Monday, June 30, 2014

Batman Eternal #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We finally start getting somewhere in this issue.  Snyder and Tynion don't give away the farm, but we at least get a better sense of what's happening in Gotham and that Bruce isn't completely disconnected from it.  I'm not sure it makes sense, but, at this point, I'm so desperate for anything that I'll take it.

First, Falcone lets it slip to Catwoman (who passes on the information to Batman) that someone let him know about the events occurring in Gotham.  It's presumably this tip that resulted in him leaving his gang war in Hong Kong to return to Gotham, once again making me wonder why Batman had to go to Hong Kong last issue if Snyder and Tynion planned on revealing Falcone's motivations in this issue.  But, I'm just going to drop that line of complaint, since I know the answer is that they wanted to introduce Julia Pennyworth (for reasons that remain unclear).  It's been pretty clear from the start that someone other than Falcone is plotting behind the scenes in Gotham.  The only problem is that the train incident is (potentially) the only one that Falcone hasn't directly engineered; the hit on the Iceberg Casino and Pyg's lab were both clearly him.  So, we still don't really know a lot about the goals of this mysterious figure that led Falcone to Gotham; we essentially just know that he exists.


The other big event is the arrival of Jason Todd.  He seems to have regained his memory and at least partially forgiven Batman, since he responds to his call for help.  Bruce assigns him the responsibility of making sure that Batgirl doesn't hurt herself in South America while searching for clues about her father's predicament.  This revelation at least shows us that Bruce is somewhat engaged on the Gordon front, essentially allowing Barbara to do the work for him.  I'm obviously thrilled to see Jason return and working with Bruce, though I'm still confused about how they buried the hatchet and how Jason regained his memory.  One of the challenges of this series is that Snyder and Tynion have to make some effort not to assume that we're all reading every Bat-family series.  Jason simply saying, "You called, I came," doesn't really clear up matters.

It's not much, but at least both developments get us somewhere.  Obviously, we could really use an issue soon where Bruce walks through the information that he was with Alfred or Tim, making it a little clearer what questions we've got on the table and how Bruce plans on answering them.  At this point, it's hard to remember all the loose ends, particularly with characters like Julia Pennyworth appearing for no obvious reason.  I guess the best thing that I can say about this issue is that it at least didn't add any new plot developments.  Weak, but true.  (Also, did I mention the art was terrible?  Because the art was terrible.)

** (two of five stars)

Batgirl #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is better than the last few, but that's not exactly high praise.  Barbara finally does something, stepping up her campaign against Knightfall just as Charise seems ready to set in motion her plans for Gotham.  The problem is that the interlude with Barbara's college roommate is a bizarre non sequitur, and I'm not entirely sure how the Huntress came to be involved (other than "Birds of Prey" fan-wanking).  But, at least we're not just sitting around whining about Ricky the car thief.  That's a plus, I guess.

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, let's get to the important question:  what happened to Speed Demon's dog?

Moving onto the rest of the story, I love how Spencer has Boomerang completely incapable of selling his story (that Chameleon stole his identity) to Beetle and Overdrive.  I mean, he manages to get through the initial telling of it, with the Owl even backing up his version of events.  But, he totally forgets about it when they're plotting to swipe back the portrait of Dr. Doom, saying that this time the double-cross at the end will at least include Beetle and Overdrive.  It's just a great reminder of why everything doesn't quite go to plan when it comes to Fred, since he just doesn't have the attention span to really sell his various stories.  Of course, he does have the skill (or luck) to avoid his eventual comeuppance (other than the occasional prison sentence); after all, despite his assurances to the Beetle and Overdrive to the contrary, he once again manages to manipulate events here to end the issue in a room alone in a room with a safe...

But, seriously, what happened to Speed Demon's dog?

*** (three of five stars)

Original Sin #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, let's get right to the story, shall we?

We've got someone killing cosmic and mythical entities with irradiated bullets.  The Punisher tells Dr. Strange that only ten people could make the shot that killed the creature that they're inspecting, and, as I mentioned in a previous review, several of the people on the mysterious boss' teams are likely candidates.  Not surprisingly, Aaron narrows down the list here to Bucky, seemingly the most obvious candidate from the start.

But, it clearly isn't that simple.  Bucky and his team had just discovered that someone killed a living planet, and he's the one that put the pieces together to make that discovery.  It seems unlikely that he would purposefully reveal the answer to a mystery if it would make him a suspect.  Along those lines, he seemed to be possessed by the point that he goes rogue; Deodata certainly drew him as somewhat deranged when he "kills" Nick Fury at the end of this issue.  Moreover, we actually see the image of the person shooting the planet (though it's unclear from whose perspective we're seeing this image), and it appears to be Star-Lord doing the shooting.  It bolsters the idea that Bucky and possibly Star-Lord were acting under someone's influence when they committed their crimes (if, in fact, they committed them).

Even if they are actually our killers (or part of them), it's unclear who's pulling their strings.  The Orb claims that he didn't kill the Watcher, seemingly establishing that he and Dr. Midas (his employer) got to the Watcher's "mansion" on the Moon after he was killed; they likely just harvested the eye.  We actually see the guilty party here, though he's, of course, cloaked in shadows; we only really learn that he appears to be the head of a larger organization.  We also have no motive.  After all, if the mysterious figure killed the Watcher, why leave behind his eyes, particularly if they can reveal the secret that you killed him to keep hidden?

The only real secrets revealed in this issue are done so thanks to the Orb activating the Watcher's eye.  Marvel is clever in using the eye not only to fuel the various tie-in issues, giving them more of a reason to exist than your usual tie-in issue, but also to show that the chaos coming from these revelations undermine Nick's attempts to get to the truth.  Everyone is busy dealing with their own stuff, and Nick is left to wonder why he himself didn't see anything as he tries to stay on target.  Of course, the fact that Bucky allegedly kills him at the end of this issue will make that a little harder.

I'm generally enjoying this issue, but it's probably time to stop relying on shadowy (literally) figures.  Between the "mysterious boss" and the mysterious villain, it's getting hard to tell who's who.  I don't want to rush the reveal, particularly since Aaron's done a good job answering some questions before raising other ones so far in this series.  But, the story is a little muddled at this point, with everyone's motivations largely unclear.  We'll need a little more clarity soon lest the plot gets too murky to stay in sight.

**** (four of five stars)

New Warriors #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Yost moves us into the next phase of this series, allowing the characters to interact with one another outside a battle setting for the first time and adding layers of mystery to several of the characters in the process.

First, we're treated to yet more of Kaine and Vance's antagonistic yet vaguely chummy banter, the unexpected cornerstone of this series.  We learn that Vance thinks that Water Snake is actually Namorita, though she swears that she's the servant of the Queen sent to find Namorita herself.  Water Snake also has some sort of connection to a mysterious figure that haunts her throughout the issue and tells Canninus, one of the High Evolutionary's New Men, that he can save the Earth from the coming Celestials if the New Warriors free him from his prison.  Hummingbird's powers reveal to her that Robbie still views himself as Penance, and Roche does an amazing job making this scene creepy as hell.  Also, Canninus moves Wundagore Mountain to the New York Harbor.  In other words, we cover a lot of ground.

Yost keeps us moving at a brisk pace throughout these revelations, succeeding most of the time in not making the issue feel too expository (except for Vance's conversation with Water Snake, which flowed not at all from the previous discussion).  He manages not to make the Warriors becoming a team a foregone conclusion, with several of the characters making it clear that they have no intention of staying once they're done cleaning up the mess from their confrontation with the High Evolutionary.  He also keeps a light-hearted feel to this book, despite the ominous threats gathering around the Warriors.  It's definitely a solid start to this series.

