Thursday, December 25, 2014

Axis #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

When will this long national nightmare end?  [Sigh.]  We have a number of problems here, but I'll group them together to try to make it seem like I'm not just randomly listing complaints.

First, it's still unclear why we care about where Remender is taking us.  I'll admit that my "enjoyment" of this series isn't helped by the fact that I'm currently reading Boom! Studios' "Irredeemable" for the first time.  Waid did such an amazing job of creating a world in that series, one where a superhero becomes a super-villain, that it's hard not to see this event as anything other than a pale shadow of it.  In Waid's story, the drama comes from the fact that the Plutonian is, as the title implies, "irredeemable."  Although I'm not entirely sure how the series is going to end, it's pretty clear that it's not going to involve everyone just shrugging and saying that it was understandable that he killed a few million people.  However, this series has the air of forgettability to it.  It'll either be ret-conned by the end like "Age of Ultron" or it'll be forgotten like "Secret Invasion."  Thor is unlikely to go to jail for robbing a casino, Tony Stark is unlikely to have Stark Industries permanently taken from him as a result of releasing the dangerous Extremis app onto the market, and the X-Men are unlikely to face charges for invading Manhattan.  In other words, the changes to the Marvel Universe would be so legion if the heroes faced consequences for their actions here that it's clear that they're not going to face them.  Again, it raises the question of why we care about anything happening here.

Moreover, we've been down the road of "inversions" (if not mystical ones) so many times already, including with some of the characters here, that it's lost its meaning.  Rogue and Wanda as villains, Magneto and Sabretooth as heroes:  we're not talking about anything new.

Another problem with this series is that it's starting to feel like "Age of Ultron" in the sense that we've drifted far from the premise of the event.  It's not like this series was called "Age of Red Onslaught" or anything, but it's odd that we no longer even seem to care about the Red Skull.  All of a sudden, we've got Apocalypse establishing the "Age of Apocalypse" and the Avengers becoming fascist overlords.  Who knows what we're going to see happen in the next chapter?  The "Age of Wanda?"  That prospect should be exciting, but it's just not.  It feel like we're just cycling through plots and villains like we're playing "Street Fighter."

With only six issues left, I'm just not really sure if it's possible for Remender to give us an ending to redeem this one.

* (one of five stars)

Miracleman #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite this issue dealing with inter-stellar politics, it's actually easier to digest than the last two issues.  Moore not only solidifies our understanding of the nature of the Miraclepersons, but also manages to bring some emotion back to the series.

We learn that the aliens that crashed on Earth and served as the basis for the Miraclepersons were the Qys, thanks to their natural ability to change bodies (leaving them in infra- or under-space).  It actually makes a lot of sense, no matter how fantastic it sounds here.  Moreover, we learn that the birth of Winter, essentially a child of the Qys, has brought Earth into the "intelligent space" that the Qys and the Warpsmiths divide, leading to both sides agreeing to keep the planet neutral for now.  (Miraclewoman at some point suggested that the two sides have sex to resolve their differences, and I think one of the goals of the monitoring system that the two sides establish is to determine whether Earth would be a suitable place for that act to happen.)  With the conclusion of this inter-stellar summit, Mike returns home and a freaked out Liz flees for her sister's, leaving Winter to talk to Mike for the first time.

Although Moore uses some of the difficult narration from the previous two issues, he scales it back significantly so that it doesn't really get in the way of the story that he's telling (as it did in those issues).  Moreover, he addresses my complaint from last issue, that we functionally no longer have anyone capable of exhibiting emotions in this series.  Moore actually uses Liz's breakdown as a way to underline that point, showing Miracleman as increasingly removed from his humanity.  (In fact, I realized that Miracleman hasn't assumed Mike's body in a while.)  If the message still wasn't clear that Miracleman is increasingly not human, Moore has him observing a race that he created and keeps in a terranium like a distant god.  (The story closes with Mike talking about a word that this race coined for "the sorrow that is felt on realising sorrow is a thing one can no longer truly feel.")  Moore seems to be setting up a moment where Mike will decide to leave behind his humanity, and the series is easier to read now that it's clear that we're moving to this decision point.

Of note, Moore really does anticipate the Information Age in this issue.  Although in this world the communications revolution seems due to gifts from the aliens, Moore really does predict a world where distance has no meaning, similar to the Warpsmith's reality.  "No cities, concentrating jobs and lives into one crammed environment, when screens can take the office home.  No borders in the electronic state, where jokes in Aberdeen raise laughter in Japan."  Written in 1987, it's interesting to see how Moore predicts where we find ourselves now.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is confusing.  In fact, it's so confusing, I'm having troubles finding the words to describe why it's confusing.

First, I don't get why Sam is the avatar of the White.  Why him?  It seems particularly arbitrary at this point, particularly since reincarnated Sam has the memory, but not the emotions or personality, of living Sam.  If you're going to use the soul of a dead person with no emotions or personality as an avatar, why pick the boyfriend of one of the other avatars?  It just feels like a plot device to torture Alan rather than a decision motivated by some other valid reason.  Granted, we don't really know much about why the Green picked Alan and I guess it makes sense that they were both chosen avatars when they died in that train crash.  But, what about the train crash made it special?  (Also, I'm assuming that Sam was actually chosen then and not at some later point.)  If it's not just going to feel like a plot device, we need to get some more background on both Alan and Sam becoming avatars.

Second, we learn that the Helm of Nabu is actually some sort of Mother Box.  It mates with the Mother Box inside Jimmy (ewww) and Jimmy is going to emerge as some sort of god.  I'm still not really sure what a Mother Box is, so I'll admit that I'm just totally lost when it comes to this sequence.  I have no idea where we're going with this one.

Finally, Apokolips suddenly appears at the Moon via a Boom Tube, but, if I'm not mistaken, we don't know who summoned the Boom Tube.  I thought that the Boom Tube had already brought Apokolips to our solar system and that it was 24 days from Earth.  What changed?

We've also got John Constantine skulking in the background and Desaad changing Helena into Fury, but, honestly, I've got enough on my plate right now that I'm going to have to let those developments stay in the background.

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue continues on a theme of this series (and Snyder's run on the Bat-books in the DCnU), that Bruce's overconfidence leads to incompetence.  In fact, at this point, DC should really change the title of this series to "The Greatest Incompetent Batman Stories Ever Told."

Snyder and Tynion engage in the now officially named pet peeve #3 in this issue, using a character to point out an illogical aspect of the story, as if doing so excuses the presence of said illogical aspect in the first place.  Here, it occurs when Julia asks Batman why he never planned for the fact that someone could one day use the 17 ammunition dumps that he has seeded around the city against him.  Bruce doesn't have an answer, but I guess we're just supposed to go with it since Julia took on the role of the reader in asking the question in the first place.  If so, I would also like Julia to ask why he made the codes to open the dumps so easily reprogrammable, since it seems pretty easy for a villain in the DCnU to get his hands on something that could cause an emp pulse.

I gave last issue two stars because I had hoped that Snyder and Tynion would somehow give us a logical explanation for why Bruce managed to keep these dumps so poorly protected.  (I wasn't sure what it could be, but I had hope.)  But, we don't get that here.  Instead, we get confirmation that he's just dangerously incompetent.  At this point, I find myself rooting for the corrupt cops of Gotham to stop him, for the sake of Gotham's citizens.

* (one of five stars)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Captain Marvel #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, this issue is crazy but adorable.  Lila Cheney is supposed to marry a prince from an empire where everyone speaks in rhyme.  (No, really.)  She doesn't want to marry him, and she seeks out Carol (or accidentally stumbles upon her and takes advantage of the moment) to help her call off the wedding.  But, the catch is that he has to be married to become king, and, in his empire, the men don't get to choose who they marry.  Lila can say that she doesn't want to marry him, but his mother will then have him marry some totally evil queen from another planet.  So, it's Lila or the totally evil queen.  Carol likes the prince, so she agrees to fight the evil queen to prevent him from marrying her.  She wins and tries to return to the choice to him as her bounty.  Then, honestly, it gets a little muddled.  But, it all gets resolved in the end, because Tic marries him.  Apparently, her race really only lives until 20 and she's already 14 so she's down with fake-marrying a hot prince.  (Makes total sense to me.)  Plus, once he's on the throne, he's going to change the law, giving everyone the freedom to choose their mate, so she's helping to change the world.  Hurrah!  OK, sure, it totally doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's Lila Cheney and Carol Danvers and a shirtless prince, so, as a gay comic-book fan, it's a win in my book.

