Sunday, August 31, 2014

Earth 2 #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, I have no idea why Power Girl appears on the cover of this issue since, as far as I'm aware, she's not even on Earth-2.  Paging pet peeve #2.  Even odder, the solicitations say that she arrives to "turn the tide."  Did Taylor change something at the last minute, or did the advertising department just not take the time to read the issue?

Turning to matters at hand, Taylor wraps up this long-running story quickly, but somehow it all works.  The heroes realize that the easiest way to win isn't to take on Apokolips' army, but to break Bedlam's control over Mister Miracle, Mister Terrific, and Terry Sloan, allowing them to close the Boom Tube.  It's a solid plan, and the heroes implement it efficiently:  Batman et al. create a hole in the army so that Flash can zoom Marella into the complex to deal with Bedlam.  (They're helped, hilariously, by Superman smashing Val to the ground in front of the complex, creating a shock wave that knocks away all the combatants.)  Flash does his job, and Marella gives Bedlam a stroke via water on the brain.  (Clever.)  Mister Terrific and Sloan shut down the Boom Tube, and Green Lantern -- no longer having to hold Earth in place -- manages to take out the remainder of Apokolips' army.  Sure, it's a little convenient, but I'm willing to concede that Taylor could've spent an issue or two showing us the heroes fighting the remnants of the army with the same result.  As such, no harm, no foul.

Honestly, I didn't think it possible to wrap up such a complex story in one issue, but damn if Taylor doesn't manage it.  Moreover, he doesn't let it just devolve into a soulless drive to an end point.  We get some real emotion and humor throughout the issue, mostly thanks to Lois.  She opens the issue comforting Martha in the wake of her life imploding around her and ends it destroying "Superman."  Moreover, she's got perfect comedic timing when she tells "Superman" that she's just stalling just as Val zooms into view and tackles him into the ground.  By taking the time to give us these scenes, Taylor gives us a more meaningful ending that I'd expect in such an action-packed issue.

The only unanswered question, to me, is the faux-Superman's true nature.  He appears briefly like Bizarro, but all we really learn is that he somehow starts to break into pieces.  (It's Lois that finishes his dissolution.)  Maybe it's because Bedlam was holding him together and the stroke meant that he lost his focus?  It would be nice to get an answer to this one, but I have faith that Taylor will get us there.

In the end, we get the moment that we've been waiting to see pretty much from the start of this series, namely a fully assembled Justice Society:  Val, Hawkgirl, Marella, Flash, Green Lantern, Sandman, Batman, and Red Tornado, with Khan and his deputy in the background.  It's a great moment, made all the better by the reminder in the Epilogue that Bedlam is still out there trying to claim Earth to save a dying Apokolips.  In that way, Taylor reminds us that the Society's work isn't done; it's just starting.  It took 26 issues to get there, but Taylor makes you glad that you waited.  Great stuff.

**** (four of five stars)

Detective Comics #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I definitely feel like I missed an issue.

First, I still am having trouble figuring out the various gang connections.  This issue makes it clear that Holter was clearly the sole supplier of Icarus (more on that revelation in a bit).  If I'm putting two and two together correctly, it seems that he worked with the Falcone organization to make sure that he could smuggle the kid that generated Icarus into Gotham City (hence, the Wayne Enterprises VP fixing the books to hide the contents of the shipping containers).  We knew that Jonny assassinated Elena on the orders of the Falcone organization, because Elena's plans for the Waterfront clearly threatened the Icarus operation.  This revelation now seems to confirm that the Squid was merely working for Falcone, not a player in his own right.  Moreover, we learn that it was actually Holter who ordered the hit on Elena; as such, it makes it clear that Falcone was clearly working with Holter, not against him.  However, we never actually see Holter deal with Falcone (or the Squid deal with Falcone, if I'm not mistaken), so the reader is left to draw all these conclusions on his own, from Falcone and Holter colluding to import Icarus into Gotham to the Squid handling the distribution for both Falcone and Holter to the originator of the hit put on Elena.  The conclusions make sense (more or less), but I'm still left with the nagging sense that I might have missed or misconstrued something.  I don't need a lot of exposition detailing the villains' plans at the end of my stories, but it is usually helpful if we have some idea of what the actual plan was.

The oddest part of this story isn't actually the revelation that Icarus is derived from some kid with radioactive powers (though we'll get there in a minute).  Instead, it's that Bruce berates himself for having missed nabbing Holter.  Bruce seems to suddenly realize that Holter was behind the whole affair when he sees the Waterfront explode, but I can't for the life of me see how the explosion inspired this epiphany.  Bruce even seems to know to bring the super-armor, presumably because he knew that he'd be facing the irradiated dude.  But, again, we get no insight into how Bruce knew that this kid generated the Icarus.  Moreover, Bruce says that he could've saved Elena if he had realized that Holter was the mastermind earlier, but I'm pretty sure that Elena was killed before Bruce even knew about the Kings.  If he did know, we certainly didn't see the events that led him to that conclusion.

Finally, regarding the irradiated dude himself, that development couldn't be more from left field.  I feel like we're supposed to recognize him, like he's Annie's ex-boyfriend from the annual.  But, I'm pretty sure that it's not the case, since that kid clearly wasn't irradiated from the start.  So, who is he?  (I'm now pretty sure that he's the guy in the container in issue #31, but what happened to Sumo then?)  He disappears when Bruce arrives, so we get nothing close to an answer.  We also have no idea why Harvey finds an anarchy symbol in the abandoned container at the end of the issue.  Are we supposed to believe that Anarky was somehow involved?

In other words, what the Hell just happened?

* (one of five stars)

Batman Eternal #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of the difficulties that Snyder and Tynion must face in writing this title has to be the need to be seen as forwarding the narrative with each issue.  With only 52 issues, the title carries the presumption that any sub-plot that doesn't directly contribute to the overall story is a waste of time.  But, 52 issues is also a lot of issues, so it's not like they can get right to the point.

I mention this balancing act, because my first reaction to the introduction of Killer Croc was, "Jesus, don't we have enough going on right now?"  Our four ongoing plots at this point are Commissioner Gordon's incarceration, Tim's investigation into the virus affecting Gotham's children, the burgeoning gang war between Falcone and Penguin, and the supernatural activity under Arkham.  It's hard to see where Bard, Batman, and Croc mucking around the sewers fits into one of these.  Batman stumbles upon Croc only because he and Bard are searching for a girl carried into the sewers by a bleeding man that they later find dead.  Presumably something that they discover in the sewers will tie into one of the plots, but it's hard to see what it would be.  

Conversely, the issue's other story, involving Batgirl, Batwoman, and Red Hood adventures in Brazil, clearly tie into the Gordon plot.  Moreover, it earns this issue three stars due to the fun dynamics of this odd group and Jason's snarky sense of humor, something that we really haven't seen under any of his recent writers.  I'd be thrilled to see Seeley take on his characters at some point.

Anyway, I have to assume that Snyder and Tynion are aware of the need to keep everything neatly connected.  As such, my real frustration has less to do with the lack of an immediate connection between Croc and the ongoing plots and more to do with the fact that Batman -- yet again -- doesn't really seem to be focused on any of them.  We keep getting all these assurances that he's working every angle of Gordon's case, but he's really just following around Bard.  It's Babs, Jason, and Kate working the Gordon case, with Harper and Tim handling the virus, Batwing and the Specter handling Arkham, and pretty much no one focused on the gang war.  If Snyder and Tynion were implying that Bard set up Gordon (conveniently removing him and the corrupt former Commissioner from the picture shortly after his arrival), I'd be OK with it.  But, so far, they're not implying that.  So, you have to wonder why Bruce has time to stalk Bard and save a girl that Bard seems equally capable of saving when he really should maybe be addressing one of the four previously mentioned mysteries out there.  Maybe the gang war, since no one seems to be working on that?

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Damn, Bendis knows how to throw a curveball!

