Thursday, January 30, 2014

Young Avengers #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

"You're Billy &%&$%&%%^$^&$&$ Kaplan.  Own it."

I could probably just end this review there, but I'll continue.  This issue does what it promises, as the Young Avengers and their friends take stock of the events of this series so far and try to figure out how the pieces of their lives all fit together now.

The Billy/David/Teddy triangle (not surprisingly) has the happiest resolution:  Billy and David make a certain amount of peace and Billy tells Teddy that he couldn't have invented him because he couldn't have dreamed that he could love anyone as much as he does Teddy.  (Awww.)

Unfortunately, the Kate and Noh-Varr story doesn't have anywhere near as happy of a resolution.  In fact, it might actually become its own triangle, given the surprise appearance of Tommy, who interrupts a quiet moment between Kate and Noh-Varr and delivers Kate her New Year's kiss.  Tommy's presence goes unexplained, but I'm sure that we'll learn more next issue.

My favorite moment, though, is the one that involves the above quote.  Billy contemplates Teddy (looking pretty studily handsome) from a distance and wonders if David wouldn't be better for him and if he's being selfish keeping him.  At that moment, America tells him that he'll never be Captain America or Thor or Iron Man or his mom.  He has to be Billy Kaplan.  It's a great exhortation, to just be the best version of who you are, particularly since you happen to be pretty awesome in the first place.  Captain America might be more studily handsome than Billy, but he's not the Demiurge.  In other words, he's not Billy &%&$%&%%^$^&$&$ Kaplan.  Although it helps Billy, it doesn't America.  We learn that Billy not only created her, but her whole universe, the Utopian Parallel, the "purest incarnation of the Demiurge's breath, a land born of his final unwinding of magic."  But, she left this paradise after her moms died defending it.  Why'd she leave?  Because you can't make Utopia a better place.  She's on Earth to be like the people who inspired her, like her moms and Billy.  It's remarkably powerful, even though (or maybe because) America realizes that Billy, her maker, is an idiot, "like the rest of us."  As I said last issue, America is the character that I most hope shows up somewhere else so that we can learn more about her.

Overall, this issue feels valedictory, as, no doubt, will the next one.  In fact, I'm starting to feel like Gillen has done something really remarkable with this series, namely, make you realize that we might not need the Young Avengers anymore.  Maybe they're just Avengers now.  I'm not saying that they're adults, but this 15-issue season, as Gillen calls it, has left them different.  They can't go back to who they were, so it raises all sorts of questions about where they're going.  I can't wait to see.

**** (four of five stars)

Also, for posterity's sake, here's a copy of the playlist that Kieron Gillen recommends for this issue:

http://kierongillen.tumblr.com/post/70378127796/the-young-avengers-afterparty-playlist

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Scarlet Spider #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I was worried going into this issue that Yost would kill pretty much everyone but Aracely (and I knew that she was safe only because I knew that she's going to be in "New Warriors" with Kaine).  In that way, it was like reading "Earth 2," where you feel like the writer has options that people dealing with more established characters, like Captain America or Spider-Man, don't have.  It's hard to kill off Sharon Carter or Aunt May, at this point, and believe it will stick.  Annabelle?  Not so much.  After all, Nightcrawler may get to return from the dead, but no one's going to bother healing Donald of his wounds.

The good news is that everyone lives.  But, it's not necessarily good news to Kaine, since his relationships with Annabelle and Wally come to an end regardless.  After the attack on Donald and the destruction of Kaine's room at the Four Seasons, Wally has clearly realized that the collateral damage that comes with Kaine isn't necessarily worth the protection that he believed that Kaine initially offered Houston.  He promises to deal with the police, but it's his last favor; he tells Kaine to leave town.  Moreover, Annabelle flees after seeing Kaine transform into some sort of spider-creature, like he did during the Other story in this series, to defeat Shathra, the entity that pretended to be Annabelle in the last issue.  Both moments are devastating in their own way.  Wally essentially rejects Kaine as a hero and Annabelle as a man, rejections that strike at the heart of his own sneaking suspicions about himself.  It's why he's left as broken of an individual as we see here.  The fact that he didn't leave behind Aracely is the only evidence that we have that he's not totally lost.

All in all, Yost does a great job here wrapping up the series.  Similar to Simone taking 26 issues to tell one story in "Batgirl," Yost has essentially done the same thing here.  This series told Kaine's time in Houston as he tried to see if he could be a hero and have a life.  His story might not be done, but that one is.  My only quibble with this issue is that I'm not really sure if using Zoe to blow up the hotel room was necessary.  Shathra was probably enough of a threat to put everyone's lives in danger and cause property damage.  Zoe just seemed too much trying to settle accounts, despite the fact that it was an account that I felt was already settled.

But, overall, I have to thank Yost for an amazing series.  It was usually the comic that I anticipate the most each month and I was rarely (if ever) disappointed.  I feel like Yost probably had another 25 issues in him (at least), but I'm glad that we got the ones that we did and I'm glad that we'll see Kaine in "New Warriors."  Good stuff.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wolverine and the X-Men #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, Aaron really can pull the heartstrings when he puts his mind to it.

It's hard to think of a more sympathetic character than Joseph, one of the Brickelmoore twins.  We discover that he's an orphan that either S.H.I.E.L.D. or Mystique is using in its/her war against the X-Men.  Joseph and his sister, Squidgirl, clearly didn't have the type of childhood where you get to play with kids your own age, let alone with jetpacks.  He embraces the School, but his sister reminds them that they're only there to complete their mission and avoid getting returned to the orphanage.  (If S.H.I.E.L.D. really is behind their mission and not Mystique, it raises all sorts of questions about the type of organization that would use the possibility of returning orphans to an orphanage to coerce them into service.)  Aaron leaves it unclear if Squidgirl is acting on her own in deciding to take on the School or if S.H.I.E.L.D./Mystique gave her the secondary mission to take it down if their primary mission, reconnaissance, revealed how dangerous it was.  I guess we'll find out an answer at some point.

However, Joseph isn't the only one with his vulnerabilities on display.  The whole point of his and Squidgirl's under-cover assignment is to find out the students' weaknesses.  The most devastating is the revelation that Broo isn't as recovered as we thought, as we see him contemplating the body of a deer that he's killed.  It makes me wonder, yet again, how Squidgirl can discover that reality within a few days but none of the teachers responsible for him are aware of it.

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #15.INH (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This is a pretty amazing issue.  I had low hopes for it, since the combination of the tie-in issue ("Inhumanity") and over-used trope ("Girls Night Out!") seemed to doom it from the start.  But, Bendis really delivers.  After all, we see Emma at her imperial best, which is always a plus.  But, this issue isn't just a shopping trip.  It's exciting because Bendis manages to create a "Cloverfield"-like atmosphere as the X-Men learn about a disturbance near where they're shopping.  Beyond just the suspense factor, their confrontation with the Inhuman causing the disturbance really leads you to wonder whether normal is really an option for them.

But, Bendis raises implications of this event that go beyond this issue.  He conveys the complicating factor that the wide-spread activation of the Inhumans is going to be for mutants.  After all, it's extremely difficult to tell an Inhuman and a mutant apart.  A.I.M. seems to see Inhumans as the evolution of the human race, raising the possibility that they'll receive a somewhat warmer welcome than the mutants if the rest of the world also sees them that way.  As Emma implies, it's entirely possible that mutants will be blamed for the bad that either race does and Inhumans will be celebrated for the good.  It certainly doesn't bode well for the X-folks.


**** (four of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I totally, totally gasped at the revelation on the last page that Tombstone is the Beetle's dad.  Amazeballs.

I'm finding that this series almost defies reviewing, since it's all so perfect and tight that you sort of just have to read it to get a sense of it.  I mean, how do you describe the brilliance of the story of the "The True Face of Victor Von Doom?"  How do you explain the visual gags, like Fred pulling a poster of "The Ugly Truth" over "The True Face of Victor Von Doom" or Dr. Doom standing in his boxers contemplating his vulnerability.  You can't.  You just can't.  You have to experience it yourself.

As result, I really only have two specific comments.  First, Spencer and Lieber still do an amazing job of conveying the emotions of the Superior Foes without words.  It fits, of course, that super-villains aren't exactly comfortable discussing their emotions, either to one another or to themselves (via first-person narration), so the visual cues are our only real insight into their inner truths.  For example, the splash page of Fred envisioning his future with the waitress went beyond Fred simply saying that he was in love with her; similarly, Speed Demon thinking about his dog when the Owl said that he was going to kill him was remarkably touching (even if he stole that dog off a little girl).  Although the tone of this series is light, I will say that I feel like Spencer is letting us know that the other shoe may drop one day and not everyone is going to get to the other side of that OK.  He and Lieber are slowly making us care about these characters, by using visuals to go past their bluster.  Second, in the aforementioned splash page, Fred and the waitress' child seems to be the son of the guy with a flame for a head, not Fred's, leading me to wonder why Fred, in his own dreams, appears to see himself cuckolded?  That's a little screwy, right?  Then again, Fred's pretty screwy, so maybe it makes sense.

