Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Avengers World #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'm game, but we'll see for how long.

The combination of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer works well.  I'm assuming that Hickman is plotting and Spencer is scripting, because the dialogue here is better than it is in "Avengers" and "New Avengers."  However, the authors maintain control over the sprawling plot, as the Avengers respond to the fact that A.I.M. seems to be attacking them on multiple fronts.  I used "seems," though, because I'm not entirely sure.  A.I.M. is only obviously involved in the Barbuda "event," though the opening page seems to tie it to the Madripoor and Italy events as well.  The main question for me is how this story fits with the story that Spencer is telling in "Secret Avengers."  It feels like it happens after it, since I feel like we're supposed to believe that Dr. Forson remains in control of A.I.M., implying that the Secret Avengers collaboration with MODOK to overthrow him wasn't successful.  But, again, I'm just reading between the lines there, so it's possible that it's all happening concurrently.  

The challenge for this series is going to be juggling this many stories.  I mean, we've got the East Coast under assault from meteorological and seismic events, but all we see is a word-less shot of Captain Marvel, Hyperion, and Thor serving as first responders.  If that story doesn't even merit dialogue, it's hard to be engaged in it, particularly when we've got two other away teams as well as the home team at S.H.I.E.L.D. in action.  Juggling these stories in a way that doesn't repeat the problems that I recently covered in "2099 World of Tomorrow" it going to be the make-or-break for this series.  Color me happy for now.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hawkeye #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I love Kate Bishop.  I do.  She's really the heart and soul of the Young Avengers and she's good for Clint.  But, I'm not actually convinced that Fraction writes her as well as he writes Clint and I really wish that we could just return to our regularly scheduled programming.  I enjoy trippy stories as much as the next person, but Fraction just seems to be throwing too much at us here:  Kate has gone from the competent de facto leader of a superhero team to a flighty trustafarian on hard times, we've got a ghost mentor that she meets only in the supermarket, and I'm not really sure how much value her neighbors add other than a shot of diversity and assists in exposition.  If Fraction was writing it as a separate series, I could decide to cut bait on my own.  But, the problem is that I'm actually here for Clint, so I'm more or less forced to read the Kate issues, which isn't exactly a recipe for an enjoyable comics experience.  I mean, if I'm not even going to get Pizza Dog, what's the point?

** (two of five stars)

(I'm not even going to talk about the ridiculousness of them skipping an issue...)

Captain America #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I like what Remender does with Nuke in this issue, making him the sympathetic character that he deserves to be, given his long history of shadowy figures manipulating him.  He also does a great job of using Steve's lecture to Nuke about forgetting the wars of the past as a reminder that he needs to do the same thing, something that he himself acknowledges to Sam.  But, of course, it can't all be rainbows and unicorns.  I knew from the moment that Agent Lamia was introduced -- the daughter of a soldier that Nuke saved -- that this issue wasn't going to end happily.  Iron Nail nuking Nuke and taking out the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hub Station -- and Lamia -- in the process wasn't exactly what I expected, thought it got the job done.

That said, the Iron Nail parts of this story bothered me.  First, I think that Remender at some point has to explain how he has all these amazing camera angles on the devices that he's using to spy on the protagonists.  I assume that Hub Station had a lot of cameras, so I understand how he hacked into the feed (though I have to wonder why it was so easy for him to do so).  But, he also seems to have a camera in Steve's bedroom, which seems like the sort of thing that Steve would've noticed at some point.  Second, he's a little too communist.  The conversation that he had with the banker trying to escape his mine lacked any nuance, with the Iron Nail just ranting about capitalists not working as hard as the proletariat.  I mean, sure, OK, I get it philosophically, but, for a modern super-villain, it's hard to believe that he's really just motivated by taking out the bourgeoisie.

*** (three of five stars)


The main challenge that Bendis faces in telling this story is making it feel like it would've happened if two different authors wrote these titles.  I mean, we have an obvious connection, with the Shi'ar wanting to go after Jean for her role as Phoenix.  It's not totally out of left field, as if it were a "Daredevil"/"Guardians of the Galaxy" event.  But, it still feels overly convenient.  Given that the Guardians only appear on this last page of this issue, though, the jury isn't going to return a verdict on that question for a while.

In the meantime, let's talk about the X-Men.  My only real problem with this issue is that Jean is getting harder and harder to take.  Bendis does a good job in reminding us why she's reaching her breaking point, given that, you know, she's learned that she dies twice, her current best-friend becomes her husband but cheats on her with "Silver Boobs McGee," and her entire family is eventually killed.  It's not exactly an unreasonable response.  Plus, she's clearly frustrated by the fact that everyone is clearly watching her for a reaction, like she's going to suddenly turn into the Dark Phoenix; it's clear that it's this frustration that drove her fight with Scott here.  But, it doesn't make it any easier to read.  Plus, it's starting to distract from the stories about the other original X-Men.  Although it's unlikely that this arc is going to focus on Bobby, it would be nice to settle into a routine at some point to delve further into how the other characters are doing.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Invaders #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you've read my reviews of "Earth 2" and "Winter Soldier," you know that I love James Robinson and Bucky Barnes.  The promise of combining the two of them in one series was almost too exciting to believe, but here we are.  Was I disappointed?  No.  No, I was not.

Robinson gave an early positive sign when he made sure to mention Remender's Descendants arc from "Secret Avengers."  Although the arc was uneven, it was still an amazing epic.  Jim Hammond is left broken at the end of it, having saved humanity but cursing himself to exile, an lone android among humans.  Robinson makes it clear that this loneliness drove him to the small town of Blaketon, where he seeks the solace necessary to sort out the events of that arc for himself.  Of course, he's not exactly given that chance.  It would be boring if he had been, wouldn't it?

The rest of the arc becomes actually feels a lot like "Earth 2," with Robinson taking familiar characters but putting them into new contexts.  When I first saw Major Liberty with the Invaders, I immediately ran to Wikipedia to see if I had just forgotten about that character.  The answer is that I did, but Robinson plays with that confusion, because the Invaders do as well, since the memory was hidden.  I'm intrigued to see how the battle sequence shown here (where Liberty dies) somehow holds the key to the location of some device important to the Kree.

I'll admit that the Kree angle feels odd for the Invaders.  But, Robinson sort of chides you for that feeling.  After all, it wouldn't be the "All-New" Invaders if they were still fighting Nazis.  Expanding into outer space is probably the right call.  I'm certainly willing to give Robinson time to develop it and I'd be thrilled if we get something like the "Annihilation" event.  Hopefully, if we continue the focus on the Kree, Robinson will be able to use the changed environment in much the same way that Remender used Dimension Z, removing the character from his usual setting to get to the core of who he is.

*** (three of five stars)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Miracleman #1 and #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Reading "Miracleman" is like reading "Lord of the Rings" after you've already read "Dragonlance:"  it's great until you realize that it's actually the template for all the stories that you've already read and then it's amazing.

I'm combining the review of the these two issues not only because I read them in quick succession, but also because it's hard to disconnect them.  Micky Moran is scarcely able to process the re-discovery of his powers and past in issue #1 before he has to confront the reality of those powers and his present in issue #2.

This story provides us with a number of tropes that come to define the modern comic-book but also help make the story itself deeper:

1) Micky's wife Liz serves as the stand-in for the reader in "Warrior" #2 (the second half of the first issue), laughing at the 1950s nature of Miracleman.  ("Can't you see it?  An 'astro physicist' pops up and tells you the 'key harmonic of the universe'...which just happens to turn you into a muscle-man in a blue leotard?")  Moore uses her scorn to tease out the fact that Micky doesn't see those experiences in the same way.  To Micky, that innocence was real, making its loss all the more profound when he discovers that Kid Miracleman has become evil.  In that way, Marvel makes the right call letting us experience the 1950s comics for ourselves.  At first, I questioned how someone from that era could read these comics and find themselves entertained in the same way that I'm entertained by the deeper work that Fraction does on "Hawkeye," for example.  But, that's exactly the point.  It's that gap in sophistication that reminds you that we are dealing with a different age.  If people in the 1950s bought these stories as entertainment, it reflects a world that they thought existed, even if it didn't in reality.  As such, Micky, as a product of that time, also felt that way.  If Moore hadn't used Liz as a stand-in for a reader, I don't think that we would've gained the appreciation for how the 1950s stories set up the 1980s stories that we do here.

