that Billy's cop mentor is Ghostwalker.  Why does he think that Chicago needs to be hero-free?  He seems to feel it deeply, so I hope Higgins gets us there at some point.  But, to be honest, his appearances have felt so shoe-horned into this series that I really have problems remembering anything about him.

Man, this issue gave us a disappointing conclusion to this arc.  It makes me wonder why I'm still getting this series, particularly when the status quo is going to be upended again due to events in "Forever Evil."

* (one of five stars)

Captain America #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, we have a lot going on here.  First, Remender unexpectedly has Cap break down this issue.  I figured that we were going to have to wait several issues for him to lose it at a crucial moment, to realize that his failure to acknowledge his pain was going to cost him or someone else their lives.  Instead, it's understandably the Falcon who gets Steve to come clean, not only about Ian but about how disconnected he feels to a world that he barely remembers (again).  Surprisingly early as it is, I'm glad to see it.  The Falcon isn't like Bruce Banner, "Nick" Fury, Maria Hill, or Hank Pym, the people who last issue decided that spending ten years in an alternate dimension was no good reason for Steve not to be released from the hospital.  The Falcon knows Steve enough to know that he's hurting and that he needs to be pushed to acknowledge that hurt, since he interprets that pain, as we see here, as a weakness.  I wasn't really interested in a story where Steve's grief drives him to the brink and I'm honestly glad that we're spared that here.  His grief might weigh on him and manifest itself later, but it's at least a burden that he's not sharing alone.  To have him do so would have been to underestimate the great supporting cast that he's always had and I'm glad that Remender doesn't do that.

But, Steve is actually only one of the focues of this issue.  (In fact, I wouldn't even say that he's the primary one.)  Here, we learn that Nuke isn't just some deranged super-soldier, but a deranged super-soldier whose strings are being pulled by a Chinese Communist with dragon-based powers.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  As bizarre as it sounds, Remender really sells it, since you could see how the damage that Nuke's doing is going to hurt America.  Moreover, the dragon guy is amassing some of the world's richest men to work as laborers, a punishment for their capitalist sins.  The connection between Nuke and their disappearances is made be a freelance journalist covering Nuke's attacks, though Remender doesn't really make it clear how the trail of the men's disappearances led her to Nuke, though she herself explicitly makes that connection.  Has Nuke been kidnapping them and she's been following Nuke?  Or, is she following the dragon guy kidnapping them and stumbled upon Nuke?  And, if the goal is, as I'm assuming, to discredit America, why is dragon guy ensuring that news of Nuke's rampage isn't being released?  (I'm assuming that he's behind the communications block that the journalist mentions here.)

I'm anxious to have those questions answered, but I think Remender's doing a great job of raising them.  Steve is likely to be an issue or two away from addressing the problem, given his current situation, so I like the fact that Remender's keeping it on a slow boil in the background at this point.  The lid clearly isn't going to stay in place for too long, though.

*** (three of five stars)


It's about here where I get event fatigue, where I really just want to know the hows and the whys and be done with it.  This event isn't really any different, despite the fact that, overall, I'm enjoying it.

As expected, we learn that the original future X-Men aren't X-Men at all, though it's not entirely clear who they are and why they're doing what they're doing.  Logan's child with Mystique (um, yeah) apparently posed as future Kitty, but future Hank and future-original Jean appear to be themselves.  So, it's presumably not just some sort of Brotherhood plot to destroy the X-Men.  But, why they're doing what they're doing and how it's connected to future Dazzler's assassination remain unclear.  Moreover, it's unclear why they feel pressed to act.  Future Xavier decides to drop the charade from a sense of desperation to get at least three of the original X-Men to the past, but we're never really given a reason why it's so urgent that he would risk compromising the mission by revealing themselves.

