Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #19.NOW (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

When I started reading this issue, I thought to myself, "You know, it's a little convenient that we haven't had any new mutants since the team was more or less established."  But, Bendis clearly knew that someone like me was going to think exactly that to himself, so, tada, a powerful new mutant appears and the X-Men scramble to make contact.  Except, not really.  It was actually a trap, with a Mastermold-like Sentinel dispatching a bunch of creepy-faced Sentinels to take out the X-Men.  (I know that part sounds weird, but, honestly, it's pretty awesome.)

The point of this issue is to start the war between the X-Men and S.H.I.E.L.D.  Except, again, not really.  Someone else (who I didn't recognize) is apparently launching the Sentinels, and Bendis makes Scott and his team smart enough to acknowledge the possibility that S.H.I.E.L.D. actually isn't behind the attacks.  But, as Scott says, it doesn't really matter, since, if S.H.I.E.L.D. can't be bothered to stop them, they're just as guilty as the person actually sending out the Sentinels.  It's layer of intrigue on top of intrigue, and my only hope is that Bendis doesn't rush the story, because I'm excited to see where he goes with it.

Moreover, Bendis continues to show that he's learned character development since his time on "Avengers."  We're reminded not only of Eva's crush on Scott this issue, but also her disapproval of the "firing," if you will, of Hijack and the fact that we still don't know what happened to her in Tabula Rasa.  Mystique sinks to new lows (even for her) as she uses Dazzler to harvest the material needed for mutant-growth hormone, justifying it as a way to make money for Madripoor and because Dazzler was a traitor to her people.  (Sure, Mystique.)  Moreover, Magik reveals her improved command of sorcery, as she uses her powers to get around the fact that the creepy-faced Sentinels were able to block the mutant powers.  (Did I mention that part?)  This table remains largely focused on Cyclops, but, increasingly, Bendis is really starting to turn it into a team book.

**** (four of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man Annual #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, I'm surprised that both these stories are told in an Annual.  Although not exactly central to the larger "Goblin Nation" plot, they both certainly flesh out the overall story in a way that Slott hasn't had the space to do in the main title as he rushes us to the end.

Ben Ulrich gets a rare moment in the spotlight here, and Gage uses it for all its worth.  Ben holds out hope that he might be able to redeem Phil.  Phil's been a one-trick pony of angst-driven fury under Slott, but Gage actually dangles the possibility that Phil is really just in over his head and in desperate need of a father figure to rescue him.  This conviction makes it all the more devastating when Ben is forced to concede that some part of the Phil that he used to know may still exist, but, for the most part, Phil wants to be a Goblin.  This revelation brings Ben peace, and he's in a better place at the end of this issue, with this certainty, than he was at the start.  He appreciates who Phil was and mourns who he became.  There's a life lesson in there somewhere for all of us.

If the Ben Ulrich story contributed some important color to the "Goblin Nation" story, the Wraith discovering that Carlie was kidnapped by the Goblins and turned into Monster seems pretty core to the plot, particularly since it directly leads to Sajani trying out her experimental cure for the Goblin Serum on Carlie.  I could see the Ben story being included in an Annual, even if its absence makes the main story less emotionally compelling.  However, I'm particularly surprised that the Wraith story is wrapped up here, given how much time Slott has spent on it in the main title.

Despite my surprise over them being included in the Annual, both stories are solid and really do flesh out the "Goblin Nation" story.  They're definitely worth the $4.99 cover price, something that I don't often say.

**** (four of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

James Asmus takes charge for a filler issue here, as the three remaining members of the Sinister Six have a few drinks while they wait for the timer on a bar's safe to re-set.  (At least, I think that they're waiting for it to re-set.  I wasn't 100 percent clear why the safe is on a timer.  Does it open every hour?  That would be weird, right?)  Anyway, to entertain themselves, they tell the story of the biggest superhero that they've ever faced.  Hilarity ensues, obviously.

The Beetle and Speed Demon stories are suitably entertaining, but I have to say that I still don't have a great bead on Overdrive.  I feel like his personality changes with each author.  When he was first introduced (as, if I recall correctly, Spidey's first new villain of "Brand New Day"), he was essentially a superhero fan-boy.  However, Asmus has him so afraid of Hercules that he pees himself.  At any rate, it's an entertaining enough issue, though I'm anxious to see how Fred manages to extricate himself from the world of hurt that Beetle and Overdrive seemed poised to deliver to him last issue.

(Also, I have to note, not only do we get a great example of pet peeve #2 here, since it's Hercules, not Spider-Man, that serves as the nemesis of two of the Sinister Three, despite the cover, but the descriptions that come with each issue increasingly have nothing to do with the actual contents of the issue.)

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #29: "Goblin Nation: Part 3"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "But I forget, you're not the last guy.  He could turn a hangnail into an epic tragedy." -- Norman, really on a roll

Summary
The Goblin watches on television the havoc that his Goblin Army is wrecking across New York, with reporters advising residents to stay off the streets and inside.  Menace returns with Anna Maria just as a reporter covers the collapse of Parker Industries, where Sajani tells the reporter that Carlie and Peter are buried in the rubble.  Menace expresses concern over Carlie, but the Goblin says that the real tragedy is the quick death of Spidey's "best friend," observing that he's going to have to find someone else close to Spidey.  (Anna Maria is, not surprisingly, visibly upset.)  In JJJ, Jr.'s office, Tyler Stone tells Jonah that the Avengers are stretched to their limits fighting the Goblin Army and helping first responders.  He suggests that Jonah launch the Spider-Slayers to help in the rescue efforts.  Liz agrees, saying that they're not combat ready, but they're field ready and using them to help with the rescue efforts would be a PR win for both the Mayor and Alchemax.  However, JJJ, Jr. refuses, saying that he had them built to take down Spider-Man, swearing that he's involved.  Glory expresses shock that Jonah only cares about his vendetta on Spider-Man, with the city under attack and Peter possibly dead.  Jonah tries to explain, but Glory won't hear it.  Noting that Marla's dying wish was for Jonah to release his hate, Glory quits, saying that she knows that he never will.

Outside Mystic, CT, Mary Jane and company exit their car, with May expressing concern for Peter given the news report, Jay expressing frustration over Jonah not returning his calls, and Ollie feeling anxious that he's not in New York helping.  Peter calls MJ to tell her to get to safety, and MJ tells him that she's already gotten everyone to safety.  She starts to tell him to call his panicking aunt, but he tells her to deal with it.  She berates him over the fact that she's helping him despite them not being together, but he ends the call, leaving her to remark that he could never deal with a woman raising her voice.  At that moment, Peter is working with Sajani to find a way to cure Carlie, but he notes that the Goblin Serum is complex and undoing it in a way that leaves the subject alive is extremely difficult.  Sajani rails against him for blowing up half their "barely insured building" to fake his own death, but Peter tells her that she's not helping him find a cure by yelling at him.  Their fight is interrupted by the Goblin calling Otto and telling him to put on his costume because he has something to show Otto.  Peter tells Sajani that he has to go, leaving her incredulous as he instructs her to continue working on a cure.  Otto confirms to the Goblin that he's in costume, and the Goblin tells him that he was furious at him, Spider-Man's "number two enemy," for killing Spidey before the Goblin got the chance.  He thought that he could get revenge by making Otto his lackey, but, when Otto refused, he was left with no choice but to destroy everything important to him, to "wipe [Otto] off the face of the Earth and the pages of history."  He then proceeds to destroy Otto's family home, the lab where he became Dr. Octopus, the Boneyard where his greatest inventions are stored, Mocha Cola where he saved "all those people from getting blown up" (and where they're working a late shift), and the H.E.A.R.T. Clinic where he spent so much time helping people.  Otto reels, telling the Goblin that he'll kill him, and the Goblin asks what army he'll use to do that, since he killed them, too.  He then tells Otto that he's going to teach him a lesson and that he's "holding class" at E.S.U. where he has someone "very dear" to Otto.  Otto realizes that it's a trap to force his hand, but worries that the Goblin has Anna Maria.  He realizes that he's never been on the other side of this particular equation before and wonders what Parker would do.