*** (three of five stars)

Miracleman #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gargunza continues his super-villain narration of Miracleman's origins in this issue, though Moore puts some effort into making it seem more natural than such speeches usually are.  At first, it conforms to the standard trope, with Gargunza wanting Liz to be aware of his brilliance and his arrogance blinding him to the possible consequences of revealing the information that he does.  However, Moore changes up the usual dynamic since Gargunza really does seem to be in complete control.  For example, he reveals that he's installed a post-hypnotic suggestion in Miracleman that de-powers him, obliquely referring to an incident in 1961 that led him to create such an eventuality.  Moreover, he mentions two other members of the Miracleman Family - Rebbeck and Lear - that he created, though we're not given any other details about them.  These revelations remind us how much information he still has, beyond what we (and Liz and Mike) already know.  It seems unlikely that anything that he tells Liz could really be used against him later.

In terms of the larger plot, Moore really asks us to embrace the story that he's telling at face value.  He uses the alien nature of the technology that Gargunza used to create the Miracleman Family as a defense against getting too detailed about the process itself.  He's telling us that we shouldn't be looking for more practical explanations, because the technology is beyond our human capacity to understand.  The only place where I found this assertion difficult to accept was Gargunza's explanation for why he needed to use Liz and Mike's baby to achieve his goal of immortality.  First, he claims that he couldn't have his own super-human body, because he's too old.  I get that, even if I'm not sure that it would survive careful scrutiny.  Then, he claims that he couldn't just imprint himself on Mike's brain, because Miracleman already had a brain implant.  I had a hard time following that line of logic, but Moore seems to be arguing that Gargunza could actually imprint himself onto Mike, but it wouldn't work in terms of controlling Miracleman, since he already had a "mature and powerful personality."  I can more or less accept that.  However, Gargunza then seems to connect the brain implant to the powers themselves, since he says that Liz and Mike's baby won't need to have one in order to have powers.  The easiest answer would be that he meant that the baby wouldn't need to switch bodies to have her powers, so she wouldn't need any sort of brain implant to facilitate the transfer of her consciousness from one body to another.  As such, Gargunza could then presumably graft himself on such a young and less powerful personality.  But, again, I'm doing all the work here making these various connections.  Moore isn't asking you to think too carefully about these issues; we're just supposed to take Gargunza at his word.  I'm more or less OK with that, but I can't say that it isn't at times distracting.

However, Moore does answer one of my main questions, namely how Gargunza knew the Miracleman Family's identities but the government didn't.  Here, he claims that Archer essentially stayed an arm's length from his work, allowing him to do what he needed to do to create the weapon that Archer wanted.  Gargunza describes it as a sort of deal with the Devil where he was the Devil and Archer didn't really ask too many questions.  I'm not sure that I buy it, but I'm glad that Moore at least addresses it.

Putting aside the details, as Moore seems to be exhorting us to do, the most interesting part of this issue is that Gargunza is finally Miracleman's enemy.  Previously, he had only been his enemy in the dreams that he created for Mike to have.  Now, they're enemies in real life.  In this way, Moore brings the story full circle.  We seem to be moving off the issues related to Mike's past and onto problems affecting his present.  Moore didn't rush this process, and, as a result, it feels like an organic progression of events.  He's asking us to forgive the original sin of this book - a convoluted 1950s origin story - and enjoy the existential dilemmas that Mike and Miracleman must confront.  Although it might be difficult to do at times, as it was for me here, Moore seems poised to reward that effort, so I'm willing to do a better job making it.


*** (three of five stars)

Captain America #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy effing crap.

Given that Remender destroyed Earth in "Uncanny Avengers" and sent Steve into another dimension for twelve years in this title, he's definitely proven himself to be an author that keeps you guessing.  As such, I wasn't entirely sure how this story was going to end, since it seemed entirely possible that Cap could fail to save Nrosvekistan.  The possibility that the hero might legitimately fail is so rarely on the table, and it clearly amps up the tension that builds throughout this issue.  In the end, Remender goes one better, because he makes you realize that you were worrying about the wrong thing.  Steve manages to save the day, but the Iron Nail drains the super-soldier serum from him in the process.  He wins the battle, but he loses his youth as a price.  Again, I really have no idea where Remender's going to go with that, and the possibility that Steve isn't going to be Captain America for a while left me staring blankly at the last page for a while.  For other artists, it would've felt like an obviously cheap stunt, tantamount to an X-Man's death.  For Remender, it's an opportunity to explore how Cap would respond to such a challenge.

Part of the tragedy of Steve losing his powers is that he just realized how important they were in the first place.  As he struggles to stop Gungnir from destroying Nrosvekistan, Steve realizes that he had been asleep at the wheel, wallowing in his (understandable) grief over the loss of Ian and Sharon and letting the Iron Nail advance his plan this far.  As I was reading it, I thought that I saw where Remender was going; the arc would likely end with Steve really getting his head into the game again.  Instead, he can't even play the game anymore.  Moreover, Steve might've stop Gungnir in the end, but the Iron Nail isn't necessarily wrong that he lost anyway.  Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D. may blame the Iron Nail for the chaos, and it might even be able to prove its case to the public, as I've mentioned over previous reviews.  But, the world is now aware of the sheer destructive power that the United States was creating.  It might not exactly bring rise to other nations declaring war on America as Ran thought (despite how awesome that story might be to explore in the hands of someone like Remender), but it will certainly have negative repercussions for the United States.  In that way, Steve's victory is limited, at best.

Remender also spends some time making sure we consider the impact that this issue will have on Steve's supporting cast.  I loved the fact that the Falcon gets the win here.  Remender writes Sam better than anyone that I can remember - full of determination and grit - and I found myself wondering if he's going to tap him to replace Steve for a while.  We're also left with all sorts of questions about Maria Hill.  In this series and "Uncanny X-Men," Remender and Bendis have portrayed her as unable to control S.H.I.E.L.D., with often disastrous consequences.  (Kot in "Secret Avengers" is starting to strike a similar theme.)  It make you wonder how much longer she's going to be in charge.

This issue is a great conclusion to the second arc of this series.  Remender just keeps finding ways to advance an overarching narrative from issue to issue, with each set of battles having consequences that drive the next set of battles.  "Captain America" hasn't been this consistently good at telling such a big story about Steve since Gruenwald.  Brubaker obviously told an amazing story about the Winter Soldier, but his later work had Cap mired in self-doubt because the world wasn't like it was in the 1940s, without ever considering whether the 1940s was the world that Cap thought that it was.  Remender is returning us to Gruenwald's stories of Cap considering whether he really wanted to advance the agenda of his employers, and this issue only ups the ante.  Amazing stuff. 

***** (five of five stars)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Amazing X-Men Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue read like it was written in 1997, and Salvador Larroca drawing it adds a certain emphasis to that point.  Storm and her opponent exchange a lot of stilted dialogue, particularly when they're shouting all sorts of "noun preposition noun" exclamations at each other.  Granted, Ororo is certainly given to those sorts of statements, but it's way too over the top here.  "I am the gathering tempest -- I am the howling wind -- the roar of rain -- the...[zzz.]"

In terms of the plot, the only thing keeping me engaged was the possibility that Storm really did accidentally kill Meruda's family when she was 12 years old.  It would've been interesting to watch Storm deal with that guilt.  Several of the X-Men tell her in this issue that, even if she had killed them, she wouldn't have been responsible for her actions given that she didn't understand the full scope of her powers back then.  But, Storm didn't buy that line, and it would've been interesting to see where her grief took her.  Unfortunately, Nero literally uses a deus ex machina to resolve the issue, with Gaia appearing and absolving Storm of guilt by telling her that she had nothing to do with the sandstorm that killed Meruda's family.  It turns a meh issue into a totally forgettable one.

It almost felt like the only point of this issue was informing younger readers that a tribe in Kenya once considered Storm a goddess.  As someone fully aware of that history, I wasn't really left with anything interesting here.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing X-Men #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wait, is Colossus no longer a "wanted murderer and fugitive?"  When did that happen?  You can't just drop that information into the middle of the book like nothing happened.  I mean, yes, from the minute that we started down the "Colossus is a wanted murderer and fugitive," it was unlikely to stick.  But, we at least have to pretend like it's a big deal that he no longer is a wanted murderer fugitive, particularly if Emma, Illyana, and Scott are.  Some explanation for those of us not reading "Cable and X-Force" is necessary.