First, I have to say, "Original Sin" is really knocking it outta the park lately.  Between the revelations in "Amazing Spider-Man" #4 and this issue, the authors aren't giving us minor secrets that will shortly be forgotten.  They're really weaving them not only into the ongoing stories that they're telling but into the characters' histories.  It's pretty rare to see an event have such long-term implications (particularly before it's even concluded), and I salute Marvel for coordinating it so well.  (Hell, Bendis even managed to use part of "Secret Invasion" in creating the mysterious Matthew.)

The revelation that Charles married Mystique was amazing for two reasons.  First, it confirms that the Xavier from the future Brotherhood is really Charles and Mystique's son.  Bendis implies that he might also be this mutant that Charles describes as "so powerful that their very existence threatened our way of life and any chance we would have for a peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans."  However, we're going to have to wait until next issue to be sure.  Second, we were all expecting that the surprise in the will would be that Scott would inherit the School.  It was clear that Bendis was going this way early in this issue; I was thrilled when Ororo and Scott came to that conclusion once they heard that Scott was required to be present at the reading of the will.  It really set up the surprise, that Charles was married to Mystique and she presumably now owns the School.

But, this issue was about more than just Charles' will or the School's future.  I loved that the School crowd got the jump on Scott.  He is always portrayed as the consummately brilliant tactician, and Bendis makes it clear that he was stunned when the X-Men just waltz into the New Xavier School.  It's an important reminder that the X-Men aren't just pacifist teachers, but honest-to-goodness superheroes who can do just fine without Scott.  It seems shocking that no one has made that point earlier, but it definitely needed to be made, particularly as it's clear that Storm will be taking up the School's reins when Logan "dies."  Moreover, Bendis does a great job of conveying the emotions driving the events of this issue.  From Bobby realizing that Charles is really dead to the anger that Hank, Logan, and Ororo exude in their interactions with Scott, this issue would've been nowhere near as powerful had Bendis hadn't taken the time to remind us of the state of play between these people that've known one another for a very long time.

Finally, it's worth noting that we end this issue with the two teams together.  Such an event usually results in a slugfest, but here they are standing together for the first time in a long time:  Scott, Bobby, Hank, Ororo, Kurt, Logan, Dazzler, Kitty, Rachel, Emma, Magik, and, well, Firestar.  It's pretty much all the surviving X-Men from the 1960s and 1970s in one room.  It's a big deal, and Bendis knows that it is, making it clear how much the revelations next issue are going to affect the future of the franchise.

Now, I just have to wait until next issue!

***** (five of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For a "conclusion" and a "finale," I have to say that I'm left with a lot of question after finishing this issue.

The issue is primarily focused on Alex's battle with Kang.  He decides to confront him to save the universe, acknowledging that he may lose his daughter in the process.  It would normally have been an exemplary heroic move, the culmination of Alex's attempt to redeem the Unity Squad and undo its failure to unite under his leadership, regardless of the costs.  It would've been a nail in the coffin of the old, insecure Alex Summers.  However, Alex appeared to have thought throughout the battle that he could somehow either find Katie without Kang or force Kang to reveal her location upon defeating him.  Given Kang's ability to hide her pretty much whenever and wherever, it seemed awfully naive to believe that Alex could find her after defeating Kang.  Moreover, Kang is Kang, so it seems even more naive to believe that he'd ever tell Alex the truth.  Alex accepts the fact that Katie is lost at the end of the issue when he has to tell Jan of her fate, but he clearly held out hope that he could find her throughout the battle.  As such, it sold Alex short in the hero department.  Rather than Alex accepting the possibility of a devastating personal loss to save children everywhere, he basically pretends that taking out Kang would have no consequences on his ability to find Katie.  By negating the consequences of Alex's actions, Remender makes the actions less heroic.  It's an odd way for him to have gone, particularly given the fact that his decision to kill off Katie wasn't all that much of a surprise.  After all, it seemed unlikely from the start that present-day Alex and Janet would be forced to raise a young child together in the aftermath of this story.  As such, why not let Alex just accept the sacrifice and be the hero?

Along those lines, we end this story with Alex and Janet mourning the loss of Katie, making it clear that it's future Alex and Janet still inhabiting present Alex and Janet's bodies.  It obviously leaves us with the question of whether present Alex and Janet's minds will be returned to them at some point.  I assume that they will be, and present Alex and Janet will no longer mourn the loss of a child that they never knew.  In fact, Kang says that he essentially manipulated Alex and Janet into becoming a couple, raising the possibility that the two won't feel the same way about one another once they resume control of their bodies.  But, shouldn't that have happened already?  The Avengers have clearly prevented the Twins from creating Planet X, so the future where future Alex and Janet existed is gone.  Shouldn't they be gone (in the form of their consciousnesses), too?

Beyond the Alex and Janet aspects of this issue, I'm still left with some questions.  Kang retreats once he realized that Alex and Sunfire have successfully prevented him from absorbing the dying Celestial's power.  But, I'm not sure the implications of his loss.  Were the worlds of the Chronos Corps' members restored, since the Earth is no longer destroyed?  Presumably, but, given Kang's conversation with Ahab, it appears that they may still be under his influence (if not thrall).  Why would they be, though, if they were no longer fighting for their worlds?  Moreover, why did Immortus act against Kang?  He clearly wanted to prevent Kang from collapsing all realities into just the one that he ruled, but it's unclear to me why Immortus would've wanted to prevent that.  Is it simply because it would've reduced his own power?  It seems unlikely that he was concerned about the universe laboring under a despotic god.

Turning to the whole idea of it being a "conclusion," Remender leaves pretty much all doors open here.  Eimin and Uriel seem to have survived, thanks to Daken and the Grim Reaper, and Sentry takes the body of the Celestial into deep space.  In other words, all the bad guys except Banshee survive to be bad another day.  I don't necessarily mind that, since the Apocalypse Twins were pretty great (and empathetic) villains.  But, it's hard to point to any real outcome of this story, other than Alex's scarred face.  If Alex, Janet, Logan, Shiro, and Thor remember their time in the future, then I guess that the story will have impacts beyond just Alex's scarring (something that we all know will get healed at some point).  Alex and Janet will need to handle losing a child, Logan and Shiro will have to move past the torture that they suffered at the hands of Eimin, and Thor will have to grapple with the knowledge that his youthful errors once destroyed the world.  But, for everyone else, they simply won the day.  The Celestial came to destroy Earth and, despite some drama that none of them understood involving Alex, Janet, and briefly Kang, they stopped him.  They didn't even destroy too much of New York City in the process.  I expected something a lot more emotionally complicated than that, and it's the distance between that expectation and the reality that explains how disappointed that I am with this issue.

I don't want to say that it totally obliterates the amazing story that Remender has told in this series.  After all, I loved Busiek's "Kang War" in "Avengers" #41-#55, and everyone pretty much forgot that everyone in Washington was killed by issue #56.  Once Remender went down the "X-Men:  Days of Future Past" road, it was clear that the heroes were going to ret-con most of this story.  But, I expected to be basking in the glory of a unified "Unity Squad," not trying to care about the death of Alex and Janet's child that we saw for one or two issues.  Until this issue, it seemed to be the whole point of this arc.  After all, time-travel stories generally result in the return of the status quo; it's the emotional toll on the heroes that returning the status quo that makes these stories compelling.  Other than the five members of the Unity Squad having to deal with some stuff (if they don't lose their future consciousnesses), the heroes got off pretty light.

I'm not sure where we go from here.  We've been building and building to this moment, and it now just feels like we were where we started.  OK, maybe it's not that bad.  Rogue and Wanda no longer hate one another.  But, for 22 issues of stories, that seems like a story that we could've told a little more succinctly.