*** (three of five stars)

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As a former literature major, I'm pretty comfortable reading difficulty worded texts.  I can't say that it's my favorite narrative approach, but I understand, at times, that the story requires it to convey as certain sense of uncertainty.  The problem is that the story has to require it.  Otherwise, it feels intentionally obfuscating (and showy), where the author is using it to convey a sense of complication or mystery but instead simply leaves the reader bored and confused.  Kot does the latter here, and it's why I'm canceling the series.

In "Secret Avengers," I have a pretty good grasp where the story is going.  It might be a little hard to follow at times, but Kot is weaving a pretty clear narrative.  You can say definitely at the end of each issue what happened, even if it's unclear how it contributes to the overall story that he's telling.  That's not the case here.  I not only have no idea what happened in issue #1 or this one, but I also have no idea what story he's telling.  I tried, but I still don't see how we went from underwater drug-smugglers to doing...whatever it is that Bucky does here in Asgardia.  It's a shame that this series is going the way of "Red Hood and the Outlaws" for me, where I have to bail on a sidekick made good, but here we are.

* (one of five stars)

All-New Captain America #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After the horror that "Axis" has been, I'll admit that I nervous about this issue.  Remender has been so off his game that it was difficult to contemplate how terrible this issue could be despite my expectations for it.  I'm glad to say that it seems like the real Remender came to play.

Remender begins this series almost exactly as he did the last one, with Sam pondering the impact that the messages of a parent (this time, his father) had on him.  (He also takes a mysterious mode of transportation somewhere.)  I found myself excited to learn more about Sam and his past, to meet his brother and sister, to learn if he has some sort of long-lost love out there somewhere.  I've read Captain America for 30 years, but I really don't know much about Sam.  Remender makes it clear that he's going to rectify that.  It's obviously about time.

But, it's not all about Sam.  Remender gives him a great supporting cast.  First, we have Redwing.  I loved the scene where he saved the shield from falling into the lava, in part because Immonen draws an amazing look on his face.  You can practically hear him saying, "Do I have to do everything?"  But, we also have Ian.  First, I'd be very happy if Immonen drew Ian all the time because woof.  But, Remender adds some tension to the series that I didn't see coming, but really works.  Ian is annoyed that Steve didn't pick him to become Cap (leading to Sam uttering the best line of the issue, "Cronyism beats nepotism, I guess").  You can see this tension in their hilarious-but-still-pointed discussion about Sam's inability to throw the shield perfectly.  (Also, I loved Sam constantly talking about how he can't believe he never previously had a shield.  It's going to be interesting to watch how he learns to combine the wings with the shield, presumably setting up all new approaches that we haven't seen Captain America use before.)  But, Remender also reminds us why Steve picked Sam.  Ian throws Batroc into the lava to save Sam, reminding us how much he has to learn about Earth and the way that heroes do things here.  Also, Steve and Sharon fishing while Steve tries to guide Sam through the mission?  I could read a whole issue of that.

In terms of the story-telling, Remender and Immonen set an amazing tempo here.  It's hard to explain, but the story rises and falls at all the right beats to maximize the impact of the emotions that the script wants you to feel.  You also can't beat the playset, so to speak.  Remender goes for broke, with Sam and Ian attacking an underground HYDRA base set on an island in a volcano surrounded by lava.  Immonen lets the imagination of his 12-year-old self run wild, and you feel like you're watching a Bond film by the end of the issue.

All in all, it's a strong debut.  The art is not only spectacular in its own right, but amplifies the story that Remender is telling.  That story isn't just about Sam learning the ropes as Cap, but also dealing with a sidekick skeptical that Sam could learn them as well as he could.  The villains seem also a secondary consideration, though, given that Sam stumbles upon pretty much all Cap's major villains in the last page, that might be a bit premature to conclude.

**** (four of five stars)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Miracleman #11 and #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

A few weeks ago, I switched to getting "Miracleman" digitally, but it took me a few weeks to realize that "Miracleman" isn't available digitally.  As such, I'm two issues behind, so let's get to it.

Issue #11 is...odd.  I mean, this entire series is odd, so it's saying a lot when I find myself singling out an issue as "odd."  The main story itself is fine.  The two mysterious figures from the previous issue (identified as Qys in the text describing the re-worked cover in the extra pages) finally find Moran.  He manages to avoid them long enough to turn into Miracleman, but they do a number on him anyway. They read his mind and discover that he has a daughter, so one of the Qys goes to collect her.  Thankfully, Miraclewoman has snuck into the Moranses' house and knows a way to injure the Qys, saving Liz and the baby in the process.

Again, the story itself is fine.  It's a little unclear how Miraclewoman is able to seemingly kill a Qys without it resurrecting itself in a new shape, as keeps happening to Miracleman, but it's clear that Moore will likely clarify that part in the next issue.  The odd part is the framing narration.  The story is told as a flashback by Miracleman as he sits in his orbital station above Earth in 1987 and writes his mémoires.  He seems to have lost touch with his humanity by this point, seeing himself as a demi-god that can grant wishes and life.  (Underscoring that point, he calls the station "Olympus.")  The emotional detachment isn't the only odd part; when he does have emotions, they seem odd, like the revelation that he not only keeps a bust of Gargunza, but refers to him as "Father."  It seems almost like Kid Miracleman or some other villain has taken over Miracleman's body.  If not, Moore is going to have to explain at some point how Miracleman became the oddball that he is here.

Issue #12 is...odder.  Again, the story is fine.  In fact, we actually start getting somewhere, completing our understanding of Gargunza's activities.  Miraclewoman reveals via flashback that Gargunza created her and the remaining Miracleperson, Young Nastyman, as an off-the-books project.  He created her to mate with one of the four other Miraclemen, clearly to create the child that he could use as the repository of his mind (as he intended with Winter).  We learn that Gargunza repeatedly raped Miraclewoman while she was in her dream state and that he infused Young Nastyman with violent images in his dream state.  But, Young Nastyman eventually broke free, and Gargunza allowed Miraclewoman and the Miracleman Family to awaken to go after him.  Miraclewoman succeeds in defeating him and absconds.  In the meantime, Archer has discovered Gargunza's secret activities and sends the now-awakened Miracleman Family to their deaths at Dragonslayer.  (Interestingly, Moore seems to imply that Young Miracleman was in love with Miracleman, something I hope we explore later.)  In the present, the Miracles are whisked into space with the Warpsmiths, who arrive to help the surviving Qys heal his dying counterpart.

Like the previous issue, this issue is made difficult to read a a result of Miracleman's almost incomprehensible narration.  We learn that Miraclewoman in 1987 seems to be some sort of sexual therapist, though I have to be honest that I'm not 100 percent sure of that.  The entire issue is sexually charged, and it's full of odd moments like Miraclewoman revealing that she laughed when she discovered, via video tapes, that Gargunza frequently raped her unconscious self.  As such, you not only find yourself reading about Miraclewoman shrugging off the years of horrific sexual abuse that she suffered at Gargunza's hands, but you have to keep re-reading it to make sure that you've actually understood it correctly, given the lack of clarity in the narrative.  It's disturbing to say the least.

I have to admit that I'm not 100 percent sure whether I want to keep reading the story that Moore is telling.  I believe that Gaiman is taking over the series in a few issues, but, if I have to get through the pages upon pages of turgid prose that I had to endure in these two issues, I'm not sure I can make it four issues.  Plus, I'm not really clear on the story that Moore is telling.  Originally, we were watching Mike come to grips with his secret past, but now we just seem to be meandering through a twisted version of Saturday morning cartoons.  The narrative oddness in these issues makes Miracleman seem vaguely inhuman, undermining your ability to identify with him or the story.  Even when we do stumble upon scenarios where we might be able to identify with the characters as humans, the characters' emotions make little sense, as with Miraclewoman's response to learning about her sexual abuse or Miracleman keeping a bust of Gargunza.  It's all just...odd. 

