Monday, March 31, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #17: "Necessary Evil - Part 1: Let's Do the Time Warp Again"

***** (five of five stars)

In Nueva York in 2099, Public-Eye officers clear the area around Alchemax Tower, announcing that citizens need to be outside a five-block radius or else they'll be fined.  Miguel passes by the scene in a mag-lev train and bails, changing into his Spider-Man costume on the roof of the train.  His enhanced vision picks up the power surges coming from the Tower and he recognizes it as "temporal energy distortions."  He dives into action, moving past the initial group of flyboys creating the perimeter to discover another group fighting off several World War I bi-planes and a dinosaur.  The flyboys tell him that they have to arrest him, but he directs them to take out the bi-planes while he webs up the dinosaur's mouth.  However, the time-displaced characters suddenly disappear and Miguel observes to the confused flyboys that it was because the temporal energy is unstable.  They again announce that they have to arrest him and take him into Alchemax, but Miguel announces that he's going there himself.

He then breaks into the building and follows the trail of temporal energy to a lab where a bunch of technicians are huddled around a door.  He asks if they've been playing with the virtual-unreality program or Fujikawa time-experiments again.  However, Tyler Stone interrupts Spidey, telling him that Alchemax isn't responsible this time and that it's actually trying to mount a defense.  Miguel expresses shock at Tyler's condition:  he's in the process of becoming time displaced, missing parts of his body.  Miguel realizes that he'll also be erased if Tyler is (since Tyler is his biological father) and gets motivated to help.  The techs say that they've narrowed down the problem to "two or three eras," but an exasperated Tyler says that only the Heroic Age could've been the origin for this sort of problem.  Miguel looks at the monitors and contemplates all the various incursions into the fabric of space-time during that era.  The tech tells Miguel that he can travel into the past (2013) with a device that'll keep him connected to the present (2099) to track down the "anomaly that's negating Mr. Stone."  Tyler rejects the proposal, since Spidey's his sworn enemy, and Miguel has to keep up the act by also agreeing that he's an unlikely candidate, hoping that the techs will given him a good reason to go.  The one fails to do so, but another one notes an image that shows Miguel already in 2013, telling him that he'll create a time paradox if he doesn't go since he's apparently already decided to go.  (Ugh, time-travel stories.)

In New York in 2013, Horizon Labs is having its company softball-game.  Otto decides to take advantage of Peter's athletic prowess and hit a home run, something that he never got to do as the type of kid who got picked last in gym class and inspired by Annamaria's presence in the bleachers.  However, the game is interrupted when a helicopter arrives.  It disgorges several federal agents, who arrest Max for "procurement, storing, and creation of hazardous materials" as well as "harboring known fugitives, human experimentation..."  Max goes with the officers, saying that he expected the charges.  Peter asks what's happening and Max tells him that he'd know if he came to meetings.  Suddenly, Peter's Spider-Sense activates and he realizes that they're being watched; it's revealed to be Tiberius Stone, announcing (to no one in particular) that the arrest is just the beginning of Max's "very long fall."  At the "Daily Bugle," the staff watches one of its online reporters discussing the arrest, informing the listener that someone is leaking classified documents online (which are presumably the basis of the federal government's arrest warrant) and that Horizon's stock prices have taken a dive.  One of the staff complains that Robbie wouldn't let them post images of Max's arrest, but Robbie says that it's because he knows that they're being played by the insider leaking the information.  He said that he's not going to fall for that again, after Phil fed the "Bugle" images of his career as the Hobgoblin.

Meanwhile, in the secret lair of the Green Goblin, Urich complains about being "cooped-up" since he wants to get his revenge on Spidey.  The Goblin attacks him, annoyed at him for almost revealing that he had successfully hacked Spidey's systems and removed the goblins for his grid (something that he calls the Goblin Protocols).  However, as he's thrashing Phil, the Goblin suddenly gets an idea.

At Alchemax, Hector waits with the staff as they update Peter on the charges:  Max harbored the Lizard and Morbius, kept hazardous materials like Sajani's vibranium and Grady's time door, and experimented on humans with the Spider-Island vaccine and Peter's Alpha experiment.  Pete claims not to remember the events because his memory has been fuzzy and asks why Hector's still there (and not, presumably, freeing Max).  He says that he's waiting for some "special guests."  On cue, Liz Allan arrives, announcing that she's become Horizon's majority shareholder.  She informs the group that Tiberius Stone will be the new site supervisor as they fold Horizon into the Allan Chemical, or "Al Chem," family.  (Dun, dun, dun!)  Pete's Spider-Sense buzzes like it never has previously, and Sajani accosts Tiberius, accusing him of being the rat (something that Hector already implied when he noted that Tiberius' self-professed "intimate knowledge" of Horizon might've already come in handy).  Tiberius brushes off her attack, even noting to Liz that she's an asset despite her attitude.  He announces that Al Chem now owns everything that Horizon has, including all the gear that Peter created for Spider-Man.  Pete threatens Tiberius, but Liz says that Pete gets a pass as an old friend.

Hector leaves to help Max while Grady complains to Bella that Tiberius only knows about Horizon's screw-ups since most of them were his fault.  Bella reminds Grady that no one caught him in the act, inspiring Grady to use his time door to try to get some evidence.  Uatu warns Grady that it's a bad idea, but Grady swears that he's worked out the kinks.  However, before he can activate the door, it activates itself and Miguel arrives.  He asks the year and exults when Grady confirms that it's 2013.  Miguel looks at his wrist device to confirm that the anomaly is in front of him.  He wonders if he's moved in space and time and asks Sajani if he's at Alchemax.  She asks if he meant "Al Chem" but says that, no, he's at Horizon.  (DUN DUN DUN!)  Miguel recognizes the name but re-focuses on tracking down the anomaly.  Meanwhile, Otto follows Liz and Tiberius and stops their car.  Liz's chief of staff notes that Spidey's a vigilante, but Liz says that Spidey's saved the lives of her and her son countless times.  However, Normie, who's there, says that he knows who Spidey "really" is and that he's the worst, causing Otto's Spider-Sense to buzz.  Spidey threatens Tiberius, but Tiberius tells him the everything that he's doing is above board and that Spidey can't lay a finger on him.  Spidey says that he aims to test that when he's stopped by Miguel, who realizes that he has to save the day and his own grandfather!

The Review
I was nervous to read this arc.

First, I was worried what Slott would do to Miguel.  I had to delay reading this arc (and its subsequent issues) until I read all the other Spider-Man 2099 issues, so that it didn't inadvertently spoil anything for me.  However, by the time I got to the end of "2099:  Manifest Destiny," I started to wonder if Slott maybe offered the possibility of redemption for us Spider-Man 2099 fans.  If Slott plucked Miguel from 2099 around the time that everything went nuts, then Slott might remove some of the more ridiculous developments that came after "Spider-Man 2099" #44:  the 2099 world wouldn't have been destroyed by a global flood, Conchata and Tyler would still be alive, Gabe might still be the Green Goblin, Miguel wouldn't give up his costumed career on some damn fool idealistic crusade to find a lost Gabe.  It could be the way that it was when David was in charge.  In the end, I'm glad to say that Slott does exactly that.  The version of Miguel that Slott uses here is a more recognizable one than the one that we had at the end of the 2099 line.  As I discuss below, it might mean that we sacrificed some cool developments from "Spider-Man 2099."  But, they seem to be acceptable casualties if we get back the Miguel that we all knew and loved.