2) Moore inserts a story set three years ahead of the present story into the middle of the arc.  We learn that Kid Miracleman is now a villain in "Warrior"#3 (the first third of issue #2), but "Warrior" #4 skips to show us the trajectory of the stories to come.  We learn that something happens to Liz, though it's unclear if she dies or if she leaves Micky.  We also learn that Micky assembled allies, like Firedrake and Warpsmith.  However, this information doesn't spoil the story; it only leaves us wanting more.  

3) Moore also hints at a number of mysteries that are unlikely to be resolved any time soon, keeping the reader engaged.  For example, why doesn't anyone remember Miracleman and his sidekicks?  Micky suggests that "they" might've kept it quiet because of their deaths, but who are "they?"  We also don't know why Miracleman never aged, but Kid Miracleman did.  Is it because Micky didn't spend all his time as Miracleman, implying that he would've aged (though possibly more slowly) if he did?  Moreover, why was reverting to one's normal self seen as something that Miracleman and Young Miracleman would've needed to enforce in Kid Miracleman?  Why not just stay as a superhero?  Moore seems to be arguing that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but it's not like it was all that difficult for Micky to turn into Miracleman.  Did reverting to human form frequently really forestall that corruption?  By creating a longer arc for the stories that he's telling, Moore moves us from the one-and-done standard story.

4) We also get some really gritty realism, in both the art and the story.  The image of Miracleman with half a burnt face as a result of Kid Miracleman's attack is grim, as is the images of Kid Miracleman murdering his assistant.  Several reviewers have hinted at the violence to come and I have to admit that my mind is blown at the idea that this series gets any more violent than it already is.  But, Moore also has Dr. Gargunza hide an atomic bomb in the ship's remains.  Miracleman at one point mentions to Liz that Gargunza was never really evil; in fact, he says that it felt like they were playing a game.  But, Gargunza crosses that line and ups the ante.  It reminds me of the comment that Riddler made in "Secret Origins Special" #1, where he asks, "What happened to us?  The Joker is killing people, for God's sake?"  (Why Dr. Gargunza started killing people is another mystery that I'd like to see solved.)  Micky's innocent world ended on the day when the atomic bomb killed Young Miracleman and left him comatose; it's only now that he's seeing that.  Talk about a grim reality.

The anticipation of whatever is coming that other reviewers have hinted is coming helps fuel my interest in this book.  Looking at the books themselves, though, it's really a marvel that Moore's stories hold up so well.  We only have a few rough patches.  For example, Micky isn't presented as all that smart of a guy, so Moore really pushes the envelope when it comes to getting us to believe that he would've been able to deduce so quickly that Johnny stayed as Kid Miracleman or that he managed to carve a fortress on the ocean floor.  Also, the script can get a little wobbly, such as when Warpsmith makes Miracleman recite their plan to let the reader know what it is.  But, those are minor complaints.  I'd imagine that you knew that you were reading something special in 1982 when you picked up "Warrior" #1.  Now, you know that for certain, given the echoes of this book that you see throughout the other issues in your pull list.

**** (four of five stars)

Justice League #27 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For a moment, I thought that Johns had veered into excessive exposition when it came to Cyborg's narrating his reconstruction.  But, it's actually touching.  Johns uses it to give us a real insight into Victor's thinking, showing him embracing his role as Cyborg, but using this second chance to do it in a way that maximizes his humanity.  I laughed when he said that he'd like to be able to walk into a "Coffee Bean" without breaking the door frame.  He accepts that he'll never be "normal" again, but that doesn't mean that he has to be a monster.  For Victor's sake, I hope that proves to be true.

Of course, the most important part is the him choosing to become a cyborg again, rather than having his father make that decision for him, as he did the first time.  It not only shows Victor embracing his role a hero, but also sets up a reconciliation between the pair.  I haven't necessarily bought his father's attempts at apologizing to Victor for his role in turning him into a cyborg in the past, but Johns finally sells it to me here.  After all, it makes sense that he'd be driven to question his role in his son's life before the accident, given that it's this lack of a role that leads to him turning Victor into a cyborg in the first place.  Although it's not exactly clear what alternative that Dr. Stone thinks that he has here other than doing it again (given that Victor's essentially a torso with half a head), Johns makes the reader understand that his reluctance to do so comes from a profound sense of disappointment in himself for setting up the circumstances that makes it necessary.  Instead, he accepts Victor's plea for assistance and helps him become a better version of the hero that he already is; it also helps him see the hero that he is.  Now, I can't wait to see Victor go kick some ass.

(On a side note, I'll say that the Doom Patrol intro made very little sense to me, since I know next to nothing about them or the "Chief" that apparently put them together.  Moreover, I'm not really sure why the explosives destroyed Karma.  If his "defensive telepathic nerve pulse disruption" means that someone can't hit him, wouldn't it also work for explosives?  Or, does it have to be tactile?  I guess that it doesn't matter since he seems dead as a doornail.)

*** (three of five stars)

Batman #27 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I thought the story about "Lieutenant" Gordon being inspired by the look of hope in young Bruce's eyes to investigate the dry cleaner that gave him and his partner the trench coats was a brilliant device to show how deep the corruption in Gotham ran.  (I loved Gordon saying that he wore the coat as a reminder to those cops that he remembers the way things were and a reminder to himself of his shame for essentially not doing anything about the corruption earlier.)  I also thought that Alfred's description of Bruce forcing everyone to watch him save Gotham as punishment for them failing to save him from Gotham as a child was innovative, an observation that I don't ever remember being made before but one that feels intuitively true.  Moreover, it seems to set up the later part of this arc, since Bruce will likely transition from this position to a more mature one that actually lets the people that he's punishing -- Alfred and Gordon -- help him.  But, OMG, show not tell, Snyder.  This issue just had way too much narration as Snyder tried to fit in both stories, rather than just one.  By the time that we got to the end of the issue, I was barely paying attention.  Moreover, the narration doesn't leave Snyder room to address fully the revelations made here.  For example, I don't think that it's clear at all what Heffern's connection to Riddler was.  How did they meet?  Why did Riddler chose him?  Does he know that he's just distracting Batman from Riddler's agenda?  Couldn't someone other than Heffern have distracted Batman?  Less tell, more show.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Captain Marvel (1999) #27-#31: "Time Flies"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Be proud of him, Gabriel.  He does these things...because he's heroic.  Because he strives to reach a greater ideal of behavior.  Because --"  "Because I'm an idiot."  -- Genis and Miguel, after Gabe expresses concern that Miguel would face Thanatos again after he almost killed him the first time

(I'm focusing the "Summary" only on the parts of the story that involve Spider-Man 2099, meaning that I'm skipping a lot of the sub-plots focused on Captain Marvel and his supporting cast.  For context, Rick Jones apparently lost an arm and aged prematurely at some point and only recently regained both the arm and his youth.)

On planet Vargas, Starfox has taken a woman to his room.  (Shocker, I know.)  She heads to the bathroom to change into something more comfortable, as they say, and Starfox answers a knock on the door. He's surprised when Thanatos impales him through the throat with a spear.  Later, Rick Jones finds him on the toilet of a comic-book shop that Rick's wife owns, where Starfox is apparently "leaking temporal energy."  He has a band around his throat to cut the flow, but it's losing its effectiveness and he's hoping that Rick or Captain Marvel can use the Nega-Bands to help.  Starfox warns that the effects on space/time could be catastrophic if they don't stop the leak and reveals that he's stashed the "temporal flux" into the toilet.  Marlo decides to flush the flux, causing some sort of time wave.  Rick changes places with Captain Marvel and he and Starfox find themselves face-to-face with Spider-Man 2099 as he's chased by the Public Eye.

At Alchemax, Jordan Boone has pulled a time platform from virtual unreality.  Tyler Stone is initially furious that Boone has kept the program running, given that the last time that they activated the program Thanatos took an "undue interest" in it.  Boone reminds him that they trapped Thanatos in there, but Stone reminds Boone that Spider-Man managed to escape after he was similarly trapped.  Boon hopes that the fact that they found the time platform will change Stone's mind.  Stone is intrigued, but disappointed when Boone notes that it's not fully operational.  However, it has recently begun to glow due to the presence of "chronoparticles" caused by the arrival of Captain Marvel and Starfox.  In the sky above New York, Captain Marvel takes out the Public Eye, but Starfox loses consciousness (forcing Genis to rescue him from free fall) before Marvel can interrogate Miguel.  As Starfox falls, Marvel and Rick see a trail of alternate realities in his wake.  He demands that Starfox tells him where they are, but Starfox evades the question.  He then tries to get Spider-Man to serve as their guide, but he's disappeared.  At Alchemax, Thanatos emerges from the portal (proving Stone correct), saying that his earlier attack was just to get his attention so that he could access virtual unreality and achieve his goals:  getting the time platform and destroying civilization.