** (two of five stars)

Spider-Verse #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

These event-related short-story collections are always hit-or-miss, but I have to say that this one hits a lot more than it misses.  Skottie Young and Katie Cook's stories are cute, though fairly forgettable.  Although I liked Thompson's steampunk story, the script still suffers from too much clichéd commentary from Lady Reilly about feeling trapped given the limitations on her as a woman in the late 1800s.  It's certainly not untrue, but Thompson doesn't put much effort into making that lament original; in fact, he goes too far the other direction, trying to get us to believe that Reilly somehow managed to get three university degrees despite being a woman.

It's actually the interstitial stories that make this issue.  Morlun finding the Hostess Fruit Pie Spider-Man to be the "greatest snack of all" is one of the funniest things that I've read all year.  Similarly, I LOLed at Morlun leaving daily comic-strip Spidey due to the chronal instability that meant that it takes days to "perform the simplest actions" in that world.  Slott doesn't really have to prove that he's a Spider-Man fan, given the attention to detail that he's exhibited throughout his run.  But, these two sequences really remind you just how well he knows this character.  I'm not sure that they're worth the $4.99 price tag of this issue, but they come close.

*** (three of five stars) 

Axis: Hobgoblin #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Beyond all the jokes, Shinick does a good job of making sure that this series has an actual plot.  An increasingly unhinged Phil Urich feels like Hobgoblin is dissing him through his high-profile return, since Phil knew that he had survived Norman's attack on him.  But, it's his discovery that Roderick is in control of a amnesiac Lily that seems to really send him over the edge.  Interestingly, Shinick sets up the possibility that Phil might actually win this one.  Roderick seems to underestimate how angry the super-villains that he abandoned were, leaving Phil with something like a real Goblin Army.  I'm intrigued to see what happens next issue.  Moreover, the jokes really are good.  The fake advertisements that appear throughout the issue were legitimately hilarious.  For a tie-in series, this one is really carving out its own niche.  Again, it's more of a "Goblin Nation" tie-in series than an "Axis" one, but I'll take it.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Axis #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

[Sigh.]  Well, it was good while it lasted.

We start this issue with Spidey telling young Nova that his predecessor's name involved a joke "in there if you think on it," a "joke" that Remender has probably been waiting to tell since he was 12 years old.  But, "'Dick' Rider" winds up being one of the more subtle moments of this issue.

One of the more interesting parts of last issue was that it was hard to tell exactly what happened to the Avengers and the X-Men.  They seemed...off, but it wasn't totally obvious.  As I mentioned in that review, I only realized that everyone's "alignment" was inverted when I read an advertising blurb for "Captain America and the Mighty Avengers" #2.  But, Remender jettisons all subtlety here.  Sue Richards, Wanda, and Sam Wilson are reduced to raging assholes.  Honestly, I kept waiting for Sam to drink from a goblet filled with the blood of a virgin.  It's just so remarkably over the top.  It's actually an interesting experiment, taking Sam from LG to CE or Wanda from CG to LE, but Remender doesn't do the hard work of wondering what the character truly would be like under those circumstances.  He just seems to embrace stereotypes of evil and goes from there.

The only decent moment is Spidey grabbing Nova and throwing him from Avengers Tower to prevent him from getting swept into Sam's dragnet, but that moment doesn't really go anywhere.  Magneto just eventually nabs them and smuggles them to Steve.  Remender does manage to raise some excitement about the prospect of us witnessing the beginning of the Age of Apocalypse, as he and the X-Men demand that all humans leave Manhattan, but, honestly, it's too little, too late.

* (one of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, now we're getting somewhere.

In fact, we're getting a lot of somewheres.  Dr. Fate's attack on Famine has turned her into some sort of air-borne virus that forces the World Army team to launch its attack squad early lest it succumbs.  Dr. Fate and the Mother Box do...something to Jimmy after "she" defects to him from Mr. Miracle.  Marella makes her pact with the water devil.  Sam is revealed to be the Avatar of the White.  Ted Grant (Wildcat) debuts to help Barbara re-assert control over Chicago.  Finally, the Geneva-based team crumbles under the weight of deciding whether to save Helena from Desaad or try to see if Clark is still alive.  It's a lot.  Snyder and Tynion could take some notes on how you write a weekly series with six (six!) different plots that still manages to be coherent issue to issue.

Plus, we don't sacrifice characterization to move ahead these plots.  I loved the scene where Thomas throws back some more miraclo and nonchalantly holds up a piece of Kryptonite to keep Val from stopping him.  It's just such a great insight into his personality.  He's clearly motivated to push the limits of his addiction to miraclo given his anger over the fact that Kara and Val had to save him from the Superman clone that attacks him and fear for Helena.  But, Val stops him, dedicated to saving him despite Thomas dismissing him as a coward.  It reminds us that Val is a stand-up guy and his pacifism shouldn't be dismissed as cowardice.  We also relieve Alan's loss of Sam and Lois' loss of Clark.  Both are given the promise of seeing them again, though, as Lois says, it seems to inspire more torture than joy.  Although I'm excited about this title getting some breathing room at some point to really explore these characters further, the authors have made sure that we still have a good sense of them now.

Man, if "Justice League" were half as good as "Earth 2..."

**** (four of five stars)

Batman Eternal #32 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I know that I'm supposed to tremble in horror as we replay "The Dark Knight" and Batman becomes, as the title to next issue says, a public menace.  But, really, all I can think is that Bruce is a huge fucking idiot.

At first, I was just annoyed that he left Alfred unguarded at the hospital; after all, if Hush was willing to attack Alfred at the Manor, it stood to reason that he'd be happy to continue attacking him at the hospital.  But, now, he looks like all the more of an idiot.  He knew that Hush was in the Manor.  He presumably knew that Hush knows about the Batcave.  (I'm not 100 percent sure of that, since my Bat-history isn't great.  But, Hush clearly knew to go look in the Batcave for the database and it stands to reason that Bruce would know if Hush knew about the Batcave.)  Bruce also knows that he keeps a DNA-keyed database to all his caches and safe houses in the Batcave.  But, it only NOW dawns on him that it could be a problem?  Higgins tries to excuse this oversight by focusing on the insanity of the previous few days, with Julia noting for everyone how it's been days since Bruce came to the Batcave.  But, seriously, he's that incompetent.  More than that, everyone in the Bat-family is that incompetent?  Even if they didn't know that Hush was looking for the so-called McGregor database, it stands to reason that one of them would've realized that they needed to do some sort of assessment of the Batcave's security systems after learning that Hush was in the Manor.  It seems likely that they would've found the incursion pretty quickly, given that Bruce himself found it almost immediately.

Bruce-as-bumbling-idiot has been a theme of Snyder's run in the DCnU.  But, honestly, it's just getting harder and harder to believe, if we're to believe Snyder, that Bruce can even tie his shoes correctly in the morning.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Batman #36 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy fucking crap, Batman.

This issue is chilling.  It starts with the conclusion of last issue's fan-wank battle between Bruce and the Justice League, with Bruce employing over-the-top tools like gauntlets tipped with miniaturized red suns and "Kryptonite gum" to take down a Jokerized Superman.  But, it ends with the most terrifying encounter with the Joker that I've ever read.

The revelation that the Joker was Eric Border, the orderly that started working at Arkham Asylum in "Batman" Annual #2, is nothing short of brilliant.  It's a reminder of how amazing Scott Snyder can be.  Every once in a while, we need a display of how good the Joker is to remember why he's Batman's archnemesis.  Snyder achieves that here.  Bruce underestimates Border, just one in a long line of orderlies or other people that want to help Gotham.  Snyder implies that Bruce does so because he believes that he's the only one that really can help Gotham; as a result, he takes everyone else less seriously.  Moreover, he implies that the Joker knows that, because he knows Bruce so well; it's why he's the only one that could've successfully laid the trap that we see here.

