Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For me, the weirdest part of this issue is the idea that anyone could even remotely believe that Charles Xavier wasn't capable of doing what he reveals that he did here, namely erase a powerful mutant's knowledge of his own powers.

I mean, seriously.  Do I even have to list the number of times that Xavier used his powers unethically, leading to ruin for the team?  He deleted Magneto's consciousness, resulting in the birth of Onslaught.  He erased Scott's memory of the death of the second team of X-Men, resulting in the enmity of Vulcan.  Plus, those moments are just the ones that I can recall off the top of my head since they were the denouements of two major events.  Who could even begin to remember all the other times that Xavier crossed the line with disastrous results?  If Marvel got an intern to catalogue all the times that Xavier crossed said line, I think that she'd find a plethora of examples of Xavier tampering not just with someone in the short term (like rendering an opponent unconscious in battle) but altering his life or personality in the long term.  Is Scott really that outraged that Xavier did so once again?

Moreover, if he is outraged, shouldn't he be outraged that Xavier could somehow justify deleting the memory of the most powerful mutant to ever live, but couldn't help Rogue or Scott control their powers?  Isn't that more outrageous?  We've seen Xavier cross the line so often that the line itself is just a distant dot on the horizon at this point.  But, Xavier maintained his integrity when it came not to helping his own students?  I'd be more outraged about that if I were a guy who only ever saw the color red.

In other words, the revelation that the X-Men have to face a scary new mutant is fine and everything, but I just don't buy Scott's reaction.  Sure, Bendis uses Bobby to (probably accurately) suggest that Scott is overplaying his outrage to justify killing him, but it doesn't make the story any more interesting.  Xavier once again unethically controlled someone.  Next!

Moreover, Bendis shows a little too heavy hand in structuring the story.  Charles refuses to reveal the rest of his Last Will and Testament until the X-Men check on Malloy.  Really?  It's seems just an obvious attempt to delay the inevitable, making me wonder why we're subjected to the Malloy story in the first place.  Why not just get to the good part?  I'm assuming Bendis has a reason, but it seems a lot more likely that the remaining revelations will have a more direct impact on the X-Men's lives than their upcoming battle with Malloy.

The only really good part of this issue was Logan's comment about how well behaved he was being; I admit that I LOLed at that.  Otherwise, meh.

** (two of five stars)

Original Sin #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Jesus, can Marvel not fuck up an event?

I was mostly happy with this event until issue #7.  Until that point, Aaron was doing a great job of solving one mystery only to reveal another one.  It seemed like we were building to some amazing revelation that would shake the foundations of the Marvel Universe.  Over the course of the series, the story had slowly started to focus increasingly on Nick Fury, but this focus seemed reasonable given the likelihood that Master o' Secrets Fury would be instrumental in bringing about said revelation.

However, last issue, it suddenly became clear that this series was really all about Nick.   It was a weird realization, since Marvel had already pushed aside Nick and brought his son to the fore in order to bring the comics more in line with the movies.  Maybe they wanted to give Nick a proper good-bye?  It seemed plausible, but it didn't leave me feeling happy.  If I had known that this mini-series would just boil down to a love letter to a character that I didn't really like in the first place, I would've passed.

Moreover, the tie-in issues were still focusing on the secrets related to the Marvel Universe's other characters, making it all the odder that the main series increasingly became focused on Nick.  For example, Thor is still in Heven in the "Thor & Loki:  The Tenth Realm" mini-series running concurrent with the regular series, though we see him in this issue struggling to pick up Mjolnir.  Give that this development will directly lead to the introduction of the new Thor, it seems reasonable to think that we would've actually spent time on exploring it in the main series (particularly given all the time dedicated to Midas and the Orb).

In the end, though we're left with the anti-climatic revelation that Nick did kill the Watcher, though we're not told why he did so.  Did he do it because he realized that he could use the secrets contained on his eye for good?  No one actually says that.  After all, we still don't know what secrets Nick wanted on the eye, so it's hard to speculate what good that he could've done with them.  Aaron hints that Nick had to kill Uatu because he knew something about Nick, but it couldn't have just been the Unseen, since Nick himself revealed that information to the handful of possible replacements that he picked.  As such, despite eight issues dedicated to the subject, we really have no idea why Uatu had to die.

Instead, we're left with an insane Orb running around the place with Uatu's eye embedded in his chest and a seemingly alive Nick Fury staying on the Moon with Uatu's other eye embedded in his empty eye-socket.  The main problem that I have with this ending is that these developments seem unlikely to have any impact on anything.  Is the Marvel Universe going to devolve into following the escapades of a crazed and deformed Orb?  We don't even have a logical series to pick up his "adventures."

In the end, this event fells like it would've been better done as "Acts of Vengeance," allowing each series to handle the topic on its own rather than forcing an eight-issue mini-series on top of it.  We probably could've just had a one-shot that ended with the Orb detonating the eye bomb and be done with the framing story.  Instead, we spent eight issues telling a story that really only affects a C-List and D-List character.  I can't exactly call that time and money well spent.

* (one of five stars)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On Collections and Converting to Digital Comics (Maybe)

A History of Collecting
I've been collecting comics since I was roughly six years old.  I'm not sure when I started using bags and boards, but it was definitely by the time that I entered high school.  In the years before I had a computer, I spent at least a few days every summer carefully writing out the inventory of my collection on legal pads.  My adolsenct self only happily went to the grocery store with my mother because my LCS was in the strip mall next to it.  I met one of my best friends when we both checked out "Incredible Hulk" graphic novels from our middle-school library.

When I left for college, I was separated from my collection, even as it took up an increasingly large part of my (former) room in my parents' attic.  By the time I finished college, I had stopped collecting comics, thanks to the late 1990s era of comics driving me over the edge and a increasing embarrassment in those years before nerd culture became acceptable.  Within a few years, I was moving frequently and my collection stayed in my parents' attic, even though it no longer had any active meaning to me.  My parents have always happily stored the collection, but my distance from it started to call into question why I still had it.  What value did comics in an attic on the other side of the world have to me, particularly since I wasn't even bothering to stay current with the characters?

I resumed collecting a few years ago, and it's been a real joy to discover that the writing and the art in comics have improved dramatically since the last time that I was collecting.  But, it meant that I entered a particularly ridiculous phase of collecting:  a predominantly large percentage of my collection remained in my parents' attic, but an increasingly large percentage now resided with me, wherever it was that I was.  I had a great deal of anxiety over reunifying that resident collection with the attic collection, going so far as taking suitcase full of comics home with me on visits as if I were smuggling drugs.  (I would actually frequently be paged in the airport to open up the suitcase, since a bundle of 200 comics wrapped in plastic bags apparently looks "odd" on x-rays.)

I returned to the U.S. in 2012 and spent a year in graduate school, and I was excited about the potential to reunify my two collections at long loast.  I moved it the attic collection with me to my new apartment, and it was the first time since I was 18 years old that I was in the same place as it.  I spent hours and hours (and hours) going through the collection letter by letter.  I made sure every issue had a decent bag and a board, I weeded out second and third printings that had snuck into the main collection.  (It's this part that honestly took hours.)  I updated my increasingly sophisticated database.  It was stressful and enjoyable all at once.  By the time I left in the summer of 2013, my collection was a thing of organizational beauty.  And, into my parents' attic it would again go.

Insomnia Inspires an Epiphany
I'm once again overseas, and so I once again find myself with a resident collection separate from my larger one.  I started considering getting insurance on both collections, particularly as I passed the 5,000-comic mark.  When I had nothing else worrying me, I'd wonder how I would store my collection when I eventually returned to the U.S.  At some point, I would have to take possession of the attic collection again.  I mean, I couldn't exactly have 50+ boxes of comics in the retirement home with me.  What would I do?  I figured that I'd have to build the sort of specially equipped room like you'd see on some sort of TLC show about organizational challenges.  Then, I'd have to, I don't know, die there, cursing the "Clone Saga" with my last breath.  In other words, I'd dedicated a lot of energy, money, and time into ammassing 5,000+ comics over the last 32 years and I'd begun to wonder what the future held if current trends continued.