Spidey races across town, calling in a mugging that he witnesses to Chief Pratchett.  Pratchett tells Otto that the police think that Spidey is working with the Goblin, and an incredulous Otto tells him to talk to the Mayor.  Pratchett ends the call and asks Jonah (who's there with him, along with the Alchemax team) what he wants him to do next.  JJJ, Jr. tells him to dispatch the Spider-Slayers to the location that Spidey sent, and Liz agrees to do it, telling Jonah that he knows the risks.  Tyler tells Miguel that it's time to head to the lab to monitor the Spider-Slayers' deployment, but Miguel is gone.  Spidey arrives at ESU, crashing into a window.  The Goblin observes that it's more Spidey than Otto to arrive so bullishly, without planning or henchmen, and Otto warns that he'll learn the difference between them soon enough when he tears his head from his neck.  The Goblin reveals that he has Dr. Lamaze, making Otto laugh.  The Goblin is confused, since he thought that Lamaze was Otto's only friend, noting that he saw him almost kill himself to save him "and the midget."  He tells Otto to view it as the dress rehearsal, raising the stakes for the grand finale.  Otto deploys his Spider-Arms, resulting in the Goblin noting Otto's predictability.  Saying that he was going to use the following tactic for the finale, the Goblin reveals that he's hacked the arms, chastising Otto for basing them off his old designs and making them easy to hack.  He leaves as he orders the arms to attack Spidey, and Otto tells Lamaze to run as the arms are trying to kill him.  Otto is oblivious to one of them, and Lamaze hurls himself into it as it lands a killing blow.  Otto asks why Lamaze saved him, and Lamaze says that he ran when Anna Maria needed help.  Spidey saved the both of them, and Lamaze wanted a chance to do the right thing.  He thanks Spidey for teaching him to be a hero, and Otto grieves as Lamaze dies.

Just then, the Spider-Slayers arrive, programmed with Jonah's face.  Spidey tells him that he risks being exposed, but Jonah says that he doesn't care.  He's lost the woman that he loves and his self-respect, and he doesn't care if he loses his office or freedom if he gets to kill Spider-Man.  Otto haughtily says that he can defeat the Spider-Slayers in his sleep, but Jonah delights in telling him that they're now "light-years ahead of the old ones" and "powerful enough to tear [him] limb from limb."  However, just then, they stop, and Miguel (as Spidey) reveals himself.  Otto asks why he's still in this timeline, and Miguel tells him to be glad that he is, since he's the one who disabled the Spider-Slayers.  Spidey suggests using them as a robot army to stop the Goblin, but Miguel tells him that they're not going anywhere until he gets answers.  Otto calls him a fool for wasting their time, but Miguel tells him that he has decades, since he doesn't belong there.  He's also not sure that Spidey belongs either, telling him that there's something wrong with history and him.  He tells him that he's acting like a totally different person from the one that he's supposed to be, and he wants to know why.  However, the Slayers reactivate, and Miguel expresses shock.  One of them then grabs Miguel, and Norman Osborn's face replaces Jonah's, telling them that Norman "runs this city...and everything in it."

The Review
Slott does something remarkable here:  at a certain point, I forgot that we're dealing, at least in theory, with Spider-Man.  Slott makes it clear that this war is now between the Goblin and Otto.  The Goblin cares less about discovering who Spider-Man actually is and more on punishing Otto for robbing him of the chance of killing Spider-Man.  It's an epic super-villain pas de deux.  It has some flaws, but it's one of the unfortunately rare moments where I feel like Slott really delivers on the premise of Otto as Spidey.

The Good
1) The Goblin destroying everything significant to Otto is a great twist, the moment when Slott pushes aside the existing storylines and makes this arc all about the war between the Goblin and Otto.

2) Although Lamaze's death feels rushed, Slott does manage to get across his message here.  Not only is Lamaze redeemed (and any potential obstacle to a returned Peter graduating from his Ph.D. program seemingly removed), but Otto is also temporarily laid low.  He initially dismissed the threat that the Goblin posed to Lamaze, implying that he didn't care what happened to him (at least compared with Anna Maria).  But, Otto's clear grief over his death really does leave you with the sense that the Goblin has taken everything from him.  Moreover, Lamaze tells Otto that he sacrificed his life to save Spider-Man because Spider-Man had once saved him, inspiring him to be a better man.  Otto not only is forced to realize that, despite all his failings as Spider-Man, he has been the type of hero to inspire someone, but also mourn his only true friend at the same time.  As Otto said earlier, he's never been on this side of the equation, and it's one of the few moments of growth that Slott has allowed him since this experiment began.

3) I will also say that I do enjoy Gage's Goblin here.  He's a little too Joker at times, but he does really have a way with words.

The Unknown
1) An obvious question here is how the Goblin (or, as he claims, Norman Osborn) managed to get control of the Spider-Slayers.  Is it because they're using some form of Oscorp technology?  I want to hope that we'll get an answer to this question, but, the way things have been going in this arc, I'm doubtful.  (Also, speaking of Oscorp, I feel like we've really glided over the fact that Liz is constructing Spider-Slayers for Jonah, given the fact that she just described Spidey as a friend to her chief of staff in issue #17.)

2) I'm intrigued where Slott is going with Jonah.  He's clearly unhinged, willing to lose everything not only to stop Spidey, but to kill him.  It's a whole new level of crazy.

3) I'm starting to wonder if the Goblin is Normie.  The focus on "hacking" (here, with Otto's robotic arms; previously, with the Goblin Protocols) is almost adolescent.

The Bad
The revelation that the Goblin really didn't know Peter's secret identity and was just kidnapping his loved ones because of his affiliation with Spider-Man was yawn-inducing.  It's now happened at least twice -- first in "Amazing Spider-Man" #695 when Peter himself got kidnapped, and again in "Superior Spider-Man Annual" #1, when Aunt May got kidnapped.  Three times in 36 issues means that it's happening pretty much every six months, given that "Amazing Spider-Man"/"Superior Spider-Man" ships twice a month.  It's starting to feel like some sort of 1980s cartoon where the damsel gets kidnapped and the hero has to save her by the end of the episode.  Each time, we're threatened with the possibility that the villain actually knows Peter's secret identity, and each time it's revealed that he's really just striking at Parker because of his affiliation with Spider-Man.  In other words, the shtick is old.

The Really Bad
Once again, I just can't really buy that Mary Jane hasn't figured out the fact that she's dealing with a different Peter.  After all, Miguel is able to put two and two together, and he only met the real Peter once.  If that weren't bad enough, Slott continues to engage in pretty much outright character-assassination to make Peter fit into the way that Otto "plays" him.  Here, Mary Jane says that Peter could never stand when a woman raised her voice.  Of course Slott has her believe that since, if she didn't, she would have to wonder why he reacted the way that he did to her yelling at him.  At some point, Slott would've essentially turned Peter himself into a super-villain if this series continued, raising the question why he had as many friends and loved ones as he did if he were really so terrible of a person.

Avengers World #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is better than the other ones in this series, but I still wonder at what point we're going to get past the "Spotlight on..." format.  As Banner says, with "what, forty Avengers right now," it just seems like we're going to be stuck in back-story land so long that nothing'll ever happen.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Invaders #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

James Robinson is, indisputably, one of the greatest world-building plotters in comics, as his amazing run on "Earth 2" showed.  As a result, criticism of him generally into two categories related not to his plotting, but his scripting:  excessive exposition and wooden dialogue.  We get some of the first category here, but, oddly, it helps shows his significant improvement in the second category.

Cap spending most of the issue telling the Human Torch his plan in detail was pretty unnecessary, given that we are also seeing it put into motion as Bucky searches for Aarkus.  But, honestly, Cap sounds more like how I imagine Captain America sounding than most authors usually make him sound.  It's got just the right amount of old-man crankiness and aw-shucks idealism, but with a warmth and intelligence that reminds us why people have been following him into battle for 70 years.  Moreover, Cap's interaction with Bucky and the Human Torch conveys the brother-in-arms vibe that Robinson understands has to be at this book's core.  I feel like I'm reading about their exploits in 1940s Germany, even if it's 2010s Hala.  It's a good sign, and it gives me hope that Robinson will also find a way to reduce his reliance on expositive scenes in the future. 

Per my introductory comments, the plot is (not surprisingly) compelling, from using Aarkus to transport the team to the Kree homeworld to revealing that the God's Whisper no longer works on the Asgardians but does the Eternals.  It's still unclear what the Kree intend to do with Ikaris (and, potentially, the other Eternals), but I'm excited by the throw-down that we'll likely be seeing next issue.  