Captain Marvel and Starfox follow the trail of ionized particles from Miguel's "anti-grav lift" to Miguel's apartment.  Miguel seemingly pretends that he and Gabe are lovers so that Marvel and Starfox don't guess/believe that he's Spider-Man, but Starfox threatens Gabe, forcing Miguel to reveal himself by webbing up Starfox's eyes and punching him.  Miguel notes that Marvel is the more sensible of the two, confirming for him that they're in 2099.  He then removes the webbing from Starfox's face and, in spite of Starfox's outrage, demands to know the truth.  Starfox says that he wants nothing from him, but Lyla confirms that his body rhythms indicate that he's lying.  Rick notes to Marvel that Starfox seems afraid and Marvel sides with Miguel.  Starfox removes his necklace, revealing that he's been effectively killed and that he'll die unless he delivers Genis to the virtual-unreality division at Alchemax, as Thanatos order him to do.  Thanatos apparently used the chronoparticles to suspend the wound, giving Starfox time to deliver Genis.  (Starfox notes that he would've gone to Titan to try to resolve the problem, but Thanatos warned him that they would dissipate if he went anywhere but Earth.  Starfox tends to think that he's bluffing, but didn't want to risk it.)  Miguel changes into his costume and they head to Alchemax.

En route, Rick explains to Genis that the "spear of destiny" that Thanatos apparently used on Starfox is an object of power, rumored to be the spear that a Roman Centurion used to stab Jesus on the cross. However, two S.I.E.G.E. agents arrive at that moment and declare Starfox their target and Spidey and Marvel as ancillary -- and therefore -- disposable targets.  They open fire and Miguel draws off the missiles from Starfox, giving Genis time to destroy them.  They then engage the agents while Starfox suddenly disappears.  Rick recognizes the energy signature of Dr. Doom's time machine and Miguel guesses that Thanatos got impatient and used the device to pick up Starfox.  Miguel tells Genis that they should head to Alchemax and one of the agents announces that their instructions were to capture them and take them there. At Alchemax, Thanatos notes that it served as a successful test of the time platform, though noted that the damage that it suffered in the "Eon War" limited its abilities.  He then exposits that the Eon War was a "massive temporal conflict" that brought about the end of the Heroic Age, erasing records of itself after it occurred.  Just then, Miguel and Genis crash through the window and interrupt his history lesson.  Thanatos somehow uses his spear to activate a portal, drawing in Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, and Starfox.  As they fall through interspace, Thanatos exposits that he wants to re-order reality itself and Dr. Doom's time platform is just one of the keys to that goal.  The other is found where the Maestro is, where Genis, Spidey, and Starfox arrive.

At the same time, Rick suddenly finds that he's no longer in the Microverse.  Thanatos appears, explaining that he can coexist in the same space as Marvel because they were never molecularly bonded.  He sends Rick into a room filled with mementos of the Age of Heroes where Rick encounters his older self.  Thanatos then reveals that he, too, is Rick.  He's sent Marvel, Spidey, and Starfox to the Maestro's future to retrieve Dr. Strange's amulet and cape, which he needs for his plans.  He tells Rick that their realities diverged when Rick re-merged with Captain Marvel after the Kree/Skrull War; in Thanatos' reality, he stayed with the Supreme Intelligence to learn how to better use the Destiny Force powers that Supremor had apparently unleashed.  (Yeah, I don't really follow either.)  Clearly driven insane by the Destiny-Force power, Thanatos' plan is to use mythology, science, and sorcery to become the ultimate Rick Jones, the template for all Rick Jones across the multiverse.

At the Maestro's HQ, Starfox manages to get his hands on the items while Marvel and Spidey engage the Maestro, a malevolent future version of the Hulk.  (Thanatos divided them so that Marvel and Spidey would appear in the Maestro's throne room and distract him while Starfox recovered the amulet and cape.)  Once Starfox gets the items, Thanatos uses the time platform to bring him to him and set in motion his plans.  Starfox attacks, but he's weakened by his wound, and Thanatos starts the process of shaping the multiverse in his image.  He recalls Marvel (leaving Miguel on his own to fight the Maestro) and then uses the spear of destiny to stab Marvel and Rick at the same time.  Images of the ultimate Rick begin to appear (Rick as Bucky, etc.), but his plans are ruined when old Rick summons Mjolnir (one of the artifacts in the room) to him.  Old Rick exposits that Thor had whispered the secret word to call Mjolnir to him before he died and that old Rick was deemed worthy to wield it for acts that young Rick hadn't yet performed and Thanatos wouldn't perform.  He orders Marvel and Rick to bang together their bands to give him a power boost, announcing that they'll make Thanatos hit the bricks.  Thanatos disappears and everyone is returned to where he was before Thanatos stabbed Starfox.  Marvel uses his cosmic awareness to explain to young Rick that the energies released by Thanatos' demise sent back everyone.  Marvel then sets about repairing the time platform to send them home.  First, though, he discovers a brick and they realize that it's the remains of Thanatos, since old Rick must've had a spark of the Destiny Force left in him and literally made him "hit the bricks."

The Review
This arc is fun, but it's still a disappointment.  I was excited about David taking up Miguel again, but this arc doesn't really focus on him all that much, spending more time on Rick and his various incarnations.  Moreover, the light-hearted nature of the series that makes it such a fun read is at times an odd match for the subject matter, particularly given the various questions left unanswered (or poorly answered) by the end of the 2099 line.  As a Spider-Man 2099 fan, I can't necessarily say that I'd recommend it.

The Good
Honestly, the only reason that I gave this issue two stars is that it does at least answer the mystery of Thanatos, even if I'm not sure that it's the answer that David originally planned.

The Interesting
Miguel is essentially returned home with no clarity on what happened.  He never learns that Thanatos was Rick Jones, that he was trying to remake the universe in his image, and that old Rick Jones killed him.  As far as Miguel knows, Thanatos is still out there somewhere.

The Bad
1) To be fair, the original Thanatos from "Spider-Man 2099" #12-#13 didn't exactly have the clearest of agendas.  He mostly just seemed to be happy that he wasn't incorporeal anymore; his main goal was to get revenge on Spider-Man and destroy the 2099 world to honor his host, likely now to be Aaron Delgado given that the other candidate, the Vulture, turned out surviving his encounter with Miguel.  He certainly didn't seem like someone trying to reshape reality in his image.  That leads me to wonder whether David might not be ret-conning his own story here.  For example, the original Thanatos sounded haughtier than this one, who sounds much more glib (like Rick Jones).  Moreover, the original implication seemed to be that Thanatos had been a villain, not a hero (of sorts).  So, although we get an answer on Thanatos' identity, I can't say that the questions that I had after reading issues #12-#13 were answered here. 

2) Did Rick Jones somehow become African-American?  I mean that seriously, because he's drawn and colored that way consistently throughout the series.

3) I'm pretty sure that Miguel didn't hide an "anti-grav lift" that would create ionized particles under his cape and David should know that.  If Miguel had something like that, Venture would've likely tracked these particles in "Spider-Man 2099" #2 and not Miguel's heat signature. 

4) I don't even know what to say about Miguel and Gabe pretending to be lovers. 

5) The S.I.E.G.E. agents are either idiots or David didn't really think through this part of the story.  First, they declare Starfox their target and dismiss Miguel and Genis as disposable, which makes no sense, since Genis was really Thanatos' target, not Starfox.  But, even if they didn't know that and think that Starfox was Thanatos' target, they still open fire on him, which doesn't make a lot of sense since they would seemingly want him alive.  Then, they later announce that they were actually just there to arrest Miguel and Genis, despite earlier trying to kill them.

6) Can I just say that Thanatos' plan is a little...underwhelming?  Like, you're stealing the power to control reality and the only thing you want is to make every Rick Jones in the multiverse like you?  Really?

