Thursday, July 31, 2014

Captain Marvel #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

A-ha!  We knew J'Son was plotting something!

It turns out Torfa has vibranium, and J'Son struck a deal with one of the refugee races to mine it quickly, exposing the rest of the population to vibranium sickness.  Carol discovers this connection after losing Tic on Ursor-4 and hurling a piece of said metal to the ground in frustration; when it escapes unscathed, she puts two and two together.  On Torfa, the treachery of the one race is revealed.  Its leader admits the deal with J'Son:  they'd get the bio-engineering that their race needs to survive (their exo-skeletons are why they didn't get the sickness in the first place) and J'Son would be able to build vibranium-shielded starships.  (I'm guessing that it answers the question why J'Son put the refugees on Torfa in the first place, so that this race could mine the vibranium.)  Disgusted by the refugees turning on each other, Eleanides surrenders to the Spartax, knowing that a divided band of refugees can't possibly win against his fleet.

It's all a remarkable tight story.  DeConnick lets it unfold organically, without relying too much on exposition.  In fact, the only rough spot in the issue for me was that I couldn't remember some details from last issue, namely how the Haffensye wound up kidnapping Tic or how Carol wound up holding the vibranium in the first place.  But, those are pretty minor details that I can clarify by flipping through last issue.  I can't wait to see Carol take on the entire Spartax fleet next issue!

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing X-Men #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, I have to say, I did not see that ending coming.  I mean, I kind of thought that we might see Logan turned into a Wendigo, since the odds definitely didn't seem to be in his favor.  But, I sure as Hell didn't expect him to turn into one just in time to kill Talisman as she was casting the spell to cure Canada of the Wendigo curse.  (Theoretically, she might not be dead, but she looks pretty damn dead here.)  With magic off the table as a possible solution to the problem, you have to wonder how the X-Men are going to cure a few hundred rampaging Wendigo without hurting any of them.  (Paging Dr. Strange?  Or, maybe, Magik?)  My only complaint about this issue is that Talisman seemed to have found the spell to cure the curse pretty quickly.  If it was that easy, you figure somebody would've managed to have done so by now, given that the curse affected, you know, the entire country.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Amazing-Spider-Man #1.3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this series of issues is turning into one of the best Spidey stories in years.

Slott really just does a spectacular job conveying the emotions that a fight between two teenage superheroes would entail.  Often, authors will simply use a hero's lack of experience to remind us that they're young, but Slott goes one better.  Both Clayton and Peter act recklessly, with little understanding of how their actions will affect the people around them.  Despite acknowledging last issue that he might've been too hard on Clash, Pete instantly attacks him here.  Infuriated that his idol ruined his plans, Clayton goes into full super-villain mode, launching a series of sonic blasts at Spidey that cause the roof to collapse.  Aunt May is almost injured in the process, and she tells Clash and Spider-Man that they're both menaces.  By having her come to this conclusion, Slott improves on the original story, since Aunt May's dislike of Spider-Man was always a little irrational when it was first (and, frankly, subsequently) portrayed.  She now has a pretty solid argument why she thinks that Spider-Man is a menace.  Beyond just a disregard for the consequences of their actions, each one of them is convinced that the universe is denying him his chance to shine; Slott lets you hear the adolescent whine in their voices.  As such, you're never not aware that we're not just dealing with a younger version of our Peter, but an entirely different Peter all together.

However, Aunt May is really the star of the show here.  Her conversation with Polly -- and Peter's ensuing embarrassment -- is hilarious, as she deftly handles Polly's revelation that she's a vegetarian by telling her that her beef stew is "mainly peas and carrots."  Moreover, Slott ties her renewed interest in Peter's life to her discovery of the money that Clash gave him under his bed.  Slott again updates Spidey's origin by having her come to the conclusion that the money means that Pete's a drug dealer cooking up meth in his room.  Although Aunt May almost discovering Pete's identity is a well-worn trope by this point, I have to say that I LOLed at Slott's fresh take on it.  In the end, May realizes that she should've trusted Peter, setting up her commitment to re-engage with him.  In other words, every event flows from the previous one, giving this story a nice feel to it.

I'd be remiss if I wrapped up this review without mentioning Pérez's art.  He really manages to evoke a 1960s feel in telling the story, incorporating the modern elements in a way that still feels true to the origin.  Together, Slott and Pérez really are refreshing Peter's origin in a way that doesn't at all change the emotional impact, established facts, or stylistic sensibilities.  It's still fun and funny and touching and tragic.  They're giving us a Spider-Man for modern readers that older readers would absolutely recognize.  (Amazingly, we're still just in issue #2.)  It's really almost unique among these sorts of re-tellings, and DC could learn a thing or two on how to reboot a character without rebooting them.

**** (four of five stars)

All-New X-Men #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this issue.

I totally get -- and accept -- the idea that future Xavier is hell-bent on getting revenge on the present X-Men for sullying his father's legacy.  Although I still think that Bendis has to do a little more in fleshing out why future Xavier feels such filial loyalty to a father that he never met, I still like the idea.  It has a certain symmetry, since, after all, the original X-Men are in the present because present Beast similarly felt that the present X-Men had mucked up stuff.  Bendis is also really nailing the time-loop logic, with the future Brotherhood learning from its mistakes and correcting them in its next trip to the present.  The next time that we see the future Brotherhood, future Xavier will know that Jean has fully developed her psionic powers, something that he didn't know this time and led to his undoing.  Finally, it was clever to reveal that future Xavier forced the future Brotherhood to act.  Bendis was going to need to flesh out the members' individual motives at some point.  By making them puppets of future Xavier, he basically has given us all the explanation that we need (once he clarifies the aforementioned loyalty question).

My only quibble at this point is that we do need some explanation behind why, during "X-Men:  Battle of the Atom," the future Brotherhood felt that it had to return the original X-Men to the past before a certain event transpired.  It's entirely possible that future Xavier simply created that excuse to make it easier to control the other members, but Bendis need either to tell us that or to let us know what the event was in the first place.  Once he does that, I'm pretty much down for a never-ending series of conflicts with the future Brotherhood.  But, until he does it, I'm constantly going to be waiting for this question to be answered, since it was the condition under which we met the future Brotherhood in the first place.

Beyond the issues related to the future Brotherhood and its shenanigans in the present, Bendis does his usual great job of characterization in this issue.  Given Jean's heroics, we get a sense that Emma and the Cuckoos are actually starting to accept her.  Emma telling Jean that maybe she might not be destined to die in a horrible yet beautiful way has the hint of a teacher trying to inspire a student, and the Cuckoos appeared to let Jean into the Hive Mind.  It's a comforting thought, that Jean might not have to be totally isolated, and the mind boggles at what five of the world's most powerful telepaths can do if they're working together.  Moreover, Bendis gives us a great insight into Scott here.  Standing over future Xavier's comatose body, he has a moment where he remembers killing our Xavier.  Although Scott often says that he's haunted by his murder of Xavier, his constant insistence that it was all the Phoenix's fault frequently undermines that sentiment.  Here, we see his grief more fully, and he's a more sympathetic character for it.  It again hints at a reconciliation of both sides somewhere in the future, as Scott comes to atone for his crimes.  Finally, it's just down-right impressive that Bendis handles such a wide range of characters so well.  From future Deadpool's quips to future Beast's interactions with his younger self, it's all pitch-perfect.

I know that Bendis producing this sort of work on the X-titles has become common place, but I have to say that he's really telling an epic story here, between this title and "Uncanny X-Men."  It reminds me of a more organizes and well-plotted version of the Gatherers story in "Avengers," and it continues to be a pleasure to read.

**** (four of five stars)

Grayson #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seeley and King do what they needed to do here, introducing us to Dick's new life without giving away too much information about where we're going.  It's a fun, fast-paced story where we learn what we need to know as we go.  It doesn't try to subvert obvious spy-story tropes (sexy Russian agent!  terrible blond wigs!), but it also manages not to feel formulaic.  In other words, it's a good start.