But, Snyder also lets us know that we don't just have our usual Joker story here.  It's not just the Joker setting a trap and Batman finding a way to disarm it.  Just as Bruce's relationship with the family broke in "Death of the Family," his relationship with the Joker did as well.  The Joker has gone from a "friend" helping Bruce to be the best Batman that he can be to an enemy looking to "close up shop."  He's bored with Batman.  Snyder really lets that idea wash over you, allowing you to contemplate the horror that the Joker could unleash on Gotham with no self-imposed restrictions on his behavior.  Moreover, Snyder implies that he's bored with Batman because he's better than Batman is.  Better than Batman.  That takes a lot to ponder.  It's been a theme of Snyder's run on this title since the re-launch, but it's never really been stated as clearly as it is here.  Looking at Bruce trapped in the Joker's former cell at Arkham, you have to wonder if he isn't right.

Capullo is amazing as always.  The images of flies caught in the spider's web is brilliant, a perfect metaphor for Bruce finding himself unexpectedly trapped.  But, it's the revelation of the Joker's new face that stops you in your tracks and makes you realize that we're playing a totally different ball game here.  Whoever the Joker was the last time that we saw him, he is no longer.

All the Bat-series at this point are promising a new future once Batman defeats the various challenges that he faces, like the Joker here or Hush in "Batman Eternal" (if it is Hush behind all the events there).  But, you have to start wondering if that's even possible.  Although he clearly makes his way through the events of "Batman Eternal," Snyder successfully sets up the possibility that he has a false confidence, because it's "Endgame" that could actually break him.

***** (five of five stars)

Batgirl #36 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'm sold.

Whereas last issue tried to signal the changes to this title through the introduction of a conga line of gays and lesbians, this issue makes actual changes.  We've traded in young car thieves as potential boyfriends for adorable graduate students.  Our archnemesis is no longer some sociopathic heiress with a confused (and confusing) modus operandi but a mysterious villain that knows Barbara's identity.  Said nemesis is no longer putting together a team to murder all the criminals in Cherry Hill, but hiring assassins to come after Barbara as if she herself wanted them to kill her.  (OK, maybe that part didn't make a lot of sense, but I'm willing to overlook it.)  Moreover, the assassins aren't just color-by-number super-henchmen, but twin Asian girls obsessed with a 1980s cartoon character.  Our supporting cast is no longer limited to a transgender roommate whose only distinguishing characteristic was being transgendered, but includes a Muslim research assistant, her techie brother that builds Batgirl a grappling hook in exchange for her help, a fun coder roommate, and a pissed-off Bird of Prey.  (In other words, we're no longer just multi-cult-y for the sake of being multi-cult-y, as we were last issue.)  Barbara is no longer worried about whatever it was that worried her under Simone, but instead trying to resurrect her life as a graduate student.  Finally, Gotham is no longer just a dark place that makes you question why people live there, but full of vibrant neighborhoods like Burnside where it's apparently not all death all the time.

All these changes combine to form one of the most inventive and dynamic stories that I've read in a long time.  In fact, it's somehow even better than the sum of its parts, in no small part because of the visuals that leap off the page.  As I said, I'm sold.

***** (five of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series should ideally be about Peter Quill going around the galaxy righting wrongs and getting into bar fights.  Humphries totally, totally gets that.  After all, this issue involves Peter righting a wrong and getting into a bar fight.

After five issues, Humphries has slowly but surely started to develop this series independent from "Guardians of the Galaxy."  It seems unlikely that Peter is going to have an entirely separate supporting cast from the Guardians, since it would become difficult to explain what happened to them while he was Guardian-ing.  But, Humphries instead has found a way to turn this series into a sort of "Guardians Team-Up."  Sometimes, Peter acts alone, sometimes Drax or Rocket appear to help him with a problem.  So long as these guest appearances stay confined to "occasionally" and don't always involve the entire team, Humphries will be able to tell the story that he wants to tell, independent of Bendis' title.

In a good sign of how well we're progressing to that goal, Humphries is also developing Peter's own set of villains.  We've already met Mr. Knife, and we meet his crew, the Slaughter Squad, in this issue.  Now, I hope, at some point, we get a full on Guardians vs. Squad throw-down.  I want that in part because Humphries does a great job of establishing them as a legitimate threat, for all Peter's bravado that the Guardians could take them.

Moreover, Peter is also a lot sharper than he is in the main title.  Although he's not the snarky wonder that he was under DnA and Gillen, he's not a bumbling idiot, as he proves when he traps one of the Squad members who thought that he was trapping him.  Bendis can veer to Prattian idiot at times, but Humphries seems to be a good counterweight to that.

Through it all, Humphries uses a narrative structure -- of Peter interrupting the Squad member's forged recollection to order more drinks and take a call from Kitty -- that might be borderline clichéd but works if only because of Peter's charm.

In other words, I'm still a happy camper when it comes to this series.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spider-Verse Team-Up #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, this issue is pretty skipable.  It's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination; it's not like "Axis: Revolutions" #1, which I didn't even bother reviewing.  But, we don't get that much insight into the characters here.  We learn that the Ben Reilly that we saw in "Amazing Spider-Man" #9 is so optimistic that he can overcome unbelievable odds and we watch Six-Armed Spider-Man save an alternate Peter Parker from becoming a giant spider.  That's about it.  It's not like "Edge of Spider-Verse," which gave us some insight into the characters.  It's too quick for that, and it's a bit of a stretch for Marvel to think that it's worth $3.99.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Could Olivier Coipel draw Spider-Man all the time?  Seriously.  Peter Parker -- all the versions of him -- have never looked better.  Sorry, Dan Slott, despite you telling me not to look at his amazing ass, I couldn't help but look at his amazing ass!  It's somehow even better when he puts on his tights.  Plus, we get sexy blond Ben Reilly and sexy bearded Cosmic Spidey...and...and...it's just a little overwhelming to be honest.  Lots of sexy Spidey sexiness.

The good news is that this issue isn't just great because of the sexy.  (Though, it obviously doesn't hurt.)  Slott does a great job embracing the moment that we all knew was coming, when Peter meets all the other Spiders.  It's confusing and overwhelming to the reader (so many Spiders!), but Slott makes it that way on purpose, so we feel how Peter feels.  He suddenly encounters his daughter from a future timeline, a version of Gwen Stacy from an alternate universe, and his previously dead "brother"/clone plucked from a different past.  It's a lot.  That's not even including "Downton Webby" (Spider-UK), "Spider-Pig" (Spider-Ham), and all the other Spiders

But, Peter is still Peter.  Slott juts has such a wonderful command of his voice.  I loved him declaring half-asleep that "My something-something sense is tinglin'..." right before he realizes that Silk is hanging over his bed.  Besides his "Downton Webby" quip, he also works in calling Spider-UK "Benedict Cumber-bug."  After so many unfunny issues of Octo-Spidey, I still relish the return of Peter's sense of humor.  We all know that it serves as a way to allay his nerves.  Given how funny he is this issue, he must be damn nervous (something Slott himself might want us to conclude).

However, Slott doesn't make it all fun and games.  Although Peter might just be getting in the loop on the war with the Inheritors, Slott reminds us that the other Spiders having been fighting it for a while.  Old Man Spider is skeptical that our Kaine is worth the loss of the Spider-Man of Earth-70105 (a certain Bruce Banner), showing that the Spiders that've been fighting this battle are starting to get weary of the losses.  Mayday is relieved when Cosmic Spidey returns her brother to her, a reminder not only that he's her only family but that some of the surviving Spiders have still suffered terrible losses.  It serves as a great balance to Peter's humor and reminds us that Slott isn't afraid to go to dark places with this series, even if he manages to keep up Peter's sense of humor.

Beyond just the great moments of characterization, Slott also kicks the plot into high gear.  First, we're introduced to the Spiders' "safe zone" on Earth-13.  Slott knew that the Spiders obviously needed some sort of place where they could safely congregate if they were going to be able to regroup sufficiently to plan a counter-attack against the Inheritors (as we're now calling them).  After all, I was wondering how Otto was staying under the Inheritors' radar.  I don't think that he was on Earth-13 when we've previously seen him, but it was pretty clear that he was going to need somewhere like it at some point.  Moreover, the reason why it's safe is brilliant:  it's guarded by Cosmic Spidey, and the Inheritors know not to attack a Spider with the powers of a god.  We also get hints of other stories to be clarified, like Kaine's connection to the Other as well as the identities of Old Man Spider and the mysterious Scion.