That quibble aside, man, I'm excited about this arc.  I love me some Alpha Flight, and a whole horde of crazed Wendigos seems like just the sort of Canadian free-for-all that will bring out the best in them.  Moreover, this issue is fun.  Sure, Kyle and Yost lay it on a little thick in making Bobby an idiot, but I have to admit that I loved his conversation with Storm.  "Has [Logan] ever gone to Canada without being nearly killed?!"  Indeed, Storm.  Indeed.

I will say that the art is a little...off.  The scene between Colossus and Nightcrawler doesn't look like McGuinness.  I guess that it's one of the drawbacks of a clearly defined style, but it looked like he got an intern to draw it and signed his name to it.  If McGuinness had been on his game a little more and the authors hadn't turned Bobby into an idiot, I probably would've scored this issue higher.  As it is, it was at least an enjoyable romp.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2 #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I hope Red Arrow isn't dead, because I liked him.  He added a certain good-natured crankiness that this series is missing, with all its earnest do-gooders and depressing anti-heroes.

If he is dead (and stays dead), I'm glad to say that Taylor uses his death to move this story to the next level.  When Batman blames it on Val's pacifism, Jimmy takes him to town, noting that he (a doctor) was also unable to save Connor and telling him that his negativity was unnecessary in already dark times.  It was a great speech, made all the better by the implication that Jimmy has essentially appointed himself Batman's Robin.  Moreover, even if Batman's words were careless, they started Val thinking about his role as a hero in a world that could really use one.  Jimmy stressed to Batman that they needed to get Val into the game in a way that makes him comfortable, and he starts that process by getting Val to reveal the uniform that he's been hiding under his hoodie.  Moreover, the Themyscira-based team is getting itself together just in time for Green Lantern and Hawkgirl to lead the para-demons their way.  Next issue should be epic!

Along those lines, Taylor also does a great job of using this issue to knit together the two separate teams, with Jimmy and Hawkgirl reminding Batman and Green Lantern (respectively) of the fact that they can't succeed on their own.  Reminding the two team's leaders of the importance of teamwork as the two teams merge is well timed, and I'm glad that Taylor took the time to do it.  These aren't guys who work with others easily, and any cooperation that they'd show over the next issues would feel fake without Jimmy and Kendra's exhortations here.  Now, we'll have a fully assembled Justice League - Batman, Dr. Fate, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and Val - in Themyscira ready to rumble with the para-demons.  I can't wait.  

**** (four of five stars)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender keeps us guessing throughout this issue, as Bucky and Ran essentially trade places:  the Wraith presses Ran to admit his loss of faith in the Untied States to himself, while Bucky remembers his past and commits to saving Lila.  It's pretty clear that Ran isn't going to recover from this moment, starting him on the road to becoming the Iron Nail, and we know that Bucky will eventually be brought back into the Soviet fold.  Lila seems the only hope for Ran to avoid his fate - allowing him to embrace some form of hope - so it's pretty clear that she's either going to die or leave him.  I actually thought that Remender was going to do that here, when the Wraith convinces her to leap off the cliff, but Bucky manages to save her.  (This sequence was actually the only negative part of the issue for me, since it's unclear why the Wraith didn't just kill her if he was going eventually to have her jump off the cliff.)  If anyone thought this mini-series could have a happy ending, they should be disabused of that by now.

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.  Just...wow.

This issue is everything that I hoped that it would be.  Scott throws in his lot with Alex, rallying the X-Men to hold off Magneto's team so that the Avengers can escape and resurrect the Earth.  At some point, everyone realizes the lunacy of trusting Kang, but they're more or less forced to play off his sheet of music if they want to resurrect the Earth.  Proving their point, Kang asserts that he's been manipulating Eimin and Uriel from the start, giving us the first hint that he's (as usual) playing a long game.  I honestly have no idea how Remender is going to wrap up the story, and this uncertainty is just part of the excitement that I feel.

At this stage, the only real questions left on the table are the future of Alex and Janet's daughter and the nature of Kang's long game.  The answers to these questions are where Remender is really holding his cards close to his chest.  It's pretty clear that Rogue, Simon, and Wanda are going to be resurrected, since Logan insists that they return to the time before Rogue dies.  In fact, the most logical play seems to be returning to a point before Rogue kills Wanda, since, as Thor says, the reason why the Earth was lost was that the X-Men weren't there to help the Avengers stop the Twins.  The moment Rogue died, we all knew that this part of the story, at least, would be ret-conned.

But, Remender isn't similarly tied to a resolution when it comes to the questions about Katie and Kang.  It seems unlikely that Kang would keep Alex and Janet's daughter in the revised continuity, since it would be a little awkward for them to be united by a daughter that they don't yet have.  But, Scott and Jean have certainly been there with Nate Grey and Rachel Summers.  Remender could certainly walk us through that door, given the precedence.

But, it's Kang's plan that really up the ante on this story.  Kang claims that he was manipulating the Twins all along, seemingly answering my most burning question about this arc:  he either engineered or, at least, allowed the death of the Celestial to put in motion the destruction of the Earth.  Even if he didn't give birth to the idea himself, he didn't stop the Twins from doing it.  To this end, it raises the (minor) question if originally intended for this outcome when he stole Jarnbjorn in the first place.  Either way, why would Kang go through all this effort -- manipulating the Twins to create Planet X, rapture Earth's mutants there, and manipulate the Celestials to destroy Earth -- simply to undo the end result?  What about a resurrected Earth better suits Kang and his plans?  I can't wait for that answer.

Along the way, Remender does an amazing job of the characterizations, from Janet's rage at Kang for kidnapping Katie to Alex and Scott's warm reunion.  Also, Acuna's art continues to be the perfect match for Remender's story.  I've often said that this series is an excellent example of two great artists at the top of their game, and this issue is a perfect testament to that.

***** (five of five stars)

Batman Eternal #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

[Sigh.]

To be fair, this issue doesn't include the gross mis-characterizations that last issue did.  Catwoman makes the mistake of hitting the Falcone empire a little too often, allowing Carmine to set a trap for her.  In Hong Kong, Batman joins with the Batman of Japan to look into the gang war that Falcone previously fought there, hoping to get some insight into his current motivations.  Unfortunately, he discovers that Falcone simply abandoned the war for "urgent business" in Gotham.

Given that Batman doesn't learn anything helpful on his trip to Hong Kong, it's pretty clear that the trip was merely a MacGuffin to introduce Julia Pennyworth, Alfred's long-lost daughter whose existence, Wikipedia tells me, was undone as a result of "Crisis on Infinite Earths." (I had thought that it was Cassandra Cain at the end of last issue, particularly given the assembly of the girl Robins that this series seems to be convening.)

I don't have an issue, in and of itself, with Snyder and Tynion (re-)introducing this character.  However, I do have an issue with just how many issues we have.  We're way past due to resolve some mysteries, not introduce new ones.  Looking over the events of the last few issues, it's hard to understand why Snyder and Tynion would send Bruce to Hong Kong now, even if it was only a one-issue diversion.  After all, he knows that Commissioner Forbes isn't an ally, he's got nothing close to a lead on Jim Gordon's case (and refuses help from the Bat-Family), he's got to be aware that Professor Pyg is furious given his retaliation against Rhodes, and it's clear that Penguin is going to escalate his war with Falcone after the sinking of the Iceberg Casino.  Moreover, at some point, Batwing will report on the results of his investigations with Jim Corrigan, and Tim will let Batman know that some sort of nanobot virus is spreading through the children of Gotham.  In other words, a lot seems to be happening in Gotham.  Why not just send the Batman of Japan to look into the gang war for you, particularly if Snyder and Tynion knew that it won't result in anything?  Why not introduce Julia later?  Take some of the pending issues off the table, and then add a new one.