Despite this angst, I never really considered digital comics.  To be fair, they weren't really available for most of the three decades that I've collected comics.  But, a few weeks ago, I was suffering from a bout of insomnia and realized that I should probably get "Batman Eternal" -- a series that I'm not really enjoying but feel obligated to get -- digitally.  I could still read the story, but I didn't really care if I had the comic physically.  Given that it's going to generate over four years of a monthly series' issues over the course of its run, it seemed a good place to cut back a bit on storage.

But, this realization begged another question:  if I was going to get "Batman Eternal" digitally, why not another upcoming weekly series, "Earth 2:  World's End?"  I was marginally more excited about that series than I am about "Batman Eternal," but it again seemed a good way to mitigate the problem that weekly comics presented.  Suddenly, the floodgates opened.  Why not get everything digitally?  If I really only cared about the story, did it matter if I had the issues physically?  In my gut, I felt like I might want to get "Amazing Spider-Man," since I felt like the physical connection mattered to me.  I wanted to be able to read that in the retirement home.  But, right now, I have to wait weeks and weeks to get my comics from the Midtown Comics shipping service.  Wouldn't it make more sense to go entirely digital?

Where I Am Now?
I've decided to do a trial run on the digital front, getting the weekly comics and comics that I'm thinking about dropping -- like "New Warriors" and "Secret Avengers" -- since I obviously don't care if I have them for posterity.  But, I feel like it's all going to fall quickly.  I'm not only considering why I'm accruing comics, but I suddenly find myself seeing my collection as a burden.  If I were to lose my comics, it would be devastating...but I would be able to pay $9.99 a month for Marvel Unlimited and have access to probably 80 percent of the issues that I lost.  It's this sudden inversion of the model -- where back issues had more value than current issues -- that's changed the game.  If I no longer have to pay more than a minimal monthly fee to have decades' worth of comics at my fingerprints, why worry about the comics sitting in my parents' attic that I can't read anyway?

On some level, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulder.  Digital comics aren't perfect, obviously, though the DRM issues feel like the sort of thing that'll be unlikely to be with us in 20 years, if not ten.  (That said, I linked my Comixology account to DC and Marvel, since, if it eventually closes shop, I wanted at least some sort of claim on the comics that I bought.)  I will say, though, that I do find myself reeling a bit.  If I'm not a collector -- in a physical sense -- what am I?  A reader?  Do I cound these issues in my spreadsheet?  Do they go into a separate spreadsheet?  The times, they are a-changin'.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Justice League #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although I enjoyed "Forever Evil" as much as could be expected for such an event, I have to say that its aftermath isn't all that thrilling.  First, the threat of the Anti-Monitor seems too remote to take seriously at the moment.  Moreover, assuming that it does eventually manifest itself, it's also competing with the threat of the Earth 2 invasion of Earth that we're apparently going to see as part of "Earth 2:  World's End" and "The New 52:  Futures End."  It's just getting hard to keep all the multiversal threats seriously.  As such, we're just left with Lex Luthor's attempts to join the Justice League to entertain us, and I can't say that I find them all that interesting.  We all know at some point the League will find a way to outmaneuver Luthor, and I'm guessing that he'll wind up suffering from some sort of amnesia that robs him of his knowledge of Batman's identity.  With the conclusion so likely (and apparent), it's hard to be all that invested.

** (two of five stars)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Grayson: Futures End #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Whereas I found the "Detective Comics" and "Earth 2" versions of the "Futures End" event to be almost unreadable, this one actually isn't all that bad.

First, King expands upon the plot briefly detailed in the "Earth 2" issue, making it clear that not only did the inhabitants of Earth 2 come to Earth, but their appearance led to a war between the two people.  Moreover, parademons were involved, possibly on the side of the Earth 2 forces.  In other words, this issue oddly clarified a lot more about Earth 2's future than the "Earth 2" issue did.

Second, King uses the war and its aftermath as a backdrop to explore Dick's relationship with Helena.  The story is told with each page bringing us earlier and earlier into Dick's history.  If you're not paying attention, it's easy to miss the "trick" that explains the first page; if you are, then you definitely feel rewarded at the end of the issue.

Moreover, the issue isn't just about the trick.  King doesn't have time to explain everything that we need to know about Dick's relationship with Helena, like if she ever discovers that he was working for Batman the entire time that he was with Spyral, or, conversely, if she actually gets him not to work for Bruce any longer.  But, it actually does for this issue what the other two "Futures End" issues didn't do, namely made me excited to read a story in the present that unfolded along the lines of the one that we see here.

The problem, of course -- though I'm not holding it against King -- is that this entire "Futures End" exercise is telling stories that are unlikely to unfold this way.  The idea that we're going to watch Russia take over Eurasia in the wake of a war between Earth and Earth 2 seems pretty unlikely.  Even if I wouldn't mind Seeley exploring the relationship between Dick and Helena in future issues, it seems unlikely to happen the way that it does here.  As such, no matter how good this issue is, it still feels manipulative, like we're being promised something that DC can't deliver.

In other words, it might be a relative win, but it's a win nonetheless.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2: Futures End #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Here we go again.

This issue reads almost exactly like "Detective Comics:  Futures End" #1.  The author is under the gun to reveal a specific fact about the future -- in this case, that the residents of Earth 2 abandoned it for Earth -- but everything else makes little sense.  Mr. Terrific and two versions of Terry Sloan are in some sort of battle for portable boom-tubes, though we never learn what either Sloan wanted with them.  We also learn that Sloan is from neither Earth nor Earth 2, though I have no idea what we're supposed to do with this information.  In other words, the only thing that this issue does is set up the premise of "Earth 2:  World's End," since it seems that said series will result in its inhabitants abandoning it for "our" Earth.  The problem is that I don't believe it.  Are we really going to see Earth 2 destoryed?  It seems rather unlikely.

In other words, I just saved you another $3.99.

* (one of five stars)

Detective Comics: Futures End #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Here, let me save you $3.99:

Calendar Man takes control of Arkham Asylum (now Island) and threatens to pull the plug on Gotham's electricity grid if the man responsible for ruining his family isn't given to him.  (I don't know why you'd allow insane criminals easy access to the grid, particularly given previous events, but it's Gotham after all.)  We're supposed to believe that the person responsible is Batman for giving away his son, but it's actually the Riddler since his wife died as a result of "Zero Year."  Batman apparently knows that from the start and manipulates Riddler into accompanying him onto the Island to deliver him to Calendar Man.  Yup, you read that correctly.  Batman basically sets up Riddler's murder to save Gotham.

Maybe you'll like the cover?

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Batman Eternal #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After 20 issues, this series is finally about Batman!  Bruce realizes that Hush is behind the Architect's attack on a new Wayne Enterprises building, but Snyder and Tynion clearly make us wonder if he's the mastermind behind all the attacks in Gotham lately or just this set of them.  We're clearly not getting an answer to that conundrum anytime soon.

On the issue at hand, the Architect apparently had some grand scheme for the construction of the Beacon, a new Wayne Enterprises building, though Bruce foils the attempt before we ever discover what it is.  I'm not entirely sure what we're supposed to believe about the Architecht at this point, since "Batman:  Gates of Gotham" happened in the DCU (and wasn't all that clear about the character and his motivations in the first place).  I guess it's enough for us to know that Hush was manipulating him in the background and go from there.  But, at some point, it would be nice to know why Hush needed him specifically and what role the Beacon played in that plan, particularly since the Architect knew that he was racing against the clock before Batman stopped him.