*** (three of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As usual, Spencer and Lieber paint a pretty grim picture of our gang.  Boomerang plays all tough when it comes to his "rivalry" with Bullseye, except that he seemingly offers Bullseye his new girlfriend's life in exchange for his own.  Shocker is honestly befuddled over the prospects that lay before him as a result of possessing the Head of Silvermane, and I don't really want to know why Hydro-Man is worried about returning to a life where he was in the back of a truck in an alleyway being asked to dance in front of a camera.  But, once again, Fred proves how resourceful he is, using his camera-rang to set up Chameleon to make it seem like he impersonated Fred to seal the Dr. Doom painting.  As a result, Owl transfer the hit (and, presumably, his LMD Bullseye) from Fred to Chameleon, and Fred is free to do...well, whatever it is Fred does.  But, he has to get through a pretty pissed Beetle and Overdrive to do it.  Once again, frying pan, fire.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Secret Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, this issue is a pretty awesome start to a series in desperate need of a re-boot (an ironic, though honest, statement, given that we're already on the third series of essentially 54-issue series).

First, the addition of Spider-Woman to the roster is inspired.  It not only raises the sexual-tension quotient, given her relationship with Hawkeye, but it also brings out some personality in the Black Widow.  Natasha was pretty much just an efficient killer in the last "Secret Avengers" series, but, in Kot's hands, she isn't just the resident assassin.  (She may still be the resident assassin, but she isn't just the resident assassin.)  She like herself some hard massages, caramel gelato, and target practice.  It's not all death all the time.

Moreover, this issue is fun.  Kot and Walsh aren't pretending to have invented the naked-fighting genre; in fact, they pay homage to Fraction and Aja's amazing sequence from "Hawkeye" #3.  But, they also don't just make it feel like a played-out gimmick.  Hawkeye accidentally leading A.I.M. to the Russian baths where Jessica and Natasha are getting massages results in just a down-right hilarious sequence of slipping towels and general melée.  It's fun and tense all at the same time.

But, Kot makes it clear that we also still have the usual intrigue, as Coulson and Fury face an unexpected confrontation on a space station and Hill suddenly becomes the target of a grudge-holding assassin.  Kot manages to convey a sort of "It's chaos so it must be Tuesday" resignation among the characters while making it clear that they're also fighting for their lives.  (Maria looking through the hole where the middle of her hand used to be conveys that message pretty well.)

This whole issue just sings like some of the best "Hawkeye" issues, high praise indeed.

**** (four of five stars)

Hawkeye #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I love whacky issues as much as the next guy, but rewinding 11 issues to give us a metaphorical story that reminds Clint that he needs to ask for help (a lesson, based on the aforementioned 11 issues, that he seems to promptly forget) when we left him dead last issue seems a little much, no?  (That said, I loved Pizza Dog cuddling with him, obviously.)

** (two of five stars)

Captain Marvel #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The revelation that Carol is leading her own Guardians of the Galaxy was certainly a surprise.  I'm not necessarily opposed to it, but I have two concerns.  First, DeConnick did such an amazing job building up Carol's supporting cast that it seems bizarre to see her so quickly ditch it.  She's leaving Tracy as she's dying and Kit as she and her mother have moved into the Statue of Liberty with her?  Really?  We get the tantalizing awesomeness of her dating Rhodey just to see that relationship suddenly put on hold for "maybe a year?"  It just seems to leave so much on the table.  Second, this gambit will only work if DeConnick manages to make it different from "Guardians of the Galaxy."  She doesn't necessarily do that here.  In fact, at times, with the "Star Wars" quips, she's essentially covering the same ground that Bendis has already covered.  I don't want Carol reduced to some sort of time-delayed version of Peter Quill.  But, obviously, it's just one issue.  We'll see how it goes.

** (two of five stars)

All-New X-Men #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I actually don't have a ton to say about this issue.  It's thoroughly enjoyable, but also pretty straight-forward:  the Guardians, Starjammers, and X-Men manage to get through the Shi'ar defenses, but find themselves face-to-face with the Imperial Guard searching for an escaped Jean.  The most intriguing part is the machinations of J'Son, who crashes the trial and grandstands in a way that lets Jean know that the Shi'ar murdered her family.  I have to say, for someone who was awful at continuity when he wrote the Avengers, Bendis is doing a great job of taking even the more obscure parts of the X-Men's history -- like the "End of the Greys" storyline -- and making them matter.  It's unclear if J'Son wanted simply to cause trouble for the Shi'ar or if he's somehow spoiling to get Jean to turn into Phoenix, but, either way, it's not probably not well intentioned.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nightwing #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

In this series' last moments, Higgins and Dauterman somehow manage to give it a coherence that it hasn't had as it unfolded.

By using Dick's conversation with Jen to review the details of Dick's life -- from the death of his parents, to becoming Robin and then Nightwing, to taking on Saiko, to averting his destiny as a Talon, and, finally, to the destruction of Haly's Circus -- they remind us that Dick's story is about survival.  He lacks the single-minded certainty of Batman, so he's driven to explore new personalities, trying to find something that makes the world where a boy watches his parents die make a little more sense.  Using Jen to elicit this reflection could've been a trite device, but Higgins really sells it.  (I teared up a bit when Dick talked about feeling grief every time anyone ordered his father's favorite pizza combination.)  If Bruce's grief is buried deep within him, Dick's is on the surface, allowing him to connect with a grieving girl in a way that Bruce never could.

Moreover, Dauterman is a find; his Dick could use some work, since he looks a little Neanderthal at times, but, generally, he has a certain fluidity to his work that not only works for Dick but also for an issue where you're covering a lot of space and time.

Best of all, Higgins doesn't offer an answer to the question of which Dick wins.  Dick still hasn't found what he's looking to find, but, in texting Sonia, Higgins reminds us that Dick is as enduring of a character that he is because he's still out there looking.  I'm intrigued to see where we go with Dick, particularly after the events of "Forever Evil" #6, but I'll say that Higgins really managed to wrap up this uneven series in a way that makes you forget the troubled parts and remember what you liked about it in the first place.

**** (four of five stars)

Justice League of America #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ugh.

To be honest, this issue was in some ways better than the last few issues, since something -- namely, Stargirl's confrontation with Despero -- at least happens.  But, Kindt laid it on way too thick here when it came to Courtney's inspiring journey to overcoming her fear.  Her parents seem hardly to mind the death of her brother, since it helps them realize how amazing Courtney is, and she is apparently the only Justice League member capable of overcoming her fear, freeing herself from Despero's prison.  It's just too much.

From a plot perspective, it's even worse, since I'm still not sure how Despero exactly ties into the Crime Syndicate.  He's not from Earth-3, so did he strike some sort of deal with them to capture the Justice League and feed off their fear?  If so, why now?  If the Crime Syndicate didn't give him any sort of special power, it implies that he always could've done what he does here.  Why did he wait until now?

In the end, I can't believe that the best DC could do with this title during "Forever Evil" was to give us a six-issue Stargirl story.  Given how awesome the rest of the "Forever Evil" issues have been, it just seems like a huge waste.

* (one of five stars)

Batman #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is just simply epic.  It's cinematic, to the point where I felt like I was watching a feature-length version of the Batman animated-series, high praise in and of itself.

First, Snyder really manages to convey Bruce and Gordon's panic as they race against the clock to stop the Riddler's plan, a panic borne of the fact that they're still learning the ropes of Gotham.  (Sndyer is helped by the plus-sized issue, and it's honestly one of the few times that I've felt that paying $4.99 for a comic was well worth the money.)  One of the best decisions that Snyder makes here is to rob Bruce of his technology.  More often than not, Batman pulls off the last-minute save thanks to some amazing new device that conveniently matches his need for just that occasion.  Not here.  His Bat-Grapple doesn't have a long enough reach to make it to the weather-balloon platform, and his loss of the Bat-Jammer means that he has to try to disarm the balloon using a broken-off piece of Dr. Death's arm (a moment as awesome as it sounds).  It's a clever ploy on Snyder's part not only because it builds the tension, forcing Bruce to leap farther than he should be able to leap and resort to brute tactics in a mad attempt to win, but also because it reminds us that it's "Zero Year," or, in other words, early days.  Bruce hasn't had a need for a 70-foot grapple yet, so he only has a 50-foot one.  We're watching him learn.