The Really Bad
As expected, the uncoordinated nature of the stories that brought an end to the 2099 line leaves us with a questionable timeline here.  In "2099:  Manifest Destiny," Kaminsky put the blame for the end of the Age of Heroes on an uprising by humans against super-humans.  Here, however, David pins it on a "temporal conflict" that doesn't sound a lot like the aforementioned uprising.  Frankly, I like David's story better, in part because it makes more sense why Rick Jones would wind up disincorporated in the first place.  But, it still creates two completely different answers to why the Age of Heroes ended, reminding us of the ignominious ending of the 2099 line.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2099: Manifest Destiny #1

* (one of five stars)

Zero Cochrane narrates a history lesson from 1999, informing the reader that some aliens placed a "barrier of absolute interdict" around Earth about the time that humans rose against super-humans.  As the super-humans fell (mainly because many of them refused to kill the humans attacking them), some soldiers put one of the super-humans into suspended animation in the hope that he'd remind future generations of something that they lost.  The humans win the war and the Age of Heroes comes to an end, plunging Earth into a dark period for 20-30 years.  We then switch from Zero's narration to a prophet seemingly talking about an alien invasion (or, at least, "soulless credheads [that] crawled in from the outer darks an' took over hereabouts") that drove Thor and the rest of the gods from Earth.  Cochrane continues his narration, focusing now on the Blue Area of the Moon; the reader learns that Black Bolt opened up Attilan to refugees from Earth during the dark period.  We see a bunch of people smuggling out containers having to do something with the "conversion of Terrigen Mist into polydochloric euphemol." However, they're stopped by Moon Knight 2099.  She fights them, but one of them throws her into the Watcher's domain, which she exposits has been dark for a century.

Meanwhile, underwater, Gabe and Xina follow a "treasure map" that "somebody" got in his e-mail (presumably from Zero) to the location of the capsule containing the person put into suspended animation in 1999, who, not surprisingly, turns out being Captain America.  Meanwhile, Moon Knight conveniently hears Uatu narrate his story to no one in particular (maybe he does it a few times a day just in case an adventurer might hear):  he was stripped of his sight for "compulsive participation in events."  He laments his most egregious crime against his pact of non-interference:  creating "trans-temporal duplicates" of the Fantastic Four, believing them to be Earth's last hope for salvation.  Moon Knight stops him as he's about to euthanize the Fantastic Four, saying that the original Fantastic Four would've preferred fighting against "insurmountable even hopeless odds" than embrace the peace of death.  Uatu agrees, wondering if his eyes are the only thing that have been blinded.

At Alchemax Tower, Miguel converses via video conference with Xi'an, the leader of the Last Refuge, now called Xavier City.  (New York seems to be re-inhabited thanks to a series of bridges connecting the buildings above the water line.)  Miguel and Xi'an argue over the "meta-genome project," which appears to be an abandoned project that sought to map super-human genomes.  Xi'an says that his people prefer to be left alone, telling Miguel that he knows nothing about being persecuted for his genetic code.  Miguel tells him that he'd be surprised and presses the point that it's better for him to start up the project again than someone with more nefarious intents, like Latveria.  Xi'an argues that some information should stay lost, but Miguel disagrees, noting that they still don't know what ended the Age of Heroes or crashed civilization.  At that moment, he's alerted to Gabe and Xina's return.  He meets them at the hanger, where the reader learns that he's married to Xina and that Conchata is alive and using the money that she gained from a lawsuit against "Doc in a Box" for mistakenly declaring her dead to find the shape-changer that framed Gabe for being the Green Goblin.  (Yup.  You read all that correctly).

Cap is awakened and Miguel tells him that they face a similar series of events -- an explosion of technological innovation and a proliferation of super-humans, followed by a a total collapse of civilization -- as the one that happened at the end of the Age of Heroes.  He wants information about this era to see if they can stop the collapse of civilization this time.  Cap tells the story of the end of the Age of Heroes, adding to Zero's narration that shadowy figures consolidated control over the media and used it to foster the war and hide their actual agenda.  Eventually, they stored away the knowledge and technologies that "threatened the status quo," hence the loss of technology that the 2099 series have often mentioned.  Miguel bashes the table over the loss of that information and the cost to the future that it entailed, saying that humanity deserves extinction.  However, Cap counters that they only managed to delay the future for 100 years, showing faith in the fight that the people in the room have.  Later, Miguel approaches Cap, saying that he had another reason to awaken him.  He reveals that they've found the walking stick that Thor used to switch places with Donald Blake and hopes that Cap will use it, because he once was deemed worth enough to wield it.  Cap balks at the responsibility but Miguel pushes, saying that the synthesis of these two symbols would be inspiring and that he understands the burden, telling him that he, too, used to wear a mask.  Cap realizes that Miguel understands what he's asking him to do and agrees.  He becomes Cap-Thor and does indeed inspire people, particularly when he wins over doubters by inviting anyone who asks to see if they're worthy enough to wield the hammer.

Eventually, the Watcher, accompanied by the Fantastic Four and perhaps some Inhumans, approaches Miguel and Steve, asking the former to gather Earth's heroes to make an assault on the barrier.  They head into space and the Watcher orders them to aim their energies at the barrier, hoping to destabilize it.  Screaming, "Avengers Assemble!" Cap-Thor leads the charge.  However, the barrier absorbs the energy and returns it in a greater amount; Uatu takes the blast.  Declaring that he rejects the Watchers' oath and accusing them of becoming "idle voyeurs," he sacrifices his life to destroy the barrier.  The resulting concussion wave scatters the heroes, with Cap drifting closest to "solar escape velocity."  Cap instructs Miguel to focus on saving the others, nothing that he'll have no oxygen left by the time that they get to him.  He then hurls Mjolnir to Miguel, saying that it was an honor to give three lives to his country and to some of the people who'll carry on the fight.  Miguel catches the hammer, but doesn't transform into Thor.  Instead, he realizes that he's not supposed to be a physical warrior, but a bureaucratic one, and runs Alchemax for the greater good, releasing the findings of the "metagene factor" project for free (to the fury of his advisors).

The remaining pages detail the next 1,000 years.  By 2199, Reed Richards has been put in charge of the space program that discovers that Europa's underwater seas are perfect for the Atlanteans to colonize, leading them to sign a peace with humanity, and nano-technology has allowed for the rapid reconstruction of the world  By 2399, the "metagene factor" study allows for the manipulation of DNA so that most of humanity becomes super-humans, allowing them to defend Earth against subsequent attempts at invasion.  By 2799, life extension and space migration are a reality.  In 3099, people gather at Emancipation, an enormous space station built where Uatu sacrificed himself, to hear Miguel, long retired for Alchemax and coaxed from his hermitage, speak on the 1,000th anniversary of "human freedom."  While he extols the virtues of Cap, noting that it was his moral compass and not powers that gave him authority, a ship embedded in a comet is discovered, containing the body of Captain America.  He's re-animated (again) and Miguel greets him as "Cap."  He says that he's no longer Captain America, a now 1,000-year-old myth.  When Miguel suggests that he's earned his right to retire, Steve makes it clear that he's just retiring the title of Captain America.  He wants to go to work on the frontier, where the societies are just taking hold, to help build something, hoping that he can serve as an inspiration just as America did to Earth during its darkest times.  As such, Miguel offers him Mjolnir, saying that "a carpenter needs a good hammer."  He suggests that Cap might meet Thor if he goes far enough and Cap wonders why the gods left.  Miguel suggests that maybe they left because a noble-enough people finally arose to take their place.

In cyberspace, Zero releases several artificial intelligences that he's used to run cyberspace for the last 1,000 years, allowing them to "transcend," meaning that he essentially is now the Internet.

The Review
This issue is...hokey.  First, it doesn't feel like a continuation of the story that Raab and Kelly told in "2099 World of Tomorrow."  Instead, it seems more like a hypothetical contemplation of the possible future of the 2099 world.  If it's actually meant to be the continuation of the story, then, on some level, I got what I wanted:  a hard reboot that ignores or, at least, de-emphasizes what Raab and Kelly did to the line in "2099 World of Tomorrow."  But, the problem is that Kaminsky goes too far in that reboot.  He not only messes with Peter David's Green Goblin story (an unforgivable sin, in my book), but he bends the space/time continuum to the point where it no longer makes sense, with Miguel living to see 3099 for no good reason.  It's hard to see anything that happens in 3099 being viewed as part of the mainstream Marvel Universe and, as such, it's hard to see anything in this entire issue as likely to stick if Marvel were to re-launch the 2099 line at some point.

But, it's most disappointing because, like "2099 World of Tomorrow," you're left wondering what could have been.  With an eight-issue series and a valedictory one-shot to end the line, Marvel could've done something that more or less left readers feeling a sense of closure.  Instead, we were treated to nine issues that focused on fairly minor characters at the expense of the more established ones:  characters like Doom, Spider-Man, and the X-Men were pushed into supporting roles in favor of Captain America (who we never saw in the line until the last issue), Strange, and X-Nation.  If we were going to see minor characters take a prominent place, I would've loved to see Miguel pass the torch as protector of New York to Daredevil 2099 or Doom cultivate Nostro as his heir (and not just announce him as such in his last will and testament).  It's these missed opportunities that make me feel like I've wasted time reading the "2099 World of Tomorrow" and "2099:  Manifest Destiny."  Sad, but true.