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To cut right to the point, my problem with this issue is that Remender gives us explanations for why a certain character is in a certain state that don't really make all that much sense when you think about them carefully.  Alex's body "processes cosmic radiation like a generator" and it body rejects skin grafts?  Why?  Does it also mean he can't heal from normal wounds?  What does processing radiation have to do with skin grafts?  If Beast thinks that he can use nanotechnology to purge the "death energy" that changed Banshee into a Horseman on a molecular level, why can't the same process work for Alex?  Also, Rogue absorbed Simon's psyche and suddenly she can't control her powers anymore?  Really?  What about absorbing Simon in particular prevents her from controlling her powers?  Does it affect her mind?  Also, why do the Avengers from the future still remember their future if it never actually happened?  Remender usually so carefully plots out his stories so that one development proceeds from a previous one, but it is definitely not the case here, unfortunately.

Also, a quick note on the art:  I don't dislike Greene's style.  It's not necessarily my cup of tea, but it definitely comes from a recognizable branch of comic-book art.  The problem is that the cover image is so beautifully realistic -- as if the Avengers were going to appear in your town at any minute to save the day, looking exactly like they do here -- that the discrepancy is too jarring.  Greene's work feels cartoonish in comparison, undermining the wrenching emotions that we're supposed to feel when reading this issue.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #1.4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Poor Peter.

Once again, Slott does a great job showing how vulnerable Peter was in his early days as Spider-Man.  One of the main complaints that people that aren't fans of the Web-Slinger have is that he's excessively whiny.  He's a little better now than he used to be, but it's definitely a valid point.  However, Slott reminds us why he actually used to be whiny in the first place.  Losing your friends, job, mentor, and reputation all in one fell swoop because you swiped some equipment to stop a madman is unfair.  It probably seems even more unfair as an adolescent, particularly one who also just lost his father figure.  Slott underscores that loss by having Peter narrate this issue from Uncle Ben's gravesite, since, after all, he can't tell anyone else why he stole the material.  If a 16-year-old talking to his dead uncle on his grave about losing everything to be a good guy doesn't remind you of how hard Peter had it, I don't know what will.

I'm finding myself hoping that we're going to encounter a grown-up Clash after this mini-series concludes.  Clash out-sciences Peter here, something, as Peter says, that's never happened to him previously.  It really opens up your imagination, leading you to wonder how Peter would fare against a grown-up Clash.  I had assumed Clash would wind up dead or incarcerated at the end of this series to explain why we haven't heard of him.  Now, I'm hoping that it's the latter and he finally gets released to seek his vengeance on Spidey.  That feeling just shows how well Slott has done in creating his character in such a short time.

(For those playing at home, Slott places this issue around the events of issue #2, where Peter combats the Vulture and the Tinkerer.  Man, I'm glad I read those issues a few years ago!)

***** (five of five stars)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All-New X-Men #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'll be honest:  as much as I usually love the banter in this series, Bendis goes a little too far here.  Everything is a little too...punchy.  It's not just Bobby, either.  From Jean's attempt at a heart-to-heart with Laura to the original X-Men's interactions with the new mutant, the conversations are a little too light-hearted for the gravity of the situations.  Moreover, we've moved into the ridiculous with the fact that the time-displaced X-Men are now dimensionally displaced as well.  At some point, it might be nice for the team to just fight Juggernaut or something.  Between the punchiness and ridiculousness, it was sort of rough getting through this issue.

** (two of five stars)

All-New Invaders #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Somehow, a story about retrieving Toro has become about revealing that a former East German spy collecting Deathloks was actually a Martian in disguise.  Yeah, I don't really know either.  I'll stay until the end of this arc, but I think that I'm done after that.  Robinson's exposition wasn't even as bad as usual in this issue, but it's still there, weighing down a story that frankly doesn't have the armor class to handle the hits.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Can I just say how nice it is to have the band back together?  Peter and Rich, joking about splitting rent on an apartment in downtown Cancerverse?  Drax being all crazy in his pursuit of killing Thanos?  [Sigh.]  I miss the old days.

Bendis doesn't actually reveal Nova's fate in this issue.  Instead, we see the moments leading to said fateful moment.  Peter begins to wonder if he's going to do more harm than good if he uses the Cube to kill Thanos, given the fact that Thanos himself never seemed to wield it correctly.  It leads Peter to hesitate in killing Thanos, and Thanos pounces on his uncertainty.

Bendis does a great job of showing us Peter's conflicting emotions as Thanos tells him that he might've been willing to die at some point, but he now wants to live.  Thanos offers to save him and his friends if he'll give him the Cube and, despite his assertions to the contrary, you can tell Peter considers it.  Although Peter doesn't buy it in the end, he's still unable to do the deed and the Cube beginning to assert its power over him as Rich tries to get him to drop it.

At first, I thought that we were going to discover that Peter accidentally sent himself, Drax, and Thanos home after Rich tells him to take Drax and flee.  It would've been an unconscious sin, the Cube plucking the wish from his mind.  But, it seems like it's going to be worse than that, that Peter willingly throws in his lot with Thanos.  We shall see.

My only real complaint about this issue is that it probably should've been a double-sized one.  The story ends at a key moment, but not one that lends itself to a cliff-hanger.  The momentum is just getting started, and it would've probably been better to keep it going until the final reveal.  But, I guess we're going to have to wait until next month instead.  

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Original Sin #5.4/Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

My, but this issue is fun!  Aaron and Ewing just deliver a great treat here.  Loki uses Heven's fleet to break open the barrier surrounding Asgard so he can beseech Odin to return to fight the angels.  (He maybe forgot to mention to the Queen that the Asgardians don't live on Asgard anymore.)  Mjolnir finally arrives in Heven, freeing Thor and setting up a pretty epic battle.  Angela begins to wonder (thanks to some totally innocent questioning by Loki) why she agreed to trade in the ability to explore the cosmos to become the Mistress of the Hunt, functionally trapped on Heven.  Along the way, Loki hilariously talks about murdering babies.  No, really, it's hilarious.  Anyway, just read the issue.

***** (five of five stars)

Batman Eternal #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Now, we're actually getting somewhere.

As I somewhat expected, Snyder and Tynion reveal Bard to be one of the bad guys in this issue.  Bard has risen too quickly through the GCPD's ranks for it not to be suspicious, though Snyder and Tynion still have to make clear whether this rise was narratively convenient or well orchestrated.  In fact, you have to ask the question why Batman himself hasn't articulated this concern.

Whereas Snyder and Tynion made it clear that Forbes got the job as Commissioner as part of his collusion with Falcone, they haven't explicitly shown Bard making a similar deal.  As far as we know, he's just been an excellent cop.  Throughout his run, his success rate has raised two questions.  First, how exactly has he been so successful?  How could someone so new to Gotham develop the network of contacts and sources necessary to know where crime is going to happen before it happens?  Second, how is he still alive?  Given how successful he has been, you'd figure that someone would've stopped him by now.  With the revelation that Bard's a bad guy, Snyder and Tynion imply that his mysterious patron has given him the information and protection that he's needed to be successful.  However, Snyder and Tynion need to show us that piece of the puzzle.  Otherwise, it's just too much to ask us to suspend disbelief to this extent.  It begins to feel overly convenient and, again, it makes you ask why Batman hasn't asked similar questions.

Turning from Bard, Snyder and Tynion use Falcone here to move us to the next phase of this series, where Batman begins to hunt for (presumably) the main culprit.  He reveals to Batman that someone did tip him to the fact that s/he planned to take down Gordon (and Gotham), literally sending him an engraved invitation to resume his criminal activities in the city.  He also shrugs off Batman's discovery that Falsario was killed with a knife belonging to him, making it clear that he's just a pawn on the chessboard.  The gang war in Gotham is over, and Batman has more pressingly matters at hand.  I have to say that I was surprised to see this phase of the story come to the close.  I expected the gang war to serve as the smokescreen for the real actions for most of this series, so I have to wonder how Snyder and Tynion are going to keep Batman distracted from IDing the mastermind for the next 31 issues.