In other words, it's all still amazing.

**** (four of five stars)

Nightwing #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Another issue, another change to a new status quo.  Dick is a bartender at a cop bar now, the perfect place for him to pick up leads.  The problem, of course, is that we're just waiting for the events that took place in "Forever Evil" to lead us to yet another status quo when everyone in Chicago discovers his identity.  I mean, this issue itself is fine, but it doesn't makes sense to get attached to anything happening here since it's all going to be differnt by issue #30 at the latest.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League of America #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you've ever watched the TV show "Heroes," it's hard not to find the struggles of Stargirl repetitive, since they're essentially the same ones that Claire faced during the first season.  As such, I really can't wait for the Stargirl-focused phase of this story to end.  Thankfully, as expected, we learn that Firestorm is the prison where the Justice League is being held, so it seems like we should be getting to a resolution of sorts soon.  This whole story has gone on way too long, particularly given how little impact that it's having on the overall story.

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue isn't as character driven as the last one.  However, it's still exciting, since Remender lays bare the Twins' plan for the first time.

First, we discover that Eimin had foreseen Wanda's betrayal; as such, the Twins incorporated it into their plan.  When Wanda raptured Earth's mutants to the Twin's spaceship to fight them, the Twins made sure that they were actually delivered into waiting sarcophogi that'll keep them in stasis on the way to Planet X.  In other words, the Twins never needed Wanda to rapture them to Planet X; they just needed her to rapture them to the spaceship and the Twins would take them the rest of the way. Second, we learn that the Twins used Jarnbjorn to kill the Celestial in order to attract Exitar the Executioner, a Celestial executioner who decides to destroy Earth as punishment for the Celestial's murder.  With these two revelations, the Twins' plan becomes clear:  the Twins save the mutant race by taking them to Planet X and then destroy the human one for their sins against the mutant race.  (In case you missed the point, Eimin recites the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark for most of this issue.)  It also explains why Kang was forced to save the various characters from Marvel's future in last issue, since the destruction of Earth would clealry impact them negatively.

At this stage, with the totality of the Twins' plan revealed, the only real mystery is what Kang is going to do.  In previous discussions of the Celestial that Uriel killed, it was unclear if he did so as part of Kang's plan (which the Twins have somehow disrupted later) or if the murder of the Celestial was actually the thing that disrupted Kang's plan.  I'm guessing that we'll find out more in the next few issues.

In terms of character moments, as I said, this issue is light on them, but Remender did include a nice one, where Cap feels that the deaths of the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man are on his head, since they happened since the Unity Squad was divided and that he's the reason that it was divided, because he couldn't follow Alex's leadership.  It's nice to see this moment and lays the seed of hope that the team may actually be able to continue after they (presumably) defeat the Twins.

I have to say, although I only gave this issue itself three stars, Remender is doing an amazing job telling such a tightly scripted story in a way that isn't written for the trade paperback.  I consider this story the best Avengers story since the Kang War and I can't think of higher praise than that.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Avengers #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, a lot happens in this issue and I honestly had a hard time seeing the forest through the trees for most of it.  But, in summarizing the main stories here, I feel like I've got a better handle on it:

- Taskmaster takes on an A.I.M. scientist as an apprentice.  During a training exercise where Taskmaster is supervising A.I.M. agents sparring with his robot, a group of A.I.M. agents attacks him, though I'm not sure if it's part of the exercise or if A.I.M. has discovered that he's a double agent.  When we next seem him, he's uncovering a hidden boat that he plans on using to smuggle Bobbi from A.I.M. Island.  However, he's stopped when he's attacked by his robot, who's under the control of his apprentice, who reveals that he's Anton Trask, presumably of the Sentinel Trasks (and presumably why he can control the robot).  Taskmaster awakens in front of Dr. Forson, who orders Bobbi to shoot him, which she prompty does, through the head.  (Bobbi was essentially catatonic for the entire issue.)

- M.O.D.O.K. makes it clear that he's turning traitor due to the influence of "religious fanatics" (a.k.a. the Entropy Cult) taking over the "unscientifically minded" within A.I.M., seemingly meaning Dr. Forson.  He provided Hill the location of data worth billions, which the Hulk and Iron Patriot investigate.  However, Dr. Forson activates a bomb at the location, destroying the base and telling Superia that they've discovered a traitor within their midst (presumably Taskmaster, unless someone else is double dealing).  Most interestingly, he says that "the plan" is working.

- Black Widow, Fury, and Hawkeye are hostages of A.I.M.  A group of A.I.M. agents are returning them to A.I.M. Island and, in the process, they seem to discover that Shang-Chi is likely a robot under control of Mentallo.

- After Dr. Forson blows up the base with the Hulk and Iron Patriot, Maria Hill thinks that M.O.D.O.K. planned that all along and demands something from him that she can use to her advantage (lest she shoot him).  M.O.D.O.K. suspects that Forson has a high-ranking double agent inside S.H.I.E.L.D. and mentions that Forson, before becoming Scientist Supreme, worked on a technology that could erase a person's mind with a trigger word.  Spencer seems to be implying that S.H.I.E.L.D. might, in fact, have bought its technology from Dr. Forson.  Moreover, it seems like Forson used the technology on Bobbi long before S.H.I.E.L.D. did and that she's the double agent.  M.O.D.O.K. also says that Forson turned Taskmaster before S.H.I.E.L.D. got to him, but I'm not sure what that means.  Was Taskmaster really working for Forson?  If so, why did he shoot him?  M.O.D.O.K. also says that S.H.I.E.L.D. has 11 A.I.M. agents in its lower levels and suggests that they go after them.

At this point, it's clear that Forson's playing a deep game.  We're basically left unsure where Mockingbird and Taskmaster's loyalties lie and, if they don't lie with S.H.I.E.L.D., whether Forson used his technology to change those loyalties.  (Also, it seems possible that Shang-Chi is Shang-Chi and just under Forson's control.)  We've also got a hint that he's not driven as much by his role as Scientist Supreme but perhaps as his membership in the Entropy cult.  Color me intrigued.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, January 27, 2014

All-New X-Men #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's easy to treat the Purifiers as little more than religious zealots, particularly given that religion is often used to justify hate.  However, Bendis, in this issue, does a remarkably good job underling the fact that this hate comes from a real fear that Stryker, Jr.'s followers have about the mutants.  Stryker, Jr. echoes something that Maria Hill said in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #38, that, basically, the original X-Men being in the present shows that the X-Men don't even respect the laws of time and space.  (I think that Hill also focused on the fact that death doesn't even hold sway over the X-Men, a point that would be particularly well taken if Nightcrawler does return to life in "Amazing X-Men.")  Bendis makes you acknowledge that the Purifiers have an existential fear of mutantkind, seeing these sorts of shenanigans as defying God.  They unfortunately use this fear to stoke their hate and justify genocide, but Bendis doesn't present these feelings in cartoonish terms.  He takes the time to make them feel relatable, making the renewed threat of the Purifiers all the more powerful.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're also now led by someone who has his own power set himself, raising all sorts of theological and practical questions.  It should at least make next issue all the more interesting.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, that was creepy.  But, it's probably also the best issue of "Forever Evil" (and possibly "Justice League") so far.

Johns makes it absolutely clear that we shouldn't trust anything that Owlman is saying in this issue.  That said, he also leaves you wondering if Owlman maybe isn't quite as completely evil as Ultraman.  He doesn't exactly want to run Earth to make it a happy paradise, but he may in fact want something less evil than enslaving humanity.  On one hand, we are talking about the guy who killed his parents and brother to ensure that his parents didn't spend his inheritance.  (So, you know, not a good guy.)  On the other hand, he talks in his narration about how he's trying to fix his broken family on the Earth.  Of course, part of the reason that his family was broken on Earth-3 is not only because he murdered them but also because Dick Grayson discovered that he murdered Dick's parents to force him to emotionally bond with him.  (My question, though, is why Dick?  Thomas dealt with Dick's money-laundering parents, so he would've clearly been aware of Dick.  But, why did he decide that he needed him specifically as a partner, other than the somewhat creepy possibility that DC probably doesn't want to explore?)  Curiouser and curiouser.