The Good
1) The revelation that Uatu created the Fantastic Four of 2099 in the hope of saving a world that he felt lost works on a few levels.  First, Kaminsky cleverly makes it the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to the other Watchers, who finally punish Uatu for his constant intervention into Earth's affairs by blinding him.  But, maybe most importantly, it at least makes it less of an obvious question mark hanging over the 2099 line of where they went after they (or, at least, three of them) entered the Negative Zone.  After all, it's not like Ben Grimm disappeared from the "present" continuity and the now-Fantastic Three had all these memories of the 2099 Universe.  The only negative is that Kaminsky doesn't explain how Uatu managed to pluck the three from the Negative Zone or what exactly happened to Ben after he crash-landed on Mars.  It would've been nice to have spent less time on detailing the events of 3099 and more time on answering those pretty obvious questions.  But, overall, I'll keep it in the "Good" category for at least giving a plausible conclusion to the team's story.

2) I've said before that reading the 2099 line occasionally makes me feel like Marvel has had some sort of 30- or 40-year plan in action.  It happens usually as a result of people in the 2099 line mentioning events that hadn't happened when the issue in question was published, but actually did subsequently happen.  I felt this way here when Miguel tries to convince Steve to take up Thor's hammer (or, actually, walking stick) because he was the only mortal on record having done so previously.  As far as I know, the only time that happened was in "Fear Itself" #7, which happened almost 15 years after this issue was published.  Creepy.

3) I liked the revelation that the end of the Age of Heroes came when humans took up arms against super-humans.  Cap makes the point that they used to think that the humans hated the mutants due to bigotry but realized too late that it was actually jealousy.  It's a point that I'm always surprised isn't explored more often, so I applaud it being used here.

The Unknown
1) Although we know what caused the end of the Age of Heroes, I'm confused about the "end of civilization" aspect.  Cap says that the shadowy figures that stoked anti-super-human sentiment to provoke a war apparently stowed away all knowledge, seemingly because the chaotic status quo benefited them.  However, Kaminsky doesn't really explain how exactly they benefited from that.  Were they all in the Sentinel-manufacturing business?  Didn't they realize that, eventually, humans would win, so the status quo would change?  How would plunging humanity into a second Dark Age help them?  Kaminsky never explains and the story is unfortunately weaker for it.

2) I'm not sure how Cap returns the second time (or, well, third time, really).  When we last saw him, he was Cap-Thor drifting on his own outside Earth's orbit.  However, when they discover him again, he's stowed in a ship with short-range radio and in his original uniform (and not the Cap-Thor one).  I'm putting it in this category as if I just didn't follow what Kaminsky intended, but I think that it's actually probably just sloppy writing.

The Bad
1) Zero says that half of humanity survived the global flood and war with the Phalanx, but I'm pretty sure that "2099 World of Tomorrow" made clear that only 10 percent of the population survived.

2) Alchemax Tower is shown intact, if somewhat damaged, here, despite the fact that the Vulture destroyed it completely at the end of "Spider-Man 2099."  Talk about sloppy.

3) I'm pretty sure that Xi'an knows that Miguel is Spider-Man.  He wasn't exactly hiding it at any point in the Savage Land.  OK, sure, Miguel departed the Savage Land pretty quickly in "2099 World of Tomorrow" #1, so I don't think that they were technically in the same room.  But, it's not like Cerebra or anyone else there would've neglected to mention it to him, particularly given how important the new Alchemax clearly is to this new world.  As such, Xi'an's comment to Miguel, about him not knowing about being persecuted for one's genetic code, is bizarre.

The Terrible
1) It took me a second read to realize that the "barrier of absolute interdict" surrounded Earth, mainly because of Zero's techno-babble narration that Kaminsky employs throughout this issue.  That said, I'm still not sure what it was supposed to do.  The fact that Silver Surfer couldn't pass it to visit Earth implies that we couldn't leave Earth, which makes sense in the context of Earth's colonization of space only happening after the heroes finally destroy it.  But, Zero doesn't make it clear why the barrier was installed in the first place or why humanity didn't do more to remove it earlier.  Kaminsky seems to be implying that the wars that erupted on Earth around that time that the barrier was erected distracted everyone from worrying about it and that civilization then falling into chaos made space exploration a moot point.  But, civilization eventually recovered.  In fact, Alchemax colonized Mars, which presumably required passing through the barrier.  I'm not sure if Kaminsky is ignoring that development or I'm not fully understanding the barrier's intent.  But, if it was to keep us on Earth, it clearly didn't work, so why is it such a big deal?  The whole story smacks of a MacGuffin.

2) Cap had the power of Thor...but couldn't breathe in space or fly through space under his own power?  I guess that they don't make gods like they used to make them.

The Ugly
A shapeshifter pretended to be Gabe pretending to be the Green Goblin? Conchata was "mistakenly" declared dead after taking a point-blank blast to the chest and being left in a building that then exploded before the city where it was located flooded?  I nearly stopped reading at this point.  It got worse when Jake Gallows suddenly appeared alive in the splash page of Earth's heroes heading into space.  Strange also appeared on that page, with no explanation of how she managed to defeat Garrok.  I just...[sigh].

A Note on "Spider-Man #1/2":  This issue technically comes between "2099 World of Tomorrow" and "2099:  Manifest Destiny."  But, it's a Spider-Man focused issue, with Miguel briefly appearing in a flash-forward, non-speaking role.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2099 World of Tomorrow #8: "The Quiet Earth"

* (one of five stars)

- Victor Ten-Eagles directs the construction of a new building at the Last Refuge and he and Xi'an marvel at humans and mutants working together.  Morphine Somers arrives and tries to convince them to stop building the settlement, warning that it'll become a nightmare.  Meanwhile, La Lunatica holds up a girder as Hodge welds it, but suffers some sort of spell that causes her to drop it.  Hodge manages to jump just in time and La Lunatica privately worries that "the hunger" has returned.  Morphine watches from the bushes, expositing that La Lunatica's "hunger" is tasting the fears of the weak and hoping that he can attract her to his side given that he failed to do so with Xi'an.  Hodge approaches Jade, on whom he has a burgeoning crush, to thank her for her words the previous day.  Acknowledging to herself how strange that is, she accepts his thanks and then tells him that she needs to resume work on building the technological infrastructure for the settlement.  Hodge returns to the structure and Willow replaces La Lunatica.

- Uproar and Wulff float on some debris and Wulff dives into the ocean to kill a sea monster that was stalking them for food.  Uproar tells Wulff that he doesn't know him anymore and they decide to part company:  Wulff heads for some land that he smells nearby to figure out his life by himself and tells Uproar to grow to giant-size and head for a ship on the horizon.  They part with a vague sense of seeing each other again "whenever."

- Miguel, Xina, and some Latverians attempt to find Doom in the rubble of Castle Doom, but only find his mask.  Xina is devastated, saying that she never knew anyone so brave.  A Latverian takes the mask from her, saying that they're putting into place protocols that Doom instructed in the even to his death.  Miguel is told to bring Nostromo to a pre-determined place.  Before Miguel can do so, Winn finds Nostro, who refuses his offer of friendship given his role in Doom manipulating Nostro to rebuild Latveria.  One of Doom's soldiers finds them and orders Nostro to the gathering, wondering why Spider-Man didn't tell him.  After they leave, Winn asks Spidey, who's hiding in the woods, why he didn't approach Nostro himself and Miguel says that it was because of his guilt over almost kiling Nostro.  Winn tells him that Doom purged Nostro's memory of his time as part of the world-engine, but Miguel notes that he still remembers.  At the gathering, a holographic image of Doom activated by his mask reads his last will and testament.  He bids farewell to Xina (making her a permanent ally of Latveria), honors his word to Miguel by giving him the location of his brother (and offers him a place in the cabinet), and makes Nostro the sovereign of Latveria, appointing Winn as his advisor/regent.  Miguel departs to find Gabe, leaving behind his Spider-Man gear and saying that he'll consider the cabinet offer and his role as Spider-Man after he finds him.