Moreover, I was nervous that Miguel would merely become little more than a foil for Otto in Slott's hands.  Given how enamored Slott is with the Spider-Otto plot, I was worried that he wouldn't find a way to balance two marquee characters, reducing Miguel to little more than a MacGuffin.  However, Slott has a clear love of the character, making him the real focus of the issue, even at the expense of Otto.  I'm honestly excited to see where Slott goes next.

The Amazing
OMG, Tiberius Stone is Miguel's grandfather.  Brilliant.  Seriously brilliant.  I often said, reading the 2099 line, that it contained such clever connections with "past" events and 2099 realities that it felt like Marvel had some sort of 40-year master plan, but this issue really takes the cake.  It makes you feel like Slott knew that Tiberius Stone was going to be Miguel's grandfather from the minute that he was introduced.  Even if he didn't, though, it's still a brilliant twist.

The Excellent
1) As I predicted throughout the continuity fiasco that ended the 2099 line, Slott decides to ignore pretty much everything that comes after "Spider-Man 2099" #44.  In fact, it looks like he's ignoring everything after issue #41.

First, Nueva York appears fine, so it seems clear that the Atlantean invasion of issues #43-#44 and the global flooding of issues #45-#46 didn't happen. (Praise Thor.)  It is possible that they did "happen" in the original time-line, but my guess is that Slott has now created an alternative time-line that Marvel will embrace, erasing the ridiculous developments that ended the 2099 line.  (Cap-Thor, anyone?)

Moreover, Miguel knows that Tyler Stone is his father, so we know this issue happens after "Spider-Man 2099" #25.  But, Tyler doesn't know that Miguel knows, so it presumably happens before "Spider-Man 2099" #41 (or, at least, its conclusion, when he discovers that Miguel knows).  Moreover, Tyler appears to be in his wheelchair; he first appeared in one in issue #41.

The only problem with the issue #41 hypothesis is that Miguel makes some anti-Alchemax comments here that seem to ignore the fact that he's the Acting CEO at that point.  (Also, it seems unlikely that he would be taking the mag-lev train if he were.)  It implies that we could be somewhere before issue #34, when Doom initially offers him the job as head of R&D at Alchemax.  But, the problem is that the last time that Miguel is in Nueva York before issue #34 is in issue #26 (before he and Xina leave for Nightshade and then Mexico).  I don't think that Slott would retcon away half the series, but I guess that we'll see.

In other words, I'm guessing that we're in issue #41, but stay tuned.

2) As a continuity nerd, I have to take off my hat to Slott.  Miguel mentions the two reasonable explanations for the space/time fluxes that his personal experience would suggest:  the virtual-unreality program that brought out Thanatos in "Spider-Man 2099" #12-#14 and "Captain Marvel" #27-#31 and the Fujikawa time-experiments from "Spider-Man 2099 Meets Spider-Man."

The Good
1) I loved how Slott induced Miguel to return to the present.  It's entirely plausible that Otto would decide to kill Tiberius Stone for his transgressions against both Horizon and Peter, making it equally likely that it would erase Tyler and Miguel from the timeline.  Moreover, Slott makes it clear that it creates a time loop that Miguel must create:  Miguel exists because he saves Tiberius.  In that way, the lab tech who tells him that he has to return to the past because it was his destiny is right:  if he doesn't go, he doesn't exist.  It is literally his destiny.  I hate time-travel stories, but even I have to admit that this development is pretty clever.

2) I thought that Slott did a great job using Tiberius as a whistle-blower, particularly making it clear that Hector and the Horizon Labs folks clearly know that it's him.  Similarly, Liz giving Peter a "pass" from Tiberius claiming his work on Spider-Man's tech was equally believable.  Slott clearly didn't pick Liz to take over Horizon Labs for that reason, but it's an example of how he really uses the development to its fullest potential.

3) Stegman should always draw Spider-Man 2099.  He looks spectacular, both futuristic and impressive at the same time.  Amazing stuff.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Detective Comics #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is fine.  It's not Layman's most scintillating arc, but he wraps it up nicely here, as he usually does.  Batman plays off Scarecrow's script long enough to discover his master plan and a way to undo it.  I will say that I was somewhat skeptical that Batman's gambit would work; he presumably had less of the antidote than Scarecrow had of the toxin, making me wonder how it would not only manage not to be diluted by the toxin but be so powerful as to overcome it completely.  I'm tempted to give the issue only two stars for that, but it would undersell the fact that it was still a decent issue.  We're denied the fight with the Bat-family that we were led to believe would happen here, but Batman being forced to play nicely with Scarecrow to save them is actually more believable.  In the end, it's Batman's lie to Catwoman -- that he didn't see a Gotham that not only was safe but where she was his crime-fighting and romantic partner -- that makes the issue, reminding us of the sacrifices that Bruce tells himself that he has to make.

I'm remarkably sad to see Layman go.  Although he doesn't get the attention of Snyder, he, to my mind, has told the most consistently solid Batman stories of the New 52!  He's the only one who's made any effort to tie in the events of other series into his own series, making this issue required reading for any Bat-fan, since it was the only one that conveyed the complex grandeur of Batman's world.  I hope he turns up somewhere soon.

*** (three of five stars)

Wolverine and the X-Men #42 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is unfortunately similar to quite a few other Marvel titles lately, as we have the third or fourth or umpteenth wave of "All-New Marvel NOW! Forever" forced onto us.  Aaron essentially just abandons the book by randomly graduating people.  It was never really clear how old the various characters were, but, based on the advertisements for the next "season" of this title, it seems that Aaron just graduated the characters that the next creative team will need.  In fact, the only characters' ages that we get established here are Idie and Quentin's, with Aaron revealing that they're going to be sophomores.  However, Quentin is graduated anyway, making the whole premise even more ridiculous.

Moreover, we get some storylines more tidily resolved than the should be.  Idie has magically gotten passed her moral dilemma over being a mutant and Quentin faux-laments the fact that he's become a hero.  Sure, both made progress during the Savage Land arc, but I actually found myself hoping that Quentin would really burn down the School to make it all a little less saccharine.  Moreover, we have to sit through the present-day story being spliced with yet another iteration of the X-Men's future.  By the end, I was just waiting for us to get to the inevitable re-boot and hoping that the bamfs would share some of their whiskey.

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

When the Grim Reaper kills Captain America, Remender makes it definitively clear that the events of this arc will somehow be retconned.  Put aside the deaths of Rogue, the Scarlet Witch, and Wonder Man.  Ignore the possibility of Alex and Jan having a daughter, as Remender implies here (clarifying the narrator from last issue).  Captain America doesn't die (unless it's a company-wide cross-over event, but even then it'll be quickly retconned).  Of course, then Exitar blows up Earth, making it all the clearer that this story isn't going to stick.

However, at the end of the day, Remender and McNiven do such a great job of making this story so grandiosely epic that even I don't care about continuity anymore.  If retconning the events of the arc at the end is the way that we get to read amazing and innovative stories like this one, then I'm all for it.  (The "amazing and innovative" part is important.  Otherwise, you just get "Age of Ultron."  BURN!)