In other words, Slott proves that he's the only person that can really write a fantastic event (particularly as Remender is unexpectedly stumbling with "Axis").  Hopefully, the streak continues.

***** (five of five stars)

Axis #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender makes it pretty clear that something is wrong as this issue unfolds, with the Avengers getting ready to kill the Red Skull and the X-Men blindly following Apocalypse.  I'll admit that I was a little clueless until I read the advertising blurb for "Captain America and the Mighty Avengers" #2:  "Will the inversion of Captain America and Luke Cage spell the end of the Mighty Avengers?"  Aha!  Dr. Doom and Wanda didn't just invert the Red Skull and Xavier; they inverted everyone on Genosha!

As a result, this second "book" will likely take us some unexpected places.  Just in this issue, Jarvis risks his life trying to prevent the Avengers from taking a life, and Magneto and Quentin seem set to be the ones to challenge Apocalypse's control of the X-Men.  (On a side note, the inversion thankfully explains why Evan suddenly turned into Apocalypse.  I wonder if they're going to keep him that way.  It would be an interesting way to resurrect Apocalypse.)  It's fun (if that's the right word) seeing the heroes and villains act uncharacteristically:  Thor excited about the slaughter of innocents, Storm rallying the troops to war, Carnage saving families.  The mind boggles.

Plus, we only had one poop joke.  Right there, this book is a big improvement over the last one.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Grayson #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I had planned on dumping this title.  Although I heart Dick Grayson and I think that Seeley is doing a great job writing him, I just wasn't really feeling the spy vs. spy nature of this series.  This issue changed that, and not just because it involved Dick running along rooftops shirtless for the entire issue (though it didn't hurt, to be sure).

The premise of the issue is that Dick allows himself to be chased by four St. Hadrian's students that discover his presence at the school because he misses running along rooftops at night.  That's a remarkably insightful take on Dick, one that I didn't even consider.  I figured that Dick would get his jollies on that front from all the spy stuff.  But, Seeley has actually made it clear just how different this new world is from Dick's old one.  He's uncomfortable with the death and lies that surround him, and he longs for the life that the Crime Syndicate took from him.  In fact, Seeley manages to remind us that we have no easy solution in the future for Dick's current situation.  Given the unlikelihood of the DCnU's version of Dr. Strange, Iron Man, and Mr. Fantastic casting a spell that robs the world of its memory of his identity, Dick is really forced to confront this new status quo as a permanent one.  Seeley really conveys that helplessness in this issue, turning what could've just been a fun one-off issue into a real study of the despair that seems to lie at the heart of Dick's current state of mind.  It's really well done.  (Plus, the shirtlessness.)

Moreover, unlike the  last iteration of "Nightwing," this series has some honest-to-goodness supporting characters.  Seeley brilliantly has Helena reveal to Minos that the source of the radio signal going outside the School was from the cameras that one of the students rigged to keep an eye on the professors, explaining both how she discovered Dick in the first place and how Dick gets off the hook from being discovered as the leak.  But, Seeley doesn't make it clear if Helena doesn't also know the truth.  Her invitation to Dick to chase her across the rooftops reminds us of the affection that she feels for him, making her motives all the more unclear.  She continues to be a mystery, and I have to admit that I've decided to keep reading in part to learn more about her.  

In other words, I'm a surprisingly happy camper.

**** (four of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a transitional one, and it handles that job pretty well.

To recap some of the background plots:

The Messrs. Terrific reveal the secret weapons that they've developed to help in the attack on Apokolips.  Marella heads into the Deep to make some sort of pact with a mysterious evil.  Green Lantern learns that he's really Rainbow Brite.

OK, he doesn't learn that he's Rainbow Brite.  He actually learns that the Gray and the Green are part of something called the Parliament of Earth, and that he and Solomon Grundy have to go find the avatars of the Blue, the Red, and the White.  I'm willing to give the team some time to develop this story, since they're clearly building to introducing their own Skittle Lanterns.  But, they've got to be careful that it doesn't get too hokey and we wind up getting a rehash of Captain Planet.  That said, in searching through my previous reviews for more information on the Fire Pits, I was reminded that Captain Steel revealed in issue #13 that the Red Lantern lived in the Fire Pits and wanted to destroy the world.  That could set up a pretty awesome story, so I'm going to give everyone space to get there.

The main developments of the issue are Jay managing to take off Pestilence's armor, allowing Dr. Fate to possibly stop her, and the Geneva-based team discovering that Clark might be alive.  The Scooby Gang's discovery actually comes with the realization that the Fire Pits are really just a protection device to keep Desaad's activities secret, raising the possibility that we're going to learn a lot as they make their way through the complex.  I can't say that I'm too optimistic about the Clark development, since we're already been there, but I guess we'll see.

(On a totally unrelated side note, are we ever going to learn what happened to Sam, Alan's boyfriend?  If I remember correctly, Kendra learned that his death had something to do with Apokoliptan weapons smugglers, but we just saw a few issues ago that Sloan might've killed him for leaking information about the Boom Tubes to Jimmy Olsen.  I had forgotten about Kendra's investigation when the Sloan piece was revealed, so I didn't mention it.  In fact, now that I think about it, we don't really know a lot about any of the characters at this point.  We really only have insight into Thomas, thanks to the Annual focusing on his back story.  We got some passing information about Alan, Jay, and Kendra in the first few issues, but it's been all doom and gloom since then.  When the heroes are done saving the world, it would be nice if Taylor could get in some work on the rest of the characters.)  

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2 #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Taylor and Bennett use this issue to give us the background of the Furies of Apokolips, and it's really a wise move on their part.

Issue #27 was the first of this series to happen after the launch of "Earth 2:  World's End," and it was poorly coordinated with the weekly series.  By focusing on an origin story (or, more accurately, four origin stories), the authors side-step the coordination problem entirely with this issue.  We're only going to have another three or four issues of the main series while the weekly series runs, so it seems like a good idea for the authors to stick with using this series to delve into the background of some of the new characters or even looking into the Apokolips side of the house.  That allows the weekly series to focus on the heroes.  That sucks for readers not getting the weekly series, but it seems to be the only viable option if we're not going to have a continuity nightmare.

The good news for the monthly readers is that the issue itself is also a pretty solid one.  The Furies aren't just caricatures of super-villains, as I find most of the Apokolips characters to be.  Taylor and Bennett use the limited space that they have to give us some real insight into their motivations.  Doing so ups the ante, since, under the Chekov's gun theory, it seems unlikely that the authors would take the time to give us their origin stories (particularly since two of the four Furies are pretty sympathetic characters) if it wasn't going to be important later.  (Given that War appears to be this Universe's Starfire, I'd keep my eye on her.)

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Detective Comics #36 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I like what Percy tries to do here.  In fact, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm happiest with "Detective Comics" when it doesn't focus on the stories being told in the larger Bat-Universe and just tells stories about Bruce actually being a detective.  Layman has been the best at that during the DCnU, even though he also really excelled at working in references to events occurring in the other Bat-books.  Percy takes a page from his book, but doesn't write it as well.

The main problem here is that everything is way too easy.  Bruce just happens to hear a news broadcast that tells him that the terrorist who released the plague in Gotham International Airport (GIA) is "believed to be in Eastern Europe."  (Journalists don't need to reveal sources, but it would be nice to know who believed him to be there.  The U.S. government?  Interpol?  Micky Mouse?)  Conveniently, Dick just happens to be torturing someone in Belarus and that guy just happens to know that the terrorist used to date a woman that runs a bar in Minsk.  Dick heads there and thankfully is a skilled enough kisser (that part I believe) to convince the woman to tell him where the terrorist is.  Awesomely, she just happens to know that he's in GIA!  Phew.  Problem solved!

In other words, I like detective stories when Batman acts like a detective.  Here, he just hears a news report, calls Dick, waits for an answer, and then punches someone.  It's not exactly Holmesian.