- At the Last Refuge, Metalhead dreams that he used his power to purge himself of the Phalanx virus, only to be stalked by Phalanxified members of the X-Men.  He awakens to discover that he's reverted to his original form, expect his knee, which remains Phalanxified.  He is also reunited with his lover, Rosa.  He apologizes that he wasn't there for Rosa after they got separated in the flood and asks about her son, Darkson.  At the lab, Cerebra and Krystallin run tests on Darkson and Cerebra exposits his story to the girl who's been hanging with the X-Men, that he was Rosa's baby who got aged into adolescence by a villain named Vulcann.  She pledges to find a way to revert him to his actual age, noting that it's a time of rebirth on Earth.

- In the waters surrounding what used to be Transverse City, a figure finds an artifact for which it was searching, declaring that the Ghost Rider will once again belond to D/Monix.

The Review
Raab and Kelly make clear in their good-bye letter that they were forced to wrap up their story quickly. As such, we leave Strange stranded beneath the Earth at the mercy of Garrok and December alone on Mars.  We never learn the fate of Gabe or the Thing or the outcome of La Lunatica's "hunger" and Morphine's plotting.  Cerebra's condition is left completely unexplained as is the potential menace of Franklin.  In other words, it's an ignomious end to a line that once provided fresh and gripping stories of a world similar but still far different from our own.

I'm not going to write the eulogy of the 2099 world yet, since I still have two issues remaining:  "Spider-Man #1/2," which looks more like a story of the future Spider-Man that we saw in "Spider-Man 2099 Meets Spider-Man," and "2099:  Manifest Destinty," the one-shot that presumably ties up some of the dangling threads mentioned in the above paragraph (and presumably some other ones).

In terms of this series, though, I'll say that Marvel and/or Raab and Kelly made two mistakes.  The first smacks of editorial interference, so I'll blame it on Marvel:  the decision to flood the world due to the invsaion of Phalanx.  Marvel had many other possible options to explore to bring together the characters from the line's ten ongoing series and it's hard to believe that they chose this one as the best one.  I'm still left feeling as I did at the end of "Spider-Man 2099," that the arrival of the Fantastic Four somehow caused a new timeline and Marvel simply chose to follow the wrong one.  If Marvel returns to the 2099 line one day, my guess is that it'll be a pre-flood one or at least one that looks exactly the same as the pre-flood world with lip-service paid to the reconstruction.

The other fault is probably the one to be borne by Raab and Kelly, mainly the decision to focus so much time on the "X-Nation" characters.  I long ago gave up hoping for improved dialogue from the two of them, but I did expect them to find some way to get me to care about these characters.  Instead, I found it bizarre that a title that ran for only six issues essentially hijacked the 2099 line by playing such a disroportionately large role in its final issues.  It makes me wonder why Marvel decided to kill off the Hulk and Punisher 2099, since they were at least long-running characters that clearly could've played a role in this series.  Why chose teenage heroes that many of us had never seen?  Even if they replaced characters like Hulk and Punisher, it's still unbelievable to me that they displaced characters like Spider-Man 2099.  Miguel is essentially just an agent of Doom here and his story, for most people (given how hard "2099:  Manifest Destiny" apparently was to find), ends here, with him giving up being Spider-Man as a result of almost killing Nostro.  As I said, it's ignomious, to say the least.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2099 World of Tomorrow #7: "Blitzkrieg"

(zero of five stars)

- Smith asks Twilight why they're throwing in their lot with the Takers, questioning a species whose first thought upon awakening from suspended animation is to exact revenge.  On Mars, December continues to work on trying to open a communications link to Smith and Twilight and, at one point, is driven to tears by her loneliness.  Dr. Isaacs opens her son's suspended-animation pod, only to have him disintegrate after a few moments (confirming her fear that the original sample was decomposing like her older clones).  Smith uses his powers to protect the spaceship from the planetoid's defense systems and Twilight uses hers to open a portal into the planetoid so that the Takers can attack.

- Miguel and Xina create a tank that they plan on using on a suicide mission to take out Nostromo.  Meanwhile, Doom watches from a cliff as the techno-organic virus takes over Latveria.  Miguel and Xina break into Castle Doom, with Xina distracting the Phalanx with the tank while Spidey heads from Nostro.  Nostro tells him that he knows what he's doing and begs him to kill him.  However, Doom arrives, announcing that "the borders of Latveria have been restored to their former glory," the apparent goal of Doom's deal with the Phalanx.  Doom offers the Phalanx the possibility of retreat and Magus seems to accept it, saying that Doom's tenacity and "O'Hara's desperate gambit" have given him pause.  Miguel expresses horror that he was willing to kill Nostro, who warns him that it's a trick.  On cue, Magus and the Phalanx then attack, noting that O'Hara would've succeeded had he killed Nostro.  Magus then strips Doom of his armor, thinking that he's won.  Doom tells him that he's overestimated his position and utters a codeword, "Cynthia."  It activates a Trojan-Horse program that frees Nostro and terminates the Phalanx's communications with the Dreadnodes.  Doom exposits that he knew that the Phalanx had left behind the Scout program when the mutants defeated it in the late 1990s, so he kept track of the program and embedded his own programming into it.  He lost of track of the program upon his return, so he spread the rumor of the "mutant messiah myth" to "ferret him out;" he then introduced the Trojan Horse into Nostro.  Moreover, Winn is revealed to have been working for Doom the whole time as he attacks Magus.  Spidey takes a now-freed Nostro and grabs Xina as Doom activates a bomb, destroying Castle Doom as "two dynasties come to a cataclysmic end."

- The X-Men fight the Dreadnode, slowly but surely getting overtaken by it.  Hodge helps Bloodhawk escape, paying the debt that he owed him for saving him in the first issue.  Bloodhawk helps La Lunatica escape and Xi'an is inspired to do the same.  Victor Ten-Eagles then arrives with the cavalry and takes on the Dreadnode on his own, apparently inspiring a legend in the future.  Meanwhile, Franklin connects with the Phalanx and prepares to download his databases to its ship.  Cerebra tells him not to do so, since it'll have access to the "secrets of humanity's destruction."  She says that the Phalanx is evil, but Franklin dismisses that assertion, saying that the Phalanx is just trying to ensure its survival.  However, upon communicating with the Phalanx, Franklin decides that it is evil when one of its members declares that its goal is to destroy all organic life.  As such, Franklin destroys the planetoid, killing Smith, the Takers, and Twilight in the process.  Smith and Twilight embrace before they die and December -- who managed to open the comm-link right before the explosion -- weeps.  The remains of the planetoid then crash into a lake on Earth.

The Review
ARGH!  I gave this issue yet another zero mainly because Raab and Kelly just fall completely to pieces here.  We essentially have three different stories that could spell the end of the Phalanx:  Spider-Man taking out Nostro, Doom activating his Trojan-Horse virus, and the Takers defeating the Phalanx on its planetoid.  Each story essentially usurps the previous story as the most likely candidate to win, but, in the end, it's the deus ex machina - literally, from the machine - of Franklin destroying the Phalanx to save Earth that ends the story.  However, we're given no reason why Franklin only now connects to the Phalanx, leaving open the question why he couldn't have done what he did here several issues ago.  As a result, it makes you realize that most of the stories that have competed with each other throughout this series were completely unnecessary.  In other words, most of this series was a huge waste of time, probably not Raab and Kelly's goal when they set out writing this story.

The Unknown
Winn announces that Doom isn't the only holdover from the Twentieth Century, implying that he's also from then.  But, who the Hell is he?

The Bad
1) I still don't understand the Takers' connection to the Phalanx.  This issue says that they're seeking revenge for the Phalanx invasion of a milennia ago, calling into question Smith's hypothesis that they actually created the planetoid that the Phalanx inhabit.  If I try to pull all those threads together, I think that Raab and Kelly are saying that the Takers did create the planetoid, but the Phalanx took it from them to use in their own world dominations.  However, again, Raab and Kelly don't actually draw that connection, making me feel like I should win a No-Prize for doing it for them.

2) Moreover, we never learn who sabotaged the spaceship that the Takers originally sent to Earth or how the Takers were somehow infected with the techno-organic virus, which at least one of them would have to have been in order for Nostro to become infected with it when he saved Willow after she "became" a Taker.  My guess, then, is that the Phalanx did somehow sabotage the ship, implying that at least one member of the Phalanx remained on Mars after the rest of the species left.  Why would one of it stay?  I have other questions, but, at this point, I'm doing so much work for Raab and Kelly that I might as well stop and just move onto the next problem.