** (two of five stars)

Original Sin #3.3/Hulk vs. Iron Man #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series so far seems to just be repeating the same story again and again, as Tony tries (but fails) to prove that he wasn't responsible for the accident that created the Hulk.  We get another fairly unbelievable bit of technology meant to reconstruct the events of that night to break through Tony's alcoholic haze, and, this time, it not only proves Tony's guilt over creating the Hulk but also for some other crime that he committed against Bruce.  The only new twist this issue is that Arno implies that Bruce's use of the Extremis virus to merge his consciousness with the Hulk's body has some sort of side effect, but Hulk immobilizes him before he can reveal what it is.  I think that next issue is the last one, so all will, presumably, be revealed.  But, if Tony is as guilty as it appears, you do have to wonder how it could all possibly be resolved...at least without the Hulk smashing him to bits.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hawkeye #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First things first, we need to talk about this series' shipping issues.  Early in the run, when Fraction and Aja were wowing us with their unexpectedly innovative take on Hawkeye, a delay of a week or two was no problem.  I think we even skipped a month at one point, but it was worth it to ensure that the quality of the series stayed as high as it had been.

However, then, the delays no longer seemed connected to maintaining the series' quality since the quality itself dipped.  Kate went to California where she became a clueless Nancy Drew lost in a movie that Timothy Leary would've made if he made movies, and Fraction used such a fractured narrative technique to tell Clint's on-going story that it was hard to tell where we were from issue to issue.  When Marvel published issue #16 before issue #15, we seemed to have officially moved into the absurd.

Then, nothing...for four months.  I was expecting this issue to carry some sort of explanation, but, instead, we just dive back into Clint's story.  In retrospect, I'm OK with that, because, really, I don't need to know how the sausage was made.  But, it still left me opening this issue wondering why I'm even bothering any more, since so much of the good will that I had for this series in the beginning is gone.

I mention all these issues because I realized after reading this issue that I would've loved it if it had been issue #10, but I'm more or less meh on it now.  Fraction is still using a fractured narrative technique, and it's still difficult to tell not only the order in which the events are taking place but the time frame as well.  For example, Barney appears to have been living with Clint for a while, given that his neighbors' children refer to him as "Uncle Barney."  However, he's technically only been with us for four issues, and those issues seemed to have happened over only a matter of days.  It makes it hard to believe the relationships as they're presented here.  Moreover, it's unclear if Clint and Barney's attack on the bros at the end of the issue happened before or after his rousing speech to the neighbors and/or his call for help to the Avengers.

These points may seem nitpicky, but they matter.  If Clint and Barney attacked the bros before asking for the tentants' and the Avengers' help, this moment isn't exactly as redemptive as Fraction wants us to believe.  We're supposed to see it as Clint finally asking for help, acknowledging that he can trust in the relationships that he's built in his life.  But, if acted on his own before asking for help, then it implies that he only wants people in his life if they don't impinge on him doing exactly what he wants to do when he wants to do it.  It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that Clint is a changed man.  In this way, the narrative technique undermines the moment.  Maybe Fraction wanted it to be unclear, but it seems odd that he'd leave a question mark over the moment to which this entire series seems to have been building from the start.  The delay of several months only exacerbates the problem.

Fraction has implied on social media that issue #22 is the last issue of this issue.  I'll stay for that, since this series gave me such joy at the start.  But, after the delays and the experimentation getting in the way of the story, I can't say that I'm going to be sorry to see it go.

*** (three of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue starts off fun, with Carol and Peter having a damn good time escaping Peter's dad on Spartax.  But, Bendis is clearly forced to wrap up the arc more quickly than he would've liked to clear the decks for the "Original Sin" tie-in issue next issue.  The rescue of Angela and Gamora felt organic, since they had tired of toying with the Badoon, but the rescues of Drax, Rocket, and Groot were incredibly rushed.  We have no idea how the Guardians managed to discover that the Shi'ar kidnapped Drax, so it makes it feel a little overly convenient when they arrive just in time to save him from Gladiator.  Then, the Kree just magically deliver Rocket and, indirectly, Groot to the Guardians, since they felt that J'Son duped them into agreeing with his plan to humiliate them, even though it's unclear what plan the Supreme Intelligence thought he could've possibly been supporting.  Then, they just give up the search for Flash; I have to admit, I couldn't even remember where we last left Flash.  It's disappointing, since it would've been cooler to watch Carol and Peter one-by-one track down the Guardians to re-assemble the team.  It would've been a chance to show how much they're all willing to put their lives on the line for each other.  Instead, it feels like Peter's just a cruise director making sure that everyone is on the ship before it departs for its next port-of-call.

** (two of five stars)

Justice League #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is like one of those episodes of a '70s or '80s TV show that they try to use to drum up interest for a spin-off.  You're expecting to see the Fonz on "Happy Days," but, instead you're forced to sit through "Joanie Loves Chachi."  The Doom Patrol play Joanie and Chachi here, and it's a chore to get through all the exposition and posturing.  In terms of the Justice League, the only thing that we learn in this issue is that the Power Ring ring is trying to light a fire so that the creature that destroyed Earth-3 can come and get Superwoman's child.  We're not told why the ring wants that, so we're just left to sit with that information while we grit our teeth through the heavy-handed Doom Patrol appearance.  (You'll notice that I didn't mention anything about Lex Luthor or his quest for the Justice League's secrets, making this issue yet another example of pet peeve #2).

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Detective Comics Annual #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This story isn't particularly easy to follow, but it does clarify a lot about the current "Icarus" arc.  I'm writing up a summary here mostly to work out the events in my head to make sure that I got them straight.  If anyone saw something else, let me know!

First, we learn that the Squid originally hired Julian Day to conduct his deal with the Kings of the Sun and ordered him to take his younger brother, Jonny, under his wing.  Meanwhile, a group calling themselves the Bastards of Blackgate has managed to get its hands on a stash of the Wrath's weapons and subsequently declared the Narrows to be its territory.  Batman takes down some Bastards and demands that they tell him where the weapons are.  Instead, Day's son, Aden, tells him, since he's overheard their plans; he and his father live above the alley where the Bastards were discussing them.  Day abuses his son, so Bruce first pays him a visit as Matches Malone; he hands him his ass and tells him to get a calendar, since he forgot that it was Aden's birthday.  (Notably, Day told Jonny earlier that it was important to have a brand in Gotham.)  Jonny discovers the unconscious Day, and he puts together a gang to steal the Icarus that the Kings controlled, since he no longer had to deal for it with Day.  Meanwhile, Elena's daughter, Annette, is dating the guy that the Kings put in charge of guarding the Icarus while they were in meetings (presumably with Day).  He's apparently a former addict and got Elena hooked.  Not surprisingly, he sees Icarus as a short-cut to the courage that he needs to guard the drugs, but he instead overdoses, setting himself on fire.  Jonny and his guys successfully steal the Icarus, and the Kings later threaten the Squid, since he was the only one to know the location.  Jonny pretends that Day ditched him, placing the blame on him, and the Squid announces that he hired some outside muscle, namely, the Bastards, to deal with Day.  They kidnap Aden and leave a ransom note for Day.  Day calls to Bastard to set up a meeting, but Batman arrives instead, after finding the ransom note in Day's apartment.  (He was going there to make sure that Aden was OK.)  Bruce makes short work of the Bastards thanks to his super-duper armor, and he places Aden into the Aguila Family Shelter for Women and Children.  Fin.

Again, I thought that this issue cleared up a lot of background information, though I still have two groups of questions.

First, I assume that the Kings were selling the Squid the Icarus for him to distribute.  If so, it raises the question why they were doing so, since they seem to be producing the product closer to Gotham now (meaning that they could presumably also distribute it a lot easier than they could when they were based in New Orleans).  Were they just using the Squid as an entry point?  However, we do get a better sense of why the Kings were after Jonny in the first issue of the "Icarus" arc.  We're left to assume that they eventually put two and two together and realize that Day didn't steal the Icarus, though it would've been nice if Buccelatto showed us that connection.

Second, I'm not sure what we're supposed to believe about Day.  We see him unconscious a little after 6:45 pm, but he allegedly calls Big Bastard somewhere after 10:11 pm to ask where Aden is.  Bruce discovers the ransacked and abandoned apartment at 10:40 pm, and he notes that he doesn't think that Day took the bait.  At 11:15 pm, Bruce charges the Bastards, in his armor.  It seems like we're supposed to believe that it was Bruce that called Big Bastard at 10:11 pm to find where he was keeping Aden.  It would make perfect sense...except for the fact that the call happens before Bruce finds the note at 10:40 pm.  So, how did Bruce know where to go?  Did he call Big Bastard later and just pretend that "Day" forgot where to meet?  Also, if Day did call, why didn't he got meet Aden?  We're supposed to believe, I think, that he bailed on town, but why call in the first place then?

