Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Earth 2: World's End #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue isn't terrible.  It's not great, but it's not terrible.  That's pretty much good enough at this point in the land of DC weekly series, though.

Unlike the Atom's confusing death last issue, Khan dies in a way befitting the character, trying to use the Shackleton Assault Craft to take out Darkseid.  He fails when Darkseid destroys the craft with his Omega Beams, but it's at least a noble (if abrupt) death.

Moreover, we learn that the Avatar of the Red isn't actually fighting the Geneva team, as she seemed to be doing last issue; she's been trapped by Desaad, and he's using her to create the clones fighting the team (and to fuel the Firepits).  This revelation makes total sense, since it seemed bizarre that Yolanda hadn't found her way to the Avatars yet.  The problem is that we learn all this information from Val, without any insight into how he knows it.  After all, it's not like he had been a prisoner of Desaad; he had been kept in a USG facility.

Continuing on the issue of the clones, Superman reveals that his blood was somehow used in the cloning process ("they used my the pipes of this place...trying to pump it into their creations").  However, he also reveals that his blood is poison to the clones.  So, it's unclear if they tried to use his blood to create the clones, failed, and then found Yolanda, or if his blood somehow interacts with Yolanda's in an important way for creating the clones, but, in and of itself, would be poison to them.  The only clear part about it is that it's the deus ex machina that Batman needs to defeat the clones and free the Red.

I will say that we're clearly building to the finale here, given that the Red joining the Avatars is likely to help reverse the tide against the Furies.  Hawkgirl and Jay tracking down the body of Famine will likely help contribute to that, so at least these two stories, combined, gives us the sense that we're going to get somewhere soon.

But, it also seems possible that the whole matter will be resolved before then, given that Mister Miracle and his team seem to have successfully blown up Apokolips.  It can't possibly be true (because, again, I think we have ten more issues left in this series), so I'm intrigued to see what actually happened.

Also, Dick learns how to be a superhero in three hours under Ted's tutelage, but, at this point, I feel like the less said about that sub-plot, the better.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Earth 2 #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bennett and Johnson again do a solid job of using this series to delve into the background of some of this event's otherwise faceless background characters, as they initially did with the Furies in issue #28.  I was particularly surprised by how well they handled the White (Sam's) and the Red's (Yolanda's) stories.

You can feel Sam's heartbreak in just the six pages that we see him, since he's dealing with the aftermath of his death and, more profoundly, his loss of Alan.  Bennett and Johnson also indirectly address some mysteries about Sam.  We're told that his soul is of unmatched purity, answering a long ago question (from issue #13) of whether he was engaged in shady weapons dealings with Apokolips' forces.  (Likely no.)  I'm not sure if we'll ever pick up that story, so the revelation that Terry Sloan likely killed him for leaking information about the Boom Tubes to Jimmy Olsen is probably going to be the final word on his death.  Moreover, the authors confirm that Sam, in theory, doesn't remember who he is; his utterance of Alan's name in "Earth 2:  World's End" #8 implies that his love for Alan is sufficiently strong to keep him connected to Alan despite his role as the Avatar.  It actually helps amplify the impact of the sequence here, because Sam is true to his word that he'll always remember Alan.  By the end of these six pages, we have Sam as a full-fledged character for the first time since this series began, and I'm a happy camper for it.

Similarly, Yolanda goes from a faceless brute to a real person, accepting a blood curse in place of her primo hermano.  I definitely found myself wanting to know more, like why Yolanda and her cousin have essentially been left to their own devices.  Yolanda exposits that she thought that their university's work/study program would be the answer to their problems, but we don't learn why we have those problems in the first place.  It's also unclear why she feels so compelled to protect him.  My guess is that these two questions have the same answer, and  I would love to see that story explored more.  Again, it's impressive that the authors got us to feel that way about her in just seven pages.

Unfortunately, the story about the Avatar of the Blue made little sense to me, feeling just like a jumble of words and images.  But, they can't all be winners.  If you're enjoying "Earth 2:  World's End," this issue is a solid contribution.  If not, well, you probably should just skip reading this series for a few months.

*** (three of five stars)

Detective Comics #38 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Manalatto continues to blow off my socks with this one, folks.  It's great stuff, from start to finish.