Normally, I could handle my impatience if the story is good, as it has been.  But, Wood reminds me why I'm not a huge fan of this series.  Something about his writing just leaves me cold.  This issue becomes essentially an elaborate family reunion -- beyond Wolverine's daughter, Sentinel-X of the new future X-Men is revealed to be Shogo -- but Wood never really gives himself a chance to explore the emotions that should be at the center of those revelations.  They're just presented as marks to hit before we get to the end.  I find myself agreeing with him:  let's just rush to the end, shall we?

On a side note, we're told that Logan doesn't have his healing factor, but I'm not sure when that happened.  Is that something happening in his own series?  Couldn't we get some sort of old-fashioned "Editor's Note" if it did?  I mean, I get all four core X-books, but it's never been mentioned.  Given that I pretty much loathe Wolverine, if Marvel is telling me that reading all 30 of his series is essential to understanding the X-books, I might as well just good-bye right here.

** (two of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I've written this review twice.  In the first review, I expressed confusion over Rodi's portrayal of Otto-Spidey. To me, he felt more like the Otto-Spidey that Slott delivered in the first few months of "Superior Spider-Man," still motivated to be a hero.  However, in those issues, he was motivated by Peter's consciousness and history.  Since Otto eradicated both from his mind, I've struggled to understand why he's been doing what he's doing as a superhero.  However, Rodi provides an answer.  My "confusion" came from the gap between Slott not caring about Otto's motivations and Rodi providing a clear sense of them.

First, Rodi reminds us that Otto is motivated by the firm belief that he can be the greatest superhero of all time.  Slott also makes that argument, though I've never felt like it was enough to justify Otto not returning to a life of crime.  Slott lately seems to be arguing that Otto interprets "greatest superhero of all time" as "most powerful superhero of all time.  You need look no further than Spidey's assault on Shadowland.  It was all about Otto strutting his stuff and proving to the people of New York that he could take down the Kingpin.  Rodi doesn't dispute that power plays into Otto's motivations, but he focuses more on the competitive nature of the goal.  Rodi has Otto taking umbrage at Luke Cage not only implying that Spectrum should take care of Fulmina, but also that Otto created the problem in the first place.  This motivation rings more true to me.  In Slott's version, it's not hard to see Otto becoming so obsessed with power that he'd slide right into becoming a villain.  Rodi's take seems to put a check on that happening, since you can't "win" the competition if you resume being a super-villain.

However, it's still not enough to convince me that Otto wants to be a superhero.  It's here where Rodi provides a motivation that Slott lost once Otto ditches Peter's conscience and history.  Rodi reminds us that Otto isn't just motivated by competition, but also the approval from the people that he saves.  Slott has only explored this emotional motivation in a limited way, mostly in Otto striking against bullies that remind him of his father.  But, Rodi goes beyond that, showing that the adoration that Spider-Man receives when he does things like fixing the generator at a hospital motivates Otto.  It's a motivation completely lacking in Slott's Octo-Spidey, explaining why his actions feel so emotionally hollow.  It's why I increasingly don't buy Otto as Spidey in "Superior Spider-Man."  But, combining this theme of competition and power with the need for approval, Rodi delivers the most convincing reason why Otto hasn't started robbing banks.  Now, I just have to hope that Slott read this arc.

In the art department, Del Mundo really excels in this issue, showing a fluidity of form that fits both Fulmina and Spidey.

Despite disliking the first issue of this two-parter, I find myself hoping that both Rodi and Del Mundo stay on this title or appear somewhere else in the Spideyverse.

**** (four of five stars)

Infinity #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I get the sense that this issue was important in terms of the story that Hickman is telling, but I'm not entirely sure why.  Sure, Thor killed a Builder.  He did so by hurling Mjolnir through a sun and using it to slay the Builder.  Unless Thor is going to have time to do that with every single Builder, I don't see what exactly changed here.  The Builders still have a galactic armada, right?  Isn't that still going to prove to be a problem?  Also, I'm not sure why Black Bolt "activated" all the Inhumans.  What did it have to do with Thanos searching for his son?  Thanos seems to know who his son is, so I don't think the plan was just to create more Inhumans to confuse him, right?  I've been more or less pleasantly surprised by this series, but I feel like Hickman missed a beat here.