I thought the best part of this story was Odin's explanation that the Earth failed itself.  On some level, it's representative of one of the answers of the Fermi paradox, that societies advance to the point of being able to enter the cosmic stage, as Odin puts it, or they destroy themselves with the technology that would've enabled them to do so.  In the hands of other authors, it would've been treacly or, at least, overly simplistic.  But, Remender really sells it, having Odin himself note that he was pulling for Earth.  But, Odin claims that Earth failed to put aside its differences and thus doomed itself.  Remender doesn't directly connect the dots, but Odin is clearly referring to humanity and mutantkind failing to come to a peace that would enable them to advance.  It's this divide that Eimin and Uriel manage to exploit.  (In fact, you could argue that mutantkind's own internal distrust got in the way, since Rogue killing the Scarlet Witch prevented her from possibly realizing that the Twins were tricking her and correcting for it.)

Along the way, though, our heroes are tested and actually fail.  Cap rallies himself to buy Janet some time to destroy the tachyon dam, but it's too late, since Janet's failure to kill Grim Reaper essentially condemned Earth to destruction.  (Remender leaves the ethical implications of that decision to us, and my college professor obsessed with the "trolley problem" probably has new material for the Fall semester.)  Thor fails to stop Eimin and, as such, fails to stop Exitar from destroying the Earth.  Iron Man and company can't manage to hold off Exitar.  Again, this failure -- or, at least, the consequences of this failure -- requires retconning.  But, it's so rare to read a story about superheroes failing on this large of a scale that Remender is truly in uncharted waters here.

**** (four of five stars)

Secret Avengers #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I get the feeling that editorial interference at some point got in the way of the story that Spencer was telling.  Maybe it was the need to wrap up everything in time for yet another #1 issue?  Who knows.  At the end of the day, this issue doesn't manage to tie up the loose ends that it needed to address to leave me feeling satisfied.

First, Spencer and Kot leave a lot on the table when it comes to A.I.M.  We never really get any final insight into Dr. Forson or his motivations.  Was he just an agent of the Entropy Cult?  What was his goal for A.I.M.?  Was he somehow maneuvering the situation the entire time simply to deliver Mockingbird back to him?  Although we learn that someone basically engineered Forson's loss of control over A.I.M., it's left unclear how or why.  Was it one (or several) of the Ministers, since they went M.I.A. when Forson needed them?  Or was it S.H.I.E.L.D. using information gleaned from the A.I.M. spies to shut down A.I.M.?  I also found it hard to follow the somewhat bizarre Mentallo segment, since it's not like we've really gotten that great of an insight into him in the first place.  Why decide to transfer your consciousness into nanobots that you then send into the sea?  Was it a sort of suicide?  If so, what motivated that?

Second, I'm still not sure what we're supposed to believe when it comes to Bobbi.  Who was the Barbara personality?  Who was the real one?  How does she get in touch with Bucky and Daisy?  Was she Daisy's mole?  If so, did everything happen the way that Daisy wanted it?  What happens next?  Spencer and Kot almost leave you thinking that the next season, if you will, of "Secret Avengers" will be about this trio and not the usual suspects.  If not, then where will they go?

As you can see, we've got way too many questions here to feel happy.  I'm going to try to put aside those questions and enjoy the new series, but they still leave me disappointed in this one.

** (two of five stars)

Miracleman #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Alan Moore's work on this series isn't as polished as his later work on titles like "V is for Vendetta" or "Watchmen."  But, you can see him wrestle with some of the same philosophical themes that have dominated his career here.

First, Moore tackles three different aspects of the typical superhero mythos here:

- Miracleman being the father of the baby that Mike couldn't provide Liz gets to the heart of the question of whether they're two actual people.  But, it's Mike's lament over competing with the idealized version of man that Miracleman represents that got to me.  He notes that his actual relationship with Liz is plagued by fights over household chores whereas Miracleman is able to give her pure love.  In that way, Moore plays with the duality that most characters face when it comes to balancing their costumed and civilian identity by taking it to an illustrative extreme.  However, it also goes to the metaphoric role that superheroes play for the reader.  Usually, most superheroes face challenges that serve as a proxy for challenges that the average person faces; somehow, Miracleman fighting Kid Miracleman is akin to a bullied teenager confronting his bully, etc.  But, Mike reminds us here that said parallel isn't necessarily perfect, that we're still maybe expecting too much of ourselves.  After all, we can't all be Miracleman; even Mike can't.

- Moreover, Moore raises all sorts of questions not only about the philosophy of superheroes, but the physics of them.  How does somebody with a dancer's build throw a boulder into the sky?  Why does that same somebody not get hammered into the ground when that boulder lands on his head, even if his invulnerability means that it doesn't hurt him?

- Finally, we don't get the usual suspension of disbelief here when it comes to the bad guys being unable to ferret out the good guy's identity.  Mike has no Spider-Sense to warn him not to change into Spider-Man if someone's watching.  As such, Mr. Cream is able to quickly ascertain that Miracleman is one of the press people who was at the Larksmere event, since the criminals are all in custody and it was a closed event.  It's pretty easy for him to get to the survivor and put together a description of Miracleman's secret identity.  By making it so easy, Moore adds a level of realism that even this series' violence can't achieve.

Second, he keeps you guessing.  I didn't see Johnny accidentally turning himself into his younger self and then revealing that he never wanted to stay Kid Miracleman all that time.  It's remarkably sad, particularly as we see Johnny committed to an institution and doomed to spend months with the Kid Miracleman persona raging at him inside his head.

Finally, it wouldn't be a Moore book without some sort of government conspiracy and here we learn not only that the British government was behind the creation of the Miracleman family in the first place but they were actually the ones to engineer the bomb that theoretically killed them.  Moore improves on the original story in this way, making it seem less random that an "astrophysicist" somehow gave him powers.

I don't know much at this point, but I know that it's not going to end well for Mike.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hawkeye #15, appearing after Hawekye #16 because the book is SPECIAL (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, here's where I think we are.  It seems like the Clown killed Grills not because he was in love with Kate and thought that Clint was, too, but because he wanted to scare Clint into selling the building, given that his building is the last one in a three-block radius that isn't owned by a company planning on building a luxury development in the area.  I'm not entirely sure why the nice lady in the building is cooperating with the Clown and the bros, but I'm guessing now that she's getting paid to help.  (It's sort of like that Ben Stiller movie, "Duplex.")  I'm also not sure how the Clown went from whoever he was in that issue that explored his origins to a crooked accountant, but here we are, I guess.  Also, Clint apparently own the building.  Oh, plus, it appears that Barney and Clint are dead.  Honestly?  I'm just not sure what we're doing here anymore.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow, this issue is a roller coaster from start to finish.  Let's just get right into it.

First, Scott's reunion with Corsair is as bizarre and emotional as expected.  Bendis takes advantage of the fact that most of us are seeing it happen in "real time," if you will, for the first time, given that Corsair was originally introduced in the 1970s.  Scott is understandably overwhelmed and Corsair is equally nonplussed, given that he has to go through the experience of explaining to Scott how he's alive (and why Scott's mother isn't) all over again.  Bendis does a great job of conveying their emotions both during the discussion itself and in the aftermath of it, with Scott seeking solitude as he tries to process "really weird day."