Moreover, we're reminded of Bruce's junior-hero status because he does, after all, fail.  He doesn't manage to jam the amplified hacking-device that Nygma has installed in the weather balloon, giving him control of the city.  An equally rookie Gordon doesn't manage to keep the police from turning on the power, in part because of his frayed relationships with his colleagues.  Nygma's plan seems to be use his power over the city not to turn on the power; in other words, he plans to keep the city in the dark.  Moreover, he pushes Gotham even further by his next act, destroying the retaining walls that keep back the river and flooding the city just as Superstorm René hits.  Snyder's Riddler is a dark one, to be sure, capable of acting on a scale that the Joker usually doesn't even attempt.  In a way, Snyder underlines Batman's rookie status by making Riddler an actual threat.  He's always one step ahead of Batman here, something that he won't be again after this event.  (My only question here is that Batman tells Gordon that he should've taken "the call," and he would've prevented all the death.  I don't remember some sort of pivotal "call," but I'll take a look at my back issues to see.)

Second, Snyder uses the secondary stories to address the age-old question of what motivates superheroes and super-villains.  Snyder's revelation that the Waynes were at the movies with Bruce as a way to connect with their troubled son is simply devastating.  We learn that Bruce has been tormented by nightmares after falling into the cave, and Thomas hypothesizes that he's been sneaking into movies on Park Row to prove he's not afraid.  It's a greater reminder of Batman's origin, picking the Bat as a symbol because it was something that used to frighten him.  But, it also adds a layer of guilt to the story.  I didn't think that it was possible to add a fresh take onto Batman's origin story, but Snyder really manages it.  Bruce tells his father that he went to go see the "Mask of Zorro" because his dad loved it so much, but he thought that it was corny.  His father is faux outraged, and he and his wife decide to skip the benefit that they were supposed to attend to see it again with Bruce.  (Thomas also comments on the fact that Zorro uses everything that he has to fight for people who can't fight for themselves.)  Capullo gives us an absolutely lovely moment where Thomas put his arm around Bruce in this police station, and a smiling Bruce leans into him, clearly thrilled to be there with his father.  It makes the coming events all the more devastating.  Again, this twist adds a layer of complexity onto Batman's origin that I didn't think possible at this stage, and I salute Snyder and Capullo for making it happen so beautifully.

The last twist, if you will, is the revelation that Dr. Death's son died in a search for Bruce in the desert.  Bruce's uncle used his connections to get Death's son transferred to a safer unit, but it dooms him to die when they find a booby-trapped cave.  It's not a vital part of the story, but it really does go to the question of whether superheroes inspire the villains that they fight.  Here, Bruce inspired the creation of Dr. Death -- who sought a way to allow the body to defend itself from all attacks in part because of his son's death from the bomb -- without even becoming Batman.  On some level, it combines with this re-telling of Batman's origin to answer the question somewhat definitively:  superheroes don't inspire super-villains or vice versa; life does.

Finally, Capullo is obviously on fire here.  The homage to "Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns" is obviously inspired, since it's so clear that Bruce isn't quite the hero yet that he was in that story, flailing as he does in the leap.  The smile that creeps across his face with the Bat Blimp allows us a moment to see him enjoying his cleverness, something that dies in him at some point, possibly with this issue.

Snyder really recaptures the magic of his run on "Detective Comics," and it couldn't be at a better time.  The promise of the New 52! has been so squandered already, but Snyder is truly using it to the fullest here, making tweaks and additions that make Batman an even more complex figure than he already was.  

***** (five of five stars)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Batgirl #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not really sure what to make of this issue.  The surprise ending is totally unexpected, and it certainly was a fun (if grim) surprise.  But, I'm still totally confused about Silver.  He has essentially turned himself into an anti-vampire, drenching himself in holy water day and night.  I (sorta) get that.  He was motivated to do so after his mother committed suicide in the bathtub when he was a child and he mistook the lack of blood (since it flowed down the drain) as a sign that vampires killed her.  I (sorta) get that.  But, why does he see everyone as a vampire?  Is it some sort of side effect of the mask that he wears?  If so, why does he wear the mask?  Was he given it by someone trying to manipulate him?  Was that "someone" maybe his assistant?  Why doe he still cling to a child-like misconception when he's (at least ostensibly) a grown man?  Also, why does he have his super-speed?  It's all just very confusing.  If I had one complaint about this series it's that Simone occasionally rushes through the introduction of the various new villains that we've seen.  I'm always feeling like an extra issue (or two) would help flesh out the characters in a way that made them real and not just the Monster of the Week.

** (two of five stars)

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

One of my main complaints about Jason Aaron's work on "Wolverine and the X-Men" was that it was oddly emotionally stunted.  The kids were frequently put in situations that proved to be a challenge even to their adult counterparts, but Aaron always played those moments for laughs.  Except for the excellent arc that took place in the Savage Land, he rarely explored the emotional impact of those situations on the kids.

As such, it didn't take me a while to realize that this series is under new management.  Latour goes 180 degrees here, focusing almost exclusively on emotions.  Nothing really happens in this issue -- Quentin becomes a teaching assistant to expectedly disastrous results and Logan travels into space to try to recruit Fantomex as an instructor.  But, Latour uses those moments to tease out some of the emotions that we didn't see in the previous series.  Quentin is plagued by the revelation that he'll one day become Phoenix, feeling as if his life is now pre-determined.  He rebels against the efforts by the Grey School staff to push him into adulthood, probably because he has a pretty clear vision now of what that entails.  Moreover, Logan gives the clearest description of his motivation to start the school to date, telling Fantomex that it serves as his, and, hopefully, Fantomex's, redemption for their sins.

Moreover, Latour actually focuses on how these emotions are in play in the dynamic between students.  When Glob Herman decided to leave the School during the Savage Land arc, we didn't really have a sense of why he wasn't happy or why he didn't like his fellow classmates.  But, by the end of this arc, Latour has already set up a rivalry between Hellion and Quentin that could get very interesting, given that the two of them walk on the darker side of the morality spectrum on a good day.  It made me realize just how much this sort of story was missing from the previous series.

It was a refreshing change, though, admittedly, one that I found jarring.  I'm intrigued to see where Latour is going to take us.  I wasn't a fan of his work on "Winter Soldier," but this book is much different from that one.  At any rate, it's a promising start.

**** (four of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is difficult to describe.  It's essentially a stream-of-consciousness journey through the last few weeks of Cyclops' life, focused particularly on the arrival of the original X-Men and Kitty to the Weapon X facility (and inspired by the discovery that they've been taken by the Shi'ar).  Bendis does a great job of showing how isolated Cyclops feels and leaves you with a sense that said isolation is slowly driving him insane.  Rudy is an inspired choice as the artist, because he really manages to convey Cyclops' internal sense of chaos.  Kitty and Scott's confrontation over Charles Xavier is obviously the highlight, particularly Kitty mentioning that they haven't had a chance to mourn him yet.  It's hard to tell time in comics, but Bendis uses this moment to remind us that it's only been a few months (if that) since Scott killed Xavier.  Moreover, Bendis and Rudy remind us that this grief and isolation is still denying Scott the use of his powers.  We've seen some hope that a reconciliation between the two sides is coming, and, after this issue, I wouldn't be surprised if it happened because a broken Scott appears on Logan's doorstep asking for help.  Bendis hints at that outcome with Scott's treatment of Hijack.  He expels him after one infraction because he's a man trying to live by these rules as a way to impose order into the chaos of his life.  When he realizes that these rules still don't help imposed said order (like when your younger self gets kidnapped by aliens and you're so isolated that former friends won't help you), the house of cards is going to crumble.

**** (four of five stars)

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Warriors #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm still not entirely sure why the Evolutionaries have switched from pro-mutant to pro-human or why the High Evolutionary appears to have thrown in his lot with them.  But, Yost makes it pretty clear that he's getting there, so I'm not in a rush.  Meanwhile, he's moving everyone into position for the eventual team-up, sending Justice and Speedball to New York to look up the Evolutionaries in the Avengers' files just in time to meet Sun Girl as she tries to defend the Morlocks from the Evolutionaries.  Along the way, Yost continues to have a way with dialogue; I particularly enjoyed Sun Girl in this issue.  ("Step away from the weird sewer people.")  Yost's challenge after this initial arc ends is going to be to sell us on a reason why the Warriors are going to stay together as a team.  He seems to set up that reason here, since the now-global Avengers aren't even in New York to help Sun Girl.  But, again, I'm not rushing it.  For now, it's fun just to read a comic that so far isn't taking itself too seriously.