Johns also clarifies some background information here, letting us know that Earth-3 has been almost completely destroyed, in all likelihood by the mysterious threat that we've seen mentioned a few times.  Moreover, he reminds us that Owlman is acting because Ultraman's lack of access to kryptonite gives him an opening to defeat him that he never had on Earth-3.  Also, it's easy to overlook the conversation between the mobsters at the start of this issue, but it's actually one of the better meditations on the fear that average people have about "capes" taking over their world that I've seen.

One of the reason that I decided to get "Forever Evil" was the opportunity to learn more about Earth-3.  I'm not an old-school DC reader, so the whole idea of the Crime Syndicate was new to me.  So far, I have to say, Johns is delivering in spades.  The "Justice League" tie-in issues are really painting a vivid picture of the world that Earth-3 is and I find myself anxious for Superwoman and Power Ring to get their turn in the spotlight.  Although not necessary to the overall plot of "Forever Evil," this issue certainly gives the event some nuance, making it clear that the members of the Crime Syndicate aren't all cartoonishly evil in the same way, but driven by their own demons.

(The only downside of this issue was pet peeve #2, since Ultraman doesn't appear in this issue, let alone fight Nightwing, as depicted on the cover.)

I actually went back and forth on whether to give this issue four or five stars, but I went with five because I think, at the end of the day, this story is going to stay with me for a while.

***** (five of five stars)

Captain America #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm probably going to be giving too much to credit to Marvel here, but, if the next cross-over event deals with a full-on attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. by various interested-parties, I'll be impressed with the way that it built to that event in several titles.  After all, we've got Cyclops and Wolverine preparing to go to war with S.H.I.E.L.D. for its development of mutant-killing Sentinels in "Wolverine and the X-Men."  Here, we've got the Iron Nail deciding to take down S.H.I.E.L.D. so that the world can live free from the secret police.  If you don't believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. is the secret police, the Secret Avengers' attempted assassination of A.I.M.'s Dr. Forson in "Secret Avengers" makes a pretty compelling case.  Moreover, Sam's orders to take the camera from the journalist in this issue is a good example of the sort of ethically challenged decisions that S.H.I.E.L.D. makes with little accountability.  That said, Remender also shows why the press isn't the noble institution that it thinks that it is, with the journalist misrepresenting the truth by saying that Cap and Nuke worked together in Nrosvekistan, probably for the page clicks.  It's exactly the sort of story that we should be seeing in "Captain America."

*** (three of five stars)

Batman #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Things go more or less as expected in this issue, though that's not to say that it's not an exciting or interesting one.  We learn that Dr. Death is tracking down the people who were hired at the same time as he was at Wayne Enterprises and that Lucius Fox seems to have been the reason why he was eventually fired.  Moreover, not surprisingly, we learn that Lucius wasn't trying to kill Bruce, but instead injecting him with an antidote to Dr. Death's serum.  Although it was predictable, the fact that I didn't see it coming is a testament to Snyder's skill, a skill that has felt dormant for a while but seems to be returning.

In truth, though, the developments with Dr. Death and Lucius are really much less fascinating (and portentous) than the one with Jim Gordon.  We learn that Gordon and his partner caught Bruce playing hooky at the movie theaters on the day that his parents would eventually die.  On the way to return Bruce to his parents, the pair makes several stops, something that Bruce realizes later involved Gordon's partner shaking down local businesses for bribes.  Ingeniously, Snyder has Gordon's trademark "luxurious" trench-coat serve as the source of Bruce's epiphany, since he realized that Gordon's partner returned with two such raincoats from a tailor during Bruce's ride.  (Who would've thought a trench coat would come to play such an important role in this story?) 

It seems likely that Gordon is going to wind up being the respectable cop that we all know that he is; an explanation for the trench coat is probably forthcoming.  The point of this interlude -- beyond setting up the amazing moment, captured perfectly by Capullo, where Bruce holds a gun to Gordon's face and tells him that it's the view that he remembers from that momentous day -- seems to be to show how young and naive Bruce is.  Gordon is trying to warn him that Gotham is more complicated than he thinks that it is, but Bruce isn't listening.  It's still black-and-white to him.  To Bruce, since Gordon is a Gotham City police officer and Gotham City police officers are corrupt, Gordon is necessarily corrupt.  The trench coat is almost unnecessary proof.

Of course, that said, Bruce's point isn't exactly undermined when he's later confronted by Commissioner Loeb and his men, given that Loeb pretends that Batman pulls a gun on them to justify ordering his men to open fire.  Bruce might be acting irrationally in his sweeping denouncement of Gotham City police officers, but it's not like the evidence isn't on his side.  But, Snyder seems to be setting up the story where it'll be Gordon that'll teach him that even when he's mostly right, he's not totally right.  It'll be that 5% of the time that his instincts are wrong that he'll have to be careful and Gordon teaching him that seems likely to be the genesis of the relationship that they'll eventually have.  To think it'll all come from a trench coat.

Despite these revelations, we're still no further in learning the secrets that both Dr. Death and Jim Gordon claim to know.  Dr. Death says that his secret involves a "spoiled little rich boy with blood on his hands."  It's easy to think that it means someone killed Bruce's parents to get to Bruce, perhaps to serve as his regent, of sorts, to control Wayne Enterprises...but, then again, it's probably too easy of a conclusion to be true.  Moreover, the storm that seems likely to set up the scene that we saw at the beginning of "Zero Year" has yet to begin.  Also, we get fast -- almost blink-and-you-miss-them -- images of Bruce's time in the pit in the desert, famously recounted in the "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" movie.  In these scenes, he may or may not be getting a call from his father; it's probably Alfred, but, if it's not, we've got a pretty big mystery on our hands.

Increasingly, I'm willing to let the story unfold as it does.  It's not feeling as rushed as the Court of Owls saga did in the wake of its "Night of the Owls" cross-over event, where it suddenly became about something else entirely (namely, Thomas Wayne, Jr.).  I feel like we're going to get answers that unfurl naturally, rather than in a rushed confrontation that takes too many liberties.  As I start to trust that, I'm enjoying this event more and more.

**** (four of five stars)

Batgirl #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although I wasn't expecting it, Simone uses this issue to make us realize that we've been reading a 26-issue story, the return of Batgirl.  It has Barbara confronting the various villains that she's faced throughout this series so far -- all at once.  When she emerges triumphant, she also emerges with the confidence to call herself Batgirl again, because now she believes that she is.  It's a powerful moment, but it says something about the issue that it's almost lost in a more powerful one, the confrontation between Barbara and her father.

I have to say how impressed I am with the way that Simone handles the confrontation, partly because it doesn't solve everything.  We only really get two issues resolved.  First, it gets Commissioner Gordon off Barbara's back after she draws a parallel between her "killing" James, Jr. to save Barbara, Sr. and Gordon shooting Ricky because he had a gun.  It's an apt comparison, though Gordon (rightfully) notes that he only allows the superheroes to operate in his town because they don't kill.  In other words, at the end of the day, he carries a badge that allows him to shoot a suspect brandishing a gun because he's accountable for his actions; the "capes" don't have the same accountability.  So, Barbara doesn't get the hugs that she was hoping to get, since Gordon views her as essentially perpetually suspect for crossing the line, even if he understands how it happened.  Second, Barbara does maybe forgive herself a little in having to defend herself to her father, clearing the way for her to re-claim the title of Batgirl now that she has the confidence to do it.  However, that's about the extent of the resolutions.  She tries to reveal her identity to Gordon, but he refuses to allow her, telling her that he would've made it his business to know the Bat-family's identities if he wanted to know.  But, Simone also lets us know that of course he knows when he picks up a family portrait and mutters, "Dammit."  As I said, we don't get every problem resolved in one neat package.

On some level, it doesn't really matter what relationship Batgirl has with Commissioner Gordon.  It's not like she's Batman.  They pretty much had a live-and-let-live relationship before the whole business with James, Jr.  The real question is what it means for the relationship between Barbara and Jim.  It's probably better, since Jim understands her motivations a little better.  Moreover, as we learn this issue, neither James, Jr. nor Ricky actually died.  But, it's not what it was.  Both Barbara and Jim know something about the other that they didn't necessarily want to know and it's going to take a while for them to get over that, if it's even possible.  But, as Barbara says in the end, we at least now have some hope.  Simone makes it clear that we're entering a new era.  As I said, she does it in a way that makes you feel like we've just read one continuous 26-page story and I have to take off my hat to that accomplishment, because it's rare.  I can't wait to see where we go in Chapter Two.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Young Avengers #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I didn't know Prodigy before he appeared in this series, but, man, he's quickly becoming my favorite character.