One of the difficulties with series that lose their way is that, after a few poorly written issues, it starts getting tough to see the good aspects of the series.  It's like when you finally see the image in a 3-D picture and can't un-see it.  You start seeing the failings more readily, and it gets harder and harder to see the positives.  Every time Batman uncharacteristically takes his eye off the ball, it gets harder to take this series seriously.  Every new mystery added without solving an existing one, it gets harder to remember the story that the authors are telling.  With each issue making me wonder if I'm reading some sort of "Year One" version of a mistake-prone Batman, I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to be here for issue #52.

** (two of five stars)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, in possibly the best example of pet peeve #2 ever, Captain Marvel appears nowhere in this issue.  I figured, based on her appearance on the cover, that she was going to begin the process of saving and unifying the various Guardians.  Nope.  She doesn't appear at all.

If you were instead hoping that Flash would save them, you'd also be disappointed, as he falls to the Skrulls in this issue.  In fact, each Guardian is in pretty dire shape by the end:  the Kree are experimenting on Rocket (implying that he may be some sort of biologically engineered creature), the Brotherhood of the Badoon overwhelm Gamora by the sheer number of fighters that it brings to the table while its leader demands to know where Thanos is, the Shi'ar are putting Drax on trial (an "ill-thought-out retaliation for the Guardians stopping [Gladiator's] ill-thought-out scheme to punish the Earth for [his] failings as a leader," according to Drax), and the Sisterhood of the Badoon push Groot from its ship (leaving him broken on an abandoned planet).  As I said, it's not good.

But, of course, it's going to be Peter -- escaping from the Spartax by leaping from a high window in a skyscraper, clad only in a t-shirt and boxers -- who's going to save the day.  I'm not sure how he's going to do it, but, as they say, getting there is half the fun.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Invaders #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow, I did not see that ending coming.

Robinson exhibits his penchant for over-narrating here, with Cap going all super-villain and walking the Supreme Intelligence through his plan as the team puts it into action.  But, the result is still impressive, with Cap and Namor buying time for Jim to build up enough radiation in the room to knock out the Kree soldiers and Cap using a computer virus that Tony concocted to shut down Supremor.  Tanalth is left little choice to turn over the God's Whisper to the Eternals, and we're all reminded why Cap is a master strategist.  That said, I'll admit that I'm not 100 percent sure what Jim did, since I usually associate radiation more with "kill" than "knock unconscious."  Robinson sort of waves his hands in front of the chalkboard on this one, and the story would've been stronger if he had explained it, particularly since he had already over-explained everything else.

But, the ending is the most intriguing part.  Ikaris is rightfully furious at the Kree, and it's revealed that he and Aarkus have attached the God's Whisper to Galactus, clearly intending to use him to destroy Hala.  Robinson is understandably vague about the connection between Aarkus and the Eternals; Cap and Jim spend some time discussing how weird it was that Aarkus knew how to get in touch with them so quickly.  You also have to wonder how he knew where Galactus was.  But, Robinson makes it clear that he intends to take up that story at some point, so I have confidence that we'll get there eventually.

All in all, it was a solid starting arc.  Robinson really needs to work on reducing the volume of narration dedicated to exposition and long speeches (e.g., the two-page speech that Cap delivers to convince Jim to join S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end).  But, I'm used to those form his "Earth 2" days, so I'll survive.  If he manages to smooth out that problem, this series will really be a joy to read.

** (two of five stars)

Nightwing #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Spyral.

I immediately associated Spyral with "Batman Incorporated," and, in reading my previous reviews and its Wikipedia page, I realize that its mission has stayed the same in each incarnation.  Dr. Dedalus sent his daughter, Kathy Kane (the original Batwoman), to Gotham to learn Batman's identity, matching Spyral's mission of learning superheroes identities, as Batman states it in this issue.  I'm not sure what it plans on doing with those identities once it has them, but I guess that we'll get there in time.

(Interestingly, in re-reading my reviews of "Batman Incorporated" #4 and #5, it was only clear that Dr. Dedalus was recruiting Kane for some sort of mission, through Gaucho; Morrison never specified what the mission was.  I'm assuming the second run of "Batman Incorporated" added that it was finding out Batman's secret identity; it also seems that we learned that Kane currently leads Spyral.  Of course, it's possible that Morrison did actually mention Kane's mission in the original run, but it wasn't clear, given how chaotic Morrison's writing on "Batman Incorporated" was.)

Bruce decides to take advantage of Dick's death to send him into action as an agent of Spyral, to discover what it knows and why it does what it does.  It's classic Bruce, but I'm not entirely sure that it's that sounds of a plan.  Based on "Forever Evil" #7, four other people at the very least know that Dick is alive:  Catwoman, Cyborg, Lex Luthor, and Owlman.  Moreover, unless Dick ran from the room in the downed Watchtower just as they released the Justice League, it's likely that all of them -- Aquaman, Firestorm, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Katana, Martian Manhunter, Shazam!, Stargirl, Superman, and Wonder Woman -- saw him alive.  OK, Catwoman, Lex, and Owlman probably aren't associated with Spyral, and it's not like Wonder Woman has drinks with Batgirl on a frequent basis where she would learn that Barbara thinks that Dick is dead.  But, it still seems like a lot of people know his secret, making it unclear how effective Dick will be as a mole within Spyral if his success is predicated on the world at large thinking that he's dead.  Moreover, the woman who approaches Dick at the end knows that he was Nightwing, so I'm not really sure why Dick would need to remain anonymous in the first place, since it's not like they're fooling Spyral.

On top of that, Dick's status, if you will, isn't the only murky problem to come from this issue.  Dick confirms that he was Bruce's ward here.  Although I'm glad to hear it, it really steps up the question of how anyone could possibly not know that Bruce is Batman.  DC is really just pushing the limits of our willful suspension of disbelief.  As I've previously said, you've got to take superhero comics at their face value if you're going to believe that Lois would've never guessed that Clark was Superman with glasses or Aunt May would never associated Spider-Man's voice with Peter's.  But, we're really pushing the boundaries with this one.  Plus, if Dick was Bruce's ward, it stands to reason that numerous people will recognize Dick in and of himself, again calling into question why he needs to appear to be dead to be successful in infiltrating Spyral.

All that said, I can't say that I'm not excited about this new start.  This series suffered from way too many changes of pace and locale, with Dick bouncing from career to career or raison d'être to raison d'être.  For the first time in a long time, he has a purpose that seems capable of fueling numerous issues without sputtering out unexpectedly.  He apparently only had to die to get one.

*** (three of five stars)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Batman Eternal #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not really sure where to go here.  This issue is just so insanely over the top that it's hard to believe that we're going to be anywhere believable at the end of the year.

First, I have trouble (to put it mildly) believing that Harvey Bullock would happily allow a bunch of murderers go free, simply because he didn't want to waste the effort to haul them to prison with Forbes' standing order to release anyone that Batman caught.  I just don't see how three of Batman's stronger writers -- Snyder, Tynion, and Layman -- could possibly think that Bullock would react this way.  Words fail me here, so I'll just move onto the next topic.

Second, I have an even more difficult time believing that Bruce is so naive that he thinks that he can actually work with Forbes.  We're not in "Zero Year" here.  He's not some green superhero trying to hone his instincts and gather some information.  If Forbes had any chance of ever becoming Commissioner, Bruce would've made it his business to know everything about him, meaning that he'd have to know that Forbes was crooked.  As such, under no circumstances do I believe that a fully matured Batman would walk into a clear ambush and leave himself so undefended that he has to rely on a rookie cop to save him.

Third, Stephanie Brown's parents have become so callously diabolical that we've gone past the point where they're even believable characters.  The mother basically dares Cluemaster to kill her.  We still don't know her mother's involvement with Cluemaster, but, if she really is this callous, then why didn't she just go get Stephanie and kill her herself?

John Layman did a great job on "Detective Comics," and I can't believe that he gets saddled with this clunker of an issue for his debut on "Batman Eternal."  I'm just going to try to forget that this issue ever happened.