*** (three of five stars) 

Captain America #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As much as I love Ed Brubaker, one of the weaknesses of his recent "Captain America" series was that he never found the right balance when it came to Cap questioning his ideals.  The series was one lament after another about the failures of the mass media and elected officials to fulfill their responsibilities to the American people.  Gruenwald previously had Cap go down that road, resigning his commission and becoming the Captain.  Unfortunately, Brubaker never had Cap come to any actual conclusion; it was a lot of disillusionment, not a lot of action.

Thankfully, Remender has done a much better job of connecting Cap's disillusionment to his actions.  First, he has made it clear why Cap would be disillusioned in the first place:  we previously had the irresponsible photo journalist dishonestly connecting him to Nuke's rampage in Nrosvekistan, and we now have Maria Hill's secretly building an enormous helicarrier (probably not for peaceful means).  Moreover, Remender gives Cap a clear view on these developments, unlike the previous series, where he seems conflicted all the time.  Here, Cap tells Falcon that he's previously worried about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s overreach, but always thought that they'd find their way after a period of overstepping their bounds.  But, now, post-Dimension Z, you get the sense that Cap isn't in the mood to keep on forgiving.  After all, he's in a period where he's pondering whether using non-lethal means is always justified, after realizing that killing Nuke would've saved hundreds of lives at the Hub.  (Remender also does a particularly good job of reminding us how dodgy Hill is, something that Bendis has also been exploring in the X-books.)  As a result, Remender makes the connection between the actual events and Cap's response all the clearer, explaining why we find him and the Falcon spying on S.H.I.E.L.D. in this issue.

This personal investment in the outcome fuels the issue, and it raises all sorts of questions.  On one hand, you're left wondering why Cap would prevent Dr. Mindbubble from taking down S.H.I.E.L.D., given the damage that he knows that it does.  Just the possibility that Cap might throw in his lot with the bad guys for the greater good is obviously enough to keep me reading.  But, even beyond that, you also wonder if he'd kill Mindbubble if he thought stopping him was a good idea.  By giving Cap a clear view on these issues, combined with a reassessment of his operating practices, Remender opens all sorts of possibilities that we didn't have in the previous series.  Add in some good banter between Cap ad the Falcon and and you've got a good time.

*** (three of five stars)

Forever Evil #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I decided to get "Forever Evil" because the resolution of the "Trinity War" was so unexpectedly awesome that I was reminded how good Johns is when he's on fire.  This issue?  This issue was exactly what I hoped that we'd get when I decided to take that leap of faith.

Johns brings all the growing threats to a head here.  Batman, Lex, and their unlikely allies finally find Dick Grayson in the Watchtower, but it all goes wrong fairly quickly:  Dick is held hostage in a "Murder Machine," a device meant to imprison Doomsday that can only be disarmed if his heart stops; the Crime Syndicate is alerted to the team's presence and returns to defend their HQ; and Captain Cold unleashes the Outsider, a.k.a. a crazed Alexander Luthor.  If the "heroes" thought that they had it bad at the start of the issue, it's worse at the end.

But, Johns manages to cram even more threats into this issue.  The Syndicate is initially distracted from the team's incursion into the Watchtower because of their concern that the creature that destroyed their world has found them.  (I'm increasingly thinking that the "creature" is the mad Superboy.)  Moreover, Alexander Luthor appears not only to be the Earth-3 Shazam (particularly since the title of this issue is "The Power of Mazahs!"), but also able to drain his victim's power (and life energy).  I don't know much about the Multiverse, so I'm only aware that Alexander Luthor is a guy who thinks that he's a hero, but probably isn't.  I'm also not sure if he's previously been portrayed as the Earth-3 Shazam!, but Johns makes it clear that both the Syndicate and Batman and Lex's team will have to find a way to face him.  It seems difficult to believe that Johns is going to wrap up these two threats next issue, implying that we're going to get another event following this one, like "Forever Evil" did "Trinity War."  The way that "Forever Evil" has gone, though, I'm totally fine with that.

Moreover, this issue isn't just driven by surprise plot twists.  It has some really spectacular moments.  Readers of the various Bat-family titles will understand Bruce's near-hysteria over Dick's condition, confessing that he only pushed him and the other "family" members from him to protect them (in the wake of "Death of the Family").  Dick re-assures him, telling Bruce that he has never abandoned him, but that he needs to leave before the bomb explodes.  But, Lex takes matters in his own hands, killing Dick.  It's clear that Lex only meant to kill him temporarily, reviving him once they freed him from the machine, but Bruce is so crazed that he can't see that, attacking Luthor and wasting valuable time.  (I wouldn't be surprised, though, if we learn that Bruce and Dick had some sotto voce conversation and decided to let everyone think Dick died, given the public revelation of his identity.  He'll be resurrected as someone else, with a new identity, after the series.  After all, how often is Bruce really that hysterical?)  But, Captain Cold steals the show, freezing Johnny Quick's leg and then destroying it.  I can't explain how awesome that moment was.  Johns builds to it perfectly, making it clear that Quick's arrogance was blinding him to the threat that Cold was.  Cold acknowledges that, telling Quick that he and Flash had mutual respect, "the difference between you and him.  Besides having two legs."

Finally, Johns also gets in some digs at the heroes, reminding us, in a way, why we're all here.  Lex isn't necessarily wrong when he tells Batman that the superheroes failed, metaphorically and literally, to stop themselves, since they brought on the "metahuman violence [and] extraterrestrial or interdimensional incursion[s]" that they now can't stop.  Bruce is rattled by the accusation, in part because it has the ring of truth to it.  I don't necessarily buy it, but Johns sets up this moment as a reminder of how spectacularly the Justice League has failed to protect Earth against the Crime Syndicate.

Again, it's hard to see how Johns is going to wrap up all these plot twists in just one issue.  I'm thinking that the Crime Syndicate is going to wind up staying on Earth for a while, particularly since they have no home to which they can return.  We also have some unanswered questions, like why the Syndicate would've brought Luthor with them in the first place, rather than just letting him die in the destruction of Earth-3.  Johns clearly has a plan, though, and I can't wait to see what it is.

***** (five of five stars)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Earth 2 #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I know!  A non-Spidey issue!  Can you believe it?

Taylor uses this issue as a way to regroup after the events of the last few issues, with each side trying to get a bead on the other.

I thought Taylor did a great job in reminding us that this Batman isn't our Batman through Lois mentioning that our Batman was a tactical genius and imply that this Batman may not be.  In highlighting that, Taylor reminds us just how hopeless of a situation the team is facing.  If that weren't enough, though, Superman cutting off the Atom's arm and smacking him with it -- a moment that Scott really sells for all its ridiculousness, showing the arrogance of Superman in the process -- reminds us just how steep of a challenge they face, even if they had the hope that the full tactical genius of Batman would give them.  Underlining both the hopelessness and the challenge, Taylor has the top 1% try to flee in  a space ark.  Though Superman makes them pay for their lack of faith in the world that made them, Taylor reminds us just how much trauma this world has suffered, since the ark was built after Darkseid's last destructive trip across Earth.  In other words, the heroes have a lot of reason to panic.

By the end of the issue, Taylor has prepared us for the next phase of the conflict.  Sato getting in touch with Khan (and Khan getting in touch with Atlantis from his secret base in Amazonia) seems to offer hope...until Bedlam reads Sloan's mind and discovers the existence of the Kryptonian.  It's a constant back and forth, hope and challenge:  every time you think that the inhabitants of Earth 2 might be able to win, Superman and his allies seem poised to snatch that victory from them.  It's why this series is so exciting; each development has been carefully established before it comes to fruition.  Dan Slott could take lessons from Taylor in how to focus on tactics to create suspense.

*** (three of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The best moment of this issue is, hands-down, Otto bursting from Spider-Island riding his robot man-servant, which has turned itself into a make-shift boat.  It was as hilarious as it sounds.