Gillen goes the way that I hoped that he would go here, where Teddy decides that it's somewhat irrelevant whether Billy is causing him to be in love because he is, after all, in love.  Actually, I'm going to use the actual quote here, because it's so remarkably excellent:  "A magical power someone else has over you for no reason you can really justify but cascades through you until every cell calls out for his touch?  What do you think love is?"  That line, people.  That line justifies why I read comics.  Western literature has dedicated millions, if not billions, of pages to explore the meaning of love, but Kieron Gillen gets it righter than anyone.  At the end of the day, love is when you're a hybrid alien deciding that he's no longer worried whether his mutant boyfriend who serves as a magical messiah is forcing him to love him because the end result is still the same.  Props to David for realizing that.  Moreover, props to David for admitting that he didn't admit it earlier because he wanted to know what that feels like.

But, it's not all happy endings when it comes to love.  As painful as it was, I loved Noh-Varr confessing to Kate that Oubliette is the woman of his dreams.  It's such a real moment.  In fact, in some ways, it's that moment that allows us to appreciate the Billy and Teddy moment, since it reminds us how special the love that they have is (as terribly cheesy as that sounds).  In fact, given David, Noh-Varr, and Loki's confessions, this issue might as well be titled, "Honesty."

The rest of this issue is equally spectacular.  America is a force of nature here and I can't wait to learn more about her.  Loki realizes that he really did sub-consciously create Leah and the League of Exes as a result of his guilty conscience.  But, it's not as easy for him to shake loose that guilt, because he's not the same old Loki that he used to be.  You need no more proof of that than the fact that he's inspired to confess his evil deeds when America saves his life, sacrificing her powers (at least temporarily) in the process.

So, love saves the day.  We still have questions.  I mean, if Billy's not the Demiurge right now, when will he become it?  After all, in the amazing sequence drawn by Kelvie, where he's walking on the pages of previous issues giving birth to the past and present, we see him essentially decide not to become lord of all reality.  He seems to shelve that power for now, but where does it go?  Will Loki make a play for it?  Speaking of Loki, what does a carbon copy of an original evil do?  Should he watch "Blade Runner?"

I'm just letting you all know that I'm going to be devastated when this series ends in a few issues.  We have so much here, so much potential, and it's just really sad that it's not going to be realized.  I'm just left hoping characters like Miss America manage to show up somewhere else.  Fingers crossed.

***** (five of five stars)

Secret Avengers #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I can't say that I was all too thrilled with this issue.  The revelation that M.O.D.O.K. was the power behind the throne at A.I.M. was a little anti-climactic.  I was sort of waiting for it to be Dr. Doom or somebody.  (Mr. Fantastic would've been an actual surprise.)  After all, M.O.D.O.K. has always been connected to A.I.M.  It's no real surprise that he's running it again.  That said, Spencer invites the obvious question why M.O.D.O.K. would suddenly decide, after years of fighting the heroes of the Marvel Universe, to form an alliance with S.H.I.E.L.D.  If M.O.D.O.K. is really the power behind the throne, then why would he need to displace Dr. Forson?  Moreover, if he did need to displace him, why couldn't M.O.D.O.K. do it himself?   Also, it's unclear how A.I.M. suddenly became aware that Bobbi was inhabiting that scientist's body.  I guess that it could be Mentallo, though I'm not sure if we're going to get that information any time soon.  It's only the first issue of the arc, so I'll give Spencer time to tease out the plots a bit, but, right now, we don't seem to have much there.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If "Infinity" #6 is Lando storming the Death Star, then this issue is Han and Leia trying to take down the shields on Endor.  As one would expect, it's a suitably good time.  Gamora's return is welcome, though Bendis doesn't let Peter off the hook, continuing to make it clear that his reticence to discuss how he and Thanos managed to escape the Cancerverse is fostering an atmosphere of mistrust with the rest of the Guardians.  But, we'll get there later.  In the meantime, we storm S.W.O.R.D.  It's going to be a shame to lose Brand, though Bendis is already juggling so many characters that it's unlikely he'd be able to take advantage of her participation fully in future issues.  I'm hoping she appears as a recurring special guest-star.  Overall, these "Infinity" issues were probably the best of the bunch, though I'm happy for us to return to the story that Bendis was telling before the cross-over event started.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2 #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.  Honestly, Tom Taylor is recapturing some of the magic that we lost as Robinson rushed to wrap up some plots before he left the series.  In a way, we're seeing the fight with Darkseid that we missed the first time, since this series started with the end of the last fight with him.  At this stage, the mysteries left unsolved -- like what Sam's connection to weapons dealers was or where Kanto, the Assassin of Apokolips, is -- no longer feel as urgent.  We need to get through the Darkseid invasion and then we'll worry about the rest.

But, it doesn't mean that we're left mystery-less just focusing on the fight with Darkseid.  After all, we still don't know who Batman is.  This Batman says that he should've been there when the other Batman died, giving the impression that he's Earth-2's Robin (be it Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or Damian Wayne).  But, when Lois calls him "Bruce," he doesn't seem to recognize the name, calling into question whether he really has any connection to the original Batman.  Moreover, he tells Major Sato that the original Batman thought highly of her, something that she reveals may have been a bluff when she declares that she never met the original Batman.  So, we still don't know who he is or what motivates him.  (All that said, shooting the Joker through the head certainly implies the sort of personal grudge that a Robin would have.)

We also don't know what inspired Superman's heel turn.  We do discover that Darkseid may have had the capacity to re-invade Earth this entire time, though I'm not really sure where that leaves us vis-à-vis "Earth 2" #15.1.  Desaad seemed unable to open a Boom Tube in that issue, though we did learn that someone called the Tunneler (who presumably can open Tubes) was connected to Michael Holt and Superman does activate the gates in this issue when he locks down Holt.  But, how all those plots fit together exactly is still a mystery.  Moreover, it's still unclear where the Atom, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl are, not to mention Big Barda and Mr. Miracle. 

But, it's not all mysteries.  We do also get some meaningful action here.  Flash proves himself the hero of the bunch when he hurls a rock at Superman's head to buy the World Army time to evacuate its headquarters.  Their race teases out their characters, with Flash displaying a naive hope when he tells Superman that he had a poster of him on his wall and Superman a callous humor when he breaks Flash's ankle and tells him that it's always nice to meet a fan.  Moreover, we're reminded that everything is on the table here in a way that it's not in the mainstream titles.  When I saw Khan with a pole through his gut, I worried that he'd wind up dead, something that wouldn't happen to a major character in the DCnU without me knowing about it beforehand.  Taylor seems to get the excitement that comes with that, perhaps even better than Robinson did.  In that way, you wonder if Flash's broken ankle might end his superhero career.  I doubt it, but, just the fact that it could happen reminds you of the stakes that this title is able to raise.

It's really anyone's guess where we go from here.  But, it's a relief to be focused on a narrower set of questions that directly connect to the plot at hand while at the same time reading an author no longer in a rush to tell a story.  It's nice to be excited about this series again and see Robinson's great work be respected.

**** (four of five stars)

Detective Comics #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This story is a pretty simple one, with Bruce using Kurt Langstrom to get at the much more dangerous Francine Langstrom or, as she now calls herself, the Bat-Queen.  I'll admit that I wonder why Layman decided to return to the Langstroms, in part because I feel like their story was pretty adequately told in issue #19.  Although this story is a sad one, with Kurt still reeling from the revelation that Francine was really a corporate spy who married him to steal the Man-Bat formula, it doesn't have that many twists and turns to make it exciting.  Moreover, we don't really get all that much insight into Bruce, other than the fact that he's smart enough to know that a tranquilizer gun is unlikely to pierce Francine's hide and instead uses Man-Bat (and his sharp teeth) as his antidote delivery-mechanism.  All that said, Layman still delivers a tightly scripted story, even if it's not the most thrilling one.  I have no idea what happens at the end, with the odd appearance of Catwoman, though it seems to have something to do with the upcoming "Gothtopia" arc.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman/Superman #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To use the tired line, this current arc is sort of like a Monet:  it makes sense from a distance, but it's a mess up close.  I get that Mongul is trying to get as many people as possible to play a violent video-game starring Batman and Superman so that he can harness this aggression in his bid to take over Earth.  But, I have no idea how it actually works.  For example, are Batman and Superman in the video game?  Batman loses his heart (literally) here, so I have to assume that we're dealing with some sort of altered reality, since I sort of doubt that this arc is going to end with him having a heart made entirely by nano-technology.  Also, how exactly does the aggression of the gamers help Mongul?  Right now, they're able to control Batman and Superman.  Is that it?  Is he hoping that the two of them destroy the world as they fight?  I just don't get it.  Also?  Pak is suddenly writing the two like they hate each other.  Clark's response to Bruce's apparent death at Mongul's hands is to call him a fool?  Really?  This series had a great first arc, but this second one is just bad, from plot to characterization.  If next issue isn't better, I might be dropping this one.