3) Continuing on the Takers, we never really get a sense of why Twilight did what she did.  We had the implication that the Takers somehow amplified her powers and put her under their control, but, in the end, we're just left with vague assertions that she felt the need to put behind her immature ways and be responsible.

4) I'm still not sure why the Phalanx came when it did.  After all these issues, we were never really given that information.  I guess that it didn't necessarily need a reason, but I'm pretty sure, in the "Fantastic Four 2099" series, it was implied that someone called the Phalanx somehow.

5) Doom's plan seems to have been to get the Phalanx to terraform Latveria, restoring it to its previous condition.  But, the art doesn't necessarily convey that and, in fact, Doom himself doesn't actually say that.  Again, I'm just left filling in the narrative and artistic gaps.

The Really Bad
On one hand, the revelation that Doom created the "mutant messiah myth" to ferret out Nostro is cool, particularly since it probably offers readers of "X-Nation" the type of closure that I am looking to get when it comes to Gabe's whereabouts.  (I wonder if we ever learned who the Cable-like figure from "2099 A.D. Genesis" was.)  But, it actually hints at a more disappointing reality, the fact that this entire series was, in a way, just a promotion for the Phalanx storyline that I'm assuming had just happened in the X-books.  I actually hated that event when it was happening, so I'm disappointed that I'm forced to read about the Phalanx once again, particularly given that the entire 2099 line was essentially sacrificed to it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2099 World of Tomorrow #6: "Final Decisions"

* (one of five stars)

- Doom, Spidey, and Xina try to figure out a plan after they failed to stop the Phalanx from activating the world-engine last issue.  Doom tries to convince Xina to flee with him, but she refuses, calling him a traitor for helping the Phalanx invade Earth.  Doom hopes that she'll understand when they meet again (presumably because his plan to defeat them will have been revealed).  Miguel tries to free Nostro, but he can't, since he's become an integral part of the world-engine.  He and Xina then flee.  At a church dedicated to Doom, Xina tells Miguel that the only way to stop the Phalanx is to kill Nostro and destroy the world-engine, something that she would do if she had Miguel's power.  She tells Miguel that it's his responsibility and he's mournful when he seems to acknowledge that she's right (and that she's gone cold so quickly).  Winn approaches Nostro (who sports a look of mute horror at having become part of the machine) and apologizes for his role in making him so, noting that he thinks that they could've been friends.

- Bloodhawk attacks the "Dreadnode" that appeared at the end of the last issue, but it dismisses him quickly.  Hodge grabs Jade and heads to the bushes, since he knows that they don't stand a chance against the Dreadnode without powers.  Willow changes into the Taker that she touched a few issues ago, hoping to use its ferocity to take down the Dreadnode while still retaining control of herself; she and La Lunatica engage the Dreadnode.  Krystallin informs Eddie and Shatki that the aliens are attacking; she and Metalhead go to help while Shatki -- who remains paralyzed from Franklin's "attack" -- remains at the base with the human child who's been hanging with them.  Arriving on the scene, Metalhead is attacked by the Dreadnode, which infects him with the techno-organic virus.  An anti-mutant human in the crowd watching the fray calls Morphine Somers a coward for failing to help the mutants fight the Dreadnode, but Victor Ten Eagles stops Morphine before he can attack the human.  He rallies humans and mutants together to fight the alien, much to Morphine's jealous dismay.

- Wulff is horrified by his attack on Trash; the Vulture encourages him to finish the job and earn the right to displace Dorian as his right-hand man.  However, Uproar tries to get him to come to his senses.  Dorian is furious that the Vulture is encouraging Wulff to kill a Wild Boy but, before Wulff can attack anyone, another Dreadnode attacks the ship.  Dorian hurls an explosive device at the Vulture, declaring the Wild Boyz freelancers.  In the confusion, the Vulture escapes with Fiona and Uproar and Wulff make it to shore, though Uproar frets whether Wulff is his friend or the beast.

- On Mars, Dr. Isaacs finds her "children," a group of clones that she created and that the Takers kept alive to work the equipment that they stole from Ares.  However, she realizes that several of the older clones are in the process of decomposition, showing that she got better at cloning as she went.  She reveals that the original strain came from her son, Hayes, and worries that it, too, is decomposing.  Elsewhere in the Takers compound, Twilight uses her power to stop Smith from haranguing her over the aliens, but he uses his magnetic powers to get her to release him.  She storms from the room and December appears.  She reveals to Smith that she thinks that the Takers have lied to Twilight.  She asks why, if the Takers are so devoted to Mars, they stole Ares' technology to build a spaceship (which they're in the process of constructing with Twilight's help).  She hypothesizes that they're going to rendez-vous with the Mothership, a.k.a. the planetoid that wrecked Earth.  Smith postulates that the Takers created the planetoid as a weapon to destroy other planets before their civilizations could threaten Mars.  Smith then goes to find Twilight, sharing their theory with her.  However, she seems to be under the Takers' sway and announces her intent to join them on the spaceship.  Not wanting to leave her by herself, Smith decides to join her in the rocket, which then launches.

The Review
Thank God I only have two more issues.  This series is getting painful to read.  The good news is that Kelly and Raab have at least merged several stories (and ignored others) to get us to four stories in this issue.  But, it's still too many, given how much exposition that the authors are forced to use to advance several plots in this issue.

The Unknown
I'm still not 100% sure what Doom's plan is/was.  Xina seems convinced that he wanted the Phalanx invasion to happen.  If he did, then I'm assuming his plan was to use the lesson that he learned by expelling the Phalanx from his own body to defeat them.  However, given Xina's role in helping him purge the Phalanx, you'd think that this plan would be evident to her, since he said as much in issue #3.  So, if it's not that, then what is it?

The Bad
1) As I think I've made clear, the over-arching problem of this series so far is that Kelly and Raab have two or three plots too many running at the same time.  They thankfully ignore the Strange story here, but they for some reason decide to use the Mars story to complicate the Phalanx story.  (That sentence alone shows you how unnecessarily complicated that it has all become.)  I'm remarkably confused by the revelation that the Takers have something to do with the planetoid.  Are Raab and Kelly saying that the Takers invented the Phalanx?  If not, how were they ever in control of the planetoid?  Or, is Smith's theory wrong?  (If it's the latter, why would Kelly and Raab even bother to introduce it?)

2) In general, I thought that Armstrong and Brewer did a better job than previous pencilers, but they still fail to render the Phalanx in a way that makes it clear what each member is doing.  (Also, Krystallin is unrecognizable.)

3) I don't think that I've made it clear in previous reviews, but Dr. Isaac's name keeps changing between "Isaac" and "Isaacs."  We seem to have stabilized on Isaacs, though.

4) The revelation that the "children" for whom Dr. Isaacs fretted last issue were clones that she created is creepy to say the least.  But, my main problem is that Dr. Isaacs somehow intuits that the Takers kept them alive because they needed them to work the equipment that they stole from Ares.  She simply announces that conclusion as if it's self-evident, but it's not really all that clear to me that she would've necessarily known that.  Also, how did they conveniently steal the suspended-animation devices, which appear to be different than the ones that they used on themselves?

5) Speaking of drawing convenient -- if hardly evident -- conclusions, Smith's aforementioned guess at the Takers plan is not something that he's even remotely shown any evidence of having the intellect to put together on his own.  It just smacks of a desperate need to advance the plot without taking the time necessary to do it organically.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2099 World of Tomorrow #5: "Finders Keepers"

* (one of five stars)

- Winn makes short work of Doom's men.  However, he accidentally belts Willow when she tries to comfort him and La Lunatica attacks him in response.  He fights off La Lunatica, collects Nostro, and exits through some sort of portal.  Jade manages to get a reading on the message that Winn sends to Magus before he disappears and the remaining members of the team return to the Last Refuge.  Jade announces that her tracking device is getting weird frequencies between the Savage Land and Nos' position.  The "weird frequencies" turn out coming from a Dreadnode that the Phalanx sent to the Savage Land, discovering the position through Jade's tap on their system.

- Doom has managed to purge himself of the nanotechnology that bound him to his armor and Miguel and Xina agree to help him repel the Phalanx.  It's in the beginning of the process of taking over the Earth when Winn arrives with Nostromo, who'll apparently is the final component of the "world-engine."  Doom, Miguel, and Xina attack, but they're quickly overwhelmed by the Phalanx, whose assault on Earth continues apace.