First, Dick sounds and looks like Dick.  He's handsome, charming, and effective, impressing both Helena Bertinelli and Midnighter.  (To be fair, he seems to mostly impress them in that order, but I'm sure that they'll come to appreciate his effectiveness more sooner or later.  I feel bad for Midnighter that only Helena got to see him shirtless, though I'm also interested to know what his mission was.)  Second, the story is intriguing.  Spyral is collecting super-powered organs related to something called the Paragon Protocol; Dick and Helena's mission in this issue was bringing in a guy smuggling such an organ inside him before its powers caused him to 'splode.  This effort presumably has something to do with Spyral's overall goal of discovering the secret identities of superheroes, though it's still unclear what the connection would be.  We obviously need a lot more information, but it all definitely feels "spy-y."

As I said, it's a solid start.  It's nice to see Dick with an actual mission after he spent most of "Nightwing" drifting from one modus operandi to another.  Hopefully, DC really lets him -- and Seeley and King -- spread their wings here.

*** (three of five stars)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Detective Comics #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.  Manalatto reward our patience in this issue and put almost everything on the table.  Let's walk through the shenanigans.

The Kings of the Sun are in Gotham due to the fact that the Penguin is so distracted by his ongoing war with Falcone that they can set up their own Icarus operation without retribution.  Icarus is apparently mildly radioactive, so they've set up shop in a place that can mask their activity.  However, we learn that Falcone is also in the Icarus business.  Lester (the Wayne Enterprises VP that Bullock caught falsifying records last issue) tells Bullock that Congressman Sam Young was the one who asked him to do so, and we know that Young is definitely on Falcone's payroll.  If Lester falsified records to hide the fact that Falcone was smuggling into Gotham waste containers that could contain radioactive material, then it seems clear that Falcone has his own Icarus operation.  Moreover, Batman is led to an abandoned Kane Industries power plant since the Kings had some stolen equipment from there; Harvey is led there because it's a place where Falcone's men could cook up Icarus without anyone knowing.  The Kings and Falcone are clearly connected by similar equipment and locations, but it's unclear what the connection is.  Are they competitors or colleagues?  If they were working together, they aren't any longer.  We learn this issue that Holter, the head of the Kings, is Annette's father, and he's looking for revenge for Elena's death.  Since Falcone put out the hit on her (through the Squid's brother), it's clear that they're no longer cooperating.

Also running through this arc, Manalatto explore Batman's relationship with Harvey.  I love this version of Harvey.  He's constantly crossing the line, beating Lester in an alleyway to get Young's name.  In fact, Batman accuses him of murdering his partner, though it's obviously more complicated than that, based on Bullock's reaction.  Snyder and Tynion have been portraying Harvey as essentially a mindless patsy in "Batman Eternal," so it's great to see him as his own man here.

The Annette/Holter and Batman/Bullock interactions in this issue really provide an emotional charge, making it a more layered story than just a simple detective story.  However, it's still a helluva detective story.  Manalatto aren't writing for the trade here, since I can follow the story from issue to issue without too much of a problem.  But, I do look forward to re-reading the whole arc and following the story more closely.  This story is exactly the story that we should be seeing in "Detective Comics."  I was worried about Layman leaving, but I'm glad that he's gotten worthy successors.

**** (four of five stars)

Batman Eternal #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm mostly OK with this issue.  (Shocking, right?)

First, Snyder and Tynion make it clear that Bard is using methods that significantly cross the line.  At the end of last issue, I raised an eyebrow over the fact that he illegally wiretapped Mayor Hady's conversation with Commissioner Forbes, where Hady ordered Forbes to release Falcone's men.  But, Snyder and Tynion clarify in this issue that it's part of Bard's modus operandi.  In fact, Bard is so bold that he even admits to Hady that he has the recording, even though Hady would know that he obtained it illegally.  But, Snyder and Tynion show how clever Bard is.  He uses the fact that Vicky Vale has the recording to shake down Falcone's location from Hady; he never intended to use it as evidence in a case against Hady.  As if illegal wiretapping wasn't enough, Bard anonymously passes this information to the Penguin, so that he can entrap him and Falcone when the Penguin inevitably goes to confront him.  Again, Bard brings along Vale, making it irrelevant if he manages to get convictions.  It's all rather brilliant, really.  But, it's also seriously ethically compromised.

These actions happen on the margins of a conversation between Gordon and Batman in Blackgate, where we're left to draw our own conclusions about whether Gordon really planned on escaping or just left his cell "to lock the door."  The important part of the conversation is Gordon telling Batman that maybe it's time to pass the torch to kids like Bard, since he fears that he fired that fateful shot because he had been pushing himself too hard.  Snyder and Tynion seem to be setting up just this passing of the torch in this issue, except Bruce decides that Bard's tactics are too questionable to trust him fully.  I wanted to see exactly this moment, and I'm glad that Snyder and Tynion gave it to us.  No matter how effective Bard is, he's still taking some serious risks, with both his life and others.  I have my doubts that he's going to be alive to succeed Gordon.  But, Bruce would particularly disapprove of Bard risking other people's lives; in fact, Bard sending the Penguin after Falcone results in the death of Falcone's 12 bodyguards.  Gordon is Gordon because he does it the hard way.  Batman -- and Snyder and Tynion -- get that.

I'm always happy with this series when we don't have to address the ridiculousness of the charges against Gordon.  Looking ahead, it would be nice to see Batman actually do something.  So far, the only ones in action are his supporting cast:  Red Robin tracking down the toxins used on the kids in Gotham, Batgirl and Red Hood investigating who set up Gordon, and Batwing exploring the Hell under Arkham Asylum.  It would be nice to see Batman actually get his hands dirty at this point.

*** (three of five stars)

Batgirl #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

[Sigh.]  This arc is supposed to be Simone's farewell to the series, wrapping up Barbara's war with Knightfall.  I'd be all for that, if it made sense.

First, part of the problem with this issue is that Simone displays some really sloppy writing by relying too often on clichéd plot devices.  Barbara fully embraces the "heroes fight the first time that they meet" trope by whaling on Huntress, until Canary convinces her to stop, since the Huntress doesn't return fire (so to speak).  Then, Simone employs the "confidante says that she knows the hero's identity only to reveal that she's mistaken" trope by having Alysia tell Barbara that she "knows" that she's...an undercover cop.  (Whew.)  Simone at least injects a little originality in her tropes by having it be the woman in bed with two hot men when she scripts the "underling disturbing the boss in a moment of hedonism" trope.  I could continue, but I think that you get the picture.

But, beyond just some lazy scripting, I'm still not sure where we're going, a problem considering that we only have one issue left in the arc.  I've read all #36 issues of this series (including the two annuals and the #0 issue), and I still have no idea what Knightfall wants.  We learn that she's ordered all criminals to leave Cherry Hill, and that she's assembled an army to accomplish this task.  But, it doesn't really make any sense.  Why just have them leave Cherry Hill?  Won't they just, like, cross the street into another neighborhood?  Does it really take an army to achieve that?  How does that achieve her larger goal?  Also, shouldn't Barbara be helping her to do that?  Is Barbara now pro-criminal?

I think that I'm canceling this series.  I know that we've got this splashy new creative team coming on board to give this series a lighter tone, but I just think that the damage has been done.  This series used to consistently be one of my favorites, but it's drifted into such nonsensical territory that it's hard just to get through the issues now.  It's clear that Simone's war with her editors weighed down the story that she wanted to tell, and I'm glad that Barbara is getting another chance.  But, I'll just have to read about that in "Batman Eternal."

* (one of five stars)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It was pretty clear from the start of this series that we weren't going to get a happy ending.  This issues confirms that hunch.

The increased violence that Remender and Boschi show Bucky and Ran using throughout this issue effectively conveys the characters' desperation.  Remender starts the issue giving them all a brief moment of hope, with Bucky plotting to kill his Soviet handlers before coming in from the cold and Ran imaging a future with Mila.  But, then the Soviets find them, and everything goes to Hell.  Nick Fury taking out the helicopter carrying Bucky and Mila is a brilliant stroke, since his actions lead not only to the rebirth of the Winter Soldier (after the Soviets recover his body) but also the birth of the Iron Nail (as Ran is now filled with hate when they send them to infiltrate Mao's camp).  It's just a reminder how often S.H.I.E.L.D. makes short-sighted decisions, something that Marvel has been doing a great job highlighting lately.