I did raise an eyebrow at a few moments, though.  First, Corsair seems younger than he did when we last saw him in "Uncanny X-Men" #486.  Did Corsair also travel through time?  It would explain why he's still alive, though he himself doesn't seem to think that he did.  Bendis is going to have to explain that at some point, though for the time being I'm willing to just see where we go.  Second, I thought that it was weird that it was Laura going to comfort Scott.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it was hilarious when she hugged him, prefacing it with, "I don't usually do these."  But, I thought that Bendis was really pushing the Laura/Scott relationship here, at the expense of developing Scott's relationship with one of the guys.  Hank really didn't follow him into the storage room to see how he was doing?  I feel like even Warren would've tried.  Again, these moments didn't totally overshadow the larger moment of Scott discovering that Corsair was alive, but they were distracting.

Then, we have Jean facing the Shi'ar tribunal and, perhaps more amazingly, "her" crimes.  Here, I thought Bendis did a great job in deciding to clarify, once and for all, what Jean did exactly when it came to destroying that solar system.  If I remember correctly, Jean's destruction of the solar system was initially a throw-away sequence during the Dark Phoenix saga; it wasn't until later that Marvel realized that it was somewhat dicey to have a major heroine commit genocide.  Again, Bendis takes advantage of the fact that most of us weren't reading comics when these events initially occurred and gives us an unflinching view of that crime here.  It makes you sort of wonder how exactly Jean's going to defend herself.

Finally, the art in this issue is spectacular.  Be it emotionally fraught facial expressions or stunning alien-world vistas, Pichelli and Immonen are amazing.  They're two of my favorite artists, so I was excited to see them together.  But, they're helped significantly by Ponsor, whose colors are equally evocative.  Great stuff.

(Also, please, Bendis, make Peter and Kitty happen, if only for a little while.)

I can't wait for the next two issues.  Putting together the Guardians and the Starjammers alone promises all sorts of space-pirate fun; adding in the original X-Men just ups the ante.

**** (four of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is difficult to follow at times, but it works, since the events are also difficult to follow for the kids.  Scott has dropped them into Tabula Rasa as a training exercise and they spend most of the issue trying just to collect themselves.  In that way, Bendis does a good job of reminding us that they are actually inexperienced kids; the Stepford Cuckoos keep having to remind everyone not to scream, something that Wolverine doesn't exactly have to do when he's leading the X-Men in the field.

Two major developments come from this unexpected trip to Montana's version of the Savage Land.  First, Eva goes...somewhere.  She returns bloodied and bruised.  She knows that Celeste knows where she went thanks to her telepathy and makes her promise never to tell anyone.  I'm a little confused why the location of where she was fills Eva with such shame.  I'm guessing that it has more to do with what she had to do to leave there, but I guess we'll see.

Second, Scott kicks Hijack off the team because he used his cell phone, drawing attention to where the team was and leading S.H.I.E.L.D. to Tabula Rasa to arrest them.  I thought this development has a lot of potential.  First, Chris is increasingly showing a strong command of his powers, using them here to take over the S.H.I.E.L.D. troops' armor, which I'm guessing has at least some defenses against such an event.  As he says to Cyclops, he got them into, and saved them from, the situation.  It's this control of his power that makes you wonder how Cyclops couldn't see the danger of cutting him loose.  I'm not even talking of his rivalry with Logan and worrying that he'll defect to his team.  Chris seems a  He seems to have all the makings of becoming a bad guy.  It's not an oversight on Bendis' part, Scott making some unbelievable or uncharacteristic mistake.  Instead, Bendis makes it clear that Scott is so self-absorbed that he can't see that he could've just pushed Chris into becoming a villain.  That's some tight writing right there.

My only real criticism of this issue is the art.  We have a moment where Fabio takes down a monster with one of his gold balls, but Bachalo makes it difficult to figure out how exactly the ball took down the monster.  Did he choke on it?  Isn't that a little...grim?  But, I've got to accept the bad with the good here, since, for the rest of the issue, Bachalo does a great job showing the deadly weirdness of Tabula Rasa.

*** (three of five stars)

New Warriors #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is fun, but Yost doesn't rest on his laurels.  He makes it clear that he intends for us to have a good time but won't be skimping on the gripping stories.  I'm still skeptical of Kaine's membership in the New Warriors, but I'm at least glad that Yost is invoking the same sort of vibe that he used in "Scarlet Spider."  It should be a good fit for the Warriors.

That said, the High Evolutionary seems like an odd choice for the Warriors' first viallin, and I'm somewhat confused by his game plan here.  Why has he suddenly turned against the New Men and other mutants?  The Evolutionary seemingly kills Bova here, declaring that she was never meant to exist (despite the fact that he created her).  He also seems to have a mad-on for anyone not purely human, something that seems to be a deviation from his usual position, of wanting to advance humanity.  Hopefully all will be revealed.

In the meantime, Yost gives us some insight into the Warriors' lives before they join the team.  Aracelly and Kaine are in Mexico.  Although I'm glad to see them, I'll admit that I was annoyed by the description of Aracelly as a demi-god, since I don't think that we ever established that in "Scarlet Spider."  However, I'm glad to see that Robbie has returned to his wise-cracking ways and that Penance is a thing of the past.

In other words, it was a "fly by the seat of your pants" sort of debut, but it was sufficiently solid to get me to the second issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain America #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The idea that Dr. Mindbubble (Weapon Minus) was created to counteract the various Weapon Pluses (Captain America, Wolverine, etc.) is pretty awesome.  I'm guessing that the point was that S.H.I.E.L.D. could use his mind-control powers to take over the Weapon Pluses if they got too dangerous, though it's unclear how S.H.I.E.L.D. planned on controlling Dr. Mindbubble (particularly given his actions in this issue).  Also, it's unclear how Dr. Mindbubble became allied with Iron Nail.  Was Iron Nail himself maybe a Weapons Plus project?  I guess we'll see.

Remender does a great job showing Steve's grief when he discovers that he essentially delivered a bomb (in the form of Nuke) into the Hub.  Rather than just making it grief, though, it ties into Steve's questioning of his entire modus operandi, at the urging of Jet Black.  I think Remender goes a little far in suggesting that Steve would ever think that Punisher might be right, as he does here, but I do buy that he might find some "Zola pragmatism" attractive, particularly given his current mental-state.  After all, Jet suggests that Cap might've been right when he came close to killing Nuke, a point seemingly underscored by the devastation at the Hub.  If Remender doesn't overplay this hand, I'm interested to see where we go with Steve's re-assessment of his non-lethal tactics.

The only reason that I'm giving this issue only three stars is that I feel like Remender went the cheap way in making the banker so overzealously evil.  Few people think of themselves as truly evil.  I think that it would've been better to have the guy narrowly obsessed with profits rather than making him into someone who seemingly wanted as many people as possible saddled with bad loans, as he's portrayed here.  It's a relatively minor complaint, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I rolled my eyes at one point.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Avengers World #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, Hickman and Spencer have another issue (two at the most) to hook me before I abandon hope.  After last issue's Smasher-focused story, I was hoping that we'd return to the larger story that the authors were/are telling, about the coordinated global attacks by several terrorist groups (at the very least, A.I.M. and the Hand).  Instead, we get another character-focused issue, this time focused on Shang-Chi.

Actually, the issue isn't even focused all that much on Shang-Chi.  It's actually really focused on all the heroes that inspired him (though his connection to them or how he knows about them is left unclear).  Unfortunately, all these heroes died as a result of their actions, something that we're supposed to believe is going to happen to Shang-Chi as well.