- Garrok tortures Strange with images of her accidental murder of her brother, revealing the story in the process.  Some gang members accosted Strange and her brother, whom she idolized, tried to protect her.  He was losing the fight when she summoned what she thought was the image of a demon, but which turned out being an actual demon, which devoured her brother.  Garrok replays these scenes in her mind in an attempt to get her to surrender her role as Sorcerer Supreme to him (which she apparently didn't do last issue, despite it sounding like she did).  Meanwhile, Umi bides his time in the shadows.

- Franklin the robot has possibly stolen Cerebra's telepathy.

- Twilight appears and tells everyone the story of the Takers.  They were a proud race that once managed to repel the Phalanx when it attacked, but the Phalanx destroyed Mars as it fled.  Their numbers dwindled given the lack of resources and they sent an expedition to find a new home, though the ship was destroyed due to sabotage (as previously seen).  As a result, the Takers entered suspended animation, but, of the 200 who did, only seven remain.  They were disturbed to discover the Ares colony upon waking, hence why they attacked.  Dr. Isaac asks about the children and Twilight confirms that many didn't make it.  However, she tells Isaac that they have other problems:  namely, the Phalanx is invading Earth.  Twilight then uses her powers to alter reality and awaken the remaining slumbering Takers, to the shock of her teammates, who marvel at how her powers have developed.

- Wulff launches himself at Vulture, but he's stopped when Vulture shows him his old collar.  Uproar engages the other Wild Boyz and tells Wulff to flee, but he stays to help Uproar.  Trash attacks him, but he cuts into him with his claws, to the horror of Uproar.

The Review
Ugh.  I thought that we were getting better last issue, but I was wrong.  This issue returns to being almost unreadable, with dialogue that made me wince it was so bad and with exposition that took up pages upon pages.

The Unknown
1) Raab and Kelly seem to imply that Winn is actually trying to help humanity from getting assimilated, based on his comments to the rest of the "Savage Land expedition team."  But, then, he delivers Nostro right to Magus, helping him begin the assimilation, so I'm not really sure what we're supposed to think.

2) How the Hell could a robot, mutant or not, steal Cerebra's telepathy?  I just...[sigh].

3) So, what did the Takers do to the children?

4) Speaking of the Takers, I'm still not sure who sabotaged the mission to Earth (and why s/he did so) and how it connects to the Phalanx.  Did a member of the Phalanx pretend to be a Taker, taking down the ship and crashing onto Earth with them, explaining how Nostro came into contact with the Phalanx via the alien?

The Bad
My main problem with this issue is the vast number of pages dedicated to exposition.  We've got the fairly boring story about Strange accidentally killing her brother and Twilight telling us all about the "Takers" and their complicated history.  Although the Taker story at least tangentially relates to the main story, it would've been better to learn about their history as a part of a story and not Twilight's information dump. 

The Really Bad
In the worst example of pet peeve #1 ever, we learn the following things from "A Guide to THE WORLD OF TOMORROW Part 2" page in the back of this issue:  1) Fiona is the daughter of the Vulture; 2) Dr. Isaac(s) is the mother of the deceased Clarion, from X-Nation; and 3) the Takers are actually called the "Sheenar."

2099 World of Tomorrow #4: "De-Evolution"

** (two of five stars)

- Strange awakens to discover that Garrok has captured her and wants the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.  He exposits that he had been a mighty sorcerer, but his powers drove him mad and he wound up getting resurrected as the spirit of the Savage Land.  Strange fights Garrok with Umi's help, but Garrok compensates for his lack of power (compared to Strange) with skill, defeating Strange.  He then turns her into stone and claims the role of Sorcerer Supreme.

- The little kid from Reed's lab finds Metalhead and leads him to the unconscious Cerebra. He runs to find Xi'an and pleads with him to help her.  Xi'an isn't in a great rush to help but eventually agrees to do so, though they have to wait to see if his intervention helps.  Victor asks if Xi'an is willing to take up Cerebra's dream of bridging the schism between humans and mutants, but an angry mob of humans arrives before he can answer.  The leader says that his daughter told him that the "muties" were plotting against him (as seen last issue) and that the only mutant "worth spit" (Cerebra) is almost dead.  Victor offers himself as the first sacrifice in the war between humans and mutants because he'd rather die than watch another civilization self-destruct.  The humans are shamed into leaving and Victor tells Xi'an that he should try reasoning with them in the future.

- On Mars, December, Dr. Isaac, and Smith are taken hostage by the Takers.  At their lair, the trio discovers that the Takers stole Ares' equipment with the same goal in mind:  terra-forming Mars.  (We also get confirmation that the Takers were the ones who initially invaded the team's spaceship in issue #1.)  However, they're startled by a girl screaming for her mother and follow her to find a cavern full of corpses.  December and Smith attack, thinking that they've killed Twilight, but one of the Takers takes (heh) Dr. Isaac hostage.  However, Twilight arrives, telling them that they're attacking their newfound friends.

- Magus attacks Doom and Spidey, telling them that the Scout has arisen and the "rebirth is at hand."  He exposits that the Scout's awakening will activate the legion of Phalanx embryos brought to Earth from the planetoid and that they'll feast on humans.  Spidey attacks, thinking that Doom will help, but Doom instead escapes with Xina.  She accuses him of cowardice, but Doom reveals that the Phalanx will soon be able to infiltrate his armor, since he's now bonded to it.  Since he lost his leverage over Magus (who discovered the Scout's location), he tells Xina to infect him with the techno-organic virus so that he can fight it and purge his system of it, possibly eliminating the Phalanx for good.  Spidey manages to fight his way to the lab where they're located and he and Xina watch as Doom emerges from the test.

- Underground, La Lunatica surfaces from the lagoon, announcing that Nostromo is in a cocoon.  Jade decides to investigate, using her technological expertise to make sure that he's OK.  Hodge says something derogatory about Jade and, as a result, Bloodhawk (who loves her) attacks him.  La Lunatica stops him from killing Hodge just as Jade and Nostro emerge from the lagoon.  Nostro is revealed to have become part of the Phalanx.  Doom's men spring from the shadows to claim him, but Winn gets there first, revealing that he's always been a member of the Phalanx.

- Wulff murders a number of guards on the way to the Big Boss, to Uproar's shock.  However, Fiona tells him that Wulff was originally the Boss' assassin.  Uproar is appalled, since Wulff is just a kid.  Uproar worries about whether he can save Wulff as they burst into the Big Boss' sanctuary.  He's revealed to be the Vulture and he announces that he's ready for them since Fiona told him that they were coming.  Uproar (who had started to have feelings for her) expresses shock as she cries and the Vulture prepares to attack.

The Review
OK, I've been hard on Kelly and Raab, but they're slowly starting to pull it together.  This issue is still a mess, but, the further into this series you get, the more you begin forgetting about the world that came before it.  The problem is that I remain invested only in two stories:  Miguel's (though not because the story itself is all that interesting) and Uproar and Wulff's.  We're got four other stories that just seriously drag.  Even as Kelly and Raab start to tie some of these stories together (as I mention later in this review), I'm still hard pressed to say that I actually care about the characters involved.  I'm sure that other readers of this series had the same problem, the fact that you're really only here for the one or two stories that relate to the characters that you followed in the ongoing series, but you're saddled with the extra four or five stories along the way.

The Good
1) We begin to see some of the various sub-plots start to relate to one another, as it becomes clear that the alien that Bloodhawk and his team encountered underground is from the same race as the Takers that the X-Nation kids encounter on Mars.  (However, I'm still not sure what the connection between the Takers and the Phalanx is, though one clearly exists.)  Moreover, it seems like Nostro is actually the Scout, since both Doom's men and Winn (a Phalanx agent) were on him immediately when he transformed into a Phalanx.

2) OK, I didn't expect the Vulture to be the Big Boss, but it totally fits.  In fact, it sort of raises him up a level and I'm all for that.

The Bad
1) I totally don't get what happens with Xi'an.  He's decided to become some detached Zen master because he's frustrated with the difficult of achieving Xavier's dream.  OK, sure.  But, when Metalhead tries to enlist him to help Cerebra, he burns him "because he can."  What?  What does being a Zen master have to do with inflicting harm on a friend seeking help for another friend?  He then seems disappointed when his attempt to heal Cerebra isn't "excruciating," as he thought that it would be.  What the what?

2) I'm also not entirely sure why the Takers are keeping the colonialists' children as hostages.  I think that Kelly and Raab will get there, but, at this point, I'm rapidly losing interest.

3) Speaking of losing interest, I still have no idea how the Strange story relates to anything.  At this stage, she's really the outlier and the pages and pages dedicated to her story seems better spent on the stories that further the plot.  (We might even be able to get in some characterization!)