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Batman #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Snyder does a great job here building to the moment that we all knew was coming, but still felt like a surprise when it arrived, namely Batman's final confrontation with the Red Hood and the inadvertent birth of the Joker.  One challenge that Snyder had from the start was that this story has been told so many times that it's hard to imagine anyone successfully breathing new life into it.  Even with the license that the DCnU concept gives him to re-imagine it, he's still forced to hit certain marks; the Red Hood has to fall into a vat of chemicals at the A.C.E. Chemicals factory.  That said, the tweaks that Snyder add are clever, even if I'm not entirely sure that they do much to change the story.

First, A.C.E. is owned by Wayne Enterprises and the Red Hood Gang's influence over Philip Kane means that it's been using the factory as a base of operations to build the dirty bomb that the Red Hood plans on unleashing on Gotham.  Second, Philip (himself an invention of this arc) gets redemption here, saving Batman's life at the cost of his own.  Snyder doesn't let that moment pass without comment, allowing Bruce a brief moment to mourn the death of his last living relative.  Perhaps most significantly, Snyder has the Red Hood decide to fall into the vat, declaring it a "new beginning."  Finally, we conclude with Bruce giving Alfred a well narrated tour of the Red Hood's possible identities.  This part might not seem like a tweak, at first, since it's not like the original story provided any real insight into the Joker's identity either.  But, it's actually the most significant tweak.  Snyder strongly implies that Joker had more agency in this plot than he had in previous incarnations.  In fact, the whole idea of the Gang being comprised of people that Joker coerced into service recalls the origins of the Red Hood as a nameless flunky forced to commit crimes on behalf of organized crime.  Joker is usually portrayed as one of the various lackeys who donned the Hood; he didn't become interesting until he fell into that vat.  Here, Snyder has Joker be in charge from the start; he's not the coerced, but the coercer.  I was fascinated with the idea that Joker didn't create the Red Hood Gang but instead decided to take it from its original leader.  It shows how clever and flexible he is and, in the end, how dangerous he is.  Someone builds a better mousetrap to commit crimes, so he steals the mousetrap to commit terrorism.  Creepy, to say the least.  In a way, this possible origin seems to encapsulate the diabolical genius that it's hard to believe that Joker didn't always possess, as it seemed in the original stories.

Moreover, Snyder is actually able to make it seem possible to the read that the Red Hood would actually succeed; after all, the first few pages of "Zero Year" showed a Gotham reduced to the Dark Ages.  It's why I still found myself holding my breath until Red Hood actually fell into that vat, since the DCnU essentially puts everything on the table (as we unfortunately learned in the zero issues).  Instead, it seems that the Riddler is the villain who's going to deliver us into darkness, so to speak.  As I've said previously, I've enjoyed "Zero Year" so far, even though I'm not entirely sure at this point that it's doing anything too innovative to Batman's mythos.  Joker may emerge as more in command of his destiny when he was the Red Hood than he was in original stories; but, the guy who emerges from that vat is still Joker, regardless of who he was before he fell into it, his own siege perilous.  But, we'll see where we go with the Riddler.

*** (three of five stars)

Batgirl #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

My first problem here is that I still don't really buy the Barbara/Ricky "relationship," which sort of makes it difficult to feel the emotion that Simone wants me to feel here.  I mean, I just really have problems believing that Barbara would go on a date with a guy whose life she saved, regardless whether he's a bad guy or a good guy.  But, OK, let's concede that.  I'll even concede, as I've previously mentioned, that Ricky would have a photo of Barbara and him so quickly, since it's comics and relationships move fast.  Fine.