Does the Goblin know that Peter Parker is Spider-Man?  It's obviously the question running through this issue.  It's hard to know, though, for two reasons.  First, Slott has so blurred the lines between Spidey and Peter Parker that it's hard to tell.  With everyone in the world apparently knowing that Peter designs weapons for Spider-Man, it seems likely that the Goblin could (again) try to go after Spider-Man through Peter and his family and friends, just like Blackout did in the Annual.  (I mean, at this point, even MJ is using Web-Spinners.  Is anyone really going to be surprised if the end result of this arc being Peter revealing his identity at least to his family and friends?)  But, it's also just as likely that Carlie could've told the Goblin Spidey's identity under the effect of the Goblin Formula.  However, here, Slott adds another complication, the fact that Carlie shows that she's able to fight off the effects of the Formula, at least for a time.  The problem is that I'm having a hard time finding this part of the story compelling.  It's not that Slott isn't doing a good job keeping the balls in the air; it's just that I've read so many versions of this story so many times that it's hard for an author to bring new insight to it.

Moreover, Peter's identity isn't the only one in question here.  It's still unclear who the Goblin is.  The Goblin apparently has unfettered access to Oscorp technology, given that he uses it to bypass not just Spidey's Spiderbots but apparently his Spider-Island security grid.  But, would Norman still have that access?  Is the Goblin maybe Liz Allan?  Or Tiberius Stone?  Who knows?  (Who cares?)

At this point, the entire dramatic tension of the arc revolves around identities, exacerbating that "Been there, done that" feeling.  In fact, the only real tension for me is whether Annamaria is going to survive.  It seems unlikely that Slott would want to carry her into the new series, given that Peter probably wouldn't share the same feelings for her that Otto did.  She seems a pretty easy Ensign Jones to sacrifice, using her death to fuel Otto's rage (and make him make mistakes).  But, it would be sad to see her dismissed this way.  She's been the only character (new or otherwise) that's really felt real since this series began, and I'd hate for her to get Women in Refrigerators-ed.

In sum, Slott just keeps using old tropes and convenient technologies to move along this plot.  It's getting harder and harder to care how he's going to end Otto's time as Peter; I just find myself anxious for it to happen.

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #27.NOW (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not really sure what I think about this issue.

On the plus side, Slott tells a tale suitably epic for the months that he spent building up the story.  The Goblin King is a worthy opponent for Otto.  In fact, Slott reveals that the Goblin has done for the franchise of the Green Goblin almost exactly what Otto has done with the identity of Spider-Man:  he's expanded it, creating his own infrastructure (like the underground train-network), amassing his own troops (including not only the gang members but now the Hobgoblin's franchisees), and improving his technological abilities (like the Goblin Protocols).  He is every bit the villainous equivalent of Otto's Spider-Man, and it sets a stage for a truly epic confrontation, one that Otto seems destined to lose.  Otto himself seems to know that, given his furious response to the Goblin's offer to be his lieutenant.  This issue earned an extra star from me for this exchange, particularly the revelation that Otto isn't so totally off his game that he'd be lured into the Goblin's trap himself (instead using his virtual-reality avatar to confront the Goblin).  But, Slott makes it clear how rattled he actually is, having him not only threatening the Goblin into conflict but also inadvertently confirming that he does control Spidey's body in his moment of rage.

All that said, it seems completely unbelievable that Spidey missed the Goblin building his empire.  This issue begins 31 days after the last one, and we're left to believe that Otto has apparently never inadvertently stumbled across the mayhem that the Goblin gangs have imposed on New York City during that time.  Spidey mentions that the "Daily Bugle" website keeps crashing on him and that police reports are garbled, implying that the Goblin's technological attack on him is broader than just the Goblin protocols.  But, Slott never explains how the Goblin accomplishes that and keeps Otto from noticing.  Wouldn't the Goblin have to know that Spider-Man is Peter Parker to crash his browser?  Moreover, if Otto is living with Annamaria, as he now appears to be, wouldn't Annamaria maybe mention that New York is functionally under the control of the Goblin gangs?  Otto only realizes it when he happens to catch one news report asking if Spidey is working with the Goblin. It's never really been brought to his attention before that?  I mean, you've got the goblin tattoo on the mole in "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" #10 and the Goblin tagging the Brooklyn Bridge at the beginning of this issue.  Otto doesn't realize the scope of the Goblin's influence before then?

Moreover, if the Goblin really did manage to impose some sort of technological blinder on Otto, doesn't he patrol?  Does he really rely just on his Spiderbots?  We're told here that Annamaria barely sees him and that he never goes to work.  What else is he doing?  I could see an argument that Otto was so confident in his Spiderbots that he ignored patrolling, but Slott seems to rule out that possibility.  We're supposed to believe that Otto and everyone he knows have never connected the uptick in crime with the Goblin gangs, through technology or in person, at any point in the last 31 days.  It just seems completely preposterous.  He can send a virtual-reality avatar to meet the Green Goblin, but he can't look out his window and see some gang members in Goblin masks holding up a liquor store?

Hopefully, we can put this ridiculous premise behind us.  Now that Otto's war with the Goblin King is under way, we can forget how it started and just focus on the ensuing battle.  But, it still serves as a reminder of why I so often wind up disappointed in Slott lately, given his almost constant use of overly convenient turns of events to propel a story when a little more time fleshing out the obvious problems would've resulted in a stronger story.  Although he manages to stay above the Clone Saga, it's not by much.

A Note on Miguel:  Miguel appears here, as JJJ, Jr. comes to Alchemax to collect his Spider-Slayers.  Stone tells Liz's chief of staff, Mr. Banks, that they got them done quickly because they were told "time was a factor," and Miguel comments, "you have no idea."  That's it.  (Notably, JJJ, Jr. declares that he wants the Slayers to kill Spidey and that he wants him to know that JJJ, Jr. was behind it.  Good times.)  Hopefully Wacker isn't lying that we're getting a new Spidey 2099 book at the end of the year.  Fingers crossed.

** (two of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, this issue is fun, like the last one, but I'm still left with some questions.

How did the mole get such unfettered access to Spider-Island?  Otto is a pretty paranoid guy, so I feel like it's hard to believe that a regular Spiderling could've managed to change the codes to the level where Otto develops prototypes of his weapons AND sneak in a bunch of Goblin gang members to pose as impostor Spiderlings to challenge Otto.  I mean, sure, it was a brilliant scheme on the Goblin's part, since he not only rattles Otto's confidence by showing him that he could manage such a maneuver but also gets rid of the weapons themselves, all in one fell swoop.  But, again, it's hard to believe that the mole could set up such a scheme.  Shinick doesn't even unmask him, underlining that he was really just a nameless Spiderling.

In another sign that the plot wasn't that clear, I don't think that the Goblin originally wanted Spidey to have to destroy the weapons, though.  I think that the actual plan was for the mole to take out Spidey and steal the equipment.  But, Shinick never really made that clear.  Also, did the Goblin really think that the Spiderlings (even a small army of them) could take out Spidey?

Also, did Spidey really steal the Punisher's glider?  I thought that he said last issue that he didn't steal it.  Wasn't the whole reason that he brought Daredevil and the Punisher to Spider-Island to prove that he didn't have it?  If so, why was it revealed to be in the stash this issue?  Did the mole actually steal it?  If he did, why would he do that and risk getting the Punisher involved?

Also (again), did Otto really not recognize that the Goblin was behind it?  I mean, OK, he doesn't have Peter's memories, but Otto Octavius should probably have recognized the Goblin was involved when the mole tried to go suicide bomber with pumpkin bombs tied around his torso.  It shouldn't have taken the Goblin gang-tattoo on the mole's neck for Otto to get a clue.

Also (again again), when did Daredevil get so cold-blooded?  We get a throw-away comment that he doesn't approve of the Punisher's methods, but he is after all the guy who told Spidey to ditch the weapons -- and drown all the Goblin gang members in the process -- by opening the hatch into the ocean.  Frank mowing down some guys with a machine gun to mop up the fight seems pretty small potatoes.

I actually had fun reading this issue (hence the two stars), but the more that I think about it, the more that it doesn't make sense.  Like the Superior Six arc, it feels like Shinick left a lot on the table, like he was forced to collapse a larger arc into a smaller one.