However, maybe they don't intend to do so?  They certainly imply here that it's Hush.  Although it's unclear why he takes out Alfred, it's pretty clearly him on the phone with Bard.  However, Bard calls him "Mother," raising at least the possibility that it's someone else (and female) under the bandages.  But, given the lengths to which Snyder and Tynion have gone to keep the identity of the mastermind secret, it seems unlikely that it's the final word on the matter.

To sum, we're finally getting somewhere and I'm actually interested in where that "where" is.  Who would've thought it?

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Avengers #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Spies!  Spying!  Deadpool!

Yes, I still have no idea what's happening in this series.  Coulson and Derrida's spiritual adviser uttered four words to Coulson last issue:  "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius."  We learn in this issue that Orbis and Uqbar are not only known criminals (thanks to Coulson finding that information in the S.H.I.E.L.D. databases), but also two of the A.I.M. agents present at the "A.I.M.ee Mann Fan Central" building where Deadpool is holding Hawkeye hostage.  However, we still don't get any real insight into why Deadpool is holding Hawkeye hostage (or working with A.I.M. for that matter).  We also have yet to learn about the other two words, though Derrida himself utters the word, "Tlön," in this issue.

Stepping back a bit, the three main threats that the Secret Avengers have faced in this re-launched series have been:  Coulson and Nick confronting the Fury; Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman stopping Derrida from selling Vladimir the Sentient Bomb; and Black Widow disappearing into a black hole thanks to the detonation of a Vladimiresque bomb.  The implication is that these threats are connected to this person that sought out Coulson and Derrida's spiritual adviser before them, a person that may or may not be M.O.D.OK.

Kot makes some of these connections clearer in this issue, such as Maria Hill informing us that both Lady Bullseye and Vladimir are connected to S.P.E.A.R. (China's S.H.I.E.L.D.).  Moreover, as mentioned, Derrida utters the word "Tlön," so it connects Vladimir to the spiritual adviser (since Vladimir is connected to Derrida).  In fact, pretty much everything other than the pregnant Fury is connected in some way to everything else.  But, the web is still hard to see through the threads.  I'm giving this issue two stars because I admit that I feel like we're starting to get unnecessarily complicated here and I worry that it's going to get worse before it gets better.

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Batman Eternal #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is clearly a transition issue, though Seeley does his best to keep it moving.  Synder and Tynion bring resolution to three of the ongoing sub-plots:  Barbara and her team gather enough evidence to show that Commissioner Gordon was framed; Bard, Batman, and Croc save Jade from the ten-eyed dude; and Gordon gets an assist from a former Gotham crime-boss in...doing something.

In the first two cases, the "resolutions" don't actually get to the root causes of the problems.  Someone murders Falsario before he can talk, making it clear that we still don't really know who (or what) framed Gordon; Falsario was just the vehicle for the crime.  Moreover, the ten-eyed dude seemed vaguely connected to the events occurring under Arkham, but nothing that happens here clarifies that connection.  I get that Snyder and Tynion can't exactly wrap up these stories with 32 issues left in the series, but I still find myself anxious to take some issues off the table.

Unfortunately, the resolution of the Gordon story isn't just disappointing; it's bad.  Gordon does his "Die Hard" routine, saving a cop before the inmates can kill him.  The inmates almost get the upper hand on Gordon, but Leo his cell mate -- revealing himself to be a former crime-boss named the Lion -- saves his life.  Leo's apparently motivated by his desire not to see Gordon's daughter live the rest of her life without a father like his daughter had to do.  I can't tell if we're supposed to buy that load of baloney or not, but I guess we'll see.  My main issue is that I'm not 100% sure why Gordon and Leo taking down this group of criminals suddenly sets up the liberation of Blackgate.  Harvey said that he was waiting for Gordon to be successful in his mission before sending in the troops, but I thought that Gordon had a lot more on his plate than just saving the cops.  I could be wrong, but the jump from Leo saving Gordon to the S.W.A.T. teams re-establishing control of the prison left me feeling like I missed a few pages.  Although I know the team is anxious to introduce to Spoiler, as they do here, I definitely felt like they could've waited until next issue and done a better job bringing the Blackgate story to a close, particularly given the dramatic potential that it had.

** (two of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #2: "Women & Secrets"

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote #1:  "What was your dad like?"  "[He's the head of an oppressive corporation who stranded me here in 2014.]  He was okay.  We don't talk much these days." -- Tempest and Miguel

Favorite Quote #2:  "What comes in brands?"  "Yyyyyyeah.  How do you not know that?"  "I come from the year 2099.  By that time, water is just water."  "Right.  Okay."  "[It's so easy fitting in in this time.  People ask me questions, I answer them honestly, and they assume I'm joking.  So it all works out."  -- Miguel and Tempest, again

Summary
Miguel is trying to deposit a check when a bunch of would-be robbers hold up the bank.  Wondering why it's his lot in life to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he takes out the robbers in short order and then evades the police arresting him.  He returns home and then goes to Tempest's apartment to give her some flowers to thank her for cleaning off the "mercurochrome" from his floor last issue.  She promptly slams the door in his face.  She then opens it again to ask him why he wears sunglasses indoors.  They have an awkward exchange where she invites him into her place without exactly inviting him into her place.  He asks why her apartment is full of sports posters.  She explains that her father wanted a boy and, when he had a girl, he still took her to every sports game that he could afford.  She offers Miguel some water, since it's the only thing that she has, and Miguel then surprises her by asking how sick she is.  She expresses shock that he knows that, but he comments on the fact that she's an otherwise healthy twenty-something with a lot of medical bills.  She furiously asks if he's been reading her mail, but he notes that she left out the bills on her table.  She throws the glass of water at him and demands that he leaves.  He catches it (before the water can spill) and leaves.

Returning to his apartment, he encounters Liz Allan.  They enter his apartment and Miguel invites her to take a seat on the only piece of furniture that he has:  a folding chair.  Liz asks him to tell her who he is and he responds that he's "no one in particular."  She asks if he played guitar for an indie band called Sleepaway or owned a book store in the U.K., because the only Michael O'Mara's that she could find did those things.  She informs him that his social-security number belongs to someone who died in 1968 and that the people listed on his résumé don't know who he is.  (We also learn that Miguel charmed the head of HR, to whom Liz will be speaking.)  Miguel realizes that he has only one option and throws Liz out the window.  However, that little moment is revealed to be a day dream.  Upon prompting from Liz, Miguel returns to the moment and asks why she decided to investigate him all of a sudden.  She tells him that she realized after Spider-Man's appearance at Alchemax that he was likely on the staff so she checked into everyone; Miguel was the only one without a certifiable background, so she thinks that he's Spider-Man.  She tells him that he can deny it and that she came to him first because he saved her son.  She begins to leave, but Miguel stops her.  He has Lyla dress him in a stereotypically futuristic costume and tells Liz that he's stuck here in the present to help his grandfather Tiberius achieve his full potential.  She asks how he changed clothes so quickly; surprised that her "takeaway" after he dumped "this boatload of exposition" on her is his clothes change, he reveals his holo-unit and Lyla.  Liz is amazed and Miguel asks what she wants in exchange for staying quiet.  She then kisses him and leaves, but not before asking if the Cubs ever win the World Series.  (Miguel doesn't know what the World Series is, so it doesn't look good.)

Reeling from Liz's kiss, Miguel is surprised when someone knocks on his door.  He thinks that it's Liz, but it's Tempest.  She admits that she has "t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia" and only has a few months to live.  She thanks him for the flowers and leaves him to his thoughts.