This mini-series is really a testament to Remender's ability to create new villains and not just rehash old ones.  I'm hard pressed to think of a better new villain -- other than Remender's own Apocalypse Twins -- than the Iron Nail, so I'm glad Marvel gave Remender a chance to develop him more fully here.  I'd love to see Remender return to Ran some day and show us his conversion to the communist cause.  At this point, we really only see him a broken man.  I intellectually understand how years of living with Mao as well as getting unlimited power from Fin Fang Foom turn him into the lunatic that we eventually saw in "Captain America," but it would be interesting to see that process first-hand.

*** (three of five stars)

Original Sins #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ugh.  This series sucks.  Don't buy it.

We're supposed to believe that the Young Avengers are so naive that they buy the Hood's story that he only turned to crime to help pay his mom's hospital bills and that he's trying to save the drug addicts so that he can be her "little Mister Fantastic."  Yup.  Sure.  He's absolutely going to use those secrets that he collects for good.  Sure he is.  I'm sure that we're going to learn that Prodigy installed some sort of fail-safe into his colander-based Cerebro to make sure that the Hood can't misuse this information, but I have absolutely no interest in watching that development present itself.

Given the fact that the other stories in this issue involve the discovery that JJJ, Jr. once wrote an article praising Spider-Man as a great entertainer during his wrestling career and some Inhuman whose ancestors physically manifest themselves on his body as talking heads, I have no choice but to give this issue one star, something that still feels like a gift.

* (one of five stars)

Original Sin #5.1/Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I've always loved Thor stories, and I have to wonder why I've never really subscribed to any of his various titles.  After reading this issue, I'm particularly confused why I'm not subscribing to "Loki:  Agent of Asgard."  I'm going to have to remedy both those problems shortly.

Obviously, I enjoyed this issue.  Aaron gives us a great plot, Ewing provides an excellent script full of real emotion but also lighter moments, and Garbett manages to capture each character's personality in simply their evocative facial expressions.  Moreover, Bianchi's two-page splash panel showing the grandeur of the Tenth Realm was a brilliant addition.  Strong, strong, strong.

I love the idea that Angela is Thor's sister, because it takes a character awkwardly inserted into the Marvel Universe and really explains it in a way that actually makes sense.  She was unknowingly held captive in a Tenth Realm that Odin removed from the rest of the realms after its leader seemingly killed Angela during a war with Asgard.  We still don't know why the "angels" from this Tenth Realm and Asgard were at war, but Aaron will presumably get there.  But, it all makes sense, like Marvel planned "Original Sin" specifically to bring about this revelation.  It's unusually tight storytelling, and I have to applaud Marvel for how much of All-New Marvel has changed characters' status quo in ways that feel innovative and organic.  The House of Ideas feels on firmer foundation than it has been for a while, and this issue really demonstrates that.

I can't wait to see where we go from here.  The idea that Thor and young Loki have needlessly entered the Tenth Realm (and, presumably, reconnected it to the other realms) is exactly the sort of bone-headed rush into a problem that you expect from Thor.  I can't wait to see what sort of trouble that it invites.  If you decided not to get this series due to your (understandable) Point One exhaustion, change your mind.  

***** (five of five stars)

All-New Invaders #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wait, what?

I was following this issue pretty well.  Jim's tells the story of Radiance's grandmother convincing the Invaders not to use their powers to sink the Japanese fleet with a tsunami since it would kill the innocent people living in the outlying islands.  Moreover, Radiance is understandably upset when she discovers that the United States' Plan B was dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, meaning that her grandmother inadvertently brought about those events.  Her resultant outburst destroys the S.H.I.E.L.D. base.  But, Jim takes the heat (heh) for her, since she also saved the lives of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in the ensuing blast.  I'm not sure that Robinson made her an interesting enough character that I'm excited that Hammond kept her in the game by saving her from S.H.I.E.L.D. putting her in a hole somewhere, but it's a good enough story, particularly for an event tie-in issue.

My main problem with this issue before the last page was that Robinson's prose seems to be getting worse.  The first two pages are painfully awkward exposition.  Hammond skips to the end of his story, but the debriefer interrupts him to relay the story so far to the reader and then insists that Jim returns where we ended last issue.  It's terribly obvious as it's happening, and it just starts off the issue on a bad note.  But, the last page makes this complaint a minor distraction.  Suddenly, Jim reveals to his handler that he knows that he's an artificial man.  He expresses distaste that S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't give him a "real human."  But, instead of it just being an issue of segregation, the handler suddenly reveals that he's also some sort of alien, declaring, "My mission on Earth was about done anyway."  What the what?  Did this guy infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. just to get access to Hammond?  If so, why?  If not, what was his mission?  Did Jim just discover him by chance?  

I want to like this series, given that it's a combination of James Robinson (whose "Earth 2" work I loved, exposition and all) and some of the my favorite characters.  But, between the prose and these sorts of bizarre endings, I keep feeling like I don't know what's happening from issue to issue or where we're going.  Robinson managed to pull it together to deliver a solid first arc, but the "All-New Invaders" now seems to have become "Jim Hammond, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and I'm not sure how interested in that story I am.  I guess we'll see where we go from here, since I'm excited to learn Toro's fate.  But, Robinson really has to sell me on this series with that arc.

** (two of five stars)

The Royals: Masters of War #1-#6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I read the first five issues of this series in one sitting and impatiently waited for the sixth one.  When it finally came, I wasn't disappointed.

I find the conceit of this series fascinating, and I'm surprised that more people aren't talking about it.  I loved the idea that the royal families of the world are actually mutants; their bloodlines now mean something beyond the odd facial structures that come with in-breeding.  Williams uses the Second World War as the device to tease out a world with empowered royals, when the young British prince Henry breaks the agreement between the families that they wouldn't get involved in wars between their countries.  This agreement itself is fascinating, since it goes to the idea that the royal families see themselves as separate from the people that they rule.  The immortal Japanese emperor is a great example of this distance, since his powers have given him experiences that truly do separate him from humanity at large.  

But, this series is really a family drama.  Henry's incestuous love for his sister Rose was unexpected, and I found myself questioning in the first few issues why Williams included it.  But, in the end, it goes to this idea of "separateness."  (I'm sure the Germans have a great compound noun to describe this phenomenon.)  Henry is so disconnected from the world that he's left with only his sister to love, in a nod to "Flowers in the Attic."  (Is that why she was named Rose?)  Again, it's taking the idea of royal families to an extreme to consider the lives that they live.  Moreover, Williams showing the depths of Henry's isolation makes the character all the more heroic, since he's still able to see across that divide and commit to saving his people.

But, Williams doesn't just make everyone as sympathetic characters as Henry.  For example, Henry's father considered their family so above the population that he forgets his role as the people's leader in the first place, betraying Britain to Germany to save his family.  Of course, his definition of "saving" them includes killing three of the five members of his immediate family.  Here, Williams complicates matters by making it clear that ascribing their behavior to isolation might be a stretch.  Maybe Henry really just loved his sister and the King was really just crazy.  (Rather than incest or insanity, Henry's brother simply choose to drink away his loneliness.)

It's this complex psychological examination of the characters that fuels this series, and we don't end it with any tidy diagnosis.  I was surprised when I learned that this series was only six issues, since I feel like Williams has really hit on a great idea here.  I'd love for him to use it to set up an ongoing series set in the present or a near future.  In the meantime, I'd highly recommend this rather depressing read for anyone looking for an offbeat take on the superhero genre.

***** (five of five stars)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Original Sin #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This book continues to be full of win.  Aaron keeps up the excellent storytelling, answering just enough existing questions to leave us satisfied while introducing enough new ones to keep us engaged.