* (one of five stars)

Batman #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a little dull, since it mostly just sets up the ending of this "final act."  Unfortunately, it sets up an ending that I'm not sure that I care to see.

From the start of this arc, I was hoping that we would see Batman eventually challenging the Riddler with a riddle that stumped him, setting up their final confrontation when the Riddler responded petulantly to his loss.  Instead, Bruce never tells a riddle; he simply babbles about the Riddler's psychological profile in order to distract the Riddler long enough for Lucius Fox to tap into his secure system and track the feed to his actual location.  It's disappointing how much Snyder squandered this opportunity.  The best Riddler stories revolve around Batman and him really matching wits, not him watching while Batman fights lions.  Unfortunately, we get the latter, not the former.

If anything, this issue reminded me that I'm not sure where we stand with Lucius. He appeared in the Dr. Death arc of "Zero Year" because he had worked with Hellfern when they first joined Wayne Enterprises.  I'm not sure, though, if Lucius has the relationship with Bruce yet where he designs tech for Batman and they don't talk about the fact that he knows that Bruce and Batman are one in the same.  I think that they do, since Batman specifically goes to get him to join Gordon and him as they plot to take down the Riddler.  But, it's annoying not to know, a consequence of both the uncertainty over Batman's relationships in his first year under the cowl as well as the opened possibilities that came with the New 52! reboot.

I'm not saying that this issue is terrible, but, between the missed chance for Batman and the Riddler to engage in a battle of wits and my confusion over Lucius' now-muddled history, I can't say that I fully enjoyed it.  Snyder has kept this story engaging throughout the year, but I found myself, for the first time, glad that he's wrapping up the story shortly.

** (two of five stars)

Wolverine and the X-Men #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As expected, Latour still has us wandering through the desert with no hope of water.  He seems more focused on peppering this issue with similarly bad lines ("50 Shades of Jean Grey?"  Really?) than telling an actual story.

We learn that Younge has a sword called the Phoenix Blade that can absorb the Phoenix's energy.  But, it's unclear if it's the same one that Korvus used to wield, since I'm pretty sure that one used the power of the Phoenix, not absorbed it.  If I had to extrapolate from this revelation, I'd say that Younge wants Quentin to become the Phoenix so that he can absorb his energy.  But, why would he have to come to the past to do that?  Couldn't he have done that in his present, when Quentin already was the Phoenix?  Did Quentin die in his confrontation with Evan, so it wasn't an option?  As Quentin himself says, why are Faithful John and Young in the present if Quentin does what they say and kills Evan at some point in the future?  Latour isn't unfurling the mystery the way that Aaron is in "Original Sin:"  instead of answering some questions only to raise other ones, we still have the same ones that we had in the first issue.

I'm not sure how many more issues that I've got on this train.  I'm not that interested in yet another story about the X-Men's future (particularly when it's less interesting than the one that Bendis is telling in "All-New X-Men"), but I'm particularly not interested in one that doesn't actually progress.

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is all about building suspense, since nothing really happens.  Sure, Magneto discovers Dazzler and frees her from her stupor, and the mysterious foe reveals that s/he can control both the X-Men's powers and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s equipment.  But, despite the dramatic-sounding nature of that struggle, it doesn't really change much.  We're still waiting for the revelation of said mysterious foe's identity and motives, and it's not like Mystique really has that much to lose when Dazzler re-appears and takes back her identity.  Bendis is definitely going to have to explain how the foe got so powerful as to be able to hack everything from powers to technology.  (Maybe it's a grown-up Hijack?)  The good news is that Bendis seems likely to reveal it next issue, so he's not drawing out the story too long.

*** (three of five stars)

Original Sin #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron gets right to the point again in this issue, ticking off the answers to a number of mysteries that I feel like we'd usually have to wait issues to see addressed.  In doing so, he introduces a number of new mysteries, making this series generally compelling and not just a series of rehashing the same questions (***cough***"Batman Eternal"***cough***).

We get confirmation that the mysterious figure who assembled the teams of detectives last issue is NOT Nick Fury, raising all sorts of questions about his or her motivations.  We learn that the mysterious figures likely to be the Watcher's murders are Oubliette and the Orb, and we get confirmation that they're not only in charge of the Mindless Ones but likely used them to kill the Watcher.  We also get confirmation that all the Mindless Ones are experiencing the same cognitive awakening that drove the other one to commit suicide last issue.

But, these answers don't really reduce the number of outstanding questions that we have, because Aaron adds layers of mysteries here.  We learn that someone connected to the killers has been killing "giants and monsters" for a long time, both at the center of the Earth and in the dimension "somewhere far beyond the realms of man."  Moreover, we don't really know how this other killer is connected to the Watcher's killers, with the Black Panther simply saying, "The facts will make me certain.  Once we have them."  Also, Oubliette and the Orb are working with an apparently other dimensional Thing, and Oubliette is apparently attached to him.  (Is it her father?)  Plus, the narrative boxes announce that the Orb changed the world when he revealed himself, but he doesn't really seem to have anything.  It's clearly referring to his efforts to open the Watcher's eye to get its secrets, but it's unclear how.

All in all, Aaron is spinning a great detective story, and we're moving at a good clip.  Good stuff.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Miracleman #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, this issue isn't all that remarkable.  It's essentially all about Dr. Gargunza.  We discover his violent origins, and Moore doesn't do anything to humanize him in the telling.  He explains him, but Moore clearly doesn't subscribe to the theory that every villain is a hero that society persecuted too early.  Gargunza made his choices, and they reflect the power-hungry villain that he is.

Moore also tells a story from the 1960s, as Gargunza struggles to keep the Miracleman Family dreaming when Micky's subconscious tries to alert him that he's dreaming.  The dreaming story is clever, particular through its use of symbolism to show Micky's rebelling subconscious (e.g., the Miracleman Family fighting vampires in the dream world, when they're really fighting Gargunza's power-dampening devices in the real world).

In terms of the ongoing story, we get confirmation that Gargunza clearly knows the Miracleman Family's identities.  He specifically mentions Moran's name, and Hypnos (the villain that Gargunza uses in the dream world to try to keep them dreaming) also uses Dicky Dauntless' name.  If Gargunza knew their identities, it remains unclear to me why the government -- as we've established in other issues -- didn't.

Also, I was surprised when "Warrior" #16 wasn't as violent as I expected, since I heard that Moore's last issue ended with an orgy of violence.  But, after some online research, I realized that the "Warrior" issues that we're currently reading were in turn reprinted in first few issues of the original "Miracleman" run.  If I'm not mistaken, next issue corresponds to the old "Miracleman" #6 (and "Warrior" #19-#21).  Then, we're through the "Warrior" period, and the old "Miracleman" #7 will appear in the present "Miracleman" #8.  Confusing, but I think I get it.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing X-Men #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I wanted to like this issue.  I mean, it's Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends!  But, man, I have no idea what happened.  Somewhere along the way, Immonen confuses "wacky" with "nonsensical," and the issue pays for it.

We're supposed to believe that Spider-Man was guarding the mascot of a local college team, when it was accidentally kidnapped by aliens.  (I know.  Just wait.  It gets worse.)  However, we're not told whether Spider-Man or Peter Parker was guarding the mascot, even though neither possibility really makes sense.  Moreover, the aliens didn't just kidnap the mascot; they meant to kidnap an alien baby.  Maybe?  I'm still unclear on this part.  At the end of the issue, they welcomed the baby as one of their own, so maybe they just beamed up the wrong being?  But, then, how did the alien baby get on Earth in the first place?  Plus, the aliens apparently wanted to kidnap someone and mistook the mascot for an "important being."  But...

You know, I think that I'll just stop here.  This issue is a great example of why a great premise and witty banter can't replace an actual plot.

* (one of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to give Slott credit here:  he really manages to sell me -- an admittedly skeptical reader -- on the resolution of some of the various problems confronting Peter in this issue.