Overall, it's a strong issue, and, as I said, it really helped fill in some gaps.  I'll say that it feels a little weird to have the origin of Calendar Man shoehorned into this issue, particularly Day is portrayed rougher than he has previously been.  But, it's helpful to confirm that Jonny did steal the Icarus from the Kings and that Elena was a drug addict, presumably part of the reason that her mother had them leave town.  I'm really only wishing that I had a better sense of why the Kings were dealing with the Squid in the first place, but we may get that in the ongoing story.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman Eternal #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, we get some more information about Deacon Blackfire in this issue, but it's still not clear how he goes from a revival preacher with a tendency to drug his parishioners to do his dirty work to essentially a demon looking to be reborn.  Snyder and Tynion almost imply that Batman watched as Blackfire's awakened parishioners killed him, though it seems unlikely that he died that way (since it seems unlikely that Bruce would allow it to happen).  As such, we don't know how he died or how his soul remained sufficiently powerful to put into effect his resurrection plan.   Also, it's still unclear what his plan is (and, as I mentioned last issue, how it relates to the larger "Batman Eternal" story).  The good news is that we do get somewhere on the Red Robin story, with the creator of the nanobots denying that he sent them to Gotham and Tim stating that he doesn't believe him.  I'm a little more confused than I was last issue, but it's still an OK outing, since I didn't have to bash my head into the way over the Commissioner Gordon plot.

*** (three of five stars)

Wolverine and the X-Men #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I can say, in all honesty, that I have no idea what in Hell happened in this issue.

I've read this story from the beginning.  I haven't liked it, but I've read it and I've paid as close of attention as I could muster.  Basically, all this issue had to do was explain why future Quentin was manipulating the past to eliminate Evan and who Faithful John was.  Somehow, it accomplish neither goal.

First, Quentin did defeat Evan in the future, but, for some reason, he looked in the past and, upon seeing young Quentin and/or young Idie, decided that he also had to defeat Evan in the past.  To that end, he manipulated Faithful John and Edan Younge to return to the past to attack him.  But, we never learn why seeing Quentin and/or Idie in the past inspired him to defeat Evan in the past.  Wasn't it better for him to get the win in the future, since, as he said, it was the thing that redeemed him in the eyes of the other X-Men?  We also don't know why Evan turned against the X-Men in the future, since future Quentin actually makes it seem like future Evan was the more successful X-Man until his fall.

Moreover, Latour also never tell us who Faithful John is; we only know what we already knew, that he wanted revenge on Evan for his ruined world.  However, since his world is presumably different from future Quentin's world (since Quentin's wasn't destroyed), it would also have been nice to discover how Quentin found him.  Latour also fails to mention how Edan managed to create a billion-dollar corporation in the past from scratch with no one noticing.

In fact, it's even worse that all that.  At some point, future Quentin tells present Quentin that he did it all to "save them from us."  But, why would "they" need to be saved if future Quentin defeats Apocalypse?  Isn't that a good thing?

[Sigh.]  If it's not clear, I'm done with this series, making it series #2 that Jason Latour has forced me to drop.

* (one of five stars)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Original Sins #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, this issue isn't as terrible as previous ones, mainly because the Dr. Doom story is clever, if predictable.  But, man, the Young Avengers story just continues to suck.  As expected, the Hood betrayed the guys by making sure that the memories taken from the drug addicts were uploaded to the Internet and encrypted, guaranteeing that the Hood can not only help his mom but gain enough information on governments and individuals to ensure that no one messes with him.  It was pretty clear that the Hood was going that way, since, after all, why would he have wanted all the memories otherwise?  But, if he had the technical capability to supply the rigged equipment to Prodigy, you really have to ask why he couldn't have built Cerebro, Jr. himself.  Did he really need Prodigy?  It seems unlikely, if he knew enough about the machine that Prodigy was going to build to provide equipment to manipulate it.  At any rate, I guess I'm moderately intrigued by how the Young Avengers are going to solve a problem that they can't, in the Hood's words, simply punch to resolve.  (That's the nicest thing that I've had to say about this series since the start.)

*** (three of five stars)

Original Sin #5.2/Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron and Ewing waste no time setting up the meeting between Angela and Thor.  I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by this development, since I figured that we'd have to wait several issues before the pair actually met.

Of course, the meeting isn't exactly a friendly one.  Not surprisingly, the angels of Heven view Thor as the Son of Evil, and, upon realizing that the door home has been opened, Angela returns to Heven to confront him.  I'm intrigued how Thor is ever possibly going to convince Angela, known as the Wingless One in Heven, to return to Asgard, given the hatred that the angels have for it.  Are we simply going to explain that Odin is gone, so it's all good?  I guess it depends why the angels were fighting Asgard in the first place.  We learn here that they believe that Odin betrayed them, and it seems to be Loki's task to wheedle the details from the queen.  Ewing does a great job capturing both Thor's naivety and then dangerous impatience as well as Loki's scheming but practical nature.  How those dispositions will combine into a happy ending remains to be seen.

As intriguing as the plot is, the art is even more of a selling point.  Bianchi and Dall'alpi's Heven is a sight of beauty not often seen in comics.  You understand why Thor views Heven as a paradise full of fair maidens, and his battle with them in the skies over Heven is equally awesome.  The art really infuses the issue with the appropriate grandeur that a fight between gods needs, and it earns the issue a fourth star in my book.

**** (four of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy crap, that issue was intense!  I mean, first I thought we were just going to get your standard "I'm free after a long captivity" story, but, damn, those last few panels really upped the ante!

All right, first, I should say that I know next to nothing about Ezekiel and Morlun.  According to a search of my blog, the only times that I've encountered Ezekiel is the "Grim Hunt" arc ("Amazing Spider-Man" #634-#637), where he was actually the Chameleon in disguise, and the "No One Dies" story ("Amazing Spider-Man" #655) where he appeared as one of the dead characters from Peter's past.  Given that Peter went along with his plans when he thought that it was really him during "Grim Hunt," it seems that they left on mostly good terms.  However, the revelation that Ezekiel knew that he was Spider-Man from the minute that the radioactive spider bit Peter enrages him.  I have to admit that I don't really understand his anger.  I originally thought that he was angry because Ezekiel planned to keep him locked in a bunker just like Cindy Moon, the other student that the radioactive spider bit on that day.  But, Peter apparently already knew about the plans for the bunker.  If he was that mad, why did he view Ezekiel as an ally during "Grim Hunt?"  I can't remember if they were reluctant allies during that story, but it seems like I should get the other back issues, since it's clear that Ezekiel and obviously Morlun are going to play major roles in the upcoming "Spiderverse" event.

In fact, everything in this story clearly has something to do with "Spiderverse."  I have to give Slott credit; he really uses a tie-in issue better than possibly anyone ever to introduce a story that will have clear ramifications in the character's life after the event ends.  Peter learns as a result of the Watcher's eye-plosion that Ezekiel was keeping Cindy hostage in a bunker, and Cindy tells Peter that it was because her release would attract Morlun.  I'm a little confused by this part, because it seems like Morlun would've known about her from the start, as he presumably did Peter.  Cindy's parents only approach Ezekiel after her powers manifest, meaning that she was on her own (outside of Ezekiel's supervision) for a while.  If the threat of Morlun was so present, why did he wait for so many years to go after Peter?  Why wasn't Ezekiel scrambling to put Peter in a bunker at the same time as Cindy?