I'm not against character-focused stories, but, if we're going to do issue after issue of them, I'd prefer to see them happen in a book similar to "Avengers:  Solo."  The point of a regular Avengers story is to see the interplay between the characters, as we do in "Uncanny Avengers."  Instead, this series is starting to feel like a "Street Fighter" game, where we just see two minor characters fight against the backdrop of a vaguely articulated plot.  If that continues to be the case, I'm taking my quarters and going home.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing X-Men #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The obvious question that we're left asking after this issue is:  what "deal" did Nightcrawler make with the bamfs?  My concern over the answer is that it's going to be a long time before we get it and that it's not going to be all that interesting when it does come.  Did Kurt give them his soul?  If so, he'll just find some way to recover it.  Did he promise not to return to Earth so that the bamfs could go there?  If so, I'm pretty sure that we'll break that rule next issue.

Beyond the bamfs, I have to say that I thought that Aaron employed some pretty serious shortcuts here.  Over the last three issues, it was a standing question how Nightcrawler was going to find his friends and defend the afterlife from his father.  But, in this issue, he suddenly seems to be able to move between Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell pretty easily, making you wonder why he didn't do so sooner.  With the crew now assembled by the end of the issue, it's pretty clear that we're going to make short work of Azazel and his crew next issue.

** (two of five stars)

Justice League #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue left me feeling like I was reading the comic adaptation of the "Bionic Six" or some other 1980s cartoon, given the innocence of the characters involved.

Johns does a good job of quickly staking out a personality for each of the Metal Men, though I have to admit that I was left wondering what about tin made Tin inherently nervous.  Unfortunately, I can't say that I really bought the story, given some odd plot holes and inconsistencies.  For example, if someone stole the prototype responsometer, how did Magus reconstruct the responsometers for the Metal Men?  From his notes?  Also, why did someone steal the responsometer?  Who knew enough about the project and wanted to create mayhem?  Also, if Magus loved them like a father, why decide not to recreate them?  I was just left with too many questions here, partly, I'm sure, to encourage us to read the inevitable Metal Men series.

For an issue of "Justice League" during "Forever Evil," it's hard to believe that Johns couldn't find some other focus for this issue.

** (two of five stars) 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wolverine and the X-Men #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron regroups before the final issue of this series, bringing closure to the story of Husk and Toad.  The X-Men fire Toad for spying on them for the Hellfire Club and Husk reveals that her insanity is part of a secondary mutation that makes her change personalities as she changes skins.  Aaron does a great job of showing a struggling Husk seeing Toad as a kindred spirit, a possible source of comfort as she tries to find her place in the world (and finds herself seeing it differently than she did).  But, he also makes us believe why Toad ultimately doesn't have faith in that, since, as he says, he doesn't turn into a prince when a beautiful girl kisses him.  The moments between Toad and Krakoa are also heartfelt, making you realize how devastated Toad is going to be by the loss of the School in his life.  It's all beautiful...but, I wasn't totally sold, mainly because I didn't really buy the X-Men firing him.  Logan in particular takes a hard line about Toad's inevitable return to villainy and Storm rightfully calls out the inconsistency of that message, give that people also used to say that he was unsaveable.  But, that moment goes to one of my long-standing complaints about comics, when authors use a character to point out a logical inconsistency in their story, as if it suddenly makes it OK.  We never learn why Logan takes such a hard line on Toad, making you call into the question the result of that decision, namely his firing.  In the end, you're left wondering if the sad story that takes up this issue had to happen, not exactly the result that I think Aaron wanted.

** (two of five stars)

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender does an excellent job of creating a "James Bond" feel to this issue, riddling it with double entendre conversations between the main character, Agent Ran, and his female Hydra counterpart and testosterone-driven competition between him and Nick Fury.  But, it's not all fun and games as Ran ends this issue finding himself stranded in the forest with two Nazi scientists that he has to protect and the Winter Soldier trying to ensure that none of them get out alive to confirm his existence.  Remender plays up the drama inherent in that cliffhanger:  Ran is a new character and, as far as I know, the Allies never get a hold of the Alchemy Formula that the scientists developed, making it entirely possible that Bucky does successfully kill all three of them.  How often do you read a series where everyone might wind up dead?  Talk about suspense.

**** (four of five stars)

Secret Avengers #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy crap, I didn't see that coming.  We don't get any real sense of where we stand when it comes to Bobbi's identity in this issue, but, suffice it to say, even a disoriented Bobbi is still craftier than most people on a good day.  Switching identities with Belova at the last minute not only meant that S.H.I.E.L.D. got to recover Mockingbird's camoflage device (as Hill wanted) but, most importantly, that Forson's sniper took out Belova and not Bobbi.  The best part, though, is that Spencer cleverly leaves us right where we started this arc, with a disoriented Bobbi stuck with an assumed identity on A.I.M. Island.  I honestly have no idea where we go next issue.

**** (four of five stars)

All-New X-Men #23 ("HERE BE SPOILERS!")

OK, I would normally whine about Corsair suddenly appearing alive to amp up the drama of this arc, but, OMG, I don't care, because I totally didn't see it coming and I can't wait to see where it goes.  We really have gotten the band back together!

This issue is amazing.  It may be my favorite issue of any comic, like, ever.  It's  Rocket Raccoon answering the Shi'ar hail with, "Guardians of the Galaxy.  How may we help?"  Amazeballs.  Gamora telling X-23 that she likes her after X-23 demanded to go into space with her to fight the Shi'ar?  Excellent.  Scott sarcastically apologizing to Rocket for erroneously using some sort of device as a fire extinguisher by screaming that it's his first "space fire?"  Hilarious.  We even got some budding sexual tension between Kitty and Peter.  (Let me just go on record right now saying that I 100% want that relationship to happen.)

In his various "Avengers" titles, Bendis almost always made these sorts of moments of levity amidst drama feel forced, but they all feel totally organic here, in part, I think, because the drama is real.  After all, it's not all fun and games for everyone:  Jean isn't exactly having a great time of it.  Oracle's conversation with her is downright creepy and Kallark is suitably imposing.  Bendis really gets across her confusion and fear, hinting that the Shi'ar might have bitten off more than it can chew in capturing her.  I can't wait to see.

***** (five of five stars)

Batman #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I'm excited about where we're going.

Despite the fact that I hated how "Court of Owls" and "Death of the Family" ended, I'm cautiously optimistic that "Zero Year" may end in a way that doesn't leave me disappointed.  It's slowly but surely restored my faith in Scott Snyder, putting me in exactly the right sort of mindset for the hint at the next phase of Snyder's Batman that we see here.

I generally try to limit how much I read about comic books before I read the issues involved, because I find that it's almost impossible to avoid spoilers.  For example, I found out the conclusion of "Uncanny Avengers" #17 because I happened to click on its cover image in my comic-book database program, which included a difficult-to-avoid synopsis.  I've managed to keep my knowledge of "Batman Eternal" limited to knowing that it's going to be a weekly, year-long series.  Now, I can also say that I'm a lot less worried about that sort of gimmick after reading this issue.

First, Snyder makes it clear that something catastrophic will happen when we return to the present after "Zero Year."  It seems like some sort of plague, given the references to the dying and the sick and the hints that a cure may exist.  But, the cause is immaterial, at least in this issue.  Snyder and Tynion go for the shock value instead, revealing that the plague has caused Gotham to morph into "New Gotham," a police state (or, probably more accurately, mafia state) with an 8:00 pm curfew.  It's unclear if all of Gotham falls in "New Gotham" or if Gotham has cut off the areas with the highest concentrations of infected citizens, like amputating a compromised limb.  But, all we need to know now is that that the Gotham that we're going to encounter after "Zero Year" is drastically different than the present one that we left at the end of "Death of the Family."