First, I've previously said that I want Anna Maria gone.  I say that mainly because I like Anna Maria.  I think that she's a great character.  She's smart, she's got perfect comedic timing, and she has a great shtick in the form of her cooking, which not only humanizes her but also the characters around her.  For those reasons, I was loathe to see her wallow in misery for a few issues after Peter had to break her heart, particularly since she no longer served her primary purpose, humanizing Otto.  But, Slott pulls off the Band-Aid more quickly than I expected.  Peter admits that he is, in fact, Spider-Man, and this confession allows him to tell Anna Maria that Otto had possessed him.  It's a remarkably clever move.  Before, I was worried that Peter would just have to break off his engagement to her without a real explanation, since he couldn't tell her about Otto without revealing his secret identity.  With Anna Maria discovering it instead, Anna Maria gets the truth that she deserves, and she takes this information more or less in stride.  Slott doesn't promise that she's totally OK with it, but she manages to keep herself together, exactly what you'd expect from her.  (I'd personally be on my 91st "Silkwood" shower.)

Most importantly, Slott finds new roles for Anna Maria (beyond humanizing Otto).  First, she can serve as a translator of everything that Otto did while he controlled Peter.  For example, she can finish Parker Industries' cybernetics line, something Peter was struggling to do.  She can also cover for Peter when he disappears to be Spider-Man. I'm not sure how long that the first role will be useful, but the second role -- a talented confidante within Parker Industries -- would be incredibly so.  I'd be perfectly happy for her to stay so long as she's not there simply to pine over Peter.   (That said, I'm not sure that I buy that she'd be OK so quickly, but I'm more or less willing to give Slott a freebie on this one just to keep the plot moving.)  By having her know the truth and giving her this new role, Slott manages to save the character for me.  (Now, I just have to hope that he doesn't ruin her, but I'm trying to be positive here.)

Slott also uses a number of running gags in the issue that I've previously found annoying, but entertained me here.  For example, I actually thought that Peter being stuck to his pants by his Web-Underwear was a clever way to remind us how behind Peter is in his own life, since he's not even sure how his equipment works (Otto had extended the life of his webbing to last more than an hour).  Moreover, as I said earlier, Anna Maria's cooking manages to humanize characters even when she isn't on panel, such as Spidey and Spider-Woman gushing over her cookies in Avengers Tower.  It all could've been cheesy, but it actually worked for me.

Finally, Slott isn't totally ignoring the emotional repercussions of Otto's time in Peter's head.  I'm not saying that he handles this part of the story perfectly, because he really struggles in scenes where he has to convey emotions.  You can tell that he was trying his best not to make Peter sound flip; I would really love to see someone like Roger Stern write these parts of the story.  But, Slott gives it his best here, with Cap and the Human Torch giving him advice on how to deal with Rip Van Winkle syndrome.  It serves as a good sign that Slott doesn't intend to let the effects of said syndrome last too long, reminding us that other characters have managed to address these demons.  Sure, neither Cap nor Johnny had a super-villain running around town ruining his reputation, so it's not like Peter's going to have as easy of a time, just worrying about catching up on the TV that he missed.  But, Slott has already hinted that he plans on just fast-forwarding through smoothing over Spidey's reputation, with the public taking Spidey's renewed quip-making as a sign that he's returned.  Combined with the Avengers giving him their seal of approval in this issue, it seems like we'll be returning to our regularly scheduled programming earlier than expected.  (Again, I'd note that you could consider the ease of this transition as lazy, waving hands in front of a chalkboard to explain a complicated series of events, but, again, positive, I'm trying to be.)

All in all, I'm a pretty happy camper.  Peter seems on track to being fully in charge of his life, and I'm excited about the confrontation with a furious Electro.  Slott seems close to incorporating Anna Maria into Peter's supporting cast in a way that works, and Spidey seems to be more or less back to where he was in the eyes of his peers and the public.  If Slott can manage not to drag out the Black Cat story, I'm hoping the future is bright for us returning to the Spidey stories that I actually enjoy reading.

**** (four of five stars)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Batman Eternal #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I felt like I skipped an issue reading this one.

I thought it began in media res, with Batman trying to extinguish the fire at Pyg's factory.  Eventually, I realized that the explosion that caused the fire actually happened at the end of last issue, though my memories of that issue are mostly focused on the supernatural aspects (as my review of it supports).  As such, I can't remember what brought Batman to Pyg's labs, particularly since he had already concluded that Pyg's chemicals hadn't affected Gordon.  If I have to re-read every previous issue just to get through a new issue, this series is going to involve a lot of work.

Moreover, we learn that someone named Rhodes is working with Carmine Falcone.  He apparently engineered the attack of Pyg's lab to distract Batman so that Tiger Shark could send in his men to take out the Iceberg Casino.  I feel like I'm supposed to know who Rhodes is, though I can't really place him.  (It doesn't seem to matter, since Pyg kills him at the end of the issue as revenge for destroying his lab.)  However, the use of Rhodes and Tiger Shark ups the ante here, making it clear that each side is assembling his troops.  Penguin says as much to Catwoman as she rescues him and other people from the sinking Casino, telling her that she's not going to be able to stay neutral any longer.

On Catwoman, she's in the Casino because she believes that the Penguin is taking out members of the Gotham Underground, some sort of hobo network, though I think that it's more likely that Joker's Daughter is using them for fodder for whatever it is that she's doing under Arkham Asylum.  But, we're never told why Catwoman cares.

This series might benefit from a "Previously, in 'Batman Eternal'..." recap page, just to help us keep track of the narrative that runs from issue to issue.  Even reading the series every week, it's just getting hard to keep all the plots and sub-plots straight.  Although the story made more sense when I re-read the issue, I'm still giving it two stars for the utter confusion that I felt when I first read it.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.  I have rarely read a Spider-Man story that both manages to feel this original while also staying true to the past.

Waid and Robinson do a remarkable job throughout the story of keeping you guessing whether Teresa is Peter's sister or not.  They accomplish this feat in part because they don't take a neutral approach to the subject.  I realized by the middle of the story that I really, really wanted her to be.  It's a testament to how well the duo built her character, a significant accomplishment given the short period of time that they have to do so.  Plus, she's not only a great character in her own right, but I was also excited by the doors that she could open on future stories.  I was suddenly imaging Peter working with Teresa in the "family business" in a separate series focused entirely on their adventures as spies.  Although I had never previously thought of Peter as a spy, Wade and Robinson make his participation in the duo's world-wind tour of Europe so much fun that you wonder why no one's ever proposed such a series previously.  Moreover, Waid and Robinson accentuate this desire for Teresa to be a Parker by making it clear that Peter himself wants her to be.  It's here where I wished that Waid and Robinson had more time to build the story and explore the pair's relationship.  They somehow manage to sell Peter's emotional connection to Teresa in the few pages that they have, but it would've been nice to see it happen more slowly.

Of course, the fact that Marvel launched Teresa in a graphic novel, a medium that it generally doesn't favor, gave me the sneaking suspicion that they wouldn't change up Spider-Man's status quo here.  While I can't say that I wasn't disappointed with the revelation that Teresa wasn't Peter's sister, I felt it coming from the start.  But, Waid and Robinson make you feel like Peter knew it, too, and, in that way, we share in his grief and in his fury at the Kingpin for making us believe it.

In fact, the only missed note of this story is the fact that Waid and Robinson end it implying that Teresa may be Peter's sister after all, as we see Mary and Richard discussing her pregnancy in their Swiss chalet.  I would've preferred embracing either answer -- she was or she wasn't -- rather than dragging out the story over the next few years, eventually killing it of its emotional potency by reducing it to some sort of "Clone Saga" redux.  Wade and Robinson leave us wanting more, but I'm just worried what that "more" is going to entail.