Moreover, Ezekiel puts Cindy in the bunker because he feared something and he had to wait until he knew for sure whether it would come to pass.  He comes to this conclusion based on tests that he ran on Cindy, but it's unclear what those tests said.  What sort of test would prove that she was the "Spider-Bride," the reason it seems that Ezekiel put her in the bunker in the first place?  Also, I'm having a little trouble believing that Ezekiel was so persuasive about the danger that Morlun represented that Cindy would agree to spend a decade or so in a bunker.  She really decided to do that based on some dire warnings of a crazy old coot?

In terms of Cindy's release setting off the sequence of events that result in "Spiderverse," it's unclear why it happened.  The shadowy figure that seems to be Morlun calls her the "Spider-Bride."  It's clear that she's connected to be Peter, not only because his Spider-Sense leads him to her (as opposed to warning him of danger), but also because he's hormonally compelled to kiss her at the end.  Something about their connection kicks off Morlun's "great hunt," but it's unclear why them connecting would be the spark.  Interestingly, Cindy seems to know.  She warns Peter about Morlun gorging himself on their brothers and sisters, and she can feel the danger of Morlun approaching before Peter can.  Maybe it answers the question why she trusted Ezekiel, because she's somehow more in tune with the Spider spirits or whatever we call them.

In other words, we have a lot of questions.  However, I have total faith in Slott answering them, since he is right up there with Peter David in terms of not leaving any loose ends.  In the meantime, we now have another Spider-Person in the form of Silk.  We learn in this issue that her powers are different than Peter's.  Her Spider-Speed is faster, her Spider-Sense is sharper, and she can spin organic (and barbed) webs.  In fact, only Peter's Spider-Strength is stronger.  Slott does a great job establishing her as an honest-to-goodness powerhouse, and I'm intrigued to see where he goes with her.  After all, it's not a foregone conclusion that she's going to be a hero.  Peter had a very compelling personal reason to become a hero.  It's unclear how Cindy will react to the world after spending a decade or so in isolation.

This issue also has other developments, but Slott thankfully doesn't do what he did in "Superior Spider-Man" and focus too much time on them to the detriment of the main story.  The Black Cat kidnaps Sajani to combat the technology that Parker Industries is assembling to defeat Electro, and Peter is relieved when the Avengers call him to fight the Mindless Ones, since it means that Doc Ock didn't get him expelled.  The Avengers sequence is classic Peter, as he tries to tell everyone that he's returned while they're battling for their lives.  I have to say that I really wish that Slott would just wrap up the Black Cat plot, but at least we're not spending too much time on it.

My only minor complaint with this issue is that Ramos really tarts up Cindy when we first meet her.  He did a great job with the Avengers battle scene, but I'm not really sure, if I was living in a bunker for a decade or so, that I'd be dressed in a tight-fitting tank top and pair of Daisy Dukes.  If he puts Peter in them next issue, I'll call it even.

***** (five of five stars)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All-New Invaders #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I really want this series to work for me, but I can't really say that it does.

On the good side, Robinson decides not to wait too long to address this series' most obvious question, the whereabouts of Toro.  Unfortunately, the answer isn't what I hoped that it would be.  We learn that Toro went to college to study French literature, but we don't get an answer to the more pressing question, namely why he would still be the age that he was during the war.  Maybe die-hard Toro fans know this answer, but, given that I know more about the Invaders than the casual reader, it's probably safe to assume that Robinson needs to address it if even I don't know the answer.  Assuming that we get one at some point, it's still not good news.  Marvel decides to make Toto part of the "Inhumanity" project, revealing that he wasn't a mutant but an Inhuman.  I'm not sure where Marvel is going with Inhumanity, to be honest.  They keep trying to differentiate them from mutants, like it should matter to us, but I can't say that I'm really all that convinced.  Turning Toro into an Inhuman just feels like a cheap stunt to bolster a poorly conceived and received event.  But, I digress.  Let's just say that I'm not impressed.

Turning to the story itself, Bucky is not surprisingly the one that discovers that someone grabbed Toro.  Apparently, Toro and other Inhumans immediately went into some sort of cocoon form when they were exposed to the Terrigen Mists.  But, we learn that the person behind the theft of Toro's cocoon really wanted the Human Torch; Toro was just bait.  I'm OK with that, but Robinson somewhat bumbles the delivery.  Bucky tells Jim and Namor that the culprit sells "ultra-tech" to various criminal outfits.  However, in the next-to-last page, Namor notes that he told them that the guy had a Deathlok, despite Bucky never saying that.  I actually thought that I skipped a page, but, in re-reading the issue, I realized that I didn't.  It implies that the guy is interested in Jim as an artificial intelligence, but I lost that part for a while in my attempt to determine whether I missed something.

Moreover, Robinson also oddly drops the story of the alien that attacked Jim at the end of last issue.  It seemed like this whole arc was going to revolve around him (and how aliens managed to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D.), but it gets shelved as some agents try to identify the alien race that comprised half of the sleeper agent's D.N.A.  Robinson pretty clearly intends to return to the subject, but it's just weird that it was the huge climax of last issue, but it gets essentially dismissed here in just a few panels.

Trying to focus on the positive, I will say that Robinson manages to keep the exposition to a minimum here.  But, with Toro's unclear past and ridiculous "promotion" to an Inhuman, the bumbled Deathlok reveal, and the fact that everyone's delivery is as stiff as ever, I just can't say that I'm enjoying this series as much as I hoped that I would be.

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue was pretty decent, but, honestly, I don't have much to say about it.  It deals with the Batwing/Specter story at Arkham Asylum, and we learn that Mr. Bygone and Joker's Daughter are trying to resurrect someone called Deacon Blackfire.  It's still unclear why they're using Arkham specifically, but it make sense that they needed to work somewhere where they'd have access to a lot of souls without anyone noticing.  Conversely, I find it a little hard to believe that they've been in control of Arkham for months, but it's a pretty minor quibble given my other complaints about this series.  At this stage, Snyder and Tynion haven't made it clear how Blackfire is connected to the larger story that they're telling, but at least this corner of the "Batman Eternal" world is progressing somewhat logically.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's hard to believe that it's been a year since "Zero Year" started.  In fact, it's been so long that I hadn't even realized that I had forgotten about the stories that happened before the "Dark City" arc.  I only now remember them due to Snyder recognizing that it's been a long road and referring to aspects of those previous stories -- such as Bruce's battle with the Red Hood Gang or the sketchy provenance of Commissioner Gordon's coat -- to remind us where we've been.

Throughout this mini-series within a series, Snyder has tred carefully to ensure that he wasn't exactly ret-conning Frank Miller's iconic work on "Batman:  Year One."  The stories that Snyder tells throughout "Zero Year" could theoretically fit between the gaps of "Batman:  Year One" and its related stories ("Batman:  The Long Halloween," "Batman:  Dark Victory," etc.).  But, in the end, Snyder makes you realize that it's a moot point.  More than any other story that I've read in the DCnU, Snyder reminds us that we are really, truly dealing with a new universe.  Sure, we can pretend that "Batman:  Year One" and "Batman:  The Return of Bruce Wayne" really happened.  But, Snyder seems to be gently encouraging us to let go of that need to constantly assess how the stories that he and his colleagues are telling in the new DCnU era mesh with the previous DCU continuity.

How does he do it?  If I had to put my finger on it, he does it by making Bruce's challenges so over the top.  By having Batman fight Dr. Death on a floating weather-station and the Riddler sending Gotham City into a new Dark Age, Snyder embraces exactly the sort of stories that Miller was rejecting with "Batman:  Year One."  Miller essentially invented the modern Batman, the determined detective fighting crime threat by threat on the dangerous streets of Gotham.  In so doing, he moved Batman beyond the more cartoonish image that people associated with the character as a result of the 1960s television show and the campier Batman stories, like "Detective Comics" #241, where he has to wear a different colored suit every night for reasons that elude me.  To be fair, Snyder doesn't entirely reject this grittier characterization; in "Batman Eternal," Bruce is again hitting the streets to fight criminals threatening to engulf Gotham in a gang war.  But, even telling a gang-war story, Snyder uses a scale beyond the one that Miller employed.  We 've already seen the destruction of the Iceberg Casino, and we know that Snyder's gang war is going to end with Gotham burning with Bruce nailed to some sort of cross.  In other words, it's not the understated story that Miller told, where it ends with Bruce saving Gordon from an attempt on his life and the kidnapping of his family.