* (one of five stars)

Amazing X-Men #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, Aaron had me at "Oh, God.  I've been an X-Man for less than a day and I'm already in Hell."  No matter where else he went with this issue, it was worth the $3.99 just for that moment.  But, he goes to such greater heights that I almost feel embarrassed that I thought that moment was the peak.

I wasn't really sold on this series.  I'm here mostly for Nightcrawler and Northstar, though Firestar was a welcome surprise.  But, Aaron has really staked out some new territory here, an impressive feat given that I'm currently getting no fewer than four other X-books.  All the other books essentially focus on the rivalry between Cyclops and Logan, with "All-New X-Men" and "Uncanny X-Men" focusing on the (shudder) New Xavier School and "Wolverine and the X-Men" and "X-Men" focusing on the Jean Grey School.  However, although this issue involved characters from the latter tribe, Aaron frees them from this divide.  Instead, we get one of the few X-men tales that I've read in the last three or four years that feels like an X-Men story of my youth.  Aaron infuses this story with that same sense of adventure and family, something that's been missing at least since "X-Men:  Schism" (if not since 1991).

Seriously, the entire Hell sequence is hilarious.  Aaron has a real knack for writing Bobby in a way that makes him funny and not obnoxious (Bendis should take notes) and I loved Firestar muttering about the Avengers at least having a nice butler that made her pancakes.  Similarly, I loved Northstar exulting over getting the opportunity to fight pirates.  Aaron just makes it seem genuinely fun to be an X-Man, even if it does involve frequently fighting for your and your friends' lives.  But, the moment where he really, really had me?  It was when Bobby literally makes Hell freeze over.  I totally didn't see that coming and I totally squeed.  Aaron seems to remember that comics are exciting when our characters don't just fight the same people that they always fight in the same ways, but when they're pushed to do something new.  This story seems to have ample opportunity for each character to have a similar moment, particularly since Aaron did such a great job of making sure each character got his attention over the course of this issue.  I didn't expect to be as excited about this series as I am, but here we are.

***** (five of five stars)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wolverine and the X-Men #38 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue spends more time on dramatic posturing between Logan and S.H.I.E.L.D. than anything else, setting up a collision course between Logan and Scott as they both decide to take on the Sentinels.  The problem, of course, is that this collision course is completely unbelievable.  After all, if Cyclops or Wolverine can really destroy S.H.I.E.L.D.'s army of Sentinels by himself, then is it really that big of a threat?  The only really interesting part is the revelation that the Bricklemoore twins are spies for Dazzler, though it's unclear if they know that they're really working for Mystique and why exactly Mystique wants armed human spies inside the Jean Grey School in the first place.  More Quentin, less Logan.

** (two of five stars)

Wolverine and the X-Men Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, YAY!  Kubark is back!  This annual is really just about the most perfect annual that I've ever read.  This series has been on a roll ever since Aaron started taking the emotions of the students seriously and this issue is no exception.  Although he mines Kubark for all the humor inherent to his character, Aaron also does an amazing job of conveying his loneliness, both for being the son of the Majestor but also the last of the Strontians.  We experience all the hallmarks of middle school -- sitting alone at the cafeteria, kissing someone for the first time, hating a teacher, defying the principal (so to speak) -- but it doesn't feel rushed.  Along the way, Kubark shows signs of becoming the leader that he's destined to be.  In that way, it makes it all the better when Gladiator frees him.  After Kubark proves that he can lead the Imperial Guard one day, Gladiator allows him to be "unique."  It's a great message there, about supporting kids who meet their potential by not making them embrace it too quickly.  Gladiator gives Kubark a childhood (albeit one full of punching) and damned if I didn't cry.

***** (five of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Rogue and Wanda have been on a collision course since the start of this series and Remender brings it to an end that feels inevitable when it comes, with Rogue's mistrust of Wanda blinding her to the possibility that she might actually be wrong about her.  In that way, it's a familiar story about the arrogance that comes with power, with Rogue using all the means at her disposal to impose her will on reality.  The twist, of course, is that she therefore becomes exactly what she claims to hate about Wanda, something that she seems to realize as she stands over Wanda after delivering the killing blow.  (Wanda makes the point, too, just in case Rogue isn't self-aware enough to get there on her own.  When Rogue tries to justify her action by saying that Wanda was too dangerous to live, Wanda asks what Rogue is.)  But, Remender doesn't stop there.  Rogue not only pays for her crimes (against both Grim Reaper and Wanda) with her life, but Wolverine, in a way, is forced to pay for his crimes as well.  After all, Rogue is motivated to kill Wanda because she feels like she knows what the real Logan would want her to do, ignoring his earlier injunction against killing Wanda.  Moreover, Logan begs the Reaper to spare Rogue's life, something that drives the Reaper to comment on the irony of Logan asking for mercy.  Simon is the only one left able to make a noble sacrifice, giving his life to power Wanda's spell to call mutantkind to her side to stop the Apocalypse Twins.

Remender keeps your emotions high throughout the issue, making you feel a profound disappointment in the failure of the characters to meet heroic ideals.  In fact, he makes this disappointment all the more profound by calling into question whether the deaths will make matters better, as heroes' deaths usually do.  We open the issue with an unnamed father telling his unnamed daughter about the "truth about the day they celebrate as a holiday and the true cost of [their] failure."  But, he caveats this term, telling his daughter that [he and her mother] called themselves heroes but "behaved as anything but."  In other words, the outcome may be a good one (inspiring a holiday), but the squabbling that left three Avengers dead may have done little to contribute to it.  Dr. Doom in 2099 seems to echo that point when he refers to the "infantile bickering" that may have caused the collapse of the Universe that we also see at the start of this issue.  (Seeing Kang save the various heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe's future was awesome, in no small part because it makes you wonder what he's planning.)  Remender makes it clear, in this way, that the heroes will likely win the day, as we all know that they will.  But, it won't necessarily be because of some noble sacrifice.  It's not Thor killing Janet Van Dyne at the end of "Secret Invasion" or Nightcrawler sacrificing himself in "X-Men:  Second Coming."  The resolution may come in spite of the heroes, not because of them.  Now, that's some fascinating stuff.

***** (five of five stars)

Scarlet Spider #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue was a tall order, with Yost and Burnham under the gun to start the process of wrapping up this series' loose ends in a way that didn't feel rushed.  But, they really managed to pull that rabbit from the hat, even if we're still left with few answers.

I thought that the authors' use of Kaine's confession to the priest was an excellent way to start the issue, in no small part because it drew attention to the fact that Kaine didn't run (as the priest notes) after the events of last issue.  Continuing on the theme of Kaine facing the consequences of his actions (past and present), he also surrenders to Wally, admitting to the crimes that Wally discovers that he committed in the wake of Donald's evisceration at the hands of Ana Kraven.  Yost and Burnham initially reward Kaine for these acts of maturity by using Aracely's ability to read minds to show Kaine that Wally doesn't really blame him; he's just acting from his grief over Donald's condition.  Of course, given the way the issue ends, I'm not sure if Kaine's going to get that lucky again.

The only moment that I initially thought felt rushed was Kaine falling into bed with Annabelle, given how long that we've waited for that moment.  However, Yost and Burnham don't disappoint, revealing that it wasn't Annabelle with whom Kaine slept, but some mysterious figure.  But, before we can get to the bottom of that mystery, Zoe re-appears in Kaine's life...with an RPG that she uses to blow up his penthouse.  I feel like next issue is going to be depressing as Hell.

**** (four of five stars)

Infinity #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's been almost two months since I last read an issue of this mini-series and I'm not sure that the gap hurt, since it wasn't like I really understood the story that Hickman was telling after issue #5 anyway.  I have no idea why Black Bolt magically appeared on Earth after seemingly dying in the destruction of Attilan.  I also don't know why Supergiant seemed to believe that the bomb connected to him was something more than your average bomb (and not just in terms of its ability to destroy a planet).  I forget why Thanos wants all his children dead; I just have a vague recollection that it has something to do with courting Death, though I couldn't help but roll my eyes when he fails to kill Thane because he narrated his desire to do so for too long.  I was also annoyed by Hickman's blatant attempt to tie everything to his ongoing dying-world story.  Basically, Hickman does a poor job making this mini-series into anything more than an elaborate advertisement for the upcoming Inhuman-related titles and a plug for "New Avengers."  Although the issue was better written than Hickman's usual work, I'm giving it two stars for the overwhelming feeling of "meh" that I had at the end of it.  (The less said about the lack of anything in this series to do with the Infinity Gems, the better.)