The Review
Color me a happy camper.  One of the main challenges of this series it that David is going to have to avoid letting it descend into "Quantum Leap," where we spend every issue with Miguel trying to find a way home.  In this issue, he sends a clear signal that he gets that by making it all about Miguel's relationships with people in the present.  Moreover, in typical Miguel fashion, these "people" happen to be women.  What would Xina think?

The Good
1) The unexpected dream-sequence where Miguel throws Liz from the window was amazing.  You really didn't know where David was going from panel to panel.  Would Miguel save her and reveal his secret identity?  Would she somehow save herself?  Would she die?  It really drew you right to the edge of your seat.  It's a great reminder that David is always telling a long story, so he can take the time to throw in sequences like this one because he's not rushing to get to the next revelation.  Plus, Sliney really sells it, from the Liz's look of horror as she plummets to the ground to Miguel's menacing fanged grin.  It made me gasp when it happened, and it's been a long time since a comic made me do that.

2) Miguel's general interactions with Liz were great (though I'm not sure about the outcome, as detailed in the next section).  David makes it clear how smart Liz is, deducing that Miguel has to be Spider-Man because he's the only one without a certifiable background.  Sure, someone with a certifiable background could be Spider-Man; Peter Parker has one, after all.  But, it's a pretty good idea to start with the guy that doesn't have one.  As a result, it forces Miguel to reveal the truth to Liz, but not the one that she thought.  I have to applaud David for taking this step, because it was going to get really old that no one knew Miguel's "secret."  I'm intrigued to see where he takes it.  Both Slott and David have portrayed Liz as anything other than scrupulous, so it's unlikely that she's not going to want to exploit this revelation for her own ends.  Her interest in the holo-unit implies that she's going to put pressure on Miguel to use his future technological knowledge to make Alchemax money.  (Maybe it's how Alchemax gains its market share in the first place.)  Then again, it's not like Miguel hews as strong of an ethical line as Peter does, so Miguel might not necessarily be opposed to this sort of manipulation.  We shall see.

3) I'm glad David made Tempest something other than a lunatic.  It now makes sense why she challenged those thugs in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1.  I'm still not entirely sure why she's hostile to everyone, but, given the fact that David took the time to establish that she's a sports fan, I'm fairly confident that we'll get an answers to this question, too.

The Unknown
I'm not sure about Liz kissing Miguel.  David has always portrayed Miguel as the type of guy that women love (see:  charmed HR director), so it's not inconsistent with his previous characterization.  But, it's the only part of the story that feels rushed.  We've already established that Liz is pretty level-headed, so it seems impulsive of her to kiss an employee, let alone one from the future.  But, then again, assuming Liz is level headed, maybe she's got a plan.  Or, maybe she's lonely, and Miguel's famous ass was too much for her to resist.  At any rate, I'm willing to reserve judgment to see where we go from here.

Secret Avengers #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So...

Someone has a vendetta against Black Widow and uses Lady Bullseye to trick her into getting on a train that she believes has a bomb on it.  However, it doesn't have a bomb on it.  The "bomb" is on the tracks and it's the same type of bomb as Vladimir the Sentient Bomb.  It creates some sort of time-space vortex and Black Widow and Lady Bullseye are on the train as it speeds into it.

Phil goes to the Amazon where he finds a guy who advised Derrida and draws images of M.O.D.O.K., the Fury (I think), and possibly Dragon Man in the dirt.  The perpetrator of the grand scheme against S.H.I.E.l.D. apparently also approached the adviser years ago and his failure to "get rid of them" (whoever "them" is) is the source of everyone's troubles now.  Hawkeye -- sent by Maria to find Phil -- arrives two days later, where the adviser tells him, "Recover AIM.  AIM is the path."  He then sends him to Buenos Aires, where he finds Deadpool and a bunch of dancing A.I.M. agents at the "A.I.M.ee Mann Fan Central" building.

In other words, I still have no idea what I'm reading or where we're going.  It seems that we're getting closer to the guy pulling the strings, but I'm guessing that we're going to have to wait awhile until we get there.  It's getting hard to rate these issues, because most of the time I appreciate the fractured story-telling technique that Kot is using even if it sounds like I hate it.

That said, Kot is asking us to take the details on a lot of faith.  For example, we're supposed to believe that Coulson could easily find not only Derrida's spiritual adviser, but that said adviser will tell him what he needs to know...and then we repeat the whole process with Hawkeye two days later.  At this stage, I really wouldn't mind some details just to make it a little easier to remember what happened in the previous issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain Marvel #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If I had to complain about anything, it's that Kelly Sue DeConnick is so good at creating supporting casts of characters that I ended the issue upset that we might see this one again.

Carol buys Eleanides enough time to realize that the Spartax are tyrants and her people will suffer under their "care."  As a result, she has Carol destroy the vibranium mines that J'Son wants so desperately while Gil and Jackie take over her job of holding off the Spartax fleet.  Tic broadcasts J'Son's genocidal rant across the Haffensye network (dude has to start avoiding open mikes), and we end with the people of Torfa free to choose their own destiny.  Good job, team!

It's a tight ending to a great arc.  But, DeConnick makes it clear that the Torfans -- Bee, Gil, Jackie, and Tic -- are going to stay on Torfa, and Carol flies into the dark expanse of space on her own.  DeConnick did such a great job of fleshing out these characters (we even meet Jackie's wife here) that it's just sad to see them go.  Although I originally found myself anxious for Carol to return to Earth to see her supporting cast there again, I'm now hoping that we're not too long gone from Torfa.

In other words, despite my initial reservations, DeConnick has totally sold me on Carol in space.  Onwards and upwards.

**** (four of five stars)

Captain America #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'll admit it:  I actually thought Remender was off his game.  It was so obvious that Ian was the intruder that his reunion with Steve lacked a certain emotional punch.  It didn't help that they hardly had time for a hug before (a rather dashing and handsome) Ian joins Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor in an assault on Zola's tower.  But, I was wrong.  It's the unexpected revelation on the last page that Sharon is alive that made me realize that Remender knew exactly what he was doing.  Talk about a bait and switch!

Beyond the revelations, this issue is a joy to read.  Remender does a spectacular job with the characterization of everyone here.  From Tony's running commentary to Hulk's amazing "Hulk am poet of SMASH!" exclamation, the characters not only sound the way that they should but draw out the best in each other.  Remender constructed the story to maximize the potential of these interactions.  I loved watching Ian dive into battle with the other Avengers, and the paternal affection that even Tony starts to show toward Ian makes me hope that we see this group fight more battles in the future.  Moreover, Jet and Sam continue to be the best unexpected couple of the year.  Sure, Jet seems to have entirely changed her personality over the last few issues, but maybe Remender is just a hopeless romantic and believes that love inspires people to leave behind their shell.  Either way, it's just fun to watch them.

Plus, it's not only a great stand-alone issue, but it also sets up the grand finale.  Cap, Hulk, Ian, Iron Man, Jet, Sharon, Sam, and Thor versus Zola?  I can't wait to see that.  This title continues to be the only one that breaks my usual habit of reading my pull list in alphabetic order, because I can't wait to see what happens every month.  All hail Rick!

***** (five of five stars)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Amazing X-Men #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Kyle and Yost continue to tell a good ol' fashioned X-Men story, full of action, banter, suspense, and wit.  Honestly, I don't really have much to say, since it's just such a solid story.

In terms of the characters, the X-Men struggle to contain the Wendigo hordes, and Kyle and Yost use the experience to remind us of the bonds that these characters share.  It's hard to believe that it's been years since we've seen Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm on a team together, given the obvious affection and great teamwork that they exhibit here.  Firestar and Rockslide prove to be surprisingly good additions to the team, since their inexperience reminds us of the depth of the other characters' experience.  Bobby and Northstar are reliable sources of fun, with Northstar even flirting with some actual depth.  Rachel is really the only character that feels awkward, mostly because it's obvious that she had to be fit onto the team so that her telepathy could lead them in the right direction.