In other words, Snyder is saying that the physics of storytelling in the DCnU are different from the DCU's.  It's not just Matches Malone doing some gumshoe work to figure out which warehouse at the waterfront is going to host the meeting of a bunch of thugs.  The way that a story progresses from Point A to Point B is now different.  Along the way to the warehouse, Batman may now be stopped by Mr. Freeze trying to freeze the entire world or Ra's al Ghul blowing up Tokyo.  It's not just the Joker poisoning a reservoir.  Snyder is using "Zero Year" to tell us to embrace these new laws of physics.

To be honest, I'm not sure that I do, since I still really question how exactly the Riddler managed to put his scheme into action and how Gotham managed to recover from it so quickly.  Part of the reason that I liked Batman stories is that they feel like they could happen in the real world, and I'm not sure that this one does.  But, I'll admit that Snyder has made the most persuasive argument to me that I should at least try to move past the DCU, since part of my angst over this story was the idea that we'd never heard of Zero Year in the DCU.  If you embrace it as a DCnU story, then it essentially becomes focusing on the merits of the story itself and not immediately rejecting it based on our previous understanding of the DCU's history.

Moreover, Snyder doesn't go too off the rails.  If anything, he makes sure that Bruce is somewhere that we recognize at the end.  His relationship with Gordon is now on firm footing, Lucius is taking over Wayne Enterprises, and Alfred accepts Bruce's role as Batman.  In other words, he's telling us not to panic.  Snyder's Gotham might be more cartoonish, in its over-the-top stories, than Miller's, but the relationships at the center -- the reason that we all read this book every month regardless of the author -- are the same.

All that said, it's the final scenes of this issue and story that are the most devastating.  Snyder sends into the world a fully formed Batman by crushing Alfred's dream of Bruce living a regular life.  The montage of Alfred day-dreaming of Bruce's happy life with Julie Madison is one of the most devastating things that I've ever read in comics.  Snyder maximizes the impact by initially making the dreamer's identity unclear. Is it Bruce realizing that he can never have a relationship with Julie because he'd endanger her and their children?  Or, is it Bruce wondering if he could manage to be both Bruce and Batman because his love for Julie is so strong?  Nope.  In the end, it's Alfred accepting the fact that his foster son was irrevocably ruined that night in Crime Alley.  Bruce may say that he's only happy as Batman; Capullo even draws a smile on his face in the final scene to underline that.  But, Snyder uses Alfred to say to the reader that we all know that it's not true.  Bruce might feel complete being Batman, but he's never really giving himself the chance to know what happy is.  But, Snyder makes sure to definitely end that line of thought with Alfred himself accepting that.  It's harsh, but necessary, for us to recognize the Bruce at the end.

Overall, I liked this story more than Snyder's other outlandish tales.  "Court of the Owls" ended with a bizarre twist that oddly replaced the main antagonist at the last moment, and "Death of the Family" told a convoluted story where the tie-in issues called into question the entire premise of the main story.  "Zero Year" did what Snyder said that it would do, and it leaves us at a point that feels consistent with the events that we've seen detailed throughout this year of issues.  I'm not saying that it's the best Batman story ever told or that it was flawless.  But, after my disappointed with the last two events in this title, I'm just glad to say that I accept the ending as a logical conclusion to the story.  It might be a low bar, but at least we surmounted it.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Secret Avengers #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, OK.  I had actually decided to cancel this series, but I'm giving Kot a few more issues.  He's clearly building to something, though I'll admit that I have no idea what it is.

At this stage, all we really know is that we can't trust M.O.D.O.K.  Kot leaves it unclear if Hill is talking about herself, M.O.D.O.K., or someone else when she says, "You're slipping," while looking at herself in the mirror.  If Hill is talking about M.O.D.O.K., it implies that Hill only brought in M.O.D.O.K. to get a better sense of the plot that he's hatching and that she's close to discovering it.  If it's Hill talking about herself, it implies the narration that precedes this comment (about the narrator watching the subject) is about M.O.D.O.K. observing Hill (though it's unclear if it's nefarious or not).  If it's about someone else, we haven't been adequately introduced to that person yet.  Moreover, Kot complicates matters by making all three possibilities -- Hill, M.O.D.O.K., or "someone else" -- suspects in the murder of the Latverian hitman who tried to assassinate Maria, allegedly because one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s drone strikes killed his parents.  To make matters worse, the person who killed the hitman isn't necessarily the person behind the narration.

In other words, I realized that this series is really all about this dance that Maria is playing with M.O.D.O.K. or our unidentified "someone else."  Everything else -- Coulson's PTSD, Fury's injury, Spider-Woman's identification of her empathy powers -- is just a distraction.  I'm intrigued, and I'm willing to see where Kot goes, but I'm going to need some sort of clarity soon.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman Eternal #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Huh.  Snyder and Tynion turn their attention from the upcoming gang-war in Gotham to the other sub-plots running through this series.  But, since they're juggling so many balls here, they don't really get to focus on any one sub-plot for too long.

First, the denizens of Arkham Asylum overwhelm Batwing and Jim Corrigan.  Mister Bygone captures Corrigan, and he seems to be responsible for the creepiness.  As such, it's unclear what role the Joker's Daughter is actually playing at Arkham, though she seems to think that she's working for her "father."  (Also, she captures Batwing.)  Meanwhile, Tim confronts Harper and tells her to stay in his plane while he follows the trail of the nanobots infecting her brother.  Notably, she debuts a make-shift blue mask here, setting up her eventual debut (as we know from "Batman" #28) as Bluebird.  Next, Batgirl and Jason discover that Batwoman is also on the trail of the guy who framed Commissioner Gordon, though she doesn't really tell us why she "took an interest" in the case.  This part feels particularly ham-fisted, reflecting a need to shoe-horn Kate somewhere into the Bat-family story.  Finally, we briefly see Batman as he congratulates Bard for his work not only capturing gang members on his own, but also making sure that the guys that Batman captures stay captured.  This development left me confused, since the last time Batman engaged with Bard he refused to work with him due to his questionable methods.  Here, Bruce notes that Bard is doing everything by the book, and I think that their handshake implies that Bruce has decided to trust him.  But, it feels a little overly convenient, since we never actually see Bard change his methods; Bruce just tells us that he has.

In other words, meh.  With two plot twists (Batwoman's arrival in the series and Batman's acceptance of Bard) feeling unjustified, it's hard to recommend this issue.  We're mostly just treading water.  Honestly, you could probably skip it and not be too lost picking up issue #16.

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis makes it pretty clear here that we've put the S.H.I.E.L.D. arc behind us (at least for the time being) and entered the next phase of this title.  Accordingly, he starts several new stories in this issue, and it takes a bit of effort to keep all of them straight.

First, we do attend to some old business.  The Stepford Cuckoos apparently told Scott what happened to Eva in Tabula Rasa, because they were scared for her (a disturbing prospect in and of itself).  But, Scott handles his attempt to get Eva to talk about it badly, and it drives her from him.  It's a funny scene, despite the fact that Bendis hints that something really, really bad happened to Eva (and that she is aging as a result of her powers).  Moreover, Dazzler's attempt to find Mystique is frustrated by the obvious trouble of finding Mystique when she doesn't want to be found, pushing her to a Britney-esque nervous breakdown.  Finally, and most obviously, Hijack rejoins the team after Scott actually apologizes.