We learn a lot about Nick Fury here.  At some point, some shadowy group that included Howard Stark offered Nick the job of secretly protecting the world from alien threats.  He accepted, but also kept up his day job at S.H.I.E.L.D.  Given the fact that he's aged, he clearly swapped out his S.H.I.E.L.D. self with a L.M.D. at some point, though it's unclear if he actually controlled said L.M.D (or said army of L.M.D.s, in all likelihood).  A philosophy professor could probably teach an entire class on the question of identity using Nick as a case study.  Aaron implies that Nick might've killed the Watcher in order to hush up his activities (since Uatu was the only one that knew about them), but it seems more likely that the assassin is actually also after Nick.

But, as I said, we still have questions.  First, we don't know why Nick sent the teams to find the "victims" of his activities in the first place.  Couldn't he have just approached them directly about his connection to the Watcher's death, whatever it turns out being?  It seemed like Nick didn't want them to discover that he was behind the murders, but, if that's the case, why send them to find the bodies in the first place?  Also, if Nick didn't kill the Watcher, why would someone want both of them (Uatu and Nick) dead?

The good news is that Aaron delivers all this information -- and raises the new questions -- in an organic way.  It never feels particularly expository, since it makes sense that Nick is telling his story to the assembled heroes.  Moreover, I loved how Aaron uses their responses to Nick's story to show who they are as characters.  Dr. Strange claims that Nick couldn't have committed these "crimes," Emma disagrees with that assessment (without showing any real disapproval), and the Punisher doesn't even see them as crimes in the first place.  Great stuff.

With the announcement that the Winter Soldier is getting a new series to become the Earth's protector, it's pretty clear that he's taking up Nick's role, one that works well for a guy trying to pretend to be dead on Earth.  But, it also leaves open Nick's fate.  With his son working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Bucky taking over his galactic responsibilities, do we really need Nick Fury anymore?  I guess we'll see.

**** (four of five stars)

New Warriors #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I know Marvel is really trying to make this Inhumans thing happen, but it really needs Rachel McAdams to tell them that it's not going to happen.

I mean, OK, I sort of get where they're going here.  Some of the newly minted Inhumans decide that they're superior to human, probably because their lives as humans weren't so great.  They've somehow all found each other, and they seem to follow a leader called Lash.  I get that part.  Sometimes, bullies are just waiting to get power to be born.  However, I'm not quite sure why they're so hellbent on recruiting Haechi, since they don't seem to be trying to recruit all the new Inhumans and he doesn't seem particularly interested in joining their ranks.  But, it seems like we'll learn more next issue.

Meanwhile, we've got some Celestial-powered humanoids arriving on Earth and the team on Wundagore Mountain can't find the source of evil that possessed Water Snake.  I'm glad to see Yost stay on this latter story, since I was worried that it would fade into the background without us getting an explanation.

Despite Marvel pushing the Inhumans bit, I like Haechi.  I'm eager to see us wrap up his origin story here so that we can move onto other pursuits, but I'm willing to give Yost an issue or two more to do so before I start complaining loudly.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Miracleman #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For the fact that Miracleman unexpectedly kills Gargunza in this issue, I have to say that it didn't have that strong of an impact on me.

It's not to say that it's a bad issue.  Moore handles it all pretty beautifully.  He shows that Mike isn't as helpless as he thinks that he is, realizing that he can de-activate Miracledog (heh) by speaking his activation word.  He also shows an increasingly brutal Miracleman, making you wonder if the concerns that the government had about the project weren't well founded.  If human life stops having any real meaning to him and he starts thinking of himself like a god (as he does when he brings Gargunza into orbit), then we've pretty clearly got a problem.  My only real complaint is that Gargunza was a little too much the stereotypical super-villain in not only giving Cream and Mike a fighting chance, but also in underestimating Moran figuring out the way to de-activate Miracledog, since no one is more familiar with that transition than he is.  Conversely, though, Gargunza pays the price for this arrogance with is life, something most of other super-villains manage to avoid.

Looking to future issues, we're definitely heading into new territory.  Two of the major characters of this arc -- Cream and Gargunza -- are gone, and you've got to wonder where we're going.  We know that a confrontation with Kid Miracleman is coming, so I wonder what events will lead us there.

*** (three of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Peter Quill calling Kitty Pryde from prison and telling her to call him "Baby Boo" (like Rocket does) because she's had  'bad luck with Peters" is the greatest thing to ever happen in a comic ever.  Or maybe Groot, Peter, and Rocket signing karaoke, though, to be fair, we only see a flashback image of that.

Beyond just amazing moments, we learn a few things in this issue.  Peter has successfully dethroned J'Son as the emperor of the Spartax, presumably as a result of his televised rant at the end of "Guardians of the Galaxy" #16.  No one's apparently running the place, and pirates are running wild throughout the (former) empire.  (The Badoon pirates in this issue are pretty great.  I've never really gotten a read on the Badoon.  They're generally pretty unremarkable, more often than not portrayed as a sort of monolithic entity composed of mindless soldiers.  But, Humphries actually gives this band of pirates some personality.  More Badoon pirates!)  We also learn that J'Son has a half-sister, the Captain of the Spartax Guard.  That should go well.  Finally, we learn that Peter is planning on confronting Thanos in twelve days.  I'm assuming that we're going to get more information about that during the "Original Sin" tie-in issues of "Guardians of the Galaxy."  In this issue, he steals one of the most powerful gems in the galaxy to prepare for the confrontation.  Again, that should end well.

Humphries challenge in this issue was to explain why we need this series, beyond just milking the upcoming Guardians movie.  But, he reminds us that the Guardians are a loose confederation at best.  Rocket also has his own series, and I would really love one with Gamora, since I'm sure her moments away from the team are interesting, to say the least.  Humphries appears ready to focus on Peter's less-reputable pursuits, like girls and piracy.  I'm 100% in favor of that.  I continue to be concerned that Bendis and Humphries have ditched the wry, British sense of humor that Giffen and DnA gave him in the various "Annihilation" mini-series and instead turned him into Chris Pratt.  But, on some level, a goofy, American sense of humor probably makes more sense.  Either way, I'm there.

**** (four of five stars)

Captain America #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow, we cover a lot of ground in this issue.

First, I like how Remender only half-heartedly tries to get us to buy Maria and Nick's argument that S.H.I.E.L.D. should keep Gungnir.  Nick tries to pretend that the ever-expanding Avengers' roster raises the same governance and oversight questions as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s operations.  Remender also shows that Nick isn't the only person to hold this position through a news clip of a talking head ranting about the need to hold Captain America responsible to the people that he serves (after his alleged work with Nuke in Nrosvekistan).  But, Cap doesn't buy it, and you can tell that Remender doesn't either.

But, the interesting part is that it's not Steve's fight to fight anymore.  Remender uses the Avengers' brain trust to make it clear that he's not putting Cap in the field any time soon, given Bruce and Tony's failure to find a way to re-super-soldier him.  This week's announcement that Sam is going to be the next Cap doesn't hurt either.  Remender continues to write a better Sam than anyone that I can remember.  Coming on the heels of the character's scene-stealing role in "Captain America:  The Winter Soldier," it's really the renaissance that the Falcon has needed for a long time.  It goes to a point that I often made about Sharon Carter.  She got dropped from the "Secret Avengers" roster once Cap left, as if she couldn't be a character in her own right.  Sam also gets treated this way not infrequently, and I'm excited to see him emerge as his own hero.

The only questionable part of this issue for me was Jet's characterization.  She suddenly develops a personality here, as well as an enjoyment for alcohol, despite telling the S-Man who offered her some in "Captain America" #16.NOW that she doesn't "pollute her body with mind-altering substances."  But, of course, in that issue, she knew that said S-Man wasn't exactly trust-worthy.  In the end, I've decided that I don't care.  I like this Jet.  Plus, it's not like she's unrecognizable.  She still makes everyone - particularly men - nervous, and I enjoy that thoroughly.

Oh, did I mention that Zola is alive and successfully invades Earth here?  (I told you that a lot happened.)  Remender doesn't say it, but it's easy enough to believe that decades have passed in Dimension Z and Zola managed to re-grow himself (or whatever it is that he does).  We'll probably get that proof when we learn next issue that the armored figure is an adult Ian.  Can I just say how excited that I am about that reunion?  It's not like Steve couldn't use a win.  He'll also need the help:  Zola isn't just acting alone.  He's putting into action some sort of master plan with the Red Skull.  Man, Sam is going to have his hands full.

