Tuesday, October 14, 2014

All-New X-Men #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis hasn't entirely convinced me that we haven't moved into the absurd with the kids now displaced in time and place, but, eh, I'm willing to go with it for a while.  The problem is that Bendis' and my definition of "a while" might be different.

Whereas Jean manages not only to ascertain where she is but also to find someone that might be able to get her home by the end of this issue, the boys aren't so lucky.  Angel is stuck in the Savage Land with Wolverine's son, Mole Man takes Iceman hostage, and the Beast finds himself in Latveria.  It's hard to see these situations resolving themselves quickly, let alone the various team members finding their way to one another.  Even Jean finds herself at a dead end, since the tear in the space/time continuum that allowed them to travel to Ultimate Earth has sealed.

Thinking about it carefully, it seems like Marvel decided to bench the kids for "Axis," and I'm worried that Bendis is going to have to use increasingly ridiculous plot devices to keep them separated and trapped on Ultimate Earth while he waits for "Axis" runs its course.  Since I've never been particularly interested in the Ultimate line, I can't say that I want to spend that much time there.  I guess we'll see how it goes.

(All that said, I'll admit that Miles' warning that he's a teenage boy, so a tour of his mind might...disturb Jean, was freaking hilarious.)

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First things first, I've got to stress that I'm still not buying Alex's burned face.  In "New Warriors" #9, Sun Girl gets healed of the burns that she suffered in the fight with the Inhumans thanks to the "amazing" technology in Mount Wundagore.  We're really saying that no one associated with the Avengers can find a magical or surgical way to heal Alex's face, but an anthropomorphic dog and cat named Jake Waffles and Mr. Whiskers (respectively) can do so?  Sure, it's not like it's essential to the plot.  But, it's a reminder of the elements of the previous story that I still find unbelievable, like Alex and Janet remembering their time on Planet X.  Thankfully, Remender moves off it after a beat and hopefully these reminders will similarly fade into the background.

On the subject at hand, I thought that the entire sequence with Logan was great.  I loved that Remender had him actually accept that he was responsible not only for creating the Apocalypse Twins and Horseman Daken, but also for the sundering of the Unity Squad (since he tried to hide these crimes due to his guilt over them).  One of the reasons why I'm not a huge fan of Wolverine is that he's always seemed to get a pass that no one else gets.  It's actually why I was skeptical of Cap's furious response to these revelations in issue #9, because I wondered why it was only now that people started caring about the fact that their teammate was a remorseless sociopath.

However, everyone is now paying a consequence for giving Logan that pass to do whatever he wanted without facing the consequences, and I'm glad that Remender finally has him own it.  It shows some actual character growth, capping off his evolution from assassin to professor that we've seen in recent years.  Moreover, it underscores the growth that Rogue has already experienced, transitioning not just from villain to hero but also from someone who couldn't control her powers to someone that could.  It reminds us why she's so upset to see herself at square one again.  Remender puts Logan and Rogue on the same road to recovery, reminding us of the trauma that this team has suffered over the last few issues.

In taking these moments to establish where everyone was, emotionally, at the conclusion of the fight with the Apocalypse Twins, Remender really conveys the sense that we're reading about real people.  Too often, characters in comic books just bounce from trauma to trauma, but Remender makes it clear that the Avengers' current emotional states will directly influence the events of Axis.  I gets across the sense that it's hard to see how they're going to hold it together to face such an overwhelming threat as Red Onslaught, but I guess that it's why they're called heroes.

On a lighter note, I loved Magneto thinking that Rogue and Scarlet Witch came to save him.  Seriously, it was hilarious.  I loved Wanda essentially rolling her eyes at his ramblings about them turning traitor, dismissing him as if he were her racist grandfather that she was trying to keep quiet.  It was great stuff.  Remender could've gone for a much more straight-forward approach here, but this dialogue was so unexpected that it really brought you into the story all the deeper.

In other words, although we've had a bumpy few issues and some development that I'd rather forget, Remender puts us on firm ground here.  I'm ready for "Axis" now.  Bring on the Skull!

*** (three of five stars)

Original Sin #5.5/Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to say that I'm disappointed with this issue.  I finished it feeling like it had the potential to be amazing but unfortunately fell far short.

First, it's a shame that we lose Bianchi halfway through this issue, particularly the fact that we lose her exactly on the page where Odin identifies Angela as his long-lost daughter, Aldrif.  It would've been nice if she could've at least hung in there for one more page to take us through the reveal.  I'm not only intrigued by what she would've produced in terms of conveying everyone's reactions, but the switch itself was jarring.  Honestly, it ruined the moment.  Given that this entire mini-series was around said moment, I have to really question how the editors' decision to switch artists on exactly this page.

Second, we don't really learn anything new, despite this issue concluding this mini-series-within-a-mini-series that promised so many revelations.  Odin recognizes Angela, but we don't really get any information about her past.  Most importantly, we never learn how she survived the Queen's attack in Asgard.  We see an angel carrying her to the reactor of the angels' ship as they depart Asgard -- to throw her body in there, as the Queen instructed her to do -- and then Angela miraculously revives.  How, you ask?  No idea.  Moreover, we learn nothing of her life in Heven after someone obviously took her there.  Did the angel carrying her to the reactor return to Heven with her and raise her as her own daughter?  If so, did no one ever question why she was born without wings?  Moreover, wouldn't someone have noticed that the angel hadn't been pregnant?  I'm not exactly sure how a realm populated only by female angels handles reproduction, but someone probably has to be pregnant at some point.  In other words, it seems like a hard place just to appear with a baby that doesn't look like everyone else.  But, Ewing never even remotely tries to answer even one of these many pressing questions.