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Before I complain, let me just say that this issue is exactly the type of issue that we need to be seeing more frequently.  Batman finally does something.  OK, it maybe stretches our suspension of disbelief that he could take down Clayface, Mr. Freeze, and Zsasz in essentially one fluid movement.  (It's a little too "Batman: Arkham Asylum."  My fingers practically twitched out the button sequence.)  It definitely diminishes the next time he spends a three-issue arc trying to defeat one of them.  (I'm not even mentioning that he takes out Joker's Daughter with a kick, despite the threat that we were supposed to believe that she posed in the cliffhanger ending of last issue.)  But, all that said, it's still him doing something, and I applaud that.

But (and you knew that we had to have a "but"), Fawkes has to play fast and loose with several situations to get us where we are at the end of the issue.  Beyond Batman's amazing ability to take down four adversaries in this issue, Alfred is also the recipient of divine intervention.  Last we checked, Alfred's mind had been destroyed by the toxin that Hush injected into him.  To make matters worse, he's starts this issue dying from being crushed under the weight of a few tons of concrete.  Thankfully, Bane magically appears to lift the concrete off him and he's suddenly fine.  He's no longer dying and he's miraculously shaken off the toxin.  It's a little...much.  (We're also supposed to believe that Bane somehow recognized Alfred as Special Forces and decided that he'd be useful to him.  But, again, I liked this issue, so I'm trying to be charitable.)

Don't get me wrong.  I thought the ending was great.  Alfred was bad-ass in taking down Bane, and I loved him announcing that he was back on line, much to the joy of Bruce and Julia.  It's some actual emotion in a series that has lacked anything remotely close to it.  But, part of the problem with this series is that we're supposedly to believe that no one could free Jim Gordon from prison or find the source of the nano-virus plaguing Gotham, but Alfred could just shake off a supposedly mind-destroying toxin attack and Bruce can take out four villains without breaking a sweat when he really sets his mind to it.  It's a problem.

*** (three of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm just so sad.

I'm sad because damn if Bendis didn't find the perfect way to kill off Richard and have it mean something.  He did it because he loved Gamora and he wanted Peter and Drax to go home and try to make her happy.  He didn't mean to send back Thanos.  But, as Peter said, he didn't know as much about the mysteries of life, death, and Universes as they all thought that they did, and it happened by accident.  Does it make total sense?  Not really.  Richard says that he couldn't return because he was the door for Drax and Peter to return.  But, he also noted that he was using the Cosmic Cube and the full power of the Nova Force, so that restriction seems fairly arbitrary, engineered to result in the ending that we get.  We also learn that Richard made Peter promise not to tell Gamora lest she suffered, seemingly not really thinking through that request, since it stands to reason that she'd eventually wonder why Drax, Peter, and Thanos survived the Cancerverse but Richard didn't.  Then again, he also had Thanos breathing down his neck, so it made sense that he was maybe a little rushed.

But, Bendis finally finds the emotion that this series has been lacking almost from the start.  Maybe it's because Richard's a more emotional guy than Peter, so something about adding him to the mix allowed Bendis to say things that he hasn't been able to say.  But, Bendis really manages to convey how much Gamora and Peter feel Richard's absence here.  Peter tells us that he agreed to keep Richard's actions secret from Gamora because he loved Richard.  Gamora cries quietly in a room by herself.  Bendis finally made me feel like they're the characters that I loved in the various "Annihilation" series.  It made me miss Richard, almost like a person that I actually knew.

In other words, for all the faults of this arc, Bendis sold me on it in the end.  Yes, the resolution doesn't make much sense when you really think about it.  Yes, it probably should've been an Annual to have space for the whole story.  But, I felt what Bendis wanted me to feel, a profound sadness that a great character like Richard Rider is gone, the same sadness that the Guardians feel.  Bendis certainly leaves open the door that he could be found one day, but, for now, I'm just going to nurse the sad the way that we're supposed to nurse it.  RIP, Richard.  We miss you.

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

All-New X-Men #33 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I want to like this story arc.

I mean, Bendis is really doing some interesting stuff with it.  X-23 meets the Ultimate Wolverine's son, James Hudson, setting up a pretty awkward family reunion.  Bobby goes toe-to-toe with the Mole Man, finding himself inspired to use his powers in the way that his older self does, and Hank has piqued the interest of Victor Von "Damme," who successfully guessed that he wasn't from the Ultimate universe.  Jean wisely decides to head to Westchester to get her hands on Cerebro to find her teammates, but she (and a helpful Miles) encounter the X-Men instead.  It's good stuff.

One problem that I have here is an obvious disadvantage in never having read an issue of the Ultimate line.  Bendis has obviously been in the Ultimate sandbox for a long time, and he doesn't exactly throw us a lot of bones by giving us background information about the characters that we encounter here.  But, in that way, we're at the same disadvantage as the team, so it works.

The problem is, as I've already stated, that it's hard to feel engaged in yet another story about the kids being displaced.  Sure, this time it's in space, not time, but it's the same "fish(es) out of water" story that already drives this series.  I feel like we're just reading the same story that we've been reading since the first issue.  Maybe, if you're a fan of the Ultimate universe, it's cool to see the team interact with the Ultimate characters, but it doesn't really do anything for me.

In other words, the issue is pretty solid, but I'm only giving it two stars because I'm struggling to care about rehashing a concept this early in the series' run.

** (two of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #3 and #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I just deleted my previous half-assed review of issue #3, which I initially mislabeled as issue #2, because it makes a lot more sense now that I've read issue #4.  So, I'm going to do issues #3 and #4 together here, and we should be back on track.

First, these two issues are great examples of pet peeve #1, where the covers have nothing or little to do with the actual events depicted in the issue.  Despite the cover of issue #3 showing Dr. Fate and Hawkgirl fleeing London as it's destroyed, we see them only briefly in this issue.  Similarly, despite the cover of issue #4 showing Death taking over Atlantis, we see very little of Atlantis in either issue.  We are left to conclude that Death has largely laid waste to it, prompting Marella to inform Khan that she plans on detonating some sort of super-weapon, though the nature of the weapons and the goal of using it aren't really clear to the reader.

But, the cover debacle is really the most negative thing that I have to say about these issues.  We actually really see the plots move along at a nice pace.

First, Lois uses her powers and sucks her friends into a tornado, rattling them enough to (literally) shake off War's possession.  She's able to do so because she allegedly rebooted her mind, breaking free of War's possession on her own.  (Unfortunately, the authors don't really show how she managed to initiate the reboot.  One minute, she was totally under War's sway; the next minute, she's suddenly rebooting.)  The group decides to follow War into the Fire Pits to finally close them, a decision that makes sense to me.  Val magically whips up some suits to allow them to survive the Pits (Thomas helpfully exposits that he studied science while in captivity), but, lo and behold, they find that Desaad is the master of the Pits (and the Furies).  Trouble!  The pits are apparently some sort of factory, but we don't get much detail on this discovery in these issues.  (I'm also not sure how the heroes intended to shut down the Pits, but I'll give the authors a pass on that.)

Second, Mister Miracle wants his Mother Box (and I still have idea what a "Mother Box" is, despite 20 years or so of reading DC Comics) and uses Barda and Fury freeing him from imprisonment to find it.  Elsewhere in the compound, Terry Sloan argues that the advisory council that runs the World Army is crazy if it thinks that its nuclear weapons are going to be successful against Apokolips (as they do actually think).  He argues that they should let Mister Miracle and Co. to escape to Apokolips and then, knowing exactly where to teleport them, send in ground troops.  Sloan approaches Mister Miracle and Co. to pitch this plan, but he dismisses it as impossible, arguing that no human could survive Apokolips.  But, Barda -- freed from Bedlam's control (as is Miracle and Fury) thanks to the Mother Box -- posits that a squad of Earth's deadliest warriors could help her open something called the Morbius Chamber.  Mister Miracle is skeptical, but it seems to be our plan now.