To emphasize that point, Snyder and Tynion "introduce" two "new" costumed heroes:  Bluebird (Harper Row) and Spoiler (Stephanie Brown).  The activation, if you will, of Harper as Batman's sidekick is obviously huge news.  With Bruce's relationship with the Bat-family still unclear, the revelation that he's working with a new partner serves as an excellent reminder of that new status quo waiting for us after "Zero Year."  Surprisingly, it's not overshadowed by the return of Stephanie Brown as Spoiler; in fact, it seems to bolster it.  After all, Spoiler isn't re-introduced simply for quantity.  Catwoman reveals that she's holding her hostage because she's the "only one in this city who knows how to stop what's coming next."  She's clearly going to play an integral role in the resolution of this story.  Moreover, we're left wondering who the mysterious figure running the Batcave is.  Given that it seems possible that it's Carrie Kelly, Snyder and Tynion underline just how different this new Gotham is by replacing the legion of dark-haired boys with a trio of self-motivated girls.  It's a whole new world.

Let's talk about Catwoman, shall we?  It's hard to reconcile this Selina with the one that I just saw in "Forever Evil" #5.  She has taken over the criminal underworld (and, probably, the police department), telling Batman that she's no longer Catwoman because he left Catwoman out there to die.  I'm not sure if I'm missing a development in either her series or "Forever Evil," but that's actually part of my problem.  Bruce's relationship to Selina has been unclear to me throughout the "New 52," so her sudden appearance here as essentially a different character isn't as shocking as it probably should be.  But, by being so different, it might actually solve that problem, since everyone will have to adjust to this new Selina.

In sum, I'm actually excited about the main Bat-title again.  I can't wait to see how Snyder wraps up "Zero Year" and knowing that we've got "Batman Eternal" on its heels just heightens that anticipation.  Great stuff.

**** (four of five stars)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nightwing #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I found myself muttering, "Oh, no, no, no" to myself when Joey said that the person who killed Jen's parents cuts himself for every victim.  Turning the page and seeing Mr. Zsasz, I realized what an amazing job Higgins had done setting up that ending, since I totally didn't see it coming.

I've spent the last few issues waiting for the events of "Forever Evil" to appear here and I thought that this issue would finally bring the big reveal.  After all, Higgins seems to be wrapping up the title, bringing back Sonia Branch to settle the score with her father and make her peace with Dick.  (Along those lines, I thought Higgins did a great job in having Dick acknowledge that he never considered how his pursuit of Zucco would impact Sonia.  It sparks some real soul-searching on Dick's part, making him wonder about the unintended consequences of his actions, particularly after his destructive fight with Shapeshifter at the start of the issue.)  The surprise that I thought that we were going to get at the end of this issue was Nightwing going home after a pretty easy fight to find Superwoman at his doorstep.

Instead, Higgins takes us in an entirely different direction.  Dick came to Chicago to bring Tony Zucco to justice for killing her parents, but, throughout that story, Higgins hasn't really focused too much on Dick's emotional response to seeing Zucco alive.  In that way, the events at the end of this issue serve as a coda to that story, with the haunting image of Dick sitting in a similar way to Jen after finding himself in a stranger's house in the wake of his parents' murder.  Higgins even makes sure that we meet Jen's parents so that the emotional impact is all the more shocking, making you realize how quickly a life can change.  After finally bringing Zucco to justice, Dick is forced to realize that it doesn't do anything to free him from the grief that he still feels.

**** (four of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Somehow, despite having a "serious bad guy thing going on these days," I'm thinking that Boomerang is in some serious trouble if Bullseye is after him, don't you?

*** (three of five stars)

Captain America #16.NOW (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is difficult to follow in a way, because Jet Black consciously rejects all the usual tropes that a comic involves.  She tells the S-Man who attempts to befriend her that his sob story about his family dying in Genosha won't convince her to join his side.  (She doesn't even let him get her drunk.)  She also rejects the Red Skull's attempt to get her to join his side by cutting off the pretty speech about hate that serves as his trademark.  It's hard to manipulate someone who doesn't have the patience for it.  Similarly, it's hard to know where an issue is going when the character refuses to follow the well worn path.

The S-Man's story is possibly the best part of this issue, since it fleshes out the story that Remender has been telling in "Uncanny Avengers."  We've never really been properly introduced to the S-Men; we've only really ever seen them serve as the Skull's shock troops and little else.  Getting some more background about one of them implies that we're going to be seeing more of them in the future, in both that title and this one.  Moreover, the story in and of itself is intriguing.  The S-Man's father uproots them because he believes in the mutants' cause; however, the son only comes to resent the mutants for giving his messianic father a cause, one that forces them to leave their otherwise happy life in the Soviet Union.  When his family is killed in the Sentinels' attack on Genosha while he was studying abroad, it confirms his belief that this sort of associative compassion is a weakness, one that cost him his family.  In that way, he serves as the inverse of Jet, a man raised in compassion who embraces hate.  I honestly can't wait to see more of him, particularly as a foil for Jet.

When it comes to Jet herself, I was actually somewhat confused by the ending.  After fleeing the Red Skull, she suddenly herself standing in the alley where she was originally approached.  We're left uncertain if the events of this issue actually happened (though I think that they did, to be honest), particularly if the image of her father was real or not.  I'm not really sure why Remender went with this sort of mystical ending, but hopefully it'll become clearer at some point.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Invaders #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Robinson does such a great job of walking us through the plot here that it's easy not to notice it as it's happening.  Bucky and Jim explain to Steve that they and Namor decided that the God's Whisper was too powerful for anyone to wield, so they broke it into three separate pieces and hid them.  They then had the original Vision erase their memories of where they each hid a piece.  Since Steve wasn't part of the mission, it feels less like exposition and more like them legitimately giving him a briefing.  By the time that they're done, the mysteries from the first issue are solved and we're ready for the Invaders to launch into space.  It's a pretty simple issue, but Robinson reminds us that those sometimes are even better.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Justice League of America #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After what seems to have been an interminable number of issues dragging out the mystery of Stargirl's defining loss, I still have no idea what it is.  We still don't know who the shadowy figure ("the man on the news") is and what he did to Courtney and her mother, though Kindt hints at the answer.  He also hints that the shadowy figure killed Courtney's brother, but, again, we don't know that.  My frustration with Kindt's failure to get to the (not-that-interesting) point when it comes to Stargirl isn't made any better by the overly wrought narration by Martian Manhunter.  Kindt seems to think that it heightens the emotional tension, but it just as often made me roll my eyes.  Moreover, J'onn's "death" (if he really did die) comes after just a few punches from Despero and we learn from J'onn as he dies that Courtney has apparently succeeded in freeing the Justice League, even though she didn't seem anywhere near Firestorm.  I...yeah.

* (one of five stars)

Batgirl #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm...not really sure what I think about this issue.  I'm intrigued, to be sure.  But, I'm still not sure what happened here.

Silver appears to be a somewhat insane trustafarian with a servant and a vendetta against the Bat-family or, as he calls them, the vampires.  Of course, if I'm following the clues correctly, it's possibly that Silver is the vampire, though it's unclear why he doesn't seem to know that.