My only guess why we're left with so many questions is that Marvel clearly wants us to pick up Angela's new series.  But, in going for the money grab, it seems to have forgotten that I'm only going to pick up that series if I'm intrigued by the story that it'll likely tell.  Since I don't even have the basic information that I need to be intrigued, I'm going to pass.  It's a shame, because it seemed to be the only cool thing to come from "Original Sin."  Instead, it somehow dips below the Hulk and Iron Man mini-series that also ran through this title, since that one at least gave us some sort of resolution (as absurd as it was).  Sad, but true.

** (two of five stars)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Justice League: Futures End #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is the second of a two-parter and has essentially nothing to do with the Justice League.  The only Justice League members to appear in it are Cyborg and Flash, and they're essentially just part of the background noise; otherwise, it's about Justice League United and the Legion of Superheroes trying to stop some bad guys from escaping from Mars.  If you haven't bought it yet, don't bother.  Captain Atom essentially becomes Dr. Manhattan and we all know how that ends.  Man, I just keep saving you people a lot of money with these "Futures End" issues.

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is probably the best of this series so far.  Unlike previous issues, it's focused almost exclusively on one story:  Stephanie's debut as Spoiler and her subsequent conflict with her father.  This focus makes it feel like an actual comic book and not some sort of collectively written Batman zine distributed at ComicCon in the 90s (as the rest of this series has felt).

Even more than Stephanie (and we'll get to her in a minute), the best part of this issue is that we finally learn something about "the Chief's" plans for Gotham.    Clarke doesn't really even try to hide the fact that the Chief is Hush, and it helps convey the sense that we're actually getting the real story as Cluemaster updates him on his activities.  Moreover, Cluemaster's activities make sense in terms of bringing us to the denouement that we know is coming -- the burning of Gotham -- thanks to the preview of the future that we got in "Batman" #28.    Cluemaster reveals that he's working with a network of uniquely skilled associates to cripple Gotham and stoke its citizens' collective rage.  It's a remarkably clever plan to take out public and social services -- everything from poorly timed traffic lights (thanks to Signalman) to rolling blackouts (thanks to the Prankster) -- and, in so doing, break the social contract.  It makes you understand how Gotham could be burning at some point in the near future.

But, I don't mean to understate the awesomeness of Spoiler's debut.  The creative team puts some real effort into it making it a series of pleasant surprises.  For example, a flashback of Cluemaster expressing concern over a young Stephanie breaking her arm on a bike jump seems to highlight the ridiculousness of him trying to kill, but actually just sets up the way that she manages to trick him into being arrested by the police.  Moreover, they remind us that Stephanie hasn't connected with the Bat-family yet, underlining how brave she is to be trying to take down her father and his associates on his own.  I'm assuming Bruce will at least be marginally impressed, which he should be, given that she knows a hell of a lot more than he does at this point.

Basically, if we could just stick with Spoiler, I'd be a happy camper.

**** (four of five stars)

New Warriors #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was never really sold on the idea of Kaine in the New Warriors.  It seemed obvious that Yost hadn't gotten a chance to wrap up "Scarlet Spider" the way that he wanted, so he threw Kaine on the team to give him some more time with the character.  In other words, if any other author was writing this series, Kaine wouldn't be on the team.  But, I was totally OK with it, since I'm just glad to see Kaine.

But, Yost really sells me on it here.  Justice's speech to him at the end made as much sense to me as it did to Kaine.  Worry that you're a monster that's going to kill a lot of people?  Be on a team with people that can stop you.  Worry that you're not a good enough person?  Be on a team with people that can inspire you.  It totally makes sense.

Along the way, Yost offers up a pretty hilarious story of a mascot gone wild.  Honestly, this one could've gone really badly, but Yost totally makes it work.  He uses the mascot as the embodiment of threats to Houston, the city that Kaine called his own for a while.  It forces Kaine to stay and fight, reminding us how much he overplays the idea that he's really a villain.  (Vance essentially says the same thing to him at the end.)

My only complaint about this issue is that I would've loved to have seen a little more of Wally.  Yost does what he can with the exchange, making it clear that Wally's gotten over his anger at Kaine and sees him the way that he used to see him, as a hero.  Kaine clearly hasn't, and it would've been nice to give Wally a chance to sell him on it a little more.  But, that's probably more about me missing "Scarlet Spider" than any failing of the story.

All in all, this issue is the most solid one of this series, though, again, it's probably because I just want to see as much Kaine as possible.  Regardless, it's always a pleasure to read such a well constructed done-in-one issue.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Magneto #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bunn does a solid job of using this "Axis" tie-in issue not only to flesh out some of Magneto's past, but also to show how it affects his present behavior.  I'm not collecting this series, but I'm inclined to do so based on this issue.  Moreover, the art is really spectacular.  It's suitably grim and realistic.  I don't think I've seen work by Hernandez (art) and Bellaire (colors) before I hope to see more soon.

Magneto is in Genosha to look into the Red Skull's new mutant concentration-camps, and the sight not surprisingly reminds him of his time in the Nazi's camps.  But, Bunn doesn't leave it at a simple metaphor; he actively uses the parallel to give us more insight into Magneto.  Magneto reacts to disgust when two mutants refuse his offer to free them, in part because of the shame that he feels over not freeing himself from the Nazi camps when he was a child.  It's a reminder of just how damaged Magneto is, so quick to anger over something that reminds him of his own (understandable) failings.