** (two of five stars)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If Slott is banking on Peter losing most of his memories providing enough drama when Peter returns to keep "Amazing Spider-Man" interesting, man, he is barking up the wrong tree.  The advertisements announcing Peter's return say that he will pay "a cost" for returning, and his memories seem like the type of sacrifice that would fit the bill.  But, would anyone really believe that Peter would never regain them?  No.  After all, no one really believed that Peter would never return.  We'll get a few issues of humor when he doesn't remember who Ben Ulrich is, but it's going to get as old as it is when Otto doesn't remember those memories.  Same schtick, different issue.  It gets to my point from last issue:  at some point, I just want to read about Spider-Man fighting Venom, not Peter as Spider-Man forgetting who Flash is fighting Venom.

That said, I did like the idea that Otto made a mistake in keeping only Peter's core memories, allowing him an unfettered view of himself and the obstacles that he's capable of overcoming.  It reminds us who our boy is.

I also found that Slott managed to pull off something here that I never thought possible:  I actually buy Roderick Kinglsey as the Hobgoblin.  I recently just re-read "Amazing Spider-Man" #200-#300, and I can say that the Hobgoblin stories really were, without a doubt, some of the best stories that I've ever read.  The mystery over his identity was gripping, even as the clues got so muddled that it became clear that the reveal wouldn't wrap up all the loose ends and dropped hints.  But, Ned Leeds as the Hobgoblin worked, even if it wasn't a perfect reveal.  When I learned years later that it had been ret-conned to be Roderick Kinglsey setting up Ned, it just seemed to be yet more editorial interference.  I recently read "Spider-Man:  Hobgoblin Lives" and, even though it did a better job than I thought possible of telling the old stories in a way that made Kingsley's role as the Hobgoblin clear, it still felt wrong.

After reading this issue, though, I realized that it was because we never really knew Roderick.  He was always a bit player, never leaving you with the sense that he could become a villain on the scale of the Hobgoblin.  However, Slott has really built his character over his run.  By the time he fakes his death here at the hands of the Goblin by using his mind-controlled butler as a body double, you just have to smile, because it's exactly the sort of thing that he'd do.  It made me buy that he was crafty enough to do it to Ned Leeds, and it feels like closure to a long-standing pet peeve.

Finally, Slott really does set up the Goblin Nation story that kicks off next issue.  Now controling both his own and Hobgoblin's army (as well as possibly Spidey's, if "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" #9 is to be believed), he's certainly got the fire power to give Otto a run for his money.

*** (three of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Shinick launches the first salvo of the Green Goblin's war with Spider-Man in this issue, revealing that the Goblin has not only turned all of Otto's troops against him but also used a mole to steal the various equipment that he's confiscated from criminals since he took over the role of Spider-Man.

I'll admit that it's something of a surprise that the Spider Patrol has turned against Otto, particularly since Shinick makes it seem like the Spider-Patrol has always been on the Goblin's side.  I can't say that I totally buy that, unless Otto used some sort of "Mercenaries 4 Hire" staffing agency that the Goblin secretly ran.  Also, why would the Goblin use the Spider-Patrol against Spidey anyway?  Wouldn't he want to kill him himself?  Is he just assuming that Peter will survive the onslaught?

It also seems a little convenient that Otto discovered the scheme just in time to stop the mole from swiping the equipment and just as he happened to be with Daredevil and the Punisher

That said, it was still an entertaining issue.  Shinick has a great ear for dialogue, and I essentially "heard" the trio's conversations as they happened throughout the issue.  Also, Shinick uses Daredevil wisely; the Goblin tells Phil that he couldn't speak to the mole over their communications system because Daredevil would recognize his voice, making it clear that we're dealing with someone that we all know.  Curioser and curioser.

I will say that I was confused by the reference to Sun Girl waltzing through Spider-Island in issue #6.  I thought Otto invited Sun Girl to Spider-Island to help upgrade her equipment?  This comment makes me feel like issues #6 and #7 somehow were part of a much larger story that got cut (like we're missing issues #6.25, #6.5, and #6.75).  Given how long Yost spent building up the Superior Six story, this comment just reminded me how unfortunate it was that its resolution was such a mess.

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is much better than the other ones in this arc, mainly because Slott is forced to focus on only two of the various storylines that he's been trying to advance.  Moreover, the double-sized issue gives him all the more space to do it.

Slott wraps up the Venom storyline more or less as I predicted, with Otto using his possession by the symbiote as an excuse for his recent erratic behavior.  Otto claims that he was infected by "microscopic fragments of the symbiote" when he and Flash first fought in "Venom" #4.  Otto seems to think that it solves all his problems, but Slott makes it clear that it's not the case.  Although Mary Jane buys the story, Otto is going to have to decide whether or not to reveal his identity to May and Jay in order to get them to forgive him.  (MJ herself seemed prepared to tell them.)  Moreover, the Avengers don't buy it, and Tony Stark uses his special access to the Avengers' systems to prove that Spidey erased the results of the tests that the Avengers ran a few months ago.  Slott also seems to be setting up a situation where Peter is going to have to also reveal his identity to the Avengers in order to earn back their trust once he resumes control of his body.

Speaking of Peter, we learn in this issue that he's been hiding in Otto's sub-conscious the whole time.  Although I don't necessarily buy that Peter wouldn't have previously stopped Otto in other examples of his increasingly violent behavior (from killing Massacre, for example), I certainly buy that Otto's possession by the symbiote is on a greater order of magnitude and finally forced his hand.

Finally, Carlie becomes a Goblin here, though Slott uses a careful dodge when it comes to the Goblin trying to get her to reveal Peter's identity.  The Goblin claims that he's Norman Osborn, though I think that it's pretty clear that he's not.  But, rather than keeping this one on the back burner, we're finally going to see it come to fruition with the upcoming Goblin War.  I have to say that I'm pretty excited about it.  As far as I'm aware, we've never seen the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin go head-to-head with each other, and it clearly seems long overdue.

Beyond the plot issues, this issue is as fun as it is due to Spidey's fight with the Avengers.  It's suitably epic, with Thor have to scale up his attacks as it becomes clearer and clearer that Spidey's lost control.  It made me realize that Slott really has neglected these sorts of direct stories in this title.  Part of the reason that the Spider-Man 2099 arc and this issue were so great is that they focused on a central conflict.  With recent issues fractured into numerous vignettes, Slott never manages to build excitement for any one story in particular.  You just start getting into the inner workings of Goblin Nation and suddenly you've switched to newly bigoted Aunt May.  By focusing mainly on Spidey's fight with the Avengers and then Carlie's integration into Goblin Nation, Slott actually manages to build and sustain that excitement (not to mention deliver a good ol' fashioned slug-fest).  Hopefully we'll see more of that in coming issues.

**** (four of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After the disappointing Sinister Six arc, with its surprisingly fast resolution and its confusing storytelling, I'm glad to say that Yost is on the ball again.  Using Namor to remind Otto that he is, in fact, superior is inspired.  After all, who better than Namor to remind someone what "superior" means?  With Slott drowning in sub-plots and sub-plots of sub-plots in the main title, Yost continues to be the only one to focus on Otto struggling to do right by his pledge to Peter.  Slott's Otto is completely delusional, truly believing himself the better of Peter in all moments and at all times.  He lacks any emotional complexity; it's why that title has just slid to the point where the only thing that keeps your reading is wondering how much Otto is going to screw up Peter's life before he returns.  On the other hand, Yost's Otto has always allowed himself moments of reflection where he realizes how hard it is not only to be Spider-Man, but to be a hero when your instincts aren't to be.  Namor shares a similar problem (though he wouldn't see it as such) and Yost does a remarkable job in realizing the synergy of putting them together.  Yost's Otto is still a villain trying to be a hero, where Slott's Otto is a villain not even caring about the difference.  It's a shame to see him go, because we're losing a distinct, and potentially redemptive, view of Otto that we've never seen in the main title.  Yost has made it clear that it would be a hard road for Otto to walk, but every time that I think that he's going to stray from it he finds it again.

**** (four of five stars)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At this point, I just have to hope that Slott initiated this storyline to use Peter being possessed with the Venom symbiote as the excuse for why he's been acting so weirdly lately.  If not, then Slott clearly intends to leave Peter's personal life in ruins before he lets Otto go.  Berating Aunt May for mistreating his "woman?"  Slott is really pushing the envelope here in terms of behavior that Peter could somehow explain when he eventually takes control of his body again.  In fact, Slott seems to be setting up the situation that Peter is going to be able to clear either his good name or Spider-Man's, but not both's, unless he decides to reveal his secret identity.