If Brubaker's work on "Captain America" gave us the definitive Bucky story, then I have to say that Remender's run is starting to feel like the definitive Steve story (and, clearly, Sam story).  It's been a journey, taking him from a child to a senior citizen and exploring his challenges and struggles along the way.  I haven't been this excited for "Captain America" in years.

**** (four of five stars)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Earth 2 #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The beauty of this series is how remarkably layered that it is.  Over the last few years, comics have become obsessed with chasing new readers, pushing authors to tell stories that required no knowledge of a character or its history.  Thankfully, both Robinson and Taylor reject this school of thought.  "Earth 2" is telling a story that started all the way in issue #1, and each successive issue has built on the previous one, leading to this moment.  It's a joy to read.

In the issue at hand, a lot happens at once.  Jonathan ruins Clark's attempt to have a family meal by no longer staying silent on his son returning as a "mass-murdering zealot with a dead robot wife."  Clark kills him, leading Lois to conclude that it's not really Clark.  Taylor makes you really wonder what Lois is going to do now that she's decided that she's no longer dealing with her husband.  To complicate matters, though, Clark's emotional profession of love to Lois certainly feels real.  Relationships, man.  Meanwhile, GL's gambit worked, and Atlantis manages to take out the parademons.  Moreover, Flash is pushed to his limits, enabling him to run to infinity and push Beguiler into it.  I liked this moment the best, I have to say.  Jay has been underused in recent issues, and I'm glad to see him in the game again.  He had been replaced by Jimmy Olsen for a while, but Taylor makes sure that his return is unique, accomplishing something that only he can do and allowing him to grow in the process.

But, as usual, every success that the team manages to achieve is met with a challenge.  Sloan figures out the way to activate the portal to bring Earth into Apokolips' orbit.  So, congratulations on winning the battle against the parademons and the Beguiler, folks; unfortunately, you may have just lost the war.  GL tries to hold Earth in place, but Clark arrives to stop him.  Once again, another hero is forced to test himself in this issue, as Val finally confronts Kal.  It's pretty clear that he's going to be the last Superman standing at the end of next issue, but it'll be interesting to see how we get there. 

Looking at this issue as a whole, Taylor is just really a marvel at the scripting.  It was always Robinson's weakness, but Taylor finally gives us a combination of excellent dialogue and ambitious plotting that this series needed.  You can almost hear Lois growl, "You're not Clark," like the heroine in a horror movie, and Jay's diatribe at Beguiler feels organic and not expository.  They turn these moments from convenient plot development into real emotional conclusions.  When you add in hints of future plots -- like the mysterious fourth Kryptonian that Clark's parents sent to Earth and Dr. Fate's comment about "worlds end" alluding to the upcoming "Earth 2:  World's End" series  -- it's just great stuff from start to finish.

***** (five of five stars)

Batman Eternal #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, we're finally starting to get somewhere.

First, Bard's plan is a pretty damn solid one.  He busts up a meeting of Falcone's henchmen on the pretense that they're supplying Batman with munitions.  He takes them into custody given all the illegal drugs and firearms that they have on hand, even though it just so happens that they were working with Falcone and not Batman.  He then ties the Commissioner's hands by bringing along Vicky Vale, since he can't exactly force Bard to release them in front of the press.  I'm a little less clear on the story that Vicky's going to write about the Commissioner's phone call with Falcone, since she gets that information from wiretapping, something that I assume is illegal even in Gotham.  But, we'll see.  Bard's pretty crafty, so he's probably got something up his sleeve.

But, Synder and Tynion really up the tension by making it appear that Gordon may accept his son's offer to free him.  James, Jr. delights in his father's fall from grace, telling Gordon that he's broken just like James, Jr. is.  Layman's scripting of the conversation is excellent, making you really believe that Gordon might accept the narrative about himself that James is telling him, particularly given Gotham's apparently easy rejection of him.  I still don't buy that rejection, as I've detailed in other reviews, but it makes sense that it would lead Gordon to question why he's willing to sacrifice himself for people who would so easily abandon him.  As such, we've got the possibility that Bard's plan could exonerate Gordon too late, since he'll have already escaped and accepted life as a fugitive.  I'm doubtful that we'll get there, but Layman crafts the conversation with James, Jr. so well that you're forced to entertain it.


Moreover, we learn that Professor Pyg had nothing to do with the nanobots, and Stephanie's father toying with her by bringing her into the open.  I'm not a fan of the latter development, since it's a little too super-villain-y for me, taking risks that I don't necessarily understand.  Why not just kill her?  But, it's not enough to torpedo the issue for me.  Finally, I finally like an issue!  Hurrah!

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender answers the question that I've been asking since issue #7, confirming that Kang always intended for the Twins to use Jarnbjorn to kill the Celestial.*  But, he does so much more than just that in this issue.  He also makes it clear how long of a game Kang has been playing.  He needed Thor to ensorcel Jarnbjorn so that it was capable of slaying the Celestial and Exitar.  He needed the Twins to kill the Celestial so that Exitar would come to Earth seeking vengeance.  He needed Exitar to destroy the Earth so that he could convince the future super-villains to form the Chronos Corps.  He then needed Thor to return to the past so that he could prevent Exitar from destroying Earth.  At the end of this issue, it all comes together:  the Chronos Corps holds off the Avengers while Kang drinks in Exitar's life force, becoming a cosmic force in his own right.  It is the work of a highly skilled manipulator, and Kang finally stands triumphant at the end.

But, on some level, this issue isn't about Kang.  After all, Kang has seemingly been triumphant before; we have no real reason to believe that he'll stay so for long.  Instead, this issue is really all about Rogue and Wanda.  I've previously criticized Scott Snyder for writing "Batman" as if everyone is merely there to teach Bruce the lesson that he has to learn that month.  Characters are constantly acting against type simply because it advances the story that Snyder needs to tell.  But, Remender proves why he's telling a higher level of story here.  Everyone acts according to his or her established character as the story unfolds, and, along the way, each character learn the lessons that s/he not only needed to learn, but that the events logically forced him or her to learn.  Rogue learns to trust Wanda because she realizes the dangers of acting rashly, something that Rogue clearly needed to learn.  (Her actions leading to the destruction of Earth also seem to be a good inspiration for learning this lesson).

As a result, after almost a decade, Wanda now stands fully rehabilitated in the eyes of the superhero community.  After "Avengers:  The Children's Crusade" and this story, it feels emotionally real, like Cyclops' slow descent into darkness.  It wasn't just Remender waving his hands to make it happen.  As a reward, we now have a fully united Unity Squad.  A lot of authors would've rushed the moment, particularly as the memory of "Avengers vs. X-Men" faded.  The squad would've just been presented as united, and, to be honest, we probably would've accepted it.  But, Remender took his time, and now I'm really excited to read about a truly united Unity Squad.  Of course, they just have to survive next issue.

* I'm going to go down a rabbit hole here, so I'm putting it at the end for anyone not as anal-retentive as I am.  We've been at this story for 21 issues, so it's hard to remember all the details at times.  But, if I remember correctly, the Twins were initially in our time implementing a plan for Kang.  It was originally unclear if the murder of the Celestial was part of Kang's plan or if the Twins did it on their own.  It now appears that Kang manipulated the Twins into killing the Celestial, even though it wasn't part of the plan that he told them that they were implementing.  Although it's not essential, it would be interesting to learn, at some point, what plan the Twins thought that they were following for Kang.  If killing the Celestial was a deviation from it, what did Kang tell them that they were being sent to this time to do?  If it was part of plan, where did the Twins actually deviate?  Was it the Rapture and Planet X?