This self-delusion is clearly on display when the S-Men quickly overpower him in his failed attempt to assassinate the Red Skull.  He realizes just how foolish he was to think that he could accomplish that goal in his under-powered state, making it clear that he still struggles to accept his current limitations.  Honestly, I had never really thought about super-villains' self-defeating behavior in terms of an anger-induced rashness, but Bunn really gets into Magneto's head enough to convey that message.  If Magneto was more at ease with himself, the events of this issue wouldn't have happened.

In terms of "Axis," Bunn seems to imply that Professor X is still active somewhere in Red Skull's brain and, if true, this event is going to be full of surprises.

**** (four of five stars)

Hawkeye #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Matt Fraction did something I didn't think possible:  he made me hate Kate Bishop and hope something horrible happens to her so that I never have to read another comic with her again.  I'm pretty sure that he wasn't intending that to be my reaction, but there you have it.

I know people are really in love with this story, but I just can't.  I'll even acknowledge that Fraction manages to reveal that we were reading a more coherent plot than I gave him credit for putting into place.  But, something about Kate's adventures in L.A. have just seemed beyond the pale when it came to believability.  She seemed to regress in terms of maturity.  Her supporting cast of characters miraculously love her despite the fact that she ruins their business and homes.  The cops inexplicably allow her to operate as an unlicensed private detective.  It was all just too much.

I just can't believe where I am with this series.

(zero of five stars)

Edge of Spider-Verse #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

My only exposure to Spider-Man Noir has been from the "Spider-Man:  Shattered Dimension."  His parts of the game were probably the coolest, so I have to say that I was excited to see that he was going to play a prominent role in the "Spider-Verse" event.  This issue wasn't exactly disappointing in that regard, but, in terms of the story itself, it wasn't exactly easy to follow.

It took me two readings to realize that Mysterio wanted Peter's blood to gain Spider-Powers.  At first, I thought that Mysterio was actually Morlun, so I was confused why he'd want to steal Peter's blood rather than drain his energy (or whatever it is that he does).  When Morlun appeared at the end of the issue, it became clear that Mysterio wanted the blood for his own reasons.  But, Hine doesn't do us a lot of favors in terms of clarifying what Mysterio wants to do with it.  We know that he and his assistant spent some time in the Amazon and, given their knowledge of Ansani, it stands to reason that Mysterio wanted to gain Spider-Powers in the same way that Ezekiel gained his powers.  Mysterio makes an off-hand comment about Spidey's blood running through his veins, but that's all the confirmation that we really get.  Moreover, the nature of Ezekiel's blood connection to the spider-totem was never made all that clear.  It seemed to have more to do with the letting of his blood at the temple in Peru than the injection of the blood of someone with powers.  That leaves me right where I began, confused about Mysterio's intentions.

Regarding the larger story, we don't really make any progress here, other than Spider-Man Noir joining Otto's team.  At some point we're going to have to learn how Morlun is still alive and why he's decided to take on the Spider-Men all at the same time.  But, I'm assuming those revelations are going to appear in the issue that Slott's writes.  In terms of this issue, it's a perfectly fine story, but Hine could've done a better job of making it more accessible for folks without the requisite Spider-Man Noir or Ezekiel background.

(NOTE:  We later clarify that the vampire here is Karn, not Morlun.)

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

On Ezekiel and Morlun

Since it's pretty clear that at least Morlun is going to play an important role in the "Spider-Verse" event, I tracked down all the appearances of Ezekiel and Morlun that I originally missed.  These issues appeared after my post-"Clone Saga" departure from collecting, and I'll admit that I was excited about reading them, since I had always meant to fill in that gap someday.

After finishing them -- published 8-13 years ago -- I have to say that I'm surprised by how bad they are, given how much Spider-Fans seem to love Straczynski's run.  I understand that Straczynski came after "Amazing Spider-Man" had hit its nadir, with the "Gathering" following up the Clone Saga.  Straczynski was certainly an improvement on those stories and a reason to be excited.  Moreover, the issues are mostly OK (with some notable exceptions) in terms of standing on their own individually.  My main problem with them is that the dialogue can get clunky, with the hyper-literate criminals in "Amazing Spider-Man" #56 serving as the best example of that.  But, I'll give Straczynski credit for breathing some life into Aunt May, allowing her to be the feisty oldster that she is today rather than the near invalid that she had always been.  Moreover, he does a great job of organically bringing Mary Jane and Peter back together, even if the moment itself relies on some luck to happen.

My real problem with these issues is that Straczynski is telling a grand tale, but falls far short of fleshing out the high concepts that he introduces.  He bases his stories around the idea that Peter is connected to a spider-totem, but fails to really explain this connection or its connotations in full.  You get the sense that he didn't have enough time, given his hasty departure from the series as a result "One More Day."  But, it would be too convenient of an excuse.  Certain parts of both Ezekiel and Morlun's back stories and appearances just frankly make little sense.  Given that they're the vehicles for this changed origin, the failure to explain them dooms the entire enterprise.

Let's start with Ezekiel.  On the face of it, he's a cheap version of Spider-Man.  He got his powers through manipulation, bribing a Peruvian shaman into giving them to him in exchange for saving the shaman's village.  Straczynski introduces the idea here that someone -- presumably either Anansi the West African spider-god or the Great Weaver that we see in "Spider-Man:  The Other" -- chose Peter to become a member of Team Spider.  But, some demi-god didn't choose Ezekiel to join; he chose to be part of it.  But, we never learn why Ezekiel wanted to be a spider or, for that matter, why he wanted to be part of any totem.  We don't even learn how he learned of the totems' existence in the first place.  Given that Peter knew nothing about them, it's pretty clear that they don't exactly advertise in the back of Scientific American.  We just know that Ezekiel appeared in a Peruvian village one day and demanded powers.  Moreover, why does Anansi have an outpost in Peru?  Isn't he a West African god?  Straczynski hints throughout his run that the temples that we see in Ghana, Peru, and Wakanda are all connected, but (again) he never actually clarifies that connection.