The confusion comes from the fact that we have an intentional perception inconsistency throughout the issue.  The main event of this issue involves Barbara planning to take out some kids wearing a variety of different masks; they're aspiring to be copy-cat killers like the ones that Barbara busted in the first issue of the series.  Batgirl makes her move, but, in the 30 seconds that it takes her to descend from the rooftop, someone has already taken out the kids (implying that s/he has superhuman speed).  Silver watches from the shadows, seeing Barbara as a vampire poised over the body of one of the kids.  However, the rest of us see that same kid dressed as a vampire, not looking like the normal human that Silver sees.  Later, however, Silver has kidnapped the kids and seems poised to kill that kid exactly because he now seems him as a vampire.  So, Silver sees the same kid as "normal" and a vampire, depending on the moment.  As I said, confusing.

It's for this reason that it seems like Simone is implying that Silver is a vampire, if a self-hating one.  (Paging Blade.)  But, again, why doesn't he know that he's one and why (and how) is his vision altered so that he (sometimes) sees the opposite reality?  Also, why does he think that an eight-year-old girl that he's also kidnapped is the queen of the vampire?  Many, many questions here.

** (two of five stars)

Forever Evil #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, Catwoman is awesome here.  Johns doesn't just use her for comic relief, though:  although her comments are funny, they also underline the reality of the situation, particularly when she explains to Batman that he's not in charge.  (Surprisingly, he's not handling so well.  I can't wait to see him under Luthor's leadership next issue.  Talk about opportunity for comic gold!)

But, Johns is at his smartest when it comes to Sinestro killing Power Ring.  At first, I thought that it was just a way for Johns to show how high the stakes are (and how brutal Sinestro is).  But, in reality, it's Johns' way of calling the creature that destroyed Earth 3 to Earth.  Power Ring's ring leaves his body in search for a new host and it's this "pulse of energy" that can be sensed across the Multiverse that leads the creature to the Crime Syndicate.  So, this moment not only leaves you wondering what New 52 character could become the next Power Ring but it also sets the stage for the eventual denouement of the event.  Clever stuff.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2 #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, Taylor packs in a lot here.

With the revelation that Hawkgirl saved Dr. Fate and Red Arrow from the parademons and brought them to the Batcave, I realized that Taylor was slyly constructing a Justice League to take the place of the Justice Society that we never really got to see in action for long in this series.  Gone are Atom, Flash, and Green Lantern; here are Batman, Red Arrow, and Red Tornado.  (Dr. Fate and Hawkgirl round out both teams.)  This change was more or less confirmed when I realized that Taylor is also setting up the Kryptonian to become Earth 2's Superman.  Lois is pretty emphatic that the Superman currently destroying the world isn't Clark and I'm inclined to believe her.  Even if it is Clark, it seems unlikely that he's ever going to be able to take up the mantle of Earth's greatest superhero again, given the havoc that he's wrecked.  Presumably, it'll be Val's confrontation with Clark that transfers the crown.  When it happens, this alternate version of the Justice League will be complete, with Red Tornado possibly taking the role of Wonder Woman in the core trinity that makes it the League and not the Society.  I'm not 100% sure that Taylor is going this route, but, if he is, the anticipation doesn't do anything to reduce the awesomeness of it.

There are moments where I have to remind myself to pause and really appreciate the art or script in a comic book.  This issue has both moments.  In terms of the art, it's when Rocha destroys all the houses of worship in the world, since Superman insist that Darkseid is the only god. As the heroes regroup in the Batcave, these pages remind us that Superman's destruction of Earth continues apace.  Similarly, I had to take my time reading Lois' speech to Val.  Taylor does such a beautiful job capturing Lois' voice, making you really believe that she's in there. The tragedies that she's suffered in the last few days -- dying, awakening as a robot, seeing her husband destroy the world, holding her father as he died -- seem insurmountable.  But, that's exactly when you believe that she's Lois, because she's not going to sit in a corner with her arms around her knees, something that she concedes to Val sounds really nice at that stage.  I complain that comic-book authors often tell and don't show, but Taylor reminds us exactly why showing is so important here.  You can tell us that it's Lois, but it's only when Lois acts like Lois that we believe it.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Uncanny Avengers #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is essentially all about characterization.  On the surface, it seems like it's about the plot, given the epic "Street Fighter" battles:  Cap vs. Eimin, Janet vs. Grim Reaper, Thor vs. Uriel.  But, we don't really learn anything new here.  Sure, we get confirmation that the Twins want to destroy humanity because it failed to stop the coming genocide of mutants and destroy Earth because they want to deny Kang the planet to conquer.  However, that revelation (such as it is) isn't all that surprising.  We are also reminded that Kang manipulated Thor to get his hands on Jarnbjorn, though it's still unclear if the Twins using it to slay the Celestial was part of Kang's plan.  (I'm doubting that it was, given that Immortus is fretting over the end of the Earth in 3191, presumably precipitated by the end of the Earth in 2014.  But, if so, it's still unclear what Kang's original plan for the Twins and Jarnbjorn was.)

However, despite these plot moments, this issue is really about the heroes' trials.  A wounded Cap outmaneuvers a more powerful foe.  A desperate Jan has to decide if she will kill the Grim Reaper to save Earth.  A mournful Thor has to face the consequences of his youthful mistakes and make them right.  Remender includes so many wonderful moments along the way, like Thor recommitting to his fight after finding Wanda's body or Cap taking a beating to get Eimin right where he wanted her.

It's interesting to ponder what the future holds.  Both Cap and Thor are left scarred here (Cap's face, Thor's arm) and it makes me wonder if their injuries -- and, presumably, the deaths of Rogue, Scarlet Witch, and Wonder Man -- are going to be undone.  But, Remender continues to keep his cards close to his chest, so it's anyone's guess.

**** (four of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #11.NOW (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

"What is a Canada?"  "It's cold and distant.  You'll love it."  Heh.  This issue earned three stars just for that exchange (from Peter to Gamora).

Bendis does a great job here filling in the details of how the Guardians get involved in the "Trial of Jean Grey."  I was wondering how they learned that the Shi'ar were after Jean and the revelation that Rocket tapped the Badoons' communications after Angela and Gamora's assault on them made total sense.  It also made sense that the Badoons would know about it in the first place from the council of monarchs that we've seen a few times in this series, since Gladiator had to explain why he was breaking their agreement to lay off Earth.

That said, my only complaint about this issue is that I wish Bendis would've put in a little more effort in using the council to get Gladiator to explain the obvious question that everyone is going to be asking about this "trial:"  how do you put someone on trial for crimes that she committee in the past, despite the fact that she hasn't yet committed them?  (I know, I know.  Time-travel stories suck.)  Gladiator just asserts that she's the same person so she's responsible, but it's a ridiculous answer.  However, all the other monarchs seem to think that it's a ridiculous answer, too, so the Shi'ar's questionable logic might actually become a plot point.  But, as of right now, I gave the same eye-roll that the Supreme Intelligence (metaphorically) gave.  Questionable company, but war makes for strange bedfellows.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2 Annual #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy crap, this issue is amazing.