Beyond these two main plots, we still have a lot happening in the background.  We've got Marella dealing with a devastated Atlantis, Green Lantern fighting a revived Grundy, and Dr. Fate and Hawkgirl feeling London.  (Flash is presumably still looking for his mom.)  In Chicago, it seems to be clearer that Dick was never Robin or Nightwing, as he leaves it to Barbara to do most of the fighting.  It really sets up the possibility that something horrible is going to happen to her and/or their son, inspiring him to become the Nightwing of this world.  It's his continued insistence that they'll be fine if they stick together that seems to doom them to me.

Despite some artistic licenses taken to move along the plots, the authors do a real bang-up job making it clear where we are on all the various sub-plots.  (Snyder and Tynion should really take note.)  I've got a good sense of where everyone is going and the intriguing part is how they get there (and how they interact with each other on the way).  I'm still a little nervous about the upcoming issue of the main series, given the disconnected that we've seen between the two titles so far, but I remain optimistic.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Batman Eternal #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

You'd think for an issue that saw the collapse of Arkham Asylum, I'd have more to say.

First, the Deacon Blackfire plot ends fairly anti-climatically.  In the fist few pages, Blackfire is ascendant, but provokes the appearance of the Spectre, who absorbs all the spirits that Blackfire is...draining?  Maybe?  I'm not really sure who all those spirits are, other than the fact that they're swarming Blackfire and he seems to draw energy from them.  Did they cross into our world through the portal to Hell that Blackfire seemed to open?  No idea.  The Spectre just eats them.  This series' slowest burning and most poorly developed sub-plot suddenly finds itself resolved.  Presumably, at some point, we'll learn if Hush had anything to do with it or if it was just an unfortunate coincidence for Bats (as Julia has suggested).  Maybe we'll also learn who's giving Joker's Daughter weapons.  But, I'm not optimistic, to be honest.

In terms of the larger story, the problem that Bats now has to confront is that Blackfire's magic was the only thing holding up the tunnels; they collapse, taking out Arkham with them.  To be honest, I just don't understand where we're going with this whole set of stories.  I'm getting tired of whining about the fact that we've made zero progress in any of the main sub-plots, but spending several issues on the least developed sub-plot doesn't help, particularly when it's still unclear what connection (if any) it has to the main story.

** (two of five stars)

Secret Avengers #8 and #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I somehow missed issue #8, probably because I switched to getting this series digitally and I'm finding it a little difficult to read my digital and print comics at the same time.  I'm essentially sitting on the digital versions for two to three weeks while I wait for the print issues from that same week to arrive.  But, that's my problem, not yours.

Kot decides to put his cards on the table here, and I'm surprised how easy the plot is to follow, after seven issues of misdirection and obfuscation.  M.O.D.O.K. has engineered all the misfortune over the last few issues -- using the Fury to attack Nick and Phil, getting Deadpool to keep Hawkeye busy, hiring Lady Bullseye to take out the Black Widow, arranging the assassin to go after Maria Hill -- in order to prove Maria Hill incompetent so that he can take over S.H.I.E.L.D.  It's a lot clearer of a motive that I figured that we'd ever get in this series.  Moreover, he is connected to the spiritual advisor that Phil and Hawkeye have met, though that connection remains unclear.


But, the twist is that M.O.D.O.K. didn't count on falling in love with Maria Hill.  As ridiculous as that sounds, Kot really sells it, to be honest.  He makes it clear that M.O.D.O.K. thought that Hill would be easy to manipulate; when she proves not to be, he grows to respect her and then love her.  We learn that the assassin that he hired was put in a state of suspended animation, because he was supposed to awaken at a later point to set into action another phase of M.O.D.O.K.'s plan.  But, M.O.D.O.K. kills him instead, because he needs to stop himself from implementing his own plan.  It's a little unclear what the assassin was going to do once revived, but I'm guessing we'll learn that at some point.  Kot also opens the door to the possibility that someone is manipulating M.O.D.O.K. (even though that person may be some sort of alternate personality of M.O.D.O.K.'s).  Notably, Maria seems to be aware of both M.O.D.O.K.'s treachery and confusion (based on Hawkeye telling her that "M.O.D.O.K./M.O.D.O.K." is, in fact, responsible for the attacks).


The other mystery that we seem poised to solve is the nature of the Fury's babies.  We learn that M.O.D.O.K. sent the Fury into some crazy dimension called Tlön (where Natasha now finds herself), and something "came back with it."  Meanwhile, the Chinese government has essentially set up a nursery for the Fury's now-hatching children in Kowloon.  That doesn't bode well.


All in all, I'm really pretty happy with this series now.  Kot kept us guessing as long as he could before it got annoying.  Armed with enough information to feel like we have a sense of where we're going, it's going to be a much more enjoyable ride to get to our final destination, wherever it may be.


**** (four of five stars)

New Warriors #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's a shame that this series is ending, because Yost and Bertram really deliver a great issue this issue.  Speedball's narration is an effective device for conveying the seriousness of the Warriors' situation as they try to at least slow down the Eternals from committing various genocides (against clones, Inhumans, mutants, etc.).  The pair manages to work in moments of emotion (such as Kaine expressing unexpected fury at news that Vance may be dead) and humor (like Sun Girl telling Haechi that the noise he makes breathing fire is a totally acceptable rallying cry).  As a result, the team feels like one for perhaps the first time, making it all the more bitter-sweet that the series ends with the next issue.  But, Yost and Bertram promise us a helluva issue to close.  It's clear that the Eternals' leader isn't telling the truth about the real nature of his alliance with the High Evolutionary to the rest of his team, and Vance is going to be the guy to save the day.  I can't think of a better ending.

**** (four of five stars)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Amazing X-Men #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although this issue isn't perfect, I'm glad to say that Yost and Kyle rebound from last issue.  That issue devolved into a confused jumble of characters, given that the authors were juggling Alpha Flight, the Avengers, the Great Beasts, and the X-Men.  But, the authors wisely fine-tune their focus in this issue.

Storm makes a deal with the Great Beasts to lend the X-Men in the Spirit Realm their powers so that they can defeat Tanaraq.  I'll admit that it's pretty awesome when you realize that the authors have set up  these four X-Men in the Spirit Realm as "gods" representing the ancient elements:  Storm as Air, Rockslide as Earth, Firestar as Fire, and Iceman as Water.  But, it's Guardian bursting from Tanaraq's chest that kills him, hubris for "eating" Guardian in the first place.

Moreover, Yost and Kyle really used the other character to great effect in upping the tension surrounding this battle, showing Colossus, Northstar, and Rachel pushed to the point where it's pretty clear that they're quickly going to be overrun if the X-Men in the Spirit Realm don't deliver a win.  But, deliver a win they do.  Sure, it wraps up a little too conveniently, with the Great Beasts using their powers to miraculously heal as many wounds as they can.  But, it doesn't stretch our suspension of disbelief too much, since it certainly seems within their power set to do it.

All in all, it's a solid arc.  It's not exactly "Age of Apocalypse," but, for a series still finding its footing, it's not bad.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'll admit that I totally teared up a bit when Spidey told Kamala that she was doing great, as one teen hero to another one.

In fact, this whole issue was pretty great.  Sure, it's kind of a dopey ending, with Clash (more on him in a minute) and Kamala realizing that the Kree hadn't actually sanctioned Minerva's mission (since she didn't have any actual Kree henchmen on hand) and Spidey pretending to call the Kree to spook her.  But, it was fun in an innocent way.  I mean, every outing doesn't have to be a life-and-death struggle.  It reminded me of issues like "Amazing Spider-Man" #267.  I wasn't a huge fan of that issue when I first read it, but it had the same hokey charm that this issue has.  (Slott just pulls it off a bit better than DeFalco did, to be honest.)  Moreover, I loved seeing Clayton again.  Although Peter doesn't fully acknowledge it here, I do feel like he really owes Clayton.  As I said in my review of "Amazing Spider-Man" #1.5, he pretty nonchalantly ruined Clayton's life when he exposed his identity to the public.  Giving him a job (something that Clayton couldn't get with his record) seems the least that he could do.