** (two of five stars)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hawkeye #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is...weird.

First, Fraction portrays Kate almost entirely differently than she normally is.  Sure, I enjoy when we play up Kate's spoiled side.  But, Fraction goes too far, making her seem both clueless and naive when she's hardly either.  On the former, she completely fails to notice that the Weed Lord's henchmen are all bellhops, the preferred costume of Madame Masque's henchmen.  (In fact, the Weed Lord just having henchman is probably a pretty good sign that we're dealing with something more complicated than orchid theft.)  On the latter, she seems to think that she can just act as a law-enforcement official without any sort of experience or license.  (I mean, she doesn't even realize that the Weed Lord is selling weed legally.  He's only arrested after she essentially entraps him into committing a hit-and-run attack on her.)  Also, she may be going insane, given that she's hallucinating some sort of private-detective mentor.

I may be able to forgive all that, but Fraction's plot also has some holes, namely the fact that Kate just happens upon one of Madame Masque's henchmen on her first "case."  I mean, he just so happens to steal an orchid that her neighbors need for their wedding for Madame Masque's bath?  Really?  I'd like to think that it was on purpose, but the Weed Lord makes it pretty clear to Madame Masque that it was accidental.  After all, if he knew to steal an orchid that Kate's neighbors needed, then he knew who Kate's neighbors were, thus, he knew where she was.  As such, he wouldn't need to draw out Kate in the first placel; he would've already known where she was.  As I said, it was all just weird.

** (two of five stars)

All-New X-Men #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is probably the first real miss of this series for me.  I'll forgive Bendis, because, seriously, they have him churning out so many issues at this point that I feel like he should call in a labor violation to OSHA.

My main problem with this issue is that the personalities of each character are taken to such as extreme that they become unbelievable caricatures of themselves.  For example, Bobby isn't the charming goofball that he usually is; he's a clueless idiot.  When one of the Purifiers greets the arrival of the original X-Men by exclaiming, "God delivered unto us!  His will be done," and Bobby asks, "Who's Will?  What am I missing?"  Really?  It's not that hard to connect "God" with "His will" and conclude that the Purifier is talking about, well, God.)  Moreover, Angel is so self-absorbed that he asks a Purifier why seeing him, an honest-to-goodness angel, doesn't make the Purifier question if he's wrong about mutants being sent from the Devil.  The problem is that the answer to his question comes from a comment made by a Purifier a few moments earlier, where he quotes the Bible:  "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light."  Finally, Scott seems to think that he's in the 1960s (or, I guess, 1990s?) where you can trust a policeman to help you whenever you're in need.  I mean, he didn't realize, given everything that he's learned about his adult self, that announcing that he's Scott Summers to law enforcement wouldn't go over so well?

Combining these odd characterization with some uneven art from Peterson (Kitty looks about 45-years-old at one point), I'm giving this one a rare two stars.

** (two of five stars)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Secret Avengers #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For a tie-in issue related to a cross-over event that I find remarkably boring, I have to say that I really enjoyed this story.  Garza's shock at the assassination of the crazed Inhuman gave us some real insight into a civilian's view of the ethical implications of the battles that superheroes fight on a daily basis.  It leads to the rare moment of someone getting super-powers, but deciding that they don't want to play God.  Garza isn't necessarily bothered by the powers themselves, but more the decisions that come with them.  I liked how Brisson didn't play up the outrage card:  Garza doesn't judge Fury for killing the Inhuman.  She acknowledges the complicated factors involved in him making that decision; she just knows that she doesn't want to make them.  The fact that Maria Hill essentially throws her into prison as a result is pretty much all you need to know about Maria Hill.

*** (three of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series is just a joy to read, every issue, from start to finish.  'Nuff said.  (I so didn't see that ending coming!)

**** (four of five stars)

All-New X-Men #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was reluctant to read this issue, to say the least.  In fact, I think that I've been on my recent "Spider-Man 2099" binge in part because this issue was on the top of my new comics stack and I was essentially avoiding it.  Kitty's abrupt departure from Logan's team at the end of "X-Men:  Battle of the Atom" still bothered me; it was hard to get excited about an issue dedicated to the subject.

The good news is that I liked it better than I thought I would.  I was pleased to see that Bendis is keeping the focus on Kitty and the original X-Men, treating them as a separate team and not integrating them into the Brotherhood itself; this issue wasn't just "Uncanny X-Men" from a different perspective.  After all, the original X-Men have a lot of their own issues to process, from Jean's developing powers (and blind rages) to the burgeoning love-triangle between her, Beast, and Cyclops.  I didn't want to see those stories hijacked by the Brotherhood's craziness and Bendis manages to avoid that problem.  In fact, Bendis uses the Brotherhood to push the original X-Men into confronting their issues.  Jean's argument with the Stepford Cuckoos seems unlikely to make her less prone to the aforementioned blind rages; Hank and Scott realizing that there are other fish in the sea is probably going to complicate the team's romantic entanglements.  In that regard, the change of scenery seems to have worked in terms of shaking up the status quo without discarding the previous sub-plots entirely.  Moreover, Bendis gets to return to building the bond between Kitty and the kids that he was building before "X-Men:  Battle of the Atom" hijacked the title.

The bad news is that Kitty must've been lobotomized somewhere during this process.  She seems to have completely forgiven Scott and Illyana for any problems that they've had in the past.  Bendis even gets cute when it comes to Kitty and Illyana, with Illyana unexpectedly trying to hug Kitty and Kitty instinctively phasing and apologizing when Illyana falls through her into the snow, yelling, "You are not a hugger!"  Although I once wanted nothing more than see these two characters get the band back together, it seems impossible to believe that Kitty can so easily look past the disagreements that drove her from Scott and Illyana in the first place.  To be fair, Illyana seems a lot more penitent than Scott.  She's re-developed some sort of capacity for emotion and I was glad to hear that she's continuing her tutelage under Dr. Strange.  For this reason, I'd buy Kitty cautiously engaging with her, making it clear that she's willing to have Illyana re-earn her trust.  But, instead, she just totally embraces both Illyana and Scott, as if Scott's crusade was the right decision all along.  It disregards the fact that she's there because she thinks that it's the best for the kids, not because she thinks the Brotherhood is on the right side of Professor X's dream.  It's a disappointing development, to say the least.

(Moreover, if she can forgive the two of them so easily, why is she still so mad at Colossus, as she seems to be here?  Also, I was also beyond peeved at Bendis having her dismiss her relationship with Bobby as a low self-esteem moment.  Why would that be, exactly?  Their relationship seemed to be one of equals, of old friends viewing each other in a different light.  After all, she made her decision about Bobby as an adult, as opposed to her relationship with Colossus, which she entered as an adolescent.  Is she taking a page from Jean's book, ditching him (as Jean did Henry) the minute he didn't agree with her?  I expect more of Kitty and, frankly, Bendis.)

In other words, it's a mixed bag.  I'm glad that we're focusing on the kids (the new costumes are rad), but I'm worried where we're going with Kitty.  We shall see.  I'm giving it three stars since I'm invoking my right to ignore continuity and be happy to see Kitty and Illyana together, but I'm putting Bendis on notice that flexibility is only going to go so far.

*** (three of five stars)

Young Avengers #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If I'm following correctly, Leah is possibly the incarnation of Kid Loki (the original one) brought to life as a result of his missing power.  Is that right?  I guess we'll see.

As the above comment implies, I'll admit that it's a little hard to follow, mostly due to the vague hints about Loki's perpetual machinations (or, at least, our constant expectations of them).  For example, it took me a second read to realize what the lie that Miss America regrets that she and Loki had to tell Billy was.  On my first read, I thought that she was just referring to another of Loki's as-yet-unrevealed schemes and confirming that she may be complicit in it.  However, I'm glad that I re-read that, since it's not the case.  Instead, it was that Loki lied to Billy when he told him that committing suicide wouldn't stop Mother.  It would've and Loki stopping Billy because he believed that "this story has a happier ending than that" casts Loki in a more heroic light than we usually see.  Of course, I still don't fully trust that he was acting so benevolently, but it would be nice if it were true.  Also, I'm still not really sure that I'm right in the first paragraph, even though Kieron's letters-page comments make it seem like I should be surer.

In addition to some more clarity, it would've been nice to see the Young Avengers interact a little more with the other teenage heroes, since they serve mostly as extras for most of this issue.  Kieron squanders a real opportunity in that way, though I guess that it's possible to see such interactions in future issues.  (I'd like to have seen Striker awkwardly hit on Velocidad, at the very least.)  That said, Kate's, "Avengers assemble, I guess" was pretty freaking awesome.