The problem is that I'm not sure if Otto would even recognize the opportunity to redeem Pete by using Venom as an excuse.  In "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" #7, Otto seemed to realize that he had gone too far down the Punisher road, if you will, with the ends justifying the means too often.  We see none of that self-reflection in this title.  Instead, Otto only has rage, like he had in issue #18 when he listed everything wrong with his life.  The clear implication in that rant was that other people were getting in the way of him being "superior."  If he doesn't recognize that he's gone too far, blaming any excesses on other people, then he's not going to recognize the chance that blaming the symbiote for his behavior presents.

In other words, Slott really does seem to want to ruin Pete's life.  It's the problem with this series, but not in the way that Wacker thinks.

Wacker thinks that anyone complaining about Otto's control over Peter is complaining about Peter still being dead.  I'm not.  I'm complaining about the fact that the question about Otto's legacy as Peter and Spider-Man after Peter inevitably returns is the only thing that serves for dramatic tension in this book.  Since Slott is just flying through plots and sub-plots, the only constant theme is the fear that Otto will do something to irreparably ruin Peter's life.  In that way, it's become a process story, not a substance one.  It's not the meditation on Otto trying to be a hero that it initially seemed to be (or that "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" is).  In fact, even stories that have nothing to do with either Otto's struggles to be Spider-Man or Peter's future problems when he returns are too complicated to enjoy.  I would've rather have just seen Spider-Man possessed by the symbiote, rather than Otto as Peter as Spider-Man possessed by it.  [Sigh.]  In other words, I'm really just over this whole thing.

** (two of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'll admit that I have a cold, so I'm not exactly firing on all cylinders here.  But, I found this issue confusing.  First, I was annoyed, because we have yet another example of super-villains having bound the hero but not taking advantage of that moment to reveal the hero's secret identity.  [Sigh.]  But, I got over the disappointment and moved right into confusion.

First, I thought that we were dropped into the story in media res.  However, we weren't, actually.  Maybe we were?  At any rate, we start this issue with everyone acting like Sun Girl theoretically died at the end of last issue.  She didn't, but we apparently were supposed to believe that she did?  I looked at the end of last issue and she's totally alive in the last panel.  So, if she died, it's from some sort of fight that she had with the Sinister Six in this issue.  The problem is that she never has that fight, so we're never really sure how she died.  Moreover, we're never really told how she's alive.  If I'm not mistaken, Sun Girl doesn't have any power of her own; she only has power through her suit.  So, if she somehow exploded or something in using her power (maybe to power the QPE?),  how did she survive?  If she's not made of light, how did she re-constitute herself?  Yost isn't saying.  She just suddenly re-appears in the Bowery and asks the onlookers, "Which way did they go?"  It's all very odd.  (Also, where did the Masters of Evil go?)

Second, we also get the fact that everyone is really mad at Spider-Man.  I mean, I get that the Sinister Six is pissed at him for using mind-control devices.  But, given the laundry list of things that he's publicly done (killing Massacre, mutilating Blackout, etc.), I thought that Sandman's disappointment was a little overblown.  Mind-controlling the Sinister Six seems pretty tame compared to shooting a guy point-blank in the middle of Grand Central Station.  Plus, the last time that we saw Sandman, he was helping Doc Ock take over the world, after all.  It's not like he's stayed on the straight and narrow thanks to Spidey's encouragement.  Then, Sun Girl is all mad at Spidey because...I don't know why.  She asks if everything is all because of him, but I'm not 100 percent sure how she would know that.  She herself seems confused about why the events of this issue happened.  (The more I think about it, the more I am, too.  Electro was going to blow up New York because he was mad at Spidey?  Maybe?)  Despite the fact that she doesn't know what Spidey did to create the situation that threatened New York, she decides that he's not a hero anymore?  It's kind of harsh, right?  You lose faith in your hero just because the villains did?

Ugh, I don't know.  Maybe I should've taken more Sudafed.

* (one of five stars)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ho boy, this issue is terrible.

First, as expected, Aunt May reacts badly when it comes to Anna Maria's size, asking about whether her "condition" would affect any grandchildren that she and Peter would have.  In this way, Slott doesn't just muck with Aunt May's character by making her a bigot, but he also turns her into some sort of grandchildren-crazed mother, something that she's never previously been.  It's just drama for drama's sake.

Moreover, Slott again seems to be sprinting through stories.  We're dealing with so many sub-plots that it's hard to try to even remember them.  (I can't even remember if Spidey somehow knows that Dr. Wirtham is Cardiac.  He seems to know, but I'm not sure if Wirtham knows that Peter knows?  See what I mean?)  It's not enough that Peter has to deal with Aunt May and her reaction to Anna Maria in this issue or that the Venom symbiote took over Spider-Man.  We also have him deciding to "cure" Flash of the Venom symbiote, Yuri deciding that Peter kidnapped Carlie after a visit to MJ, JJJ, Jr. commissioning Alchemax to build more Spider-Slayers, and the Green Goblin deciding that Carlie must know Spider-Man's identity if she knows that Otto is controlling his mind.

It would be one thing if Slott was just missing opportunities to tell a fuller story.  But, we're not even getting the necessary details.  I found myself wondering if Otto never really accessed a memory involving Flash Thompson before he wiped away Peter's memories.  I'm reading this story on a trip, so I don't have access to my back issues.  However, I'm pretty sure in the Spider-Man 2099 arc, when he was scanning his memories, they were mostly of him in high school.  It seems impossible that he doesn't recognize Flash from those memories.  On one hand, it at least makes last issue make a little more sense, since Otto was willing to kill Venom because he didn't recognize Flash.  But, I don't buy him not recognizing Flash, so it presents a thoroughly different problem.

Moreover, I'm equally sure that Yuri knows that Carlie was trying to discover the identity of the person controlling Spider-Man.  At the very least, she announced that she had discovered that Otto Octavius built Spider-Island, so you'd think that Yuri would be starting there when searching for Carlie.  Slott tries to cast blame on Peter since Carlie sounds scared of him in the voicemail that she left for MJ.  Although it technically makes sense (since Carlie likely didn't reveal Pete's identity to Yuri, leaving her unable to connect the investigation into Spider-Man with Pete), it feels like the overly convenient ruse that it is.  

Basically, Slott is just cramming in too much stuff.  If he had chosen one or two (at most) of the back-up stories, we might've had a decent issue focused on Peter's drama with Aunt May and Spider-Man's attempt to liberate Flash from the symbiote.  Instead, we're distracted by unmade connections and questionable developments that leave you scratching your head.

A Note on Miguel:  Miguel appears briefly here when JJJ, Jr. goes to Alchemax asking Liz to build Spider-Slayers to put a stop to Spidey.  Liz assigns the job to Tiberius and Miguel.

* (one of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I spent most of this issue feeling like I missed an issue.

Slott and Gage dive right into the launch of Parker Industries, despite the fact that Peter was only raising money for it two issues ago.  Parker Industries isn't just fully operational, though:  it's already developed a cure for Aunt May's leg.  Slott usually can let a sub-plot simmer (as he's doing with the storylines involving Goblin Nation and Carlie's investigation), but, lately, he seems to be resolving sub-plots as quickly as he develops them (e.g., Peter's academic problems in the last two issues).  Moreover, Spidey has a mad-on for Venom that I don't 100 percent understand.  I mean, OK, I get the anger at the symbiote, but I feel like Otto would've done some digging on a threat like Venom and realized that he wasn't who he thought that he was.  (He did the same for Blackout in the Annual.)  I'm guessing that Slott is going to posit it as Otto trying to be "superior" to Peter by defeating one of his greatest enemies, but it still feels a little forced that Otto doesn't seem to care that it's Flash.

But, my main problem is Aunt May suddenly turning...bigoted.  She makes a comment about Peter's commitment to diversity while talking to Cardiac (in his civilian guise) and when seeing Anna Maria.  Slott seems to be setting up her expressing disgust when Peter introduces her to Anna Maria, but I can't really see Saint May reacting way.  Again, it feels forced, like Slott just decided to shake up Aunt May by making her a little racist/sizeist.  Weird.

** (two of five stars)