Despite that complaint, though, I heartily recommend this story for any Spidey fan out there, even at this price.  It's a truly gripping read; Dan Slott isn't wrong in his introduction when he says that you feel like you got thrown into Teresa's sports car with Peter and taken for a ride.  Given Spidey's long history, it's always been fascinating that few authors have taken up the mystery of Peter's parents, with the only story that ever really dealt with them focusing on LMD versions of them that Harry Osborn used as revenge on Peter.  Although ostensibly about Teresa, this story allows us some insight into Peter's thinking about his parents that we rarely get, and we watch him realize that he's not mad at them in part because he had Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  It's a touching moment, and it doesn't in any way diminish his wish to connect with their memories, if not them.  In fact, it makes you wonder if they're really dead...

**** (four of five stars)

Forever Evil #7 and Justice League #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, I'm surprised to say that I'm actually OK with these two issues.  I had my doubts that Johns could somehow wrap up "Forever Evil's" various loose ends and deliver a conclusion that didn't feel rushed, but he managed to do just that.

Johns seemed to have written himself into a corner at the end of "Forever Evil" #6, since Lex and his team were unlikely to have time to defeat both the Crime Syndicate and Alexander Luthor (let alone the menace behind the red streak in the sky) in just one issue.  However, Johns wisely doesn't try to eliminate all the threats on the table before bringing the series to a close.  Instead, he leaves the core members of the Crime Syndicate alive -- if defeated -- in the end:  Superwoman and Ultraman are captured, and Owlman is forced to go to ground.  Instead of wrapping up the Syndicate's story, Johns leaves its three most powerful members in the game, an ambiguous ending that feels much more like the way this story would likely end in the real world.  It departs from the usual nature of these events, where either the entire universe is rebooted (like "Flashpoint") or everything is returned to normal (like "Age of Ultron").  Johns strikes a more reasonable balance, with the "heroes" victorious but only in a limited sense.  Even if Ultraman stays cowering in a corner, we're likely to see Owlman and Superwoman causing trouble at some point in the future.

As opposed to defeating the Crime Syndicate, Johns focuses his attention on taking out Alexander, with Lex rightfully acknowledging him as the greater threat.  I loved that Johns didn't use a deus ex machina to enable Lex to defeat Alexander.  Instead, Lex uses his ingenuity, recognizing that the similarity in their voices allowed him to de-activate Alexander's Mazahs! powers.  It sets up Lex's assertions in "Justice League" #30 that "regular" humans bring something to the table in an age of aliens and metahumans.

After the dust settles, Lex is rightfully celebrated the victor (as we see in more detail in "Justice League" #30), and we see a gentler side of him as he allows Ted Kord to maintain control over Kord Industries and calls his sister after not speaking to her in years.  But, Johns makes it clear that he's as ruthless (if not necessarily villainous, depending on your point of view) as ever.  Johns raises the question if Lex really meant to resurrect Nightwing after suffocating him in "Forever Evil" #6, and Lex not only murders Alexander in issue #7, but Atomica (more or less in cold blood) as well.  He also admits to the League in "Justice League" #30 that he wants to be seen a hero mostly for his ego.  However, just when you think that you can dismiss the aforementioned moments of warmth as cheap stunts with nefarious aims, Lex also confesses that he's motivated to join the League in part because he recognizes that the red streak in the sky represents a greater threat to humanity than Superman.  Do I really believe Lex has changed?  No.  I think keeping Ted in charge of Kord Industries and calling his sister probably do have nefarious aims.  But, Johns definitely gives you pause in judging him.  Is he "evil?"  Isn't it a good thing that Alexander and Atomica are dead?  Shouldn't "regular" humans feel some control over their destinies?  After all, didn't the Justice League fail to save the planet from the Crime Syndicate?  Given Lex's ingenuity, shouldn't the Justice League be working with him if Darkseid (as they think) is coming?  Johns makes you question the filter through which you see Lex in these two issues, a testament to the care that he took in building the story.

Speaking of the League, Johns doesn't undersell the impact that the events of this series had on the team.  Its members are bruised and battered.  Clark is practically ready to quit Earth forever in "Justice League" #30 over the hero's welcome that Lex receives.  In particular, Bruce is pretty much on the ropes.  He uncharacteristically hugs Dick after Lex resurrects him (leading Bizarro hilariously to hug Lex in the same way), he distractedly allows Lex to steal his kryptonite ring, and he's forced to reveal (more or less) his "strong emotional tie" to Wonder Woman in order to free the Justice League.  In other words, he has a hell of a day.  It's not going to be made better when he discovers that Lex has deduced his identity.

To digress for a moment, I actually have to applaud Johns for putting this part about Bruce's identity front and center.  After Dick's unmasking, it's impossible that someone wouldn't put two and two together.  After all, as we see in "Forever Evil" #7, Bruce was still there for Dick after his parents died in this continuity.  Even if Dick didn't live with Bruce as his ward, we know that he at least participated in enough public events with him (such as the soirée in "Batman" #1) that they're connected in the public's mind.  The fact that only Luthor has put two and two together is the surprising part.  I'm still not sure where DC is going with this story, but I'm glad at least that we're not sweeping it under the rug (for now).

I will say that the only place where Johns glides over answers a little too quickly relates to the Syndicate.  Deathstorm accuses Superwoman of manipulating the men to bring Alexander with them to Earth; I get why she did it (since he's the father of her unborn child, and they plan on giving a conquered Earth to him), but I'm still not sure why the men went with it.  The scene with Superwoman lassoing Deathstorm implies that they were all in love with her and did whatever she wanted, but it seems a little too trite of an answer for my tastes.  Moreover, we learn that Alexander can absorb people's powers due to his connection to Mazahs!, but we don't really learn how he got those powers in the first place.  They're not huge issues, but it would be nice to address them at some point.

But, all in all, I surprisingly only have these complaints.  I'm intrigued to see how the events of "Forever Evil" reverberate throughout the DCnU, particularly since we seem to be building to the story told in the DCU where Lex became President.  Johns clearly isn't rushing it, so I'm just going to try to enjoy that journey.  Meanwhile, I'm excited that the Anti-Monitor is coming.  As I said before I started reading "Forever Evil," this series really seized on the promise of the New 52!, allowing me to become familiar with a classic story (Earth-3 and the Crime Syndicate) that I missed when it was originally told.  I never followed all the various Crisis stories in the 1980s and 1990s, so I have high hopes that Johns will be able to do for those stories what he's done for Earth-3.  But, for the time being, I'm just happy to get to the end of an event and feel content.

**** (four of five stars)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Secret Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All you need to know about this issue is that Jessica convinces an intelligent "post-nuclear device" not to commit suicide by promising it the possibility of tasting caramel gelato.  It's as awesome as it sounds.

Along the way, Kot delivers some really excellent character development.  Natasha decides to trust her colleagues, sending in Jessica to deal with the bomb while she goes to help Coulson, and Coulson himself overcomes the PTSD that he feels after confronting the Fury and drifting in space.  It could've been just a slugfest, but Kot instead takes us into the minds of the characters as they make decisions, with those decisions (and the thought process that leads to them) revealing a lot about them.  More authors should take this opportunity, realizing that the physical fights in comic books, after all, are just metaphors for larger struggles.

Moreover, Kot also thickens the overall plot.  It's apparent that the entire mission is a set-up, with the buyer never showing to purchase the bomb and Lady Bullseye appearing to assassinate Natasha.  The question of course is who's trying to kill her (or possibly them).  Is it the same guy that tried to kill Maria Hill?  Or, is it Maria Hill herself?

Add in a crazed poet as the jargon-spouting bad guy ("Eat my discourse!") and I'm a pretty happy camper.

**** (four of five stars)

Captain Marvel #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, I really do think that we need more stories about cats in space.  If you agree, this issue is for you.

DeConnick cleverly skewers comic-book conventions here, similar to Remender's romp through the Mojoverse in "Uncanny Avengers" Annual #1.  The leader of Tic's people dismantles Carol's offer to help, correctly guessing that said offer is driven by the overconfident belief that she'll be the one to convince them to leave the poisoned planet.  Carol takes the metaphoric punch on the jaw like a champ, and she instead realizes that the leader is correct in her insistence on staying on the planet:  they need to find a cure for the poison if they're going to save the people already affected by it.  Moreover, DeConnick makes you wonder if the Spartax aren't up to something.  Are they really expending all this effort just to help these people?  That doesn't really sound like J'Son, Peter's protestation to the contrary aside.