The new business is more intersting, though.  First, we're introduced to a guy named Matthew.  A Skrull killed his wife and child (presumably during the "Secret Invasion" storyline), and it appears that his mutant powers activated, allowing him to kill the Skrull.  He's become a recluse in the year since then, but we don't really learn anything more about him (except that he has no control of his powers, evident when he accidentally kills his sister-in-law).  Bendis clearly has a plan for him, though we don't have enough information about him even to guess at this time.  Next, we get the titular development, She-Hulk receiving the last will and testament of Professor Xavier.  Unsurprisingly, Scott is included in the will, and Jennifer asks the X-Men where he is.  We also have no idea where Bendis is going with this story, though I could certainly see the possibility of Charles leaving the School to Scott.  If so, it would suggest two possible developments:  it'll either bring about the possible re-unification of the two sides, ending the schism (particularly given the upcoming death of Wolverine), or drive them further from one another if Scott evicts the Jean Grey School from the premises.  We shall see.

In order to move through these stories, Bendis doesn't do anything remarkable narratively in this issue; it's pretty clear that the goal is just to get us going into the next phase.  But, he accomplished exactly that, and I'm excited to see where we're going.

*** (three of five stars) 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Original Sin #3.2/Hulk vs. Iron Man #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue features a lot of techno mumbo-jumbo, but, in the end, it essentially contains two major developments:  first, Tony realizes that he did, in fact, create the Hulk by sabotaging the gamma bomb, and, second, Bruce uses Extremis to upgrade himself into a more self-controlled Hulk.

The first development is pretty well explained, even if it isn't all that believable how Tony gets there.  Tony buys the motel where he and Bruce had their fateful argument and uses droids to catalogue the room, creating a sequence of events to jar his memory.  I think that it's pretty unlikely that triangulating the location of a Scotch bottle thrown ten years earlier could accomplish such a feat; this sort of hand-waving is why I generally don't read "Iron Man" comics in the first place.  But, whatever, I get the fact that it's part and parcel of an Iron Man story.

The Hulk development is odder.  Bruce uses his access to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s files to confirm that Thunderbolt Ross hired Tony to make the gamma bomb more lethal, and this revelation drives him to upgrade himself.  First, I'm not really sure why it's all the worse that Ross hired Tony to make the bomb more lethal.  The main problem is that Tony sabotaged the bomb, not that he was working on the bomb at Ross' behest in the first place.  Second, you have to ask why Bruce was waiting to upgrade himself.  Wouldn't he already have wanted a more controllable Hulk, even if he wasn't inspired to create one to kick Tony Stark's ass?  Why did he wait?  Also, I'm not sure why he didn't want Arno to know what he was doing.  Wouldn't Arno be OK with Bruce making the Hulk more controllable?

I have a sinking suspicion that we're not going to get answers to the Hulk questions, particularly once this mini-series within a mini-series dissolves into a Hulk/Iron Man slugfest.  It's a shame, too, because this sort of illogical jumping from one event to another one -- despite little actual connection between the two events -- is exactly the sort of lazy storytelling that can drag down a story.

** (two of five stars)

Original Sin #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is the first one in this mini-series where I felt like Aaron was stalling for time.  Stuff happens in this issue, but it doesn't seem to get us any close to where we're going.

The most important development is Nick revealing that he sent the three teams of heroes to find the corpses of his previous vitcims because he wants one of them to succeed him.  I was glad that Aaron answered this question, since I was moderately worried that we'd skip over explaining Nick's motives for sending out the teams in the first place.  Although he doesn't particularly elaborate this point, Nick makes it clear that he wanted everyone there to get a firsth-hand sense of the responsibilities of the job before one of them agrees to take it.  It works from a narrative stand-point, but the fact that we know that Bucky takes over the job admittedly dampens the sense of drama that the moment should otherwise have.

With this loose end tied, the main question at this point is why Fury is so committed to avoiding telling the heroes the truth about the Watcher's murder.  I get that he's essentially on a suicide mission at this point, since it's clear that the failing of the Infinity Formula means that he doesn't have that many days left.  But, his mission is clearly not just designating a replacement.  He apparently also wants to open up the Watcher's eyes to see their secrets.  However, he seems to be jeopardizing that mission by not revealing what he knows about the Watcher, since his three teams and the Avengers are now gunning for him.  Even if he doesn't want to tell them the truth, why not send them on a wild-goose chase, buying him time to open up the eyes?  It seems uncharacteristically straight-forward for Fury.  (Also, I'm having trouble remembering how he wound up having possession of both eyes.  If I remember correctly, he already had one, and Bucky had the other one.  But, how did Bucky get that one?  Was it from the Orb?  Or, did Nick get the Orb's eye?  I can't remember.)

Basically, we need to know who killed the Watcher, why s/he did it, and why Nick Fury wants the eyes' secrets (beyond Nick's obvious love of secrets).  We also have this side of issue of Dr. Midas, Exterminatrix, and the Orb all "evolving," but it's unclear how that development connects to the larger story.  I'm still giving this issue three stars, but it would've been nice to get a little more information here, like we've gotten in the previous issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I think that I've lost the plot here.

Why did Fred call the cops on the Sinister Sixteen?  I'm assuming that he wanted to eliminate the competition?  But, why exactly did calling the cops enrage the Owl?  Is it because it meant that he didn't get the portrait of Dr. Doom?  In theory, wouldn't the Owl still have faith that Boomerang would still deliver the painting to him if he, himself, wasn't arrested?  Did the Owl just assume that it was Fred who called the cops?  Also, when did we learn that the painting of Dr. Doom isn't the real painting?  Moreover, if it's not the real painting, then does a real painting exist?  If it doesn't exist, then how in the world will selling the painting make Fred any money?  He presumably thinks that it will, since he didn't just return it to the Owl.  But, how?  Finally, where does Speed Demon keep going?

This series is fun, but, honestly, I'm going to start needing more elaborate introduction pages, because we've drifted dangerously into writing-for-the-trade territory here.

** (two of five stars)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Spider-Man 2099 #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "Police!  It's the Alchemax building!  Some nut came in here looking for Spider-Man!  I sent him up to the executive level 'cause they don't pay me enough!  Hurry!" -- Alchemax Security Guard #2, calling the police after the T.O.T.E.M. agent spared his life because his future offspring engages in important cancer research (Alchemax Security Guard #1 wasn't so lucky)

Favorite Quote #2:  "No, I saw you with Spider-Man weeks ago.  And even if I hadn't, I'd know you're not him.  You sound older and you're not cracking jokes."  "Fine.  A priest, a nun and a rabbi walk into a bar.  You'd think one of them would have seen it.  Happy?" -- Liz and Spider-Man, with the banter

Summary
An armored figure appears in a flash of light in front of a truck driver, causing the truck to jackknife.  A passenger in an approaching car exits his vehicle to check on the driver, and the armored figure kills him to take his car, announcing:  "Subject never marries or sires children.  Is irrelevant to future life."  (Ouch.)  In New York, Miguel is looking at an apartment with a real-estate agent, who tries to convince him that the red stain on the floor is "mercurochrome" and not blood.  (Lyla confirms that it's blood.)  The agent calls the super to come clean up the blood (ahem, mercurochrome), and Miguel informs her that he'll take the apartment.  When she says that he needs first and last month's rent, he tells her that it's no problem, since he came into money lately.  (Apparently, Lyla helped him pick lottery numbers.)  Meanwhile, the pink-haired girl from "Amazing Spider-Man" #1 arrives, since she's apparently the super.  Miguel tries to talk to her, but she doesn't really take the bait.  He thanks her for cleaning the floor, and she tells him not to thank her, since it's her job.  When he replies, "Okay, well...up yours.  And thanks," she smiles and finally accepts his thanks.