We do learn that Ezekiel eventually uses his powers to become a millionaire industrialist.  I can't for the life of me see how spider powers would make one a successful entrepreneur, but, whatever.  I'll just go with it.  Moreover, his colleagues at the company seem to know about his powers, but we never really learn anything about them or the company to draw some sort of conclusion from this revelation.  Outside the revelation that he hired the aforementioned hyper-literate ex-cons for some sort of project in "Amazing Spider-Man" #56, we don't really learn anything else about Ezekiel.  He exists only so far as he serves as a device to move the plot from Point A to Point B.

The problem is that said plot itself doesn't make a lot of sense.  We learn in "Amazing Spider-Man" #507 that Ezekiel is trying to get three Powers connected to the spider-totem -- Morlun, Shathra, and the Gatekeeper -- to take Peter instead of him.  The Powers are apparently mad at Ezekiel for stealing his powers, but he figures that they'd be sated by devouring Peter.  Honestly, that part makes sense in and of itself.  The problem, of course, is that it makes no sense compared to the way that we're introduced to Ezekiel.  In issue #32, he's trying to convince Peter to hide in a bunker so that Morlun can't find him.  In fact, in issue #34, he sacrifices himself to save Peter from Morlun, not sacrifice him to Morlun.  When we later learn that Ezekiel's goal was to sacrifice Peter to the Powers, Straczynski makes no attempt to explain why he initially saved Peter in the first place.  Moreover, we never learn how he survived.  The fact that he survived Morlun's touch seems pretty significant, given how bad-ass we're supposed to believe Morlun to be.  But, Ezekiel just appears in issue #47, no worse for wear.

Speaking of mysterious returns from the dead, let's talk about Morlun now.  On some level, you could argue that Ezekiel made sense if you ignore that first arc where he's trying to save Peter.  If you look at just his later appearance, you could cobble together a coherent story.  Straczynski could've eventually fleshed out his back story a bit, telling us how he learned of the totem, why he wanted the powers, and how his company worked.  In other words, Ezekiel as a concept could've worked at some point, and we could've gotten a better sense of the spider-totem along the way.


Yeah, I just don't get Morlun.

First, Straczynski puts no effort into giving us any background on him.  He is essentially the Marvel version of Doomsday, ripping through a series of issues to defeat the hero, a heretofore unknown villain that just so happens to have our guy's number.  I assumed that he was connected to the spider-totem, since he devours the life essences of Spider-Men, but Straczynski doesn't really spell out this connection.  He really just appears, announces that Peter's mojo is so strong that it could sustain him for 100 years (sexy), and tries to devour him.  Does the Great Weaver know?  Shouldn't he be, like, pissed?

Beyond his unclear back story, Morlun's characterization is just bizarre.  In "Amazing Spider-Man" #32, he asks Dex if an outfit makes his butt look fat (no joke) and, in "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" #1, he exclaims, "Snake eyes" to announce Peter's imminent death.  It's like he's a cross between Liberace and Dean Martin who just happens to be a vampire that feeds off the energy of people attached to a spider-totem.  Sure.  But, these sorts of pop cultural references make even less sense when you consider that he appears in "Amazing Spider-Man" #4 on a different planet and clearly travels through the multiverse with ease.  Does he get Netflix out there?  What cable provider does he use?  Also, he has a personal assistant named Dex that he's employing against his will, given that Dex asks Morlun to kill him in issue #31 and Morlun refuses.  But, we never learn anything about Dex.  He simply shoots Morlun, appears to lose his mind a little, and then disappears.  Everything about him is just a jumbled mess.

Finally, I have no idea what his powers are.  As I mentioned, he appears indestructible when we first see him; among other things, he survives blowing up a building on top of himself in "Amazing Spider-Man" #33.  However, Dex eventually kills him with a simple bullet; sure, Morlun's weakened from the radiation that he's absorbed from Peter, but it still seems a pretty simple end for a guy that blows up buildings on top of himself.  Of course, he does survive that, though we're never given any explanation for how he survives getting shot in the heart.  Furthermore, when he's ready to feed on Peter in "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" #3, he has to abandon his plans because of the police descending on the scene.  Straczynski has him say that he's strong, not indestructible, but it just makes no sense, given what we've seen him do.  Moreover, also in issue #33, he's able to move so quickly that he's covers the same ground that Peter did while web-swinging.  If so, why couldn't he have just grabbed Peter's body and escaped somewhere more private?

Spider-totems, vampires, West African gods, Peruvian temples:  they're not stories that you associate with Spider-Man.  Straczynski had a tall order in selling them as such, but he could've made it happen.  But, to do so, he needed stronger messengers than half-drawn characters like Ezekiel and Morlun.  We seem to have an opportunity here for Dan Slott to fill in the gaps, and, if "Spider-Verse" is anything like "Spider-Island," then I think that it's possible that Morlun might emerge a fully formed character and villain.  But, as it stands, I can see why neither character was used after Straczynski left the title.  With so many questions left unanswered, Straczynski didn't seal the deal on recreating Spidey's origin, and the time stream re-asserted itself to give us the origin that we've always known.  Of course, then Spidey makes a deal with the Devil to erase his past, but that's a story for another time.