I'm still not sold on the Carol-in-space nature of this series, but DeConnick is picking up steam with the story that she's currently telling.  I'm happy to hang in there to see the conclusion, though I'm hoping that we'll then return to Earth for some quality time with her supporting cast.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain America #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a lull in the festivities.  Essentially, it's when you decide to get another beer (even though you don't want one) to escape your insane aunt talking about something that she heard on talk radio.  You're really just waiting for the fireworks display so that you can go home and take a nap.

Remender does use the issue to reveal the Iron Nail's master plan.  He's somehow managed to make it look like Nrosvekistan engineered the attack on the Hub in revenge for Nuke's attack, and he's transformed Gungnir into its robot form (really) to destroy Nrosvekistan in retaliation.  Unfortunately, it feels like I'm reading an extra issue of "Batman Eternal," where no one seems capable of making the obvious connections sitting right in front of them.  Can't Nrosvekistan pretty easily make it clear that it didn't bomb the Hub?  I think Remender's point is that the Iron Nail is moving so swiftly that it won't matter; S.H.I.E.L.D. will have already done its dirty work.  But, won't that let S.H.I.E.L.D. off the hook?  If someone made it look like the Nrosvekistanis bombed the Hub when they didn't, it'll be pretty easy for S.H.I.E.L.D. to claim that it was played.

Either way, I'm not sure that the Iron Nail is right about the impact of the destruction of Nrosvekistan.  Sure, it'll be a public-relations nightmare.  The United States might even get sanctioned.  But, once again, can't the United States just say that the Iron Nail took control of the helm of Gungnir?  It should be pretty easy to do.  I think (again) Remender's point is that truth is so fluid in the present that no one will believe the United States.  That may be true in terms of the public, but I doubt that countries are going to invade based on that premise.  Moreover, even if the public does turn against the United States, are they really going to stop using Facebook?  Are they going to stop buying iPads?  In a way, the Iron Nail's point is actually proof that his plan won't work:  truth is so fluid, no one actually really cares about it anymore.  Even if people buy everything that the Iron Nail is selling, they're not going to be moved to action.  Remender could actually have that be the conclusion of this arc; after all, we don't have to believe the Iron Nail is correct to appreciate the horror that Gungnir destroying Nrosvekistan would be, regardless of the fall-out.

My other problem with this issue, beside some seemingly obvious solutions to the problem at hand, is the talky nature of the script.  Remender usually has a lot of monologuing in his stories, but this issue takes it a little too far, in my view. Everyone just talks and talks and talks.  It's not that nothing happens, but I found myself not really paying all that close attention by the end.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

All-New X-Men #27 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Since the start of Bendis' run on the X-titles, he's put Mystique at the center of the mutant community, upgrading her in terms of importance in a similar way that he did with Luke Cage during his Avengers run.  She's the head of the Brotherhood of Mutants, she's running Madripoor (even though I'm pretty sure that the money that she used to pay HYDRA for it was burned in her fight with the original X-Men and the Uncanny Avengers), and she's impersonating Dazzler to get access to S.H.I.E.L.D.  She's definitely a mover and a shaker.  Moreover, she's backing up this omni-presence in mutant affairs with a sort of "Third Way" philosophy, if you will, rejecting Magneto and Xavier's positions and urging mutants simply to use their powers to make their lives easier.  She's right up there with Cyclops and Wolverine at this point.

Bendis takes this centrality one step further in this issue, revealing that the future Xavier is present Xavier's child with Mystique.  Bendis clearly knows how big of a stretch this revelation is.  I think that it's part of the reason why he doesn't confirm or deny whether Charles knew that he was having a child with Mystique or even if he knew that he was sleeping with Mystique herself.  This ambiguity buys Bendis time to lay the groundwork for the story that we'll hopefully be able to believe when it's fully told.  It's going to be important to get it correct, since, regardless of the outcome of the future X-Men's efforts to change the past, the child is now part of current continuity.  (Unless, of course, Logan goes "Age of Ultron" and prevents Charles and Mystique from conceiving future Charles Xavier, but let's not go there.)

However, this revelation isn't the most interesting part of the issue.  Bendis not only gives us future Xavier's origins, but also a glimpse into the start of the future Brotherhood.  Madripoor is the perfect setting for his dark encounter with Raze, revealed to be his half-brother who murdered Mystique at some point in the future.  I'm actually glad to see these characters returning.  In a way, it makes "X-Men:  Battle of the Atom" retroactively better, making it clear that it was just the first skirmish of a long battle.  It still doesn't resolve problems like us not knowing who killed the future Dazzler or why the Brotherhood wanted to send back the original X-Men in the first place, but it seems to hold out the possibility of those answers coming.

**** (four of five stars)

Batman Eternal #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Snyder and Tynion put aside all the ongoing storylines that we've already seen introduced in this series -- the various untruths related to Gordon's actions in the subway station, the mysterious villain's grand plan for Gotham that only Stephanie Brown seems to know, and the coming rise of the girl Robins -- to go all mystical on us.

I have to say that I still feel burned when it comes to the supernatural and Batman after David Finch's disastrous run on "Batman:  The Dark Knight."  Although I certainly acknowledge the role that such stories play in the Batman mythos, I still approach them with unease, given how nonsensical they can become.  However, Snyder and Tynion do a pretty solid job of telling a straightforward story here, revealing that the Joker's Daughter (whoever she is) is engaging in some sort of mystical activity underneath Arkham Asylum, drawing the attention of the Spectre's assistant, Jim Corrigan.  Concluding that Batwing relies on his technology too much after he fails to notice the Gentleman Ghost protecting Falcone's armaments in an abandoned truckyard, Batman sends Batwing to work with Corrigan to get to the bottom of the mystical activity at Arkham.  In this way, the authors not only work in an important  (and so far ignored) aspect of Batman's adventures, but also gets Batwing involved in the act.  It helps further this series' unspoken goal, telling a story that really conveys the depth and breadth of Bruce's world.

The problem is that I'm not sure we really needed yet another mystery at this point in time, particularly a supernatural one.  Snyder and Tynion tie the Gentleman Ghost to Falcone and the summoning to Joker's Daughter, at least giving these events some grounding in non-mystical entities.  But, are they really necessary?  I get that it's going to teach Batwing an important lesson in trusting his senses, but is that something that we really needed to address here, with so many other balls in the air?  It leaves me with the sense that they're rushing things, but I guess that we'll see.

*** (three of five stars)

Batgirl #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Can I be honest and just say that I'm not feeling this book anymore?  I'm actually even thinking of canceling it, something that I didn't think possible ten issues ago.

We get another Baddie of the Month this issue, in the form of Ragdoll, a hired killer (with an affinity for monkeys, apparently).  Barbara's roommate Alysia gets trapped in some sort of struggle between Mr. Rain and Knightfall; the latter wanted to send a warning to him not to pollute Gotham (or something), but the former discovered the plan and sent Ragdoll to stop her agents, namely, Alysia and her friends.  Batgirl naturally saves the day.

My problem is that I'm not really sure what motivates either Knightfall or Mr. Rain.  Wasn't Mr. Rain in the business of growing organs for wealthy clients while living on his eco-friendly farm?  Why then is he polluting Gotham?  Also, isn't Knightfall just trying to kill criminals?  Is she really going after corrupt corporations?  It sort of fights in her self-appointed role as Gotham's protector, but it's still a totally different kettle of fish than secretly manipulating gangs behind the scene.  Also, wouldn't Rain actually be the type of person who she'd cultivate as an ally, given his connections?

Along the way, we're also supposed to believe that Barbara is still carrying a torch for Ricky the car thief.  Maybe now that he's suing her dad for using excessive force she can move onto someone else?  I'm not sure that I'll be there for that moment, though.

** (two of five stars)