Flying through the air as Spider-Man, Miguel ponders the enigma of the pink-haired girl.  At Alchemax (where Miguel is headed), the armored figure arrives, announcing that he's there to see Spider-Man.  The two security guards working the front desk inform him that Spider-Man isn't there, and the figure clarifies that he's looking for Spider-Man 2099...to destroy him.  One of the guards tells him to leave, and the figure vaporizes him since he makes "no major contribution to the future."  The figure spares the life of the other guard, since one of his twins will later perform serious cancer research.  (The other twin is apparently hit by a car and dies.)  However, he threatens the guard with bodily harm, and the guard sends him to the 18th floor and then calls the police (per Favorite Quote #1).  On said floor, Miguel is arguing with Tiberius Stone, since he just sold the Spider-Slayers to a small dictatorship with a terrible human-rights record called Trans-Sabal.  Tiberius informs Miguel that they're both heading there to finish the deal when the internal alarm sounds, sending Tiberius to his panic room.  Since it only has room for one person, Miguel is in the office alone when the armored figure arrives.  When confronted, Miguel claims that he's not Spider-Man, but the figure -- an agent of the Temporal Oversight Team Eliminating Mistakes (T.O.T.E.M.) -- confirms his identity.  Miguel thinks that the T.O.T.E.M. agent is there to take him home, but he informs Miguel that he's there to destroy him.  Miguel orders Lyla to change the hologram hiding his costume, and, after changing it briefly to a tuxedo (heh), she puts him in his costume as the T.O.T.E.M. agent opens fire.  Miguel asks the agent just to return him home, but the agent tells him that he can't, since, by 2211, time travel is illegal except for T.O.T.E.M. agents.  Miguel managers to escape by climbing through the air ducts while the police distract the T.O.T.E.M. agent.

Miguel winds up entering Liz Allan's office, and he tells her to hide behind her desk.  She asks who he is, and he pretends that he's Spider-Man.  She says that she knows that he's not, since she's seen them side-by-side, he sounds older, and he's not cracking jokes.  Miguel then tells the joke in Favorite Quote #2 just as the T.O.T.E.M. agent arrives.  The agent realizes that he's with Liz Allan, and, since she's already had her son, he offers Miguel a deal.  Apparently, the reason why Miguel has to be eliminated is due to things that he does with Liz, so, if he lets the agent kill Liz, the agent can argue to his superiors that he was able to spare Miguel.  Miguel takes the deal, since he doesn't have any attachment to her.  Liz objects (obviously), and the T.O.T.E.M. agent says that their activities have disastrous consequences.  Since Miguel's too problematic, he figures that he'll just take out her.  However, Miguel grabs his wrist-blaster at the last minute and pulls it towards him, resulting in the agent vaporizing himself.  Miguel tries to leave, but Liz again asks who he is.  Miguel responds the "S-Man" and departs.  Liz's assistant enters, and she asks if any windows are broken.  He says no, and she asks him to pull files on all the employees and visitors to Alchemax.  When he asks why, she tells him that Spider-Man only enters through windows and, since their windows are sealed, he'd have to have broken one to enter.  Since none of the windows were broken, it means that he was already inside the building and likely an employee of Alchemax.  Her goal, she announces, is to get him to superhero for her.

The Review
...and, we're off!  Miguel O'Hara has returned to monthly comics, and I couldn't be happier.  Actually, I could be less happy, because this series could be written by someone other than Peter David.  But, Peter David is writing it, so, again, I couldn't be happier!  Enough gushing.  Let's get to the brass tacks.

David doesn't try to dive into the continuity mess that plagued Miguel at the end of the 2099 line.  He only really confirms two facts:  1) Miguel got his powers in a lab accident due to his work with the original Spider-Man's DNA and 2) Tyler Stone is his father and Tiberius Stone is his grandfather.  We don't even remotely address the numerous questions left on the table when Marvel canceled the 2099 line.  Is Conchata also still alive?  Did Miguel marry Xina?  Was Gabe never really the Green Goblin?  (All these developments were revealed in the terrible "2099:  Manifest Destiny" one-shot that concluded the 2099 line.)  The answer is that it probably doesn't matter.  Based on the revelations of "Superior Spider-Man" #18, we seem to be somewhere in issue #26 of the original run, before Doom invades America, Miguel takes over Alchemax, Gabe becomes the Green Goblin, and Conchata and Tyler die.  Moreover, we had just met an adult Xina in issue #23, so it's unlikely they've even resumed their relationship at this point.

Although I'm disappointed that some of the cooler parts of Miguel's history are no longer part of his continuity (like the Green Goblin stories), I'm happy with this re-boot.  As the presence of the T.O.T.E.M. agent makes clear, Miguel's actions in the past will alter his future, putting even the world that we knew in issue #26 in doubt.  As such, David has the license to do whatever he wants not only with our present, but also Miguel's present (assuming that he eventually returns).  It's the reboot that the character needs, and I'm excited that we're not going to spend this series trying to sort out a lot of continuity problems.  We're in an entirely new timeline (much like we are with the original X-Men in "All-New X-Men"), and we'll see where we go from here.

Turning to the issue itself, David doesn't really swing for the fences.  Instead of the explosive debut that Miguel had in the original series' first issue, David focuses on the more mundane aspects of Miguel's life.  We see him renting an apartment, we get some more insight into his work at Alchemax, we're introduced to a love interest:  it's all pretty standard.  But, I'm not complaining.  David isn't the type of guy that needs splashy events to write an amazing story, so I'm actually glad that we're starting slow.  Miguel's life will only get more complicated from here.

The Good 
1) Using the T.O.T.E.M. agent as the first enemy in this new series was a clever move.  As I detail in the "Unknown" section, it establishes that Miguel's actions affect the future, essentially freeing David from the constraints of keeping everything that happens in our present in line with the events in 2099 as we understand them (to the extent that we do).  It's important for the vitality of this series, and David clearly knows that.  Also, he's a hoot, which helps.  I'd love to see him keep popping up every few issues, like the Brotherhood in "Uncanny X-Men," if only because the banter is good.

2) I like that Miguel used Lyla to win the lottery.  At first, I was annoyed by the implication, but then I realize that it was totally something that Miguel would do.  Peter might not do it, but Miguel wouldn't exactly be that morally upstanding.  Also, it's clear that it wasn't like he hit Powerball or anything.  It's just enough to rent an apartment in Washington Heights.  It's only a little unethical.

3) Similarly, I like the idea that David has Liz put two and two together so quickly.  Most authors go to great lengths to protect character's identities, but it seems like Liz is going to figure out Miguel's secret sooner rather than later.  The idea that Miguel could help build Alchemax.  Talk about moral dilemma!  Plus, we know that their activities will have disastrous consequences (though, from T.O.T.E.M.'s perspective, that could presumably be changing Alchemax for the better, since it would still be messing with time).  I'm assuming that Liz would use Miguel's desire not to appear officially in Alchemax records as leverage, but David clearly has a plan up his sleeve.

4) Beyond just the banter with the T.O.T.E.M. agent, I'm glad to see David really embrace a sense of humor for this series.  Miguel's always been a darker character than Peter, but it's still a Spider-Man series, for Uncle Ben's sake.  Lyla putting him in a tuxedo rather than his costume, him telling Liz a "...walk into a bar" joke when she notes that the real Spider-Man would be telling jokes:  they're all great fun.  In fact, in telling the bar joke, I could hear Christopher Daniel Barnes' voice (from the "Spider-Man:  Edge of Time") in my head, always a good sign that you're feeling the character.

The Unknown
David is clearly going to have to suppress the urge to constantly tie everything he does in this series to the future.  The T.O.T.E.M. agent essentially reminds us that everything Miguel does alters the future, and this series would be a drag if he takes that schtick too far, showing us every moment in the first series that now didn't happen.  So far, we've basically established that nothing related to Miguel himself -- as a physical entity -- will change so long as Tiberius stays alive.  But, if the future is changing the longer that Miguel stays in the past, you could make an argument that his memories of his future are going to diverge from the reality of the new future.  So long as David establishes that (and doesn't have Miguel remember this new future every time that he does something, as if he lived said future), then I think that we're OK.  Basically, the only thing that he has to do in terms of the future is keeping Tiberius alive.  Otherwise, I think David has broad license to write the stories that he wants to tell.  The danger there will be to get too cute, like revealing that Miguel has a kid with the pink-haired girl and that kid becomes Xina's parent, meaning that he's married to his own granddaughter.  (Eww.) 

The Meh
Speaking of the pink-haired girl, I can't say that I'm really feeling her.  We first met her in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1, and she seemed just as crazy then as she seems now.  But, David clearly has a Plan, so I'll try to withhold judgment.