But, it's not just the X-Men at work here.  Alpha Flight arrives on the scene and, given the Avengers working to keep the border secure, Kyle and Yost really give you a sense of the scale of the challenge that confronts the X-Men.  The authors also remind us of the long history of Alpha Flight and the X-Men, showing the deep connection between the teams in the same way that they did with the characters.  At some point, I marveled at how well they did at keeping the voices of the many characters in play here separate and distinct.

Again, to summarize, this issue feels old-school.  It's a large-scale story that doesn't take itself too seriously, and the characters show emotion that isn't devoid of a sense of humor.  Although I (heart) "All-New X-Men" and "Uncanny X-Men," this title is definitely the more accessible of the X-books on the shelves, and Kyle and Yost make sure that's a high compliment.

**** (four of five stars)

All-New X-Men #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I (hearted) everything about this issue.

One of things that continues to surprise me about Bendis' run on the X-books, compared to his run on the Avengers, is that he spends a lot of time focusing on the X-Men as people.  His Avengers were little more than delivery mechanisms for one-liners.  However, his X-Men are a lot more mutli-dimensional, something that we see throughout this issue.

First things first, I love the scenes with Laura and Warren.  I like them together, but, the way that Bendis writes these scenes, they don't have to stay together forever and ever for these moments to mean something.  As Warren says here, maybe they just needed to enjoy some time as adolescents, not the next entrants on someone's hit list.  Maybe they like each other simply because of this mutual need to escape the confines of their responsibilities (similar to Kitty and Peter's bond over their intimacy issues).  Maybe it's something more.  Bendis certainly leaves open the door to something deeper, but it doesn't have to develop to have what happens between them in this issue be something lovely.  (Also, man, Pichelli draws a beautiful Angel.  She certainly makes you understand Laura's comment about Warren being prettier than she is.)

Moreover, Bendis doesn't have to force the connection.  The characters are recognizable throughout these scenes.  Warren is funny in that arrogant way that Warren always is, and Laura is defensive in the sad way that she always is.  (I've actually been reading old issues of "Dazzler," and Warren's self-assured courtship of her in that series doesn't feel entirely dissimilar to his courtship of Laura here.)  They're trying to figure out their connection just as we are.  From the individual characterizations to their actual interaction, Bendis really makes these two characters that've lurked in the background for a while shine.

Kitty and Peter's interactions are adorable as always, though I think that it's going to get harder and harder for Bendis to keep them "together."  In fact, my only trouble with this issue is actually with its other "couple" -- Emma and Jean.  I loved the members of the New Xavier School gathering on the hilltop to watch their confrontation, though Bendis lets out the air from the tires surprisingly early.  We go from an enraged Jean showing an impressive mastery of her powers against Emma, to them suddenly giggling like school girls.  It felt like we were missing a few panels.  I don't understand why Jean telling Emma that she was already crazy (and didn't need Emma to drive her there) made peace between them.  I'm guessing that I'm just going to have accept it, though, because Bendis seems unlikely to visit the subject again.  The good news is that Laura and Warren's romance more than compensates for this stumble.

**** (four of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As much as I've been enjoying the relaunched "Amazing Spider-Man," I have to say that I'm not a fan of this issue.  Slott reverts to some bad habits here, juggling so many scenes that he's forced to take narrative short-cuts that make little sense.

The exchange between Cindy and Peter at the start of the issue is perhaps the worst offender, since the two of them unexpectedly zag against the way that they were zigging last issue.  Cindy was ready to kill Peter when she discovered that he had released her from the bunker despite Morlun still living, but she simply shrugs off the threat in this issue, declaring that the damage has already been done.  Peter is apparently less outraged about the bunker than he was, since he suggests that Cindy returns to it while he tries to get more information about Morlun.  Moreover, he also decides that he's not entirely sure that he believes the story that the same spider bit the both of them, despite Slott giving us no real reason for him to doubt it.

Beyond just the narrative short-cuts, I also don't buy where Slott's taking us with the Black Cat.  She claims here that her beef with Spidey is that he "outted" her, but I'm pretty sure that her identity was never really all that secret.  Slott keeps trying to get us to believe that it was, but I really just don't buy it.  If it was, it certainly wasn't secret like Martin Li or Phil Urich's identities as Mr. Negative and Hobgoblin, respectively, were despite her drawing exactly that comparison here.

Finally, Jésus effing Christmas, I'm over Peter getting kidnapped due to his connection to Spidey.  Does Slott really have no other tricks up his sleeve?  I mean, sure, from an equity stand-point, it's better than Anna Maria, Aunt May, or Mary Jane getting constantly Women in Refrigerator-ed, but it's still as annoying.  I could flip through my most recent reviews to point out all the times that it's happened over the last two or three years, but anyone who's been reading this series during that time already knows that.  I couldn't help but roll my eyes at Peter's proclamation that no one should attack him after he held a press conference announcing that he wasn't Spidey's friend anymore.

Ugh.  How disappointing?  I'm sure Slott will recover, and I'm still excited about "Spider-Verse."  But, this issue was a step far off beat.

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Original Sins #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The revelation that Nick Fury has been re-animating a LMD of Dum Dum Dugan since 1966 is crazy, though I actually mean that in a good way.

The whole point of this series should've been revealing the secrets that weren't sufficiently Earth-shattering to merit inclusion in the main title.  Dum Dum is pretty C-List, so it makes sense that his story would be told here.  Moreover, Ewing tells a damn good story full of excellent characterization.  Dum Dum realizes that Nick only kept him alive so that he'd have someone to know all the tough-guy decisions that he's made over the years.  The fact that Fury programmed Dum Dum to be unable to kill him really underlines the point that Nick constrained Dum Dum's existence to the parameters that he saw fit.  In other words, Dum Dum wasn't meant to be his own man; he was meant to be the man that Fury needed him to be.  If he trusted him as he'd trust a regular human, he wouldn't have installed back-up programming.  Moreover, it's clear that Nick allowed Dum Dum to "live" because he knew that he could kill him if having a guy who knew his secrets became inconvenient; after all, Dum Dum wasn't real, in Nick's book.  It's a disturbing look into Nick's mind, and it supports the idea from the main series that he's too far gone to be saved at this point.  Again, a solid story that reveals secrets and supports the event's narrative is what we should've -- but didn't -- see in this book.

The back-up story?  About the Young Avengers?  Let's just say that I'm going to run the other way if I see anything with Ryan North's name on anything again.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Original Sin #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I've liked this series for the most part, a significant feat given how over events I am.  But, Aaron loses me here as we descend into nonsensical blather.  It's like "Gravity" with too much talking.

Nick Fury has always been the guy that knew all the secrets worth knowing.  In fact, the sub-text of this entire event has been taking that proposition to the extreme.  But, when we reach that extreme in this issue, we're crossed the line into ridiculous.  How does Fury know the words that somehow render Thor unworthy of holding Mjolnir?  With the hullabaloo over the upcoming debut of a female Thor, I had assumed that Thor did something to render him unworthy.  Instead, Fury just whispers a few words and strips godhood from a god.  Did I mention that he also knows the override code for Tony Stark's armor and that Logan murdered his "children?"  Fury implies that he knows these secrets because he managed to open the eyes, but I thought that he was still struggling to do that the last time that we saw them.

The problem with these revelations is that it's still unclear why we care.  Fury uses this knowledge to take down the Avengers (I guess Logan just went into a guilt coma), but we still don't know what he wants or why he doesn't want the Avengers involved.  If Fury was the one to steal the Watcher's eyes in the first place, why did he do it?  Did it have something to do with being the Man on the Wall?  These two plots are feeling increasingly isolated from one another, but I have to assume that Aaron will bridge the gap at some point.  But, even if he doesn't, we definitely need to know what secret Fury is willing to risk everything to know.  Doesn't he know enough?  If he knows enough to strip Stark of control of his armor or Thor of his godhood, what secrets could the Watcher's compound hold that he doesn't already know?  Also, why can't the Avengers help him?