Captain Marvel #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm not really sure where DeConnick is going with the revelation that Chewie isn't a cat, but rather a "flerken" and, as such, a "living gatewa[y] to pocket dimensions."  But, if it involves Carol and Rocket fighting off aliens trying to get their hands on Chewie to sell her on the black market, I'm going to wind up being a happy camper.  All we need now is Sigourney Weaver to appear...

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Slott crams a lot in here.  Some of it's good, some of it's bad.  

I have to start with the Black Cat, since she's at the heart of this story.  I've complained about the Black Cat's vendetta against Spider-Man since Slott debuted this plot line in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1, since Slott fundamentally changed certain aspects of Felicia's history and personality to make it work.  First, he bases it on the premise that Felicia's identity wasn't publicly known.  Since her identity has always been publicly known, it never made a lot of sense to me that the police suddenly decided to investigate her loft after discovering that Spider-Man had webbed her to a wall (in "Superior Spider-Man" #20).  They've always known her identity, so they could've really done that at any given point in time.  Moreover, this plot line got even more ridiculous after Peter revealed that Otto had taken over his body at the time that he attacked her.  Even if Felicia's identity had been a secret, Peter confirming that he wasn't "Spider-Man" when "he" exposed it pretty much erases the cause for the vendetta against him.

However, Slott kept the vendetta going by moving the goal posts:  Felicia is now really trying to kill Spider-Man just to re-establish her reputation in the criminal underworld.  As I note in my review of "Amazing Spider-Man" #3, I'm not really sure why she's trying to impress criminals, since it's been a while since she's been one.  But, Slott doubles down on this approach in this issue.  Felicia doesn't kill Spidey, but she does de-power Electro, winning the respect of the hoods at the Bar with No Name who were angry at him for accidentally killing the inmates that he tried to free in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1.  Felicia assumes control of her own gang, and we learn that her goal is to be queen of crime in New York.  I still don't buy it, but hopefully it takes us off the vendetta path.  In the future, I'd rather that we just see Felicia and Peter confronting each other over her criminal activity, like they did in the past.  That way, we can put this whole plot line to bed.  However, I'm not optimistic, since Felicia specifically states that she has to kill Spider-Man to put the unlucky part of her life behind her.  I guess we'll see.

Speaking of Electro, I'm not entirely sure how he winds up de-powered.  Felicia's plan was to pump him full of power so that he exploded; it wasn't to strip him of his power.  I don't understand how doing so to the nth degree actually winds up de-powering him.  It's possible that Felicia threw it in reverse, as she mentioned she could do earlier in the issue.  However, in the panel where she could've done that, she actually tells Spider-Man that she'd rather see him burn.  It's one of the consequences of Slott cramming too many developments into this issue, because we could've used a few panels to explain the de-powering, rather than the reporter just announcing it.  (Also, in retrospect, I'm not really sure what this plan had to do with Spider-Man.  It went after Peter, but they don't know that he's Spider-Man.  I'm sure that Slott explained it in a previous issue, but the fact that I can't remember it just shows how we moved too quickly through this issue to make all the connections that we needed to see to appreciate it.)

In terms of the good, I like the conversation between Peter and Anna Maria.  I've always liked her, and I'm glad that Slott has found a pretty solid reason for keeping her now that Otto is gone.  He seems to be setting up treachery on the part of Sajani, so I could see a future where Anna Maria takes Sajani's place at Parker Industries, running the show while Peter acts as Spider-Man.  However, I'm nervous where said treachery is going.  We need to stay with Parker Industries for a while, not move Peter immediately into another career or field.  Unfortunately, Slott's plans for Sajani seems to spell trouble for Parker Industries, and I'm worried that we're going to have yet another set of stories focused on the Parker luck.  Also, I don't like the implication that Peter's own plans for the company make no sense.  Sure, he might not have been the one to set up the company, but I'm pretty confident in Peter's abilities to make marketable products, given his run at Horizon.  It's not like Sajani was the wunderkind there.  (Remember when her reverbium almost killed everyone?)

In the end, it's a mixed bag.  I'm hoping that we can put this distracting Black Cat and Electro plot line behind us and move onto Spider-Verse.  It's time.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Batman Eternal #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a great example of how the need to tell multiple stories in one issue can unnecessarily weigh down the interesting stories.  We learn that Rex Calabrese is Selina Kyle's father in this issue as he pleads with her to take up her position as the head of the Calabrese family to win the gang war tearing apart Gotham.  This revelation merited a full issue to explore it properly, but Snyder and Tynion are forced to share the issue with Batman's fight with the Architect.  As a result, we're left wanting more from both stories.  Why does Calabrese care if innocents die in the gang war?  Are we really supposed to believe, as he told Commissioner Gordon in a previous issue, that he's a man seeking redemption for his crimes?  How exactly would Selina be able to take over the Calabrese family?  Who's running it now?  Also, aren't we supposed to believe that Carmine Falcone is her father?  In terms of the Architect, was his goal in destroying the Beacon really only based on professional rivalry with its architect?  What role did it play in Hush's plan?  Since Hush seemed prepared for Batman to arrive the last time that we saw him, does it mean that he expected Batman to save the Beacon and unknowingly set off the earthquake in the surrounding area?  If not, what was his original plan?  Snyder and Tynion complicate matters further by implying that these events are connected to the Arkham haunting and the Narrows virus, but, again, it's wedged into the last page, in a conversation where Bard tries to get the Mayor to declare martial law.  Too many questions, too little time.  