Taylor really takes full advantage of the ability to re-create Bruce Wayne's history here.  In so doing, he does a marvelous job capturing the tragedy of Thomas Wayne, taking us on a step-by-step tour of his downward spiral.  He saves the life of a Mafia scion and becomes part of his inner circle because he enjoys the parties that come with membership.  To keep those parties going, he uses his access to pharmaceuticals to supply the drugs.  When Martha tries to get him to leave behind that lifestyle, Frankie (the scion) won't let him stop supplying the drugs.  When Thomas tries to do so anyway, Frankie has him killed.  He survives, but he can't live a life with Bruce, not only because of the threat that Frankie poses to them but because he's an addict.  He leaves Gotham and eventually kicks opium, but then becomes addicted to revenge, bringing Bruce into his life once again.  But, Bruce rejects him so he's forced to observe his life from the shadows.  In the end, he tries to right his wrongs by taking up his son's legacy.  It's not a happy story, but it's a compelling one.  Taylor presents it in a way that flows organically, with each revelation peeling away layers until the core is revealed.

That said, I'm not totally sure why Thomas abandons Bruce.  Taylor uses Bruce to cast doubt on his story that he did it for Bruce's safety, with Bruce saying that it was because he was an addict (first to opium, then to revenge).  But, Thomas was an addict before they were attacked and probably thought that he was a fit father.  Was he just relieved to no longer be responsible, as a doctor and as a father?  To simply embrace the addiction?  I'd buy that, but Taylor actually doesn't make that argument here.  It's probably the only reason that I didn't give this issue five stars.

Finally, I loved that Bruce was actually wrong about Frankie's assailant, since he couldn't even see the possibility of his father surviving the attack, assuming it to be Alfred's father (his former bodyguard/chauffeur) instead.  Taylor uses that lack of imagination, if you will, to show just how stunned (and devastated) Bruce was by Thomas' return.

**** (four of five stars)

Detective Comics #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

You know, given how much I love Layman, I probably should've trusted him more last issue.

Now that we're no longer awash in alternative Gothams, as we were last issue, Layman does a good job of grabbing the reader with his Gothtopia story.  He not only explains that Scarecrow made everyone feel better about life to make his fear experiments all the more profound, but that the people committing suicide aren't just people who remembered parts of their past life, but the victims of Crane's experiments.  It sounds complicated, but it actually makes sense.  Moreover, he reminds us of Poison Ivy's immunity to toxins, explaining why she was the only one last issue who seemed to see reality as it was and not how Crane wants people to see it.  Bruce is therefore able to use her to find an antidote to Crane's toxins, setting up a logical conclusion to the arc. 

My only complaint is that Layman gives us the same old spiel about Crane not being interested in Batman's identity when he had the chance to discover it.  I know that we're supposed to suspend belief willingly when reading comics, but, for some reason, I just can never buy this line of argument.  That quibble aside, it's a pretty solid issue, particular since Layman gets in a great moment where "Catbird" begs Batman to play by Crane's rules so that they have a chance at being happy.  That's some serious stuff right there.

*** (three of five stars)

Wolverine and the X-Men #40 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, Jason Aaron gets it right here.

I was wary of the conversation between Logan and Scott, because I wasn't sure if Aaron could frame it in a way where I would believe the outcome, if said outcome was anything other than Logan popping a claw into Scott's gut.  I mean, Scott asks Logan why he hates him.  Does Scott really not know?  However, Aaron manages to get past their shared history and address the issues at hand, preventing it from devolving into the same argument about Jean that they've been having for 40 years.

First, the Scott that we see here is much more in line with the one that we saw in "AVX:  Consequences" than the one that we've been seeing in "Uncanny X-Men."  In "AVX:  Consequences," we got excellent insight into Scott's thoughts on his role as one of mutantkind's leaders.  Before the rekindling of mutantkind, Scott wearily embraced the public's view of him as a villain in order to strike fear in the hearts of anyone contemplating violence against mutants, since the death of any mutant was essentially one step closer to genocide.  With mutantkind revived after the events of "Avengers vs. X-Men," Scott felt freed from some of his militarism, though conscious that the public would still see him as a terrorist for his actions as Dark Phoenix.  It's very much this Scott that we see here, a weary soldier who feels burdened (though justified) by some of his necessary actions.  Frankly, we haven't seen him for a while.  Although Bendis doesn't fully treat Scott as terrorist in the vein of old-school Magneto, he definitely employs a similar vibe when it comes to his portrayal of him.  Scott's recent abuse of Deeds in "Uncanny X-Men" #14 is a great example of that edge.

However, the Scott of this issue makes the excellent point that his isolation isn't entirely self-imposed.  He mentions that everyone rallied around Jean when she destroyed a planet as Dark Phoenix, but no one has offered him that support after he killed Professor X.  It's a fair and valid point.  If we accept that Jean wasn't in possession of her faculties when she destroyed that planet, why can't we accept that Scott was equally incapable of stopping himself from murdering the Professor?  But, Logan has a fair and valid response, namely that Jean accepted what she did, something that Scott doesn't seem to have done.  Scott still thinks that everything that he did as Phoenix was justified or not his fault.  To answer Scott's question, Logan hates Scott because he sees this inability to admit fault as the thing that's going to lead Scott to take down the entire mutant race with him.

I read the California era of "Uncanny X-Men" after I started reading X-Men again (with "X-Men:  Second Coming") and I was struck by Scott's persistent march to war in those issues.  Logan recalls that march here and clarifies his earlier point about Scott not taking responsibility for his actions:  he wants Scott to accept blood on his hands, in part because he's clearly worried that more blood is coming until Scott does.  I had never really thought about it this way before this issue, but it's exactly the problem that I have with Scott.  He continues to feel that he's infallible.  Sure, the Dark Phoenix probably did make him kill the Professor.  But, since Scott refuses to even concede the possibility that he might've had some role in driving the Dark Phoenix there, it reminds us how arrogant he is (and why he's not getting the support that Jean got).  It's this arrogance and failure to acknowledge his faults that Logan worries will drive Scott to ruin, because he won't admit that he could possibly fail to win whatever war he chooses to fight.  By the time that he does, it'll be too late.

It's the conclusion of this conversation that's heartbreaking, where Logan says that he knows that he'll die alone and he just wants to leave behind something worth his struggles.  In other words, he accepts the blood on his hands.  Driving home that point that Scott is instead on track to kill everyone, Logan tells Scott to be the man that Jean loved and let Logan be the man who scared her.  It's an incredibly sad but honest moment and it might just be the one that puts us on track to end the schism between the two sides.

If you think that conversation was enough anguish for one issue, you're wrong.  It's equally upsetting to watch Tri-Joey change sides and defend his friends from his sister, but, to save them, have Quentin erase his memory.  In some ways, Tri-Joey's situation feels like Scott's, where I found myself wondering how the kids couldn't find some compassion for him, no matter the arguments why they shouldn't.  In the end, he's an orphan sent by himself into the world, wondering why no one seems capable of helping him.

***** (five of five stars)

Avengers World #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hickman and Spencer made the right call in focusing this issue on the A.I.M. Island team.  It addresses my concern from the first issue that the series would be so all over the map that it would be hard to identify with the characters or see the the plot through the trees, if you will.  Moreover, they seem to be weaving in plot elements from "Secret Avengers" (though it's still unclear if these events are happening concurrently or after the current story in that title).  Dr. Forson appears to be less motivated by advocating the advancement of science (allegedly the point of A.I.M.) and more of a worshiper of the Entropy Cult.  However, despite those pluses, the problem is that the issue is mostly focused on Smasher, a character that I still find awkwardly wedged into the Avengers' world.  Hopefully, Hickman and Spencer have checked the box in terms of fleshing out more of Smasher's story and we can move onto the characters that really interest me.

** (two of five stars)