Why do I feel like I'm not going to be happy with the answers if we get them?

* (one of five stars)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Batman Eternal #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Damn, Snyder and Tynion really hit the gas in this issue!

To start, we get two major revelations.  First, we learn that Dr. Falsario did in fact hypnotize Gordon into seeing the gun.  Finally!  Honestly, I thought that we were going to have to wait until issue #51 to discover why Gordon saw the perp with a gun.  Moreover, Seeley sets up this revelation beautifully.  Rather than it coming from Falsario in some sort of confession, it comes from Jason and Kate realizing that Babs is mind-controlled to see them as Joker and her brother, respectively.  They put two and two together, and Kate chases after Falsario while Jason holds off Babs.  Seeley also does an amazing job showing a moment of actual warmth between Babs and Jason after Jason uses her photographic memory to remind her of the day that they first met and enable her to shake off the programming.  Jason's continued estrangement from the Bat-family is one of my greatest pet peeves, so I was, needless to say, thrilled with this part.

Second, we learn that the disappearance that Bard, Batman, and Croc are investigating is tied to the goings-on under Arkham Asylum.  I was a little less thrilled with this part.  The problem is that Batman exposits that Batwing and Jim Corrigan have told him that the activity under Arkham involves extra-dimensional aliens traveling through an "inter-reality" doorway.  Last I checked, Batwing and Corrigan were fighting Deacon Blackfire.  He definitely didn't seem alien-y to me.  To make matters more confusing, something involving souls is actually involved, since the Ten-Eyed Man (whoever he is) is sacrificing the missing girl to, well, demons (I think).

The good news is that I was more or less happy with this issue, despite my confusion over the events under Arkham.  The bad news is that, man, we probably need to start wrapping up some threads here.  I didn't even get to mention Red Robin agreeing to train Harper Row or Gordon having to save some guards during a prison riot.  Although I'm pretty sure that we haven't gotten confirmation about aliens under Arkham, it is starting to get hard to keep all the plots straight.  Moreover, between the revelations in "Batman" #34 that haven't happened here yet and this alien issue, we just keep hearing about events that we're not actually seeing.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is notable because we return to the present after the year-long journey into the past that was "Zero Year."  Interestingly (and a bit disappointingly), it's a little unclear what "present" we get in this issue.  In Batman's recap of the events of the previous few weeks, we learn that Selina has become a kingpin of crime and Gordon has been sentenced to murder.  Neither event has happened in "Batman Eternal" yet, and it seems weird that Snyder would preview them here.  If we were supposed to read "Batman Eternal" #19 (also released this week) first, a note to that effect at the start would've been nice.

In terms of the issue itself, I was initially OK with it until I thought too much about it.  A murderer who prides himself on his lack of fame is killing Leslie Thompkins' patients, but we never discover why he chooses Thompkins' patients in the first place.  Batman hypothesizes that it's because he found her treating them with dignity to be offensive, but how did he initially encounter her?  Was he a patient of hers?  Also, Batman finds some prescription bottles at the site of one of the murders and somehow realizes that the killer is going after Leslie next, but Snyder and Duggan never show us that connection.  He already knew that the killer was targeting her patients.  What about the bottles led him to conclude that the killer was ready to move on Thompkins, particularly if he's been using her client list as his own list for years?

Before I go, I'll note that I really dug Scalera's art.  I'm not sure that I'd want every Batman story to look this way, but his take on the Caped Crusader is definitely the highlight of this issue.

** (two of five stars)

Batgirl #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Simone does what she needs to do here, with Barbara shutting down Knightfall's attempt to eliminate criminals from Cherry Hill.  The problem, of course, is that it still doesn't make a lick of sense.  

In the end, Simone doesn't reveal Knightfall to be a criminal mastermind.  (We also never really learn why she's named after a '90s cross-over event.)  Charise really just thought that sending in an army of mercenaries to kill criminals was going to help Gotham.  As a result, it's hard to take Charise seriously now that her full plan stands revealed.  Did she really think that no one was going to take the place of all those murdered criminals?  Even if no one did move into their territory, did she really think that eliminating crime in one small part of Gotham would "save" the rest of it?  Also, are we really supposed to believe that she's so powerful that she would face no repercussions from authorities for essentially conducting warfare within city limits?  Simone essentially reduces Charise to a poor little naive rich girl.  By the end, she just crumbles into a teary mess after Barbara shows her a photo of her family.  You're left wondering why it look Barbara so long to defeat her.

Along the way, the Birds of Prey take out pretty much all the villains that Barbara faced throughout this series without breaking a sweat.  Grotesque might've haunted Babs for two issues earlier in the run, but, here, Barbara knocks him unconscious in just one panel.  We get a hint of the larger point that Simone is trying to make -- the sense that Barbara could've resorted to the same tactics as Charise in the wake of her crippling at the Joker's hand -- but Simone's too distracted settling scores to make it.  (It would've been interesting to hear why Barbara thought that she avoided Charise's fate.)

We end with Barbara deciding to move, feeling like she has a new lease on life after Charise informs her that James, Jr. is still alive.  She decides to take her roommate with her, despite the fact that Alysia's role in this series has been reduced to pretty much providing diversity and little else.  It clearly sets up the relaunch of this series next issue, and I'm on the fence if I'm going to take the chance with it.  This series was so amazing at the start, but it fell into mediocrity at some point and couldn't find a way back.  I (heart) Babs, so I'm leaning towards just drawing a line under Simone's run and allowing us to start fresh.  But, being left feeling that way is a pretty sad end to a once a great series.

** (two of five stars)

Superior Spider-Man #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Slott definitely stars off "Spider-Verse" with a bang, showing us Otto's actions during the period of time when he disappeared in issue #19.  At first, I thought that we were just going to be treated to a fun romp through the 2099 world, and the brief appearances from the Specialist and Venture were exciting if disappointingly brief.  But, this issue does have "Edge of Spider-Verse" emblazoned on its cover, so it was clear that it had to tie into that plot somehow.  The good news is that Slott brilliantly uses Otto's attempt to return to his own time as the device for introducing Morlun's rampage throughout the Spider-Verse.  After encountering the fourth dead Spider-Man, Otto stars to wonder why so many Spider-Men are winding up dead and begins assembling an army to take on the mysterious assassin.  It feels totally organic, and I have to applaud Slott for thinking of such a great way to get this story rolling.

Since "Spider-Verse" is just starting in this issue, we're still left with a lot of question.  For example, we still don't have any idea why Silk's release from Ezekiel's bunker kicked off Morlun's rampage.  Moreover, we know that Otto's activities here happen in the past, and it seems likely that he leaves the army at some point, since he does re-appear in issue #19.  However, Slott does cast some doubt on that.  First, we see a dead "Civil War" era Iron Spider in this issue.  This Spider-Man is presumably not an alternate-universe version of Peter Parker, but a past one.  Assuming that Peter hasn't died in the present due to the murder of a past self, Slott at least floats the possibility that Morlun's actions (and, therefore, possibly Otto's) are somehow not affecting the present.  As such, we could be looking at a world where Otto had a different experience than this one in the original continuity, returning in issue #19 as normal.  However, now, he might exist outside the time stream, setting up the possibility that he survives his eventual death in issue #31 since it's his original issue #19 self that dies.  (Oy, my head hurts.)  At any rate, Slott is clearly going to have to give us some sort of explanation.  Either we're dealing with a different Otto or we need to know why Otto returned to the present and then promptly forgot about Morlun murdering the Spider-Men of the multiverse.