***** (five of five stars)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Warriors #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, this issue is pretty awesome.  I liked that Yost didn't drag out the story behind whatever it was possessing Water Snake.  We didn't have to wait 20 issues for a revelation that made no sense.  (Can you tell I've been reading comics too long?)  That said, I'm hoping that it's not over, since I'm not entirely sure what happened.  An agent from the elder demon Chthon tried to gain a foothold in the world, possibly through Water Snake?  OK, sure.  But, Yost still needs to tell us how Water Snake found herself as the vehicle for that in the first place.  Was it connected to Mount Wundagore somehow?  If not, it's feeling a bit random.  

Water Snake aside, Yost also does a great job showing Vance hold his own with the Avengers.  When Cap throws Stamford at him, he throws the Civil War at Cap and Tony, reminiscent of Billy asking the superhero community during "Young Avengers:  The Children's Crusade" why people like Wolverine don't have to pay for their sins but Wanda would never be allowed to escape hers.  The Avengers brand is as tarnished as the Warrior brand, and the Avengers not seeing that gives Vance all the more reason to try to make the Warriors into something that inspires confidence again.  Moreover, Yost didn't just drop Mount Wundagore into New York Bay to set up that confrontation; it's also going to be the team's new HQ.  It's this type of layered storytelling that makes for a good book, and Yost shows all the skill that he displayed in "Scarlet Spider" is still there.  Great stuff.

Unfortunately, we're now due for the obligatory event tie-in issue, but hopefully we'll escape with minimum damage.  (Apparently the Inhumans have bad guys?)

**** (four of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 (HERE BE SPOILER!)

This issue is a little...speech-y.  Blah blah blah Peter lecturing his father blah blah blah.  But, if you can get past that, it's still fun. 

Bendis manages to liberate the Guardians in ways that feel organic, with maybe a little help from their captors' general incompetence.  I didn't see Angela and Carol rescuing Gamora and Peter (respectively) coming.  But, Bendis makes it work, informing us that the Badoon and Spartax were televising their punishments, alerting Angela and Carol to their plight.  I also bought that the Supreme Intelligence saw the writing on the wall once Peter escaped and freed Rocket before the Guardians appeared on his doorstep.  Similarly, it's not hard to believe that the Skrulls were so overconfident that they thought they could release and control the symbiote without it returning to Flash.  I'm assuming that the gang is going to get together again in time to save Drax, though it's not like I necessarily think that Gladiator is sure to win their fight to the death.

However much fun this issue was, I'll admit that I'm starting to wonder where we're going exactly.  Peter gives his moving speech about the Guardians being the people to save the citizens of the galaxy that J'Son manipulates, but we actually haven't really seen the Guardians save all that many people.  They basically saved Jean Grey.  I feel like this series is in some serious need of an "Annihilation" type of story, spanning a number of issues, to deliver on the promise of the Guardians as, well, guardians.  In other words, Bendis has to give them someone to actually guard.  Peter can only drink and hit on girls in so many space bars before he has to do something.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I actually don't have much to say about this issue, since it's mostly just Slott stoking the fires (heh) that he's planning on building to a conflagration.  (OK, I'll stop with the metaphors now.)

But, let's start with the good.  First, I thought that it was really clever to put Peter at the scene of the fire because the scanners that his team invented to track Electro led him there.  Second, JJJ, Jr. as Bill O’Reilly is perhaps the greatest thing that Dan Slott has given to “Amazing Spider-Man."  I thought that making him Mayor was inspired, but, really, this one takes the cake.  I can't even imagine how much fun Slott is going to have writing him.

Now, we'll get to the bad.  It's not that it's terrible, but I still am having trouble buying the Black Cat's vendetta.  On one hand, Slott does us a solid by making it clear that it's not just about making Spidey pay.  Before, the situation seemed easily resolvable, since Peter would tell Felicia that Otto had controlled his body, explaining his actions.  Instead, Slott makes it more complicated:  Felicia is worried about her reputation as well, so she needs to be seen as taking down Spider-Man to regain her standing.  I sort of get ti, but the problem is that I'm not sure who Felicia is trying to impress.  Super-villains?  It's been a long time since Felicia was a villain, and she certainly has never been a "super-villain" per se.  Is she just worried that people at the Old Thieves home are going to make fun of her?  It's not really a trivial matter, since it does involve Spider-Man's former lover deciding to kill him simply so that people think that she's a bad ass.  Again, I don't really buy it.

But, at least it's not Otto.  Slott writes Pete much better than he did Otto.  I loved him imitating Otto and wondering how no one noticed that he was gone, though I'm not letting Slott off the hook for having us wonder the same thing for the entirety of "Superior Spider-Man."  Too little, too late on that front, pal.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Original Sins #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I love Dane Whitman.  He was one of my favorite characters in the "Avengers" during Bob Harras' run.  (I keep meaning to re-read that run, since I was totally obsessed with Proctor and the Gatherers in the day.)  I would love to see him return to the Avengers, and hopefully we'll see them help him overcome the bloodlust that the Ebony Blade is inspiring in him, as we learn in this issue.  (Of course, I'm not really getting the main Avengers series right now, since I can't stand Jonathan Hickman, but I'm willing to play the long game here.)

The less said about the Hood and Young Avengers story, the better.  Ugh.  The Hood is trying to help his drug-addict cousin (and his fellow drug-addicts) after the exposure to the Watcher's secrets fried their already "altered" consciousnesses.  Sure.  North doesn't really tell us why the Hood suddenly decides that he wants to help people, which makes it almost impossible to believe anything that happens here. I hope Allan Heinberg and Kieron Gillen aren't reading this series.

** (two of five stars)

Original Sin #3.1/Hulk vs. Iron Man (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'll admit that I was skeptical about this mini-series within a mini-series.  It seemed clear from the start that they were going to connect Iron Man to the creation of the Hulk, since it's likely the only thing that could really enrage Bruce to the extent that we saw in issue #3.  But, then I saw that Kieron Gillen and Mark Waid were writing the mini-series, and I found myself hopeful.  Then, I thought about it some more and realized that it was probably a good thing if the plot was so obvious to me before I picked up the first issue, since it meant that the story might actually be believable.

The good news is that believable it is.  Tony sabotages Bruce's gamma bomb from a combination of jealousy over someone being possibly as smart as he is and anger over a confrontation they had where Bruce accused him of being a drunk war-monger.  Waid gets the emotions exactly right here, reminding us of the impulsive young man that Tony was during this era.

The only hitch is that I continue to find eye-roll worthy Marvel's recent decision -- mostly in light of the "Avengers" movie -- to make Bruce and Tony long-time "science bros."  It's not really true, and it feels exactly as ridiculous as the introduction of Nick Fury's African-American son.  But, Marvel has been at this game for a while, so I'm not going to hold it against Gillen and Waid.  After all, it's actually more or less believable that Tony would've had knowledge of the creation of the gamma bomb, and the rest is a history that we'll see unfold over the next few issues.  If all these "Original Sin" ret-con stories are as good as this one, I'll be a happy camper.

**** (four of five stars)

Justice League #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to say, Johns really pulls off the conversation between Bruce and Lex.  It's as tense as you'd expect it to be.

Moreover, we get the unusual experience of watching Bruce be outmaneuvered, with Lex realizing that the draft and stale air pouring into Bruce's study likely comes from the Batcave.  Johns reminds you that we're dealing with Lex Luthor here, so it's not as far-fetched as it would be if it was a random Joe chatting with Bruce in his study.  It's like Tim Drake said in "A Lonely Place of Dying:"  once you go into it knowing that Bruce is Batman, the clues are a lot more obvious.  In fact, the scene makes you realize that Bruce has become overly confident, a theme of the DCnU, where Batman has frequently failed due to his arrogance. After all, the "Court of Owls" was all about Bruce being so wrong about being so sure that he knew about everything happening in Gotham.  Inviting Lex Luthor into the study that hides the access to the Batcave falls into this category.

Meanwhile, Johns is playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to why Luthor really wants to join the Justice League.  It makes sense that Lex would want to prevent the world from being destroyed, since it's not like he wants to rule over a graveyard.  But, again, Johns reminds us that we're dealing with Lex Luthor here; it's pretty clear that he has something else up his sleeve.  After all, his offer to Captain Cold to join Lexcorp is more complicated than rewarding him for helping to save the world, with Lex's staff wanting his blood for something called Project:  Wannabe.  Trickery!