But, my second problem is that Simone seems to be skipping some steps.  For example, beyond seeing the photo of Barbara and Ricky together, how does Commissioner Gordon know that Barbara knew Ricky?  Either Simone is having Gordon make a mistake in giving Barbara that piece of information, since she'll also ask how he knew, or she wants us to believe that, I don't know, Gordon met Ricky's mother in the hospital and she was all, "Oh, hi, our children went on a date, so it's awkward that you shot my son."  Moreover, I feel like the addition of all of Barbara's previous foes -- Mirror, Gretel, and Grotesque -- to Knightfall's ranks happened off-page.  Have they always been working for her?  Or, did she recruit them recently because they've tangled with Batgirl?  I feel like the latter is the answer, but it feels excessive to have all of them go after Gordon.  Does Knightfall know Batgirl's identity and makes a point by sending people she failed to kill to kill her father?  Again, I feel like I should know that but I'm not sure if we've ever seen Knightfall say that.  Plus, it's pretty clear here that Knightfall's going after Gordon for tangling with her gang, so my guess is that she doesn't know Barbara's identity and it's just convenient that she happens to send all three of Barbara's previous sparring partners to kill her father.  So, I'm left with a lot of questions here that I feel I shouldn't have.  Part of it could be my fault, but, even if Simone has actually given us all that information, it hasn't stuck in part because of the way that we're just jumping from problem to problem.  To have it all come together here feels overly convenient, not climactic, as it's clearly intended.

Ugh.  I'm hoping that we wrap up this Ricky business soon, because I'm really over it.  I mean, don't kill the kid, but maybe we could spend some time focusing on Barbara getting her life in order without her dating would-be car thieves.

** (two of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The first twist that I thought was clever was the revelation that Fred sicked Iron Fist and Luke Cage on the Sinister Six so that he could later free them, using the incident to justify his leadership of the team.  It showed how clever Fred is, how he's capable of thinking a few moves down the game.  But, the best twist is where Fred pushes a car into the river with a tied-up Shocker in the trunk.  This one, this one is Fred.  Sure, you have to ask yourself if he really means to kill him, since, if he did, he probably could've just shot him.  But, it shows that Fred is also scared.  He panics, he makes bad decisions, he worries.  He probably could've kept the Shocker on the team, probably could've used him.  It just would've required some leadership to keep him in line.  But, he panics after the Shocker reveals that he knows the Punisher was actually the Chameleon.  Again, the Shocker probably would've believed Fred's lie that he had paid the Chameleon to appear as the Punisher just to improve his cred with the team, making it clear how he escaped an encounter with the Punisher.  Instead of realizing how lucky he is that the Shocker didn't discover that the Chameleon is really pulling their strings, he takes out the Shocker.  I had actually sort of believed him at the end, believed that Fred had realized that if he just ran the team efficiently, they'd do better and make more money.  But, leadership is hard and Fred takes the easy way.  But, I guess, in the end, it's Fred.  He can play a game of chess, so long as no one makes an unexpected move and forces him to knock the board off the table in panic.

Forever Evil #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Johns throws all sorts of mysteries and revelations at us here, virtually all at the same time.  The Crime Syndicate is keeping a "hitchhiker" as a prisoner; Owlman and Superwoman want him dead, for previous crimes against the Syndicate, while Ultraman wants him alive, for use as a distraction in case some entity that apparently almost defeated them on their Earth followed them to this one.  (In fact, this entity might be the reason that they fled their Earth in the first place.)  Oh, also, Superwoman is bearing Owlman's child, though Ultraman thinks that it's his child.  Good times.

But, this issue is really about Lex Luthor.  Sure, Johnny Quick manipulates Kid Flash's vibrations, accidentally sending him and the Teen Titans into the future.  Sure, Batman arrives with Catwoman and Cyborg declaring that the Justice League didn't make it (leaving me to assume that the Crime Syndicate sent them to their Earth).  But, it's really about Lex Luthor revealing that he's cloned Superman, a clone that needed five more years before it was ready; instead, Luthor activates him and Bizarro is born.  It's really about Lex revealing that he needed Kord Industries, which he was trying to buy when the Crime Syndicate revealed itself to the world, in order to finish his special armor; but, as with Bizarro, Luthor realizes that the time to activate it is now.  And, suddenly, Lex Luthor becomes Earth's best hope.  I can't wait to see how that's going to go.