The "Edge of Spider-Verse" story is decidedly less innocent than the main story.  Daemos, one of the brothers of Karn and Morlun, gets into the action, killing off Spider-Girl's parents and boyfriend.  It's pretty grim, particularly when May ends it swearing to break every vow she made to her father and pledging to kill Daemos.  But, it also raises an interesting question.  Most of the characters whose lives we've seen ended or ruined so far aren't really characters that we'd expect to see again.  The closest have probably been the Marvel 1602 Spider-Man and the Exiles' Spider-Man 2099.  However, Spider-Girl is a pretty well established character.  She did appear in her own series, even if it was short-lived.  Daemos does a number on her life here, and it makes me wonder if we really aren't going to see the events of "Spider-Verse" ret-conned in the end.  We still have the fact that Otto disappeared from "Superior Spider-Man" #19, setting up the events of "Spider-Verse."  It seems like the event has to end with Otto returning to where he left, implying that everyone else (like May) would also return to where they were.  I guess we'll see.  If not, Slott is definitely breaking a lot of china.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Invaders #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

James Robinson's "Earth 2" was pretty much the only redeeming quality of the "New 52!" for me for quite some time.  Although Robinson was given to excessively long expository sequences and stilted dialogue, he had a great sense of both characterization and plot.  Some of those aspects are present in "All-New Invaders," but, unfortunately, not enough to keep me getting this title.

This issue is a good example of the problems with this series, in part because they're not all Robinson's fault.  He has to contend with major changes happening to three of his four main characters in their own titles over the last few months.  Steve aged in "Captain America," Bucky took up the position of Man on the Wall after "Original Sin" and in "Bucky Barnes:  The Winter Soldier," and the Illuminati have apparently had some sort of public reckoning in "New Avengers."  The premise of this series is flexible enough to handle changes to the characters' status quo, since they're usually meeting in the space between adventures in their normal lives.  But, it's too much change too quickly implemented here.  You have to be following all these titles just to follow the dialogue.  For example, I'm not reading "New Avengers," so I really had no idea why Namor and Steve are arguing.  If you're not reading "Captain America," you probably wonder why Steve is suddenly an octogenarian.

But, Robinson's dialogue doesn't help matters.  The last thing that I want to see is a weepy Namor, but his insistence that Jim is important to him because it shows him the better side of his own humanity is handled poorly.  Although you certainly don't expect warmth from Namor, his delivery of this emotional epiphany is coldly formulaic, like he's reading from a script, undermining exactly the emotion that we're supposed to be feeling.  Moreover, it's hard to feel the seriousness that we're supposed to feel about Jim's "madness," since we learn that he essentially just has a cold that he can easily incinerate on his own.  When you add in Iron Cross awkwardly declaring her love for Namor and Radiance suddenly (and unnecessarily) arriving in time to save a plummeting Bucky, you get a remarkably clunky story that really makes you question the direction of the series.

In other words, I'm done.  I was trying to stay until we saw Toro, but, even when Toro was promised, we never actually got him.  I've got one more issue in my subscription, so I guess I'll re-cap it.  But, after that, the Invaders will just have to invade without me.

* (one of five stars)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Axis: Hobgoblin #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As I mentioned in my review of "Magneto" #11, I was hoping this issue would address my main unanswered question related to "Axis," namely why street-level villains like Hobgoblin would join Magneto's crusade against the Skull.  I could see the Hobgoblin having a business argument either way.  On one hand, he wouldn't want to see the Skull control the world enough that he would eliminate all competition.  But, on the other hand, the Skull would likely be looking for some non-mutant enforcers.  A guy in the business of supplying super-villains with identities and powers seems like the type of guy who could carve out a niche as a sub-contractor providing the Skull with said enforcers.

However, it quickly becomes clear in this issue that this series has no intention of answering any of those questions.  In fact, it's really more of an epilogue to "Goblin Nation" than it is a tie-in issue to "Axis."  We learn that Phil Urich has managed to retain the mantle of Goblin King (probably because no one else particularly wanted it) and Lily Hollister lost her memory as a result of Phil's botched attempt to rescue her.  The "Axis" tie-in only provides the spark for the series:  as a result of his newfound role as a hero, Roderick realizes that he has ignored an untapped (and even larger) market of people wanting to be superheroes.  He immediately sets about filling that gap.

At first, I'll admit to being slightly annoyed.  I mean, why am I reading about an infomercial for Roderick's pyramid scheme?  Why are we not addressing the serious questions that I have about "Axis?"  FANBOY ANGRY.  FANBOY SMASH.  But, then, when Roderick goes Tony Robbins for the special "few" customers that qualified for "Phase Three" of his superhero program, I just had to laugh.  I mean, the "Ned Talks," named in honor of the first person to "successfully" participate in his "program?"  That's freaking hilarious.  Maybe it's just a reflection of how grim comics are lately or how badly written comics trying to do comedy (like "Axis," in parts) are.  But, I really just found myself enjoying a comic book.  Go figure.  

Honestly, even if you're not reading "Axis" or never read "Goblin Nation," get this series.  It's such a wry take on the superhero genre, reminiscent of "Damage Control" back in the '80s.  But, if you are someone that read "Goblin Nation," it really is worth a read, since it explores the unsettled issues between the various Goblins in a way that we haven't seen in "Amazing Spider-Man."  I wouldn't expect an occasional comic-book writer focused mostly on comedy to have such a good grasp on continuity or characterization, but, man, Shinick really delivers.

***** (five of five stars)

Axis #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Jesus, this issue couldn't have been worse.

First, Remender continue to do an uncharacteristically terrible job matching up characters with one-liners.  To whit, I don't believe for a minute that the Enchantress would say, "That's the kind of oversight that gets you uninvited to fondue parties."  But, it actually gets worse from there (if you can believe it).

We still don't have a good reason for why some of the super-villains are trying to stop the Skull.  Carnage offers a half-hearted excuse that he doesn't want to live under the boot of the Skull, but I'm not sure that I buy that.  Wouldn't Cletus be perfectly happy serving as one of the Skull's Horseman, if you will?  Slaughtering innocent Inhumans and mutants?  Why would the Enchantress care if the Skull took over Midgard?  How about Jack O'Lantern?  He's a pretty second-rate villain.  Wouldn't he benefit from an association with the Skull?  I get why someone like Doom, with his own designs on the world, would oppose the Skull, but Remender really needed to give us a better sense of why the less powerful villains joined the fight.

But, the wheels really go off the bus in the last few pages.  First, Evan suddenly appears as Apocalypse with no explanation.  Did it have something to do with Doom and Wanda's spell?  No idea.  In fact, the "inversion" spell that they cast might have put Charles in control of the Skull's body, but no one is really sure.  Then, Sam suddenly becomes an asshole and declares that the Avengers are taking Xavier's body into custody, annoying the X-Men who desperately want to see if Xavier is alive.  (The fact that the brain that the Skull stole from Xavier's decaying body might actually "contain" Xavier is starting to get increasingly more difficult to believe.)  Thankfully, "Sir Steve Rogers, Patron Saint of Authority" arrives to sort out everything just in time.

Or not.  Despite Steve giving his word to Alex that the Avengers will do whatever they have to do to see if Xavier is inside the Skull's body, Alex flies off the handlebars when Steve suggests that they still have to take the body to Avengers Tower.  Given that Alex is an Avenger, this anger makes little sense to me.  It's like reliving the fight over Hope from "Avengers vs. X-Men" all over again.  But, it makes even less sense when Apocalypse suddenly takes control of the X-Men.  Yup.  Everyone just blithely follows him when he says that he has some sort of plan.  (Remender better plan on revealing that the Skull was silently manipulating this development or I may have to burn every issue of this series that I own when it concludes.)  Thus, thee issue ends with Alex leaving the Avengers because apparently following orders is equivalent to tyranny (as he tells Cap).  Notably, Alex also leaves his wife in the process.  Yup.  Just leaves her.  He disagrees with Steve, so he leaves his wife.  It makes total sense.

Also, did anyone see Nomad?  He's in the list of characters at the start of the issue, but I don't see him anywhere in the issue.

I just don't know what else I can say.  I want to hope that this series can get better, but I just don't see how it's possible.  We've already got too many unexplained developments weighing down the narrative, and it seems like that we'll resolve them before we add more.  [Sigh.]

* (one of five stars)