** (two of five stars)

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

Fawkes bases this story on the oddest back-up story in "Detective Comics" #27, the one where we learn that Bruce set up a succession of clones to take his place in the future.  Answering a question that we never asked, Fawkes gives us the back story, showing Bruce's successful incursion into Lex Luthor's headquarters to steal cloning technology that Luthor ensured that he alone possessed.

Beyond the fact that I didn't find the story all that interesting the first time, Fawkes' attempt to make it so is undermined by Aco's art.  We're supposed to be seeing Bruce's last hurrah before he finally succumbs to his wounds and loses his ability to walk.  Instead, Aco's art reduces his heroics to some indistinct activities.  Bruce essentially just throws some things at some other things and success ensues.  Fawkes doesn't help matters by not explaining why Bat-device #4 successfully defeated Robot C, but it's really Aco's failure to show us the events clearly that pushes this comic over the line into the "not so great" category.

Moreover, Fawkes never really takes the opportunity to explore the only interesting question to come from this premise, namely why Bruce feels that he alone can be Batman.  His decision to use clones is a repudiation of everyone who ever worked with him -- Dick, Barbara, Jason, Tim, Damian -- because it inherently finds them lacking.  Although Fawkes didn't have time to answer that question fully in just one issue, I would've at least liked to have seen it addressed.  Instead, Alfred's question to that effect is left unanswered and we're left with a pretty forgettable issue.

** (two of five stars)

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to say, it's a little difficult to find everyone in this series as charming as Spencer wants me to find them when they're burying the poor Shocker alive.  It's not like I expected them to be angels or anything.  As I've said previously, Boomerang did kill Jackplot's husband in front of her in the "Amazing Spider-Man Presents:  Jackpot" mini-series.  But, in the first few issues of this series, the crimes that the team were committing weren't so awful that you couldn't look past them to appreciate the humor.  However, the gap between the tongue-in-cheek vibe that Spencer has used throughout this series and the increasing seriousness of the team's crimes is starting to get too obvious to ignore.  Can betrayal and murder really be funny?  It was one thing when the gang was just trying to steal the Dr. Doom painting or Silvio Silvermane's head, but it's starting to feel like another thing when they're burying people (particularly their own teammate) alive.  Can burying someone alive be funny?  I'm not sure.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Spider-Man 2099 #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "What did you dream of, Tiberius?  When you were little?  What did you want?"  "To be in charge."  "How's that working out for you?"  "I've had better days."  -- Mussaret and Tiberius (it's nice to know Middle Eastern rebels haven't lost their sense of humor)

Liz enters Miguel's office and orders him to accompany Tiberius to Trans-Sabal to complete the Spider-Slayer delivery (despite having just told him that she doesn't control his life and he's free to choose what he wants to do).  Miguel objects and asks Liz if she intends to blackmail him with her knowledge that he's from the future.  She says that she doesn't want to screw with him helping Alchemax become the future's dominant company, but asserts that he's there to follow orders from her and Tiberius.  Later, on the Alchemax jet, Tiberius tells Miguel that Alchemax is actually saving lives, since the rebels will clearly stop revolting against the current ruler, Jalfaha Dahn, once they see the Spider-Slayers.  Upon arrival, Dahn welcomes Tiberius and Miguel, confirming that the shipment and the "most interesting individual" that Alchemax sent to oversee its unloading had arrived.  Miguel senses a cluster of assassins on a nearby building and saves Tiberius from a bullet.  Dahn's men open fire, and Miguel is hustling Tiberius to a nearby hanger when a bullet grazes his head.  The assassins arrive with reinforcements in a group of jeeps and open fire on Dahn's men; they also grab Tiberius as a hostage, knowing that he's one of the Americans.  One of the rebels plans on assassinating Miguel (since they don't need two hostages), but Miguel webs up his gun and knocks him unconscious.  He gives chase to the jeep carrying away Tiberius, but they open fire on him and flee.  Dahn arrives and pledges to get the location of where they're taking Tiberius from the rebel that Miguel knocked unconscious, but Miguel finds a jeep to give chase, realizing that he'll die if they kill Tiberius.

En route, Miguel exposits that he injected a "subcutaneous transmitter" into Tiberius to be able to keep track of him.  Lyla gives him Tiberius' location, and Miguel makes his way there, dismayed by the conditions of that the Sabalians are enduring.  He cringes at the thought of Spider-Slayers run amok, but observes that he hasn't been able to change Tiberius' mind and hopes that someone else will.  In the rebels' hide-out, Tiberius regains consciousness.  The rebels' leader, Mussaret, asks Tiberius if he's from the company selling robots to Dahn.  Tiberius confirms that he is and notes that it's unusual for the rebels to have a woman leader.  Mussaret responds angrily that she's leading them because her husband and eldest son, previously the leaders, are now dead.  Composing herself, she tells Stone that they're going to record a video of him canceling the sale of the Spider-Slayers and orders him to take the robots and leave.  He agrees, since she told him that she'd send him home in pieces if he didn't.  Outside, Miguel has changed into his costume and scales the wall, worried that Tiberius will see him.  Inside, Mussaret asks Tiberius if he's seen Dahn's 100-room mansion; he responds that he hasn't and that 100 rooms "seems excessive."  Striking a more serious note, Mussaret asks Tiberius to use the robots against Dahn to give her remaining children a chance for the future.  Tiberius is taken aback a bit, but, before he can answer, the Scorpion (the aforementioned "most interesting individual") arrives to save Stone.  A falling rock (conveniently) knocks Tiberius unconscious just as Miguel prevents the Scorpion from killing Mussaret.  The Scorpion mistakes Miguel for Spider-Man (asking him about the new costume) and notes that he's got an army of Spider-Slayers on hand to help him.