Overall, it's a weaker-than-usual issue for this series, which still makes it a stronger-than-usual issue for most series.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I didn't really have high expectations when I started this issue, since it sort of felt like a filler issue.  But, Bendis made a believer of me.  This sort of character-driven issue is exactly what we need when it comes to exploring the various members of Scott's version of the New Mutants.  Eva and Fabio have gotten most of the attention so far, to the point where I honestly couldn't even remember what Deeds' power was when he first appeared.  But, Bendis takes that power and runs with it; I can't think of a better place for a polymorph with empathic abilities to hone his craft than a casino in Atlantic City.  But, Bendis doesn't limit himself to focusing just on Deeds and his powers in a vacuum.  Emma is at her absolute best here; beyond her biting humor, we're reminded that she's also an excellent teacher.  After all, Scott dismisses Deeds because of his inability to throw a punch; it's Emma who takes a second look at him.  Moreover, Bendis ties this exploration of Deeds' powers into the ongoing plot, having him deliver a message to S.H.I.E.L.D. that the X-Men know that they're building Sentinels.  Honestly, it was a great issue.

***** (five of five stars)

X-Men #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I'm glad that I stopped subscribing to this title.  Although Wood has some OK moments here (like the implication that the team remains adjectiveless due to the ongoing dispute between Rachel and Storm), this issue was hard to follow, like Wood's other work on this title.  We never learn why Ana Cortes would want to upload the Lady Deathstrike persona; at first, I thought that it was to assert control over her deceased father's company, but she specifically rules out that possibility.  Moreover, we're never told why Lady Deathsrike is bodyless.  Sure, the use of nanites to transform Ana's body into Lady Deathstrike's is pretty damn cool.  But, without any sense of Ana's motivations or explanation of Yuriko's bodylessness, you spend most of the issue scratching your head why their union is necessary.  That sense of confusion is further deepened by the idea that Lady Deathstrike really thought that she could invade the Jean Grey School with a bunch of hired goons, particularly when she wasn't fully in control of her abilities.  Our time is done, X-Ladies.

** (two of five stars)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fantastic Four 2099 #8: "Homecoming"

Raab and Kavanagh are forced to cover a spectacular amount of ground here.  We go through the destruction of New York, the flooding of the world, the flight to the Savage Land, the war with Atlantis, the arrival in the Savage Land, the reunification of the Fantastic Four, and a mission to Mars.  I'll give Raab and Kavanagh credit for doing the best that they can, but this issue is such a jumble of characters and plots that it's hardly enjoyable.  The reunion of the Fantastic Four has zero emotional impact, particularly since Ben immediately head to Alchemax's Mars colony with Father Jennifer and X-Nation.  As I mentioned in my review of the last issue of "Spider-Man 2099," it's clear that the rush to cancel the entire line ruined any chance for a graceful exit for any of the titles.  I'm going to take a break before I leap into "2099:  World of Tomorrow," just so that my anger fades a little.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Spider-Man 2099 #46: "A House Divided"

* (one of five stars)

Summary
Miguel surfaces from his (failed) attempt to save Father Jennifer, only to discover Atlantean warships descending on Alchemax Tower.  The Public Eye deploys to protect the Tower and Miguel realizes that he's in the middle of the two warring sides.  Miguel acknowledges that he feels a "cursory loyalty" to Alchemax (given that he's the CEO), but, conversely, also feels, as Spidey, that he owes Alchemax "even less than nothing."  Given the latter, he wonders why he's leaping to Alchemax's defense and concludes that maybe, "deep down inside, there are some things [he] really [does] care about."  As he approaches the Tower, an Atlantean declares that it belongs to Attuma, Monarch of Atlantis, and that anyone who tries to enter will be executed.  Miguel engages in one-sided banter with the axe-wielding Atlantean, distracting him long enough to leap over him, grab the handle of his axe, and use his momentum to fling the soldier into an approaching one.  Miguel then leaps onto the original soldier's now-vacated skysled and heads to his office.  He frets that the Public Eye isn't trained to fight a war and that Alchemax employees aren't soldiers capable of repelling this sort of assault.  He therefore prioritizes evacuating the Tower, but finds himself in confrontation with another Atlantean as he arrives at his office.  This one rails that Miguel's "people" have encroached on Attuma's sovereignty, but, more importantly, desecrated "the Holy Sarcophagus of Prince Namor."  The two grapple as Miguel tells the Mr. Exposition that he doesn't know anything about the desecration.  The Atlantean doesn't accept Miguel's assertion that he knows nothing about it and exposits that these events are in accordance with some sort of prophesy that says the waters will rise, the "guardians of the false prophet" will be killed, and, by dawn, the surface world will cease to exist.  Their struggles is interrupted when they are peppered with "razor-sharp vanadium darts;" Miguel turns to discover that they were fired by the Vulture, who stands atop a pile of bodies.  Referring to the "scraps" (meaning the bodies) of his "surf and turf meal" (heh), he tells Miguel to scram while he feasts on Father Jennifer, lest Spidey become his dessert.

Elsewhere in AlchemaxTower, Conchata leads a contingent of Public-Eye officers fighting off Attuma's hordes.  One officer expresses fear over the fact that the hordes keep coming and Conchata tells him that, if they don't stop them from overrunning the Tower, everyone will die.  She fires her gun, but it's empty, so she uses it as a blunt weapon to fend off an Atlantean's attack with his axe.  The Atlantean tells her that she's stronger than other females of her species; telling him that she's also crazier, she then kicks him into the horde behind him.  She declares that the Atlanteans should leave her son's company if they know what's good for them.  The narrator informs us that she's exorcising some demons in the fight, fantasizing that it's Tyler on the other end of her fists.  Meanwhile, Tyler himself makes his way through the halls, predicting that the Tower will fall within the hour, but observing that he'll be on the way to Mars.  A dying Public-Eye officer asks for Tyler's help, but Tyler runs over him with his wheelchair instead.  An Atlantean tells him to halt, but then decides not to waste ammo on a "cripple."  Tyler taunts him and the Atlantean pulls out a knife; he lunges to attack, telling Tyler to pray to his gods.  Tyler hits a button in his wheelchair, firing a rocket into the Atlantean's gut; as he passes the burnt carcass, Tyler informs the dead Atlantean that he's an atheist.

In Miguel's office, Miguel demands that the Vulture release Father Jennifer, since she's never done anything to him. The Vulture tells Miguel that he's wrong, since she's undermined his Downtown operation for years with her "peace, love and understanding."  Miguel offers himself instead, saying that he's just as responsible for getting in the Vulture's way.  The Vulture agrees, but says that he wouldn't be as succulent.  He then reveals that he knows Miguel's identity.  Miguel tries to pretend that the Vulture is wrong ("been hittin' the homo sapien sangria a bit hard -- ain'tcha, Wings?"), but the Vulture says that he's got it on good faith from a little "goblin."  Miguel reels at the revelation that Gabe is involved with the Vulture and told him his identity.  He pledges to find Gabe, but, before he can do anything about it, the Vulture informs Miguel that he's rigged every floor of Alchemax with remote explosives.  Miguel realizes that he has to bring his confrontation with the Vulture to a close, given that his shoulder is still smarting from where one of the Vulture's darts hit him; moreover, the Vulture announces that the entire place is going to blow in ten minutes.  Accordingly, Miguel webs up the Vulture's mouth and hurls him from the Tower.  Miguel realizes that he doesn't have time to remove 100 detonators in less than eight minutes.  Father Jennifer comes to consciousness and removes the dart from the back of Miguel's shoulder.  Miguel tells her than they have to evacuate the Tower, not only because of the invading Atlanteans, but also because of the Vulture rigging the building with "two tons of explosive thermite!"  Miguel tells her to keep praying and then activates the public-address system, announcing, as the CEO, that everyone needs to evacuate the building immediately.  Father Jennifer is horrified at the carnage around them and Miguel says that it's all in the name of some jihad.  Noting that it doesn't say a lot about religion, Miguel hears a commotion behind a nearby door.  It suddenly opens and an Atlantean is hurled into the hallway.  Conchata steps from the door and Miguel welcomes her; Conchata informs him that she expects to be paid overtime.

In the hanger, Tyler approaches the ship that'll take him to Mars.  He exposits that the Board of Directors scoffed at him when he proposed the Mars colony, preferring that he build New Atlantis instead; they apparently even laughed him from the board room.  He notes that he's the one laughing now since, by the time that he's on Mars, Earth will be "little more than a glorified puddle."  Thinking himself the clever one, he prepares to board, when a laser blast destroys his wheelchair.  Realizing that he has a broken rib, Tyler screams, "Don't you know who I am?  I'm Tyler Stone."  The Atlantean standing over him tells him that he knows, because an executioner always knows his victim.  He says that he knows that Tyler was responsible for building New Atlantis and that he'll die at his hands.  (He also announces that he's General Dagim.)  Tyler tells himself that he refuses to die for someone else's mistake, particularly when he's so close to escaping, and warns Dagim that, if he pulls the trigger, he'll give him new meaning to the word pain.