Even with these questions, it's definitely a fun issue.  Slott has always been great at juggling a lot of characters, and the joy of this event is going to be seeing all the Spider-Men interacting.  Otto meets the Indian Spider-Man in the main story and a Logan-trained assassin Spider-Man in the back-up story, and I find myself hoping that someone with a better knowledge of the various Spider-Men is keeping track somewhere.  So long as Slott remembers to have fun throughout this event and not have it devolve into an attempt to check all the boxes, I think we're going to have a great time.

(NOTE:  It laters become clear that the vampire here is Karn, not Morlun.)

**** (four of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Throughout this series, Spencer has done a great job of making the team a bunch of lovable idiots, despite the obvious challenge of the fact that they're mostly violent criminals.  Everything doesn't go their way, but they're out there with their delusions, trying to figure out the next score.  Since they're mostly acting against other criminals, it hasn't been too hard to root for them, since it's not like you're going to root for Chameleon or the Owl instead.  In this issue, though, Spencer lowers the boom a little, and we see them through a less rosy filter.

Spencer's hardest challenge has probably been Boomerang, since his villainy is pretty well documented.  However, the fact that Boomerang's characterization has always been all over the map allows him to decide on which side of the scale he's going to put his finger.  In my review of "American Spider-Man Presents:  Jackpot," I noted that Fred went from encouraging the Shocker to show some civic pride and vote in "Amazing Spider-Man" #584 to a would-be rapist and definite murderer in that mini-series.  He's been a little less evil in this series, again, mostly because he's acting against other criminals.  But, in this issue, Spencer makes him a lot less likable as well.  Shocker overhears him making fun on his death -- a death that he himself arranged -- and it understandably pushes Shocker over the edge.  But, unlike the other stories in this series, I find myself hoping that Fred doesn't manage to charm his way out of trouble, because he really deserves to get his ass handed to him.

But, Spencer drops the sympathetic filter a bit for Overdrive and Speed Demon as well.  Overdrive reveals that he accepted the deal with Mister Negative to give him powers in the hope that he could one day become a superhero, an assertion that makes a certain amount of sense in the Thunderbolts era but feels more naive than calculating.  Moreover, Speed Demon finally returns the dog to the girl from whom he swiped it, but we're left wondering if he did it because he knew that it was the right thing to do or for the $100 reward (or because it had fleas).  The fact that he also loaded up the girl with the dog's food, leash, and medicine certainly implies the former, but Spencer sort of lets the latter hang out there a bit.

In other words, I ended this issue reminded that these folks are criminals.  It seems clear that Spencer wanted me to feel that way, but it was uncomfortable all the same.  I'm just glad the puppy is OK.

*** (three of five stars)

New Warriors #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For a series trading on the name of a 15-year-old team, "New Warriors" actually seems to be doing a better job making me care about the newbies than the veterans.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I love me some Vance and Robbie.  But, it's the newer characters' interactions with them that allow us to see them in a different light.  Vance has always been a paragon of virtue, something that the old Warriors appreciates.  But, seeing him through Kaine and Water Snake's eyes, he might as well be wearing a cardigan and telling them to get off his lawn.  Moreover, it's Hummingbird that realizes that Robbie might not exactly be as recovered from his days as Penance as his return to his old costume implies.

But, everyone isn't just here to play second fiddle to Vance and Robbie.  Though I find Marvel's commitment to this Inhuman renaissance almost insufferable, I found myself really liking Haechi here.  Yost walks us through the emotional roller-coaster of his origin story without making it feel clichéd; even though the notes sound familiar, the song still manages to invoke some emotion.  Also, Sun Girl challenges Vance as not only the paragon of virtue, but also the heart of the team.  I could see her heroism inspiring even Kaine to stay.

The only off-note of this issue for me was the scenes with Silhouette, because I didn't remember who this other group of Inhumans were.  They wanted to impress Lash, but how?  Were they the ones that kidnapped Haechi in the first place?

All in all, though, I continue to find myself surprisingly charmed by this series.

*** (three of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a mess, but it's a fun mess.

Peter rolls with the revelation that he has a half-sister a little too easily in my book, particularly given that his status as a quasi-orphan is front and center in his mythos.  Moreover, not only does Peter take this fairly significant revelation in stride, but the siblings develop an unexpected bond pretty quickly.  Humphries more or less explicitly ties this development to their mutual distrust of their father, but he unfortunately doesn't explain why Victoria hates J'Son so much.  Sure, she makes a convincing case why she had to work for everything that she has as his dark-skinned illegitimate daughter.  But, it explains why she would hate the Spartans, not necessarily J'Son.  He clearly didn't disown her if she rose to the rank of Captain of the Guards.  (Though, if he was a dick about it, then it would make total sense.)  Moreover, Humphries implies that Victoria just has a good feeling about Peter; she tells him that she read it in his eyes that he didn't mean to insult her.  But, is that enough to trust a guy that just toppled your father's empire and doesn't exactly have the best reputation when it comes to law enforcement?

However, if Victoria's goal really was to earn enough money to pay her guards and help some refugees, you could see where she might be willing to believe the other stories about Peter -- the ones where he's, you know, a guardian of the galaxy -- and throw in her lot with him.  She doesn't say that, exactly, but it seems to be a sub-text of her decision to trust him -- at least after her anger over him calling her ship dumb fades.  In other words, Humphries is asking us to go with him here, and I'm willing to do it.  Victoria's a noble character with a sense of scoundrel about her.  Put another way, she's the opposite of -- but the same as -- Star-Lord, and it totally works.  I'm willing to draw the connections that I need to draw to buy their relationship (though I would like a little more detail about her relationship with their father).  Like I said in my review of the most recent "Earth 2" issue, Humphries could spend a few issues showing their bond developing only to get us to the same place, so I'm willing to just get there without the fuss.

After all, Humphries reminds us why we trust him with the scene where Peter explains his death wish.  If Peter's oddly unemotional about Victoria, he's not about Thanos.  He reveals that he's dreading facing Thanos, even though he knows that he has to do so.  He mentions the deal that he made with Thanos to escape the Cancerverse again in this issue, and I know that we're going to get to the bottom of it in the next "Guardians of the Galaxy" issue.  It's been clear since Bendis took over the character that the Star-Lord who sacrificed himself with Nova to end the threat of Thanos was a different Star-Lord than the one that we've seen lately.  He was fun, but more serious.  Humphries implies that the fun-loving guy that we've seen since his return is really just a guy looking for a way to drink and screw -- ahem, "carouse" -- his way to some peace.  He's a guy who took a few step backwards in the maturity department to free himself from the darkest place that he's ever known.  He hasn't found that peace, and it's time for him to face the music.  Bendis hasn't gotten into this depth with Peter in "Guardians of the Galaxy," but it feels right to me.  In that way, Humphries basically justified this solo series right here.  We get to see behind the bravado, and it's a complicated character study -- though still one with the charm and the wit (obviously).  For the first time, I recognize the dry hero that I loved in "Annihilation" existing somewhere in this blond scoundrel.  That alone is worth the price of admission.

(Also:  is Mr. Knife yet another Spartan sibling?  Because he looks like he could be Star-Lord's evil twin.  Maybe it's J'Son?  I guess we'll see.)

**** (four of five stars)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Miracleman #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This entire issue plays off its shock value, with Veitch's extremely graphic portrayal of Liz giving birth.  The only notable part of this sequence, from a narrative perspective, is the cruelty that Miracleman exhibits in his recollection of Gargunza, noting that he dedicated his entire life to this moment, something that he wouldn't see (thanks to Miracleman killing him).  It's not like a sociopath like Gargunza deserves any sympathy, but it's interesting that Miracleman's response to the birth of his child is such hatred.  Separately, we witness two alien-seeming entities entering Johnny Bates mind to determine if Kid Miracleman is alive in there, though he manages to evade them.  But, it's really just hard to get around the shock value of Veitch's art, and I honestly think that it just overwhelms the issue.  I'm intrigued to see where Moore goes from here, now that Gargunza has been defeated.

** (two of five stars)