The Review
One of the challenges of inserting a superhero into a "real-world" story is that it tests the limits of the superhero genre.  Authors generally do it exactly for that reason, but the challenge that they face in doing so is that it's difficult to make it feel organic and not preachy.  The good news is that, if anyone could do it, it's Peter David.

Comics in the last decade or so have done a great job of finessing the motivations of "bad guys" so that they're more complex than just "do evil."  For example, Magneto is no longer the head of a Brotherhood of "Evil" Mutants seeking to subjugate humanity for fun; he's now the leader of a Brotherhood of Mutants seeking to secure its place in a world that hates and fears mutants.  (Some bad guys are still simply selfish assholes.)  Moreover, the good guys are no longer paragons of virtue; the last 20 years of X-Men comics make it difficult to see Charles Xavier as anything other than an amoral manipulator.

However, in the vast majority of comic-book stories, the central tension driving the story is a conflict between a group easily identified as "good" and one easily identified as "evil," even if we're thankfully not using those exact terms anymore.  Yes, it's a lot easier to send the Avengers to fight Death-worshipping Thanos (see the aforementioned "selfish asshole").  But, even when pitting the flawed X-Men against a more sympathetic Magneto, authors generally assign some sort of moral high-ground to the superheroes, usually because the super-villains are trying to impose their will on people with less power than they have (even if their motivations are now more understandable).

In the "real-world" stories, however, the superheroes are often in trouble because this moral high-ground is a lot less clear.  As I read this issue, I was reminded of the New Warriors' previous intervention into the civil war in Trans-Sabal ("New Warriors" #29-30) and Captain America's fight with Nuke in Nrosvekistan ("Captain America #11-14).  Both stories explored the limits of superheroes' ability to do good by placing the heroes in situations that didn't have a clear "good" and "evil."  Nicieza's Warriors found themselves involved in a three-party conflict, with Namorita allowing the rebel leader, Mezdbadah, to kill the military commander, Halladah, that led the coup against the newly installed "king," the aforementioned Jalfaha Dahn.  When the Warriors and Mezdbadah eventually confront Dahn, he reveals that Mezdbadah is in the employ of Trans-Sabal's radical neighbors and promised them the country's oil fields in exchange for their support.  It's a text-book case of a conflict with too many sides to allow for the Warriors to simply punch their way to a resolution (alluding to the Hood's comments about the Young Avengers in their recent "Original Sins" story).  In the "Captain America" story, the Falcon is forced to let a report keep her camera after she accuses him of not supporting her freedom of speech, but she uses her photos to create a false narrative that implicates Cap in Nuke's murder of dozens of Nrosvekistanis.  Again, the "good guy," in the form of the journalist, isn't all that good, and the "bad guy," Nuke, isn't all that bad; instead, he's a sympathetic character, given the mental tampering that he'd suffered, and she's a cold manipulator, only seeking to promote herself.  In both stories, the heroes inadvertently make matters worse rather than better, depending on your angle.

David is likely taking a similar path here by sending Miguel into Trans-Sabal with Tiberius to sell the Spider-Slayers to Dahn.  (By the way, if you've got those "New Warriors" issues on hand, re-reading them definitely gives this story an extra oomph.)  For now, Mussaret (possibly Mezdbadah's widow) is a more or less heroic figure, leading the resistance against Dahn.  But, you could see a future where Mussaret is revealed to have her own plans for Trans-Sabal, and any alliance that Miguel makes with her could come to haunt him, as it did the Warriors.  Miguel seems to be aware of the precarious nature of the situation, but simply acknowledging that it could all go bad doesn't mean that he'll actually be able to prevent it from doing so.

In other words, I'm really intrigued where David is going with this story.

The Good
1) David does a great job of commenting on war profiteering without being too preachy.  He clearly expresses Miguel's understandable horror at the conditions of the Sabalian people's lives, and the possibility of the Spider-Slayers running wild through the already grim streets makes his horror all the more profound.

2) When I first started reading this series, I hadn't anticipated that people would confuse Spider-Man 2099 for our Spider-Man.  But, Liz does so in the first issue and Scorpion does so in this one, asking Miguel why he's wearing a new costume (assuming that he's Peter).  These cases of mistaken identity could really open the doors to some interesting stories.  After all, Scorpion's going to come after Miguel a lot harder when he thinks that he's really the guy that knocked off his jaw (even though that was Otto not Peter, but let's not go there).  It'll hopefully keep the two Spideys in contact, because I'd love to see more Peter in this book, particularly if it involves Miguel haranguing him for having such an angry rogues' gallery.

The Unknown
During Mussaret's angry retort to Tiberius, she implies someone other than Dahn is responsible for the deaths of her husband and son.  It gets across the point that her motivations aren't entirely clear yet, and Miguel could find himself double-crossed if he eventually allies with her.  David's subtly in working it into the story, but it's there.

The Bad
1) I'm not really sure that I love the depiction of Liz here.  People who run successful companies generally don't just tell highly prized employees that expect them to obey instructions.  Dissent plays an important role in making sure that you're employing a proper strategy, particularly when it involves selling Spider-Slayers to a Middle Eastern dictator.  Liz dismisses Miguel's concerns way too quickly here.  I would've rathered seen her give him some sort of defense for the sale, acknowledging his dissent but noting that it was still her call.  When you add in her sexual harassment of him, you've got to wonder where David is going with her.