Finally, I'm really enjoying Doug Mahnke's work.  He's particularly impressive when it comes to drawing faces, and it's a perfect match for this issue, where the intensity of Bruce and Lex's conversation coming in no small part through the small touches that Manhke puts on their facial expressions.  A raise eye here, a firm lip there:  it definitely conveys the gravity of the discussion.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman Eternal #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Look, the problem here is that I still have trouble believing that anyone in Gotham would be this upset about 162 people dying.  I mean, isn't that just Tuesday in Gotham?

But, if I'm going to continue reading this series, I guess that I just have to accept the fact that Gotham believes that the death of 162 people amounts to a "scar the heart of [Gotham] for decades," as the prosecutor claims.  Moreover, I'm going to have to accept the vitriol that people have towards Jim as a result, even though it seems remarkably overdone.  (You have to accept people seeing the incident as leaving said scar before you can accept the citizenry being this mad at its perpetrator.)  I get that the hate is based on this idea that Gordon acted recklessly, firing on an allegedly unarmed man in the train station.  However, I still find it hard to believe that everyone would ignore all the good that he's done.  Basically, I want a better sense of the tragedy that this situation would be if it were true, the idea of a good man making a mistake for which he still needs to be punished.

Snyder and Tynion at least do us the justice of reminding us that the main point of this farce is to sideline Gordon while the gang war rages.  We're established that it's probably not Falcone pulling the strings, so we'll have to wait to find out who the person is manipulating the events behind the scenes.  But, it's still hard to believe that anyone is going along with this farce in the first place.  Vicki isn't, and she seems to imply that the media are simply because it sells paper.  But, it's just one more thing I have to accept.  Scar, vitriol, farce:  I'm taking them on faith, I guess.

The main event of this issue is Gordon's protégé putting together a plan to free Gordon.  For the first time, the GCPD doesn't seem like mindless zombies, with Bullock and Sawyer agreeing to help Bard in pulling off his plan.  It gives me hope that we're not doomed to suffer through this Gordon sideshow for all 52 issues.  Barbara and Jason also seem hot on the trail of the person pulling the strings, and I have to say that I hope that Snyder and Tynion spend more time on them than they do on Gordon in prison.  Hilarity will undoubtedly ensue.

I want to give this issue three stars, but I still can't help but get angry every time I read anything related to Jim Gordon, so I'm sticking with two stars.

** (two of five stars)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Batman #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, can Greg Capullo draw a dime or what?  The quarter and dime that a young Bruce throws into the homeless guy's hat look like photos, not drawings.  It's amazing that Capullo goes from drawing such simple objects on one page to the crazy Riddler tank that Batman confronts on the next page, all with the same amount of attention and skill.

It's good, too, because it gives us something pretty to ponder while we move through the techno-babble that fuels this issue.  Snyder forces us to just accept that Batman magically figures out the pattern of signals necessary to locate the Riddler, despite failing in his previous effort (when he also had Lucius' help).  We also never get an answer to the question that one of the soldiers poses, why they're waiting to activate the signal blocker that can take out the Riddler's toys.  Batman seems to imply that it's because the blocker only gets to be used once, but I'm not sure why they would need it after disabling his toys.  If I had to guess, I'd say that it's because they want to confirm that they've got the Riddler trapped before they activate it, but wouldn't it not matter if they had him if he no longer had control over the city anyway?

But, as I said, we're pretty clearly not supposed to ask questions.  We're just supposed to accept the fact that Bruce finally manages to achieve his goal.  Snyder actually makes this issue all about Bruce's failure, first on the weather balloon and then in the elevator shaft, to stop the Riddler.  He learns the importance of failure and persevering through it, a lesson applied on the large scale when it comes to fighting crime in a city where it never stops.  It's a good point, but I'll admit that it was lost on me the first time I read the issue.

We end with Bruce finding the Riddler and him springing his final game, which seems to be a disco dance-off?  The final caption reminds us that next issue is the last one for Zero Year, and, without that reminder, I might be inclined to just skip to the first issue of the new era.  Instead, I can appreciate the fact that this issue is probably the first one where I've felt that we've dragged on this story too long, a remarkable feat for such a long saga.  But, I'm still not sure where Snyder is going.  We need to end this story with some sort of explanation of why Riddler went through all this effort to send Gotham into the Dark Ages.  This Riddler is a more lethal version of the previous DCU one, and we need some sort of explanation of his motivations.  If we don't get that, I'm afraid that I'm going to be as disappointed as I was with "Court of the Owls" and "Death of the Family."

** (two of five stars)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Wolverine and the X-Men #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was actually thinking about dropping this series, but we finally get somewhere here.

First, Quentin asks the question that I've been asking all along, namely how Evan could destroy Faithful John's world if Quentin killed Evan before that.  Quentin comes to the conclusion that the Phoenix is actually responsible for the lies, and he apparently convinces Younge to send him to his future self.  Latour isn't totally clear why Younge decides to do so, so I'm left to assume that Younge is actually working for future Quentin.  (Latour might be getting somewhere, but I'm not saying that it's still not confusing.)  We're left wondering why future Quentin sent back Younge and (maybe) Faithful John to take out present Evan, but at least it's a clearer question than our original one.  Speaking of Faithful John, everything related to him is still unclear, as the preceding few sentences make clear.  (Follow that?)

I'm not saying that I now love this series.  I feel like it's still an issue-to-issue decision for me.  But, I'm here for at least one more, since the idea of Quentin and Idie tearing through the future sounds pretty great.

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At some point recently, I realized that all the various series launched in the wake of "Avengers vs. X-Men" are actually reaching a certain point of maturity.  Since they're released twice a month, series like this one and "All-New X-Men" have actually told an impressive number of stories, resulting in a complicated web of plots and relationships that belies the fact that they've only been in existence for less than year and a half.  I mention this realization here because Bendis brings together a lot of threads in this issue.

Scott's hunch that Beast was behind the Sentinel attacks was technically true; it was actually Dark Beast, getting his last bit of revenge against the X-Men before he dies from experimenting on himself too often.  I'll admit that Bendis probably could've fleshed out this part a little bit more, particularly since he only gives one page to Dark Beast's death.   Dark Beast is pretty much reduced to playing a super-villain stereotype, acting against the Brotherhood and the X-Men simply because he hated them.  We at least get an explanation for why he was in the suit, with Bendis explaining that he needed it to survive; Scott signed his death warrant when he blasted it to piece.  Also, one of the drawbacks about Bachalo not being great at close-up shots is that I didn't initially recognize him, meaning that the issues upon issues of building to this moment feel a little flat.

Bendis does a better job in bringing Maria and Scott's ongoing conflict to a close.  They've been at war with one another for a while now, but they both wind up responsible for the destruction that gets wrought here.  Scott has to accept the fact that a mutant was actually attacking them with the Sentinels (not S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Maria has to admit that she not only let the helicarriers and Sentinels get hijacked under her watch but she also failed to prevent Mystique from kidnapping Dazzler.  (As I said in my review of "Captain America" #21, you've got to wonder how much longer Maria is going to be on the job given her general incompetence.)  It's an unsatisfying ending for them, but a satisfying one for the reader.  It's all really a logical conclusion to the series of events that Bendis put into play here, particularly with Hijack arriving to apply to the School just in time to save it.

So, a little rushed, but generally satisfying:  not bad.

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Original Sin #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is an elaborate ballet of super spies dancing in the shadows, but it all leads us to the same place as we were at the start, with Nick Fury in charge.

Bucky (of course) didn't kill Nick Fury; he killed a LMD version of him, as anyone who's read a Marvel comic in the last 15 years knew from the start.  He took the head to track the signal to the source, because he realized that he was being played.  The Black Panther and Dr. Strange have similar (and simultaneous) epiphanies and similarly trace signals -- magical and technological -- to the hidden space station where we discover that the real -- and older -- Nick Fury is.