In the hallway outside the hanger, Father Jennifer tells Miguel that he's gotten them in a fine mess, but Miguel tells her that the transport ship is located there; it just happens to be behind enemy lines.  Miguel finally breaks into the hanger and leaps onto Dagim as he fires on an annoyed Tyler, who takes the blast "square in the gut at almost point-blank range."  Miguel beats on Dagim as he realizes that Tyler couldn't survive that sort of blast, even with his life-support chair.  Father Jennifer prepares to enter the hanger, but Conchata stops her, saying that she needs to ask her something.  Conchata asks if Father Jennifer knows Gabriel and Father Jennifer says that she does, wondering if Conchata knows about his "other self."  Conchata tells her that she's afraid something's wrong with him and has been ever since he broke his cyberspace addiction.  She asks Father Jennifer to help him if they survive and, on cue, she's suddenly shot through the chest.  The narrator informs us that a violent thought has never "found purchase in [Father Jennifer's] heart and mind" until now and she shoots the Atlantean who shot Conchata.  She bends over Conchata as the detonator timer hits 2 minutes and Conchata, realizing that she's dying, asks her to tell her sons that she loves them; she dies with the image of her sons flashing in front of her eyes.  Father Jennifer goes to tell Miguel, who's unmasked and holding a dying Tyler in his lap.  Miguel asks if Conchata's gone and Jennifer confirms that she is.  Tyler croaks out, "First your -- hak hak -- mother -- and now me...this is just not your day -- koff koff -- is it, son?"  He tells Miguel that they're cut from the same cloth, with their actions destroying the people closest to them whether they intend to do so or not.  The clock hits one and Jennifer tries to get Miguel to leave.  Miguel hesitates and tells Tyler's now-dead body that he's wrong, that he's no longer an "egocentric, punk kid who doesn't give a shock about anyone but himself."  He says that he has a real opportunity to do something with his abilities, something that Tyler never did with his wealth, power, and prestige.  He concludes by saying that he's got a chance to make a difference in the world and is nothing like Tyler.  He and Jennifer then depart the Tower in the ship as it explodes.

The Review
It has become clear to me that this series, as we knew it, ended in issue #44.  Picking up a theme that I started exploring in my review of "Fantastic Four 2099" #6, it's almost like we're dealing with a different version of the 2099 Universe here, where Attuma replaced Roman as the head of the Atlanteans in the middle of their invasion of New York.  If you think of it this way, essentially ignoring issue #44 (and the Venomization of Roman), it sort of works.  The problem, of course, is that it's not true, leaving us with a mess of conflicting plots and sub-plots.

I will try to wrap up my thoughts on this series in a separate post.  Here, I just want to take a moment to lament what the hijacking of this series by the unnamed cross-over event denied us in terms of character developments and dangling threads.  Coming off the Venom and Goblin arcs, we were presented with a new status quo for several characters that clearly needed to be explored.  We needed to see how Miguel adjusted to his new role as CEO of Alchemax and lost role as guardian of Downtown as well as how he handled the death of Dana and the disappearance of Xina.  Beyond just Miguel, we had several paths of possible outcomes for Gabe that needed to be explored, possibly even setting up a moment where he had to choose whether he was going to step into the role of guardian of Downtown (and whether he was going to do so just to impress Kasey) or if he was going to continue to be motivated solely by his need for revenge against Miguel.  We even probably would've been treated to Conchata and Tyler circling one another like prize fighters as Tyler tried to find a way to oust Miguel.

David started this process in the New Atlantis arc in issues #43-#44, where Miguel started using Spidey similar to how Tony Stark uses Iron Man.  This process didn't have to last too long.  Marvel still could've told the story that it tells here; it just would've given more time to its authors to plan for this sort of cataclysm.  However, because Marvel canceled the entire 2099 line, the authors are clearly forced to abandon their ongoing stories in order to get all the characters on the same page; hence, we see, in "Fantastic Four 2099" #8, the 2099 heroes flee to the Savage Land with the survivors of the Earth's flooding.  In the end, we're denied an emotionally satisfying ending and left with a inferior-quality product.  It's sort of like waking up one day discovering that all your Transformers became Go-Bots.

I originally gave this issue two stars, since, despite all its faults, it at least somewhat flows.  But, the obvious problems detailed in the next few sections makes it clear that it really only merits one star.

The Good
I loved Conchata as a Atlantean-bustin' bad ass.

The Unknown
1) We never really learn here why Attuma took over Atlantis or where he got the sort of weaponry that the Atlanteans deploy here.  It's entirely possible that it was explained in "Doom 2099" or "Fantastic Four 2099."  But, as I mentioned in "The Review" section, I realized that Marvel really should've treated this entire arc as a cross-over event, like "Fall of the Hammer."  But, they didn't.  Given the lack of context provided about events that have occurred in other books, it's really difficult to follow the story here without getting distracted by the various unknowns.  

2) I'm not really sure what Tyler was planning to do in his confrontation with Dagim.  He threatens Dagim with pain if Dagim kills him, but how would he accomplish that if, you know, he was dead?  Did he plan to haunt him?  Also, he seemed annoyed with Miguel interrupting his "plan" when Miguel leapt on Dagim, but, again, he didn't really seem to have one (or, at least, a viable one).  Was the plan to play dead?

3) We never learn what was happening on Mars.  Captain Pike, in the last issue, implied some sort of problem at the colony, but, since Tyler never makes it there, we don't hear about it again.

The Meh
Gabe telling the Vulture Miguel's identity really isn't all that shocking.  I know that we're supposed to feel that way, but it just isn't.  First, Gabe was crazed with hatred for Miguel, so it makes sense that he'd break this bond of trust, since it's the most important one.  But, given that the entire Earth is on the brink of ending, it's unclear to me why Miguel would care too much.  In fact, one of my problems with this issue and issue #45 is that the stakes are a lot lower than the ones depicted in "Fantastic Four 2099" #6 and #8.  Miguel seems just to be fighting for Alchemax, when, really, the entire Northern Hemipshere has apparently been flooded.  It again speaks to the poor coordination within this soft cross-over event.

The Bad
1) Given that the entire Atlantean invasion was more or less inspired by the desecration of Namor's tomb, you'd think that we would've been given a little more detail regarding the events of "X-Nation" #4 than just "the guardians of the false prophets were slain."  Who did desecrate Namor's tomb?  Did it really merit an invasion?  Were the Atlanteans merely taking advantage of the raising sea-waters caused by the oncoming planetoid?  Or, were they inspired by the prophesy?  I can't believe that we're left without answers to these questions, given that the entire status quo of the 2099 universe revolves around them.  Again, they might've been covered in other titles, but we merited at least some mention of them here.

2) Along those lines, it remains clear that Raab and Kavanagh were instructed to write this issue for readers who didn't regularly read the title, given moments like Miguel contemplating his role as Alchemax CEO as he headed for the tower.  But, again, we can be beaten over the head with information that a regular reader would already know, but we can't get more detail about "X-Nation" #4?

The Really Bad
1)  The Vulture, some low-life thug from Downtown, managed to evade Alchemax security for enough time that he could put explosives on all 100+ floors.  Really?  The Atlantean assault hasn't been going on that long for me to believe that the Public Eye was so distracted that it didn't notice.  After all, Father Jennifer didn't know anything about it and she was clearly with the Vulture the whole time.  Plus, how did Miguel know that it was "two tons of explosive thermite?"  Is he just doing the calculations in his head?  This whole plot was so deus ex machina that I just more or less stopped caring whether it made sense.   

2) OK, so, they're facing down death and Conchata decides that it's the right time to talk to Father Jennifer about Gabe?  Really?  "Hey, I know we're a minute from getting into a nice, safe ship, but let's pause here in the war zone so I can express my worry over my sons.

The Terrible
The dual murder of Conchata and Tyler is mind-boggling.  Both characters have played central roles in the drama that unfolded throughout this series and they both held the potential to play even greater and more fascinating roles, with Conchata in the thick of things at Alchemax and Tyler plotting from the outside.  I'm not sure what the future of Alchemax is in this new status quo, but I'm sure, even if it was dissolved, Conchata and Tyler would've found some other arena to play out their war.  Killing off the two was completely unnecessary.  In fact, by killing both of them at the same time, it reduced the impact of each death, which in and of itself would've been shocking.