2) I'm glad that Miguel acknowledges that it would be bad if Tiberius saw him as Spider-Man, since he would likely put two and two together pretty quickly.  But, I found myself wondering why Miguel wasn't basically changing costumes with every appearance, since we've learned that he's using a holographic projector to create his costume.  Why not appear as, I don't know, Ricochet, in an ode to a previous Spider-Man storyline?  Also, I have to wonder what clothes Miguel is actually wearing at this point.  Is it just some sort of generic union-suit that he wears all the time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Miracleman #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We get two big revelations in the last issue of "Book Two:  The Red King Syndrome."  (I'll note that I'm still not really sure why it's called that.)  First, we discover that a Miraclewoman exists, though we're not really given any details about her, such as whether she was connected to the Gargunza experiments that created the Miraclemen.  Second, we discover that Mike's body isn't alone in the dream universe where it goes when he switches form with Miracleman.  Most intriguingly, though, it's not just Kid Miracleman's body there with him (since Johnny Bates is in the real world), but seemingly thousands of other robotic-looking entities.

Although the first revelation is intriguing, it's the second one that seems the most likely to open the door to where we're going in the next book(s).  We discover Miraclewoman's existence and get some insight into the dynamics of the dream universe because the two entities seeking Kid Miracleman last issue continue their search for "cuckoos" (the Miracle-beings) present on Earth.  Moore clearly connects them to the futuristic story that we saw in issue #2 ("Warrior" #4) since they use the term "firedrake," the name of one of Miracleman's unseen allies in that issue.  The aliens seem to use "cuckoos" and "firedrakes" synonymously though Moore doesn't make that connection clear yet.  At any rate, Moore has been hinting throughout the series that the extra-terrestrial nature of Miracleman's powers would bring aliens into his orbit (so to speak) at some point.  Beyond "Warrior" #4, we also saw stories about the Warpsmiths (like the one that appears in that issue) in issue #3 ("Warrior" #9-10) and #4 ("A1" #1).  It appears to be time.

The good news is that the alien stories are bound to be more interesting than the child-focused story, since it's hard to stay engaged in a story that Moore seems to be rushing.  It just seems obvious that something is going to happen (like fast-aging the baby), and we're simply waiting for that moment to come.  The sooner that we can bring it to resolution, the sooner that we can focus on the aliens and the nature of Miracleman.

*** (three of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Humphries employs a number of convenient plot devices to propel Peter from the Badoon prison where he starts the issue to the bad-ass ship where he ends it:

- He just so happens to be imprisoned with a Spartax spy who knows where they're being held.

- The guards just so happened not to take away his phone, allowing him to call Kitty and use her to distract the guard.

- His other cellmate is a young Badoon who just so happens to recognize a sewer shaft that allows them to escape the pursuing guards.

- The aforementioned shaft just so happens to lead to the aforementioned bad-ass ship that allows them to escape.

It's a lot of "just so happens."

Peter would argue that he made his own luck by thinking of calling Kitty, setting into motion the other events.  To be honest, I don't really care that much.  This issue was just fun.

The sub-text of this series is that Peter's charm is almost his mutant power, opening up the door to all those "just so happens."  If you don't buy that part, this series isn't gong to be for you.  If you do, then you're treated to the wonder of Peter Quill as he charms his way across the galaxy.  Along the way, you get to see Kitty in a banana costume screaming "Ooga Chaka!" and learn the lyrics to the songs of the galaxy's newest pop stars.  Who doesn't want that?  In fact, I'm starting to suspect that Peter's never actually going to make it to Earth to fight Thanos, because he's got all this charming to do.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain America #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Sam fucking Wilson, everybody.

Nobody has ever written Sam better than Remender.  Seriously.  In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a character with a better combination of heroism, humor, and integrity than Sam displays under Remender.  Throughout this issue, I found myself hoping that Steve really does listen to Sam and takes off time to be happy with Sharon and Ian, because, man, I really want to read a series about Sam as Captain America.

Beyond just the awesomeness of Sam, the rest of this issue is also great.  The heroes discover that Zola's mutate invasion is just a cover to distract them from discovering his true plan:  to set off a bomb to destroy New York.  The scenario is certainly one that we've seen countless times in superhero comics, but Remender finds a way to infuse it with emotion and suspense.  First, he reveals that Zola engineered Jet to return to Earth with Captain America so that he could spy on the Avengers.  Although I would like more information on how exactly Zola used Jet to spy, the revelation explains why Zola didn't simply detonate the bomb; he needed time to convince Jet to leave with him.  As a result, Zola isn't just a stereotypical villain monologuing to give the heroes time to stop him; he's delaying putting his plan into action on purpose to try to win back his daughter.  It's this attention to detail that prevents the story from falling into a cliché, and I hope other authors use it as an object lesson on how you take a familiar comic-book trope and make it feel fresh.

Moreover, it's the revelation that Sharon and Steve have a child together -- in the most superhero way imaginable -- that begins to bring this series to a close.  Red Skull and Arnim Zola stole one child from them, but they give them another one in the form of Ian, as Remender reveals that Sharon raised Ian after Steve left.  As Sam says, you really feel that they deserve to be a family, and it's the anxiousness that something might happen to Ian or Sharon before they have the chance at it that fuels the tension of the latter part of this issue.  It's a rare comic-book author that can bring this sort of emotion to a story, and it was a pleasure to read.  Moreover, this feeling is amplified by the fact that it comes organically from watching these characters' struggles over the last 23 issues.  With one issue left, I'm just hoping that Cap gets to ride into the sunset for a little while. 

**** (five of five stars)