The revelation that the real Nick Fury has aged is likely to be the most lasting development coming from this event.  However, other than the interesting existential question of whether LMD Nick Fury was acting independently of real Nick Fury, it doesn't really leave us anywhere all that different.  Cap and the Avengers will be able to continue their investigation without the LMD Nick Fury, and the three teams have gathered the information that they were sent to find.  The only real question is whether the real Nick Fury is the murderer; based on his appearance in the last issue, he's at least the guy in control of the irradiated bullets that someone (possibly him) has been using to be killing monsters, planets, and people.  Of course, if he were the killer, it seems unlikely that he would've sent the teams to gather this information in the first place.

I'm not sure what this revelation means in terms of the second half of this series.  If Fury is the murderer and can justify the killing, the three teams don't really have an action to complete; they'll just know that he's the murderer.  We may get an explanation of why he sent them on their missions, but that seems pretty secondary at this point.  Moreover, even if Cap discovers the real Nick Fury is the murderer, he, too, would likely just hear Fury's justification.  I mean, are they really going to arrest the real Nick Fury for killing the Watcher or some sort of inter-dimension monster?  For those reasons, I'm assuming that Nick isn't the murderer and we'll move into the next stage of the mystery next issue.  Otherwise, I guess Deodata is just going to draw three issues of everyone watching cat videos.  (That would be totally awesome, actually.)

Finally, I have a few small bones to pick with the creative team.  First, Aaron never really tells us how the Black Panther, Bucky, and Dr. Strange realize that they're being played.  They just all magically realize it at one point.  One of the worst pitfalls of these sorts of super-spy stories is that the author goes the route of just making everyone able to see through secrets, despite the fact that we, the reader, haven't seen any evidence that would lead them to these conclusions.  Sherlock Holmes might've made some great leaps, but Arthur Conan Doyle eventually described how he got from Point A to Point B.  Here, we're just supposed to take on faith that the three of them got to Point B for totally believable reasons based on something that they observed, even if we're not privy to the observation.  It's very tell not show.  Second, Aaron has Logan say that he thought that Bucky was dead, but he knew that Bucky was alive; both Hawkeye and Wolverine learned that he's alive in "Winter Soldier" #10.  Bad editor!  Bad!

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, the art is crazy.  It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  Frankly, I'm not sure that it's mine.  But, it totally works, because Bertram really captures the kinetic craziness of this issue.  For example, Seeley creates a ridiculous fashionista, London Leganza, to appear on a game show that Cluemaster hosted before he became a villain; it's a celebrity edition, to raise funds for the "Zero Year Reclamation Fund."  (Clever.)  Bruce is on the panel, and Seeley and Bertram work together to make the fashionista as oversized of a character as possible.  She comments on Bruce's "long straw" (ba da BING) while dressed like a Botero sculpture come to life.  It's a rare moment of the author and the artist being on exactly the same page in creating a character.  I actually hope that we see Leganza again, so memorable do they make her appearance.

But, Betram's work is no less amazing than Batgirl's battle with Scorpiana to get to a Brazilian soap-opera star that she identified as on site at the time of the Gotham subway crash.  Bertram plays up the ridiculousness of the studio where Batgirl chases the soap-opera star, making you feel like you're running backstage alongside Babs.  Seeley's work here is equally great, portraying Guillermo as a total fop whose confession to Barbara has less to do with telling her the truth and more to do with attracting attention to himself.  (He owed money to the Club of Villains, so they used a new technology to graft his handsome face onto someone else, the man actually at the station that day.  The Club sent Scorpiana to kill him since it viewed him as a liability, probably exactly because Batgirl would come after him.)  Again, Seeley and Bertram really collaborate here to make a secondary character memorable.

But, this issue is great not only because of the story in the issue itself, but because Snyder and Tynion actually answer some questions from the larger story.  First, we get Stephanie making the brutal realization that Cluemaster created his family life simply as an alibi, convincing Batman to allow him to go free so that he could spend time with them.  It's why he's so nonchalant about killing Stephanie, because she's outlived her usefulness to him since she's no longer inadvertently abetting his criminal career; in fact, she's directly threatening it by trying to tell someone the truth behind his plans.  I'm not sure if I totally buy it, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one, since they at least made some effort to explain Arthur's behavior.

We also get more insight into Julia's relationship with Alfred.  She hates him for leaving behind his role as a field medic (and, presumably, her) to be Bruce Wayne's butler; in her words, he went from "being a man who put broken soldiers back together to a man who put buttons on smoking jackets for a spoiled toff."  The nice thing about this conflict is that it won't last long.  Julia will eventually realize that Bruce is Batman, and Alfred will be able to interact with the daughter that he had to sacrifice to assist Batman in his crusade.  Alfred rarely gets wins, so it would be nice if Snyder and Tynion  let him have this one.

Add into the mix Jason Todd and his ability to call Babs on her bullshit -- given how she's mimicking his methods, despite constantly judging him for them -- and I'm actually a happy camper.  Go figure.

**** (four of five stars)

Secret Avengers #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is OK, though I'm not really sure what we get here.

The point seems to be to show how important M.O.D.O.K. has become to Hill.  He not only allows S.H.I.E.L.D. to employ all sorts of new weapons (like the bizarre mushroom-gun, which Nick uses to take down the Fury somehow), but, relatedly, to expand into new areas of research, since M.O.D.O.K. understand the weirder outer-limits of science better than anyone else at S.H.I.E.L.D.

I get that M.O.D.O.K. is a mad scientist, but I think that we needed a little clearer explanation of the specifics.  For example, how did the mushroom gun stop the Fury?  Kot's done a pretty good job of keeping these sorts of things vague and making it work, but  that approach isn't going to work all the time.  After all, it's still unclear what the Fury is actually doing or why the Walled City of Kowloon suddenly appeared from another dimension.  When the heroes are winning with mushroom guns, some explanation is probably necessary.    

** (two of five stars)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Original Sins #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

These sorts of event-related short-story mini-series are always hit or miss.  Unfortunately, they're almost always "miss;" see, for example, the disastrous "Fear Itself:  The Home Front."  (Just writing that title makes me twitch.)

Unfortunately, this issue isn't that much better.  The first story is completely laughable, building on the premise that a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent discovered Deathlok's identity as a result of the Watcher's Eye revealing the truth to him, and he approached Deathlok because he was a "fan."  Right, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are so impulsive that they approach mind-controlled cyborg assassins just because they're a "fan."  The agent seemed surprised when Deathlok assassinated him despite Deathlok, you know, being an assassin (the thing that inspired the agent to be a fan in the first place).  [Sigh.]  The entire story was really just a teaser for "Deathlok" #1.  Given how terrible it was, I can safely say that I won't be picking up that series.

The second story stars the "Young Avengers."  I'm nervous about anyone writing the team not named "Heinberg" or "Gillen," and this issue confirms that this fear is well founded.  Oy.  First, when did Noh-Varr start working for S.H.I.E.L.D.?  North probably needed to convey that information to us.  I pretty much collect every comic that mentions the word "S.H.I.E.L.D.," and Noh-Varr working for S.H.I.E.L.D. is news to me.  (It also doesn't make a lot of sense, given that the Avengers kicked him off the team for his actions during "Avengers vs. X-Men."  If he's not welcome on the Avengers, it seems a stretch that S.H.I.E.L.D. would want him.)  Second, the actual plot of the story makes no sense.  David, Noh, and Teddy go to New York to see if they can get more information about Oubliette (Noh's ex), but they get distracted by some crazed woman screaming at them from a house.  Since everyone is supposed to have been evacuated, they decide to ditch their (fairly important) mission (given that Oubliette is connected to the Watcher's death somehow) to find out why she wasn't evacuated.  But, it turns out that the Hood kidnapped her in the few minutes since they last saw her, and he apparently wants them to work for him.  Was it a set-up?  The crazed woman doesn't really seem to be all that comfortable, implying that she didn't know that she would be used for bait.  Also, when did the Hood get creepy powers that involve weird things coming from his mouth?  Also?  The art is terrible.  Words fail me.

I should've known better than to get this series...

* (one of five stars)