First, my only exposure to Anarky/Lonnie/Moneyspider came from Lonnie/Moneyspider's appearance in "Red Robin."  He was paralyzed at that time (for reasons that I don't recall ever learning) and used some sort of cybernetic connection between his brain and the Internet to help Tim.  I can't exactly remember the details of the case(s) where he helped Tim, but I don't think it's all that relevant, given that the DCnU obviously retconned away those stories.  However, Manalatto seems to be setting up a similar dynamic here, since we end this issue with the DCnU Lonnie shot and likely dying (if not already dead).  Having learned that Lonnie is the only person ever to hack into Wayne Enterprises' systems earlier in this issue, it stands to reason that we're going to see him survive, but be similarly paralyzed and connected to the Internet like the DCU's Lonnie.  (The first off-note of this issue was Lonnie's weird conversation with Matches Malone, who talks to him more like a ninth-grade algebra teacher trying to inspire him than the mobster that he is.)

However, since we seem to rule out the possibility that Lonnie is Anarky, we therefore don't know who he is.  Manalatto throws suspicion on Sam Young, but I'm somewhat doubtful that it's going to prove to be true.  (The second off-note of this issue is that Young seems to have been demoted from a Congressman to a City Councilman.  Either he's changed jobs or someone goofed, but we should probably clarify that at some point.)  At this stage, we know that Young worked for Falcone and that he ordered Lester to falsify the records of containers entering the port.  Harvey knows that, too (as seen in issue #33, where Lester spills the beans).  However, Young doesn't necessarily know that Harvey knows.  If he is Anarky, it would make sense that he'd want to tie up that loose end, though I'd like to know why he decided to do so now.  Was he just waiting for the dust to settle on the Kings of the Sun debacle?  As I said, I'm doubtful that Young is Anarky, not because it doesn't fit, but because it seems too obvious.  However, if Young is going to continue to play a role in this series, we're also going to need to get an explanation of where his loyalties lie as a result of Falcone (his previous ally) having left town.

Overall, again, I really adored this issue.  You have to overlook certain parts, like the off-notes that I mentioned or how Anarky managed to get a mask on the doorstep of every person in Gotham in one night without anyone noticing.  But, as I think I've mentioned in previous reviews, I'm happy to be forgiving of such bobbles if the story is good, and this one is.  The mystery so far is easier to follow than the Icarus arc.  It's a little unclear if Jervis' murder of the kids is going to tie into the larger Anarky story, but it adds to the sense that we're dealing with a lot of stuff happening in the background.  So far, it's pretty easy to follow, since it involves mostly Batman just trying to ID the kids so that their families can have some peace.  But, it's the identity of Anarky and the connection to Lester that'll really fuel these next few issues.

I didn't even mention the art.  I'm clearly starting to take for granted how beautiful Manalatto's issues are.  I'll try not to do that, because they really, really are amazing.

**** (four of five stars)

Batman Eternal #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm thrilled to see Harper debut as Bluebird in this issue, because, OMFG, she and Spoiler seem to be the only ones who aren't idiots in the Bat-family.

To be fair, I didn't anticipate the Mad Hatter infesting Batgirl, Red Hood, and Red Robin with the nano-virus.  But, I'm not the all-knowing and all-seeing Red Robin.  He's dealing with a nano-virus that seems to spread easily, but he waltzes into the place where the children with said virus are all concentrated without a protocol to defend against infection?  Moreover, he takes Batgirl and Red Hood with him?  In issue #36, Batman dispatches the three of them not just to solve the nano-virus mystery, but also discover who destroyed Arkham and who hired Falsairo to frame Jim Gordon.  Although we discover how Falsairo did it (by swiping Tetch's technology) in this issue, we're still not any closer to an answer on those questions.  Should the three of them really be assembled together researching just one of them?  The answer, as we learn in this issue, is clearly not.

[Sigh.]  We do take one more step closer to getting to the preview that we saw in "Batman" #25, as one of Catwoman's agents kidnaps Spoiler for her own safety.  But, that also raises the possibility that no one will figure out anything between now and the time that we actually hit that issue, and the denouement of this series will be when Batman eventually learns the identity of the mastermind and his plans from Spoiler.  If that happens, so help me, I will not be a happy camper.

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Batman Eternal #40 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Nothing really happens in this issue, and, in a lesson the authors hopefully learn, it's actually one of the strongest issues of late for it.

This strength comes mostly from the fact that the issue doesn't veer randomly into other plots (for the most part), instead building on the developments from last issue.  Batman manages to trap the Riddler and return him to Gotham, and Vicky outmaneuvers her mysterious attacker and get her editor to the hospital.  The most notable event is Catwoman refusing the mastermind's offer to join his side and deciding to get to the bottom of his identity.  Is it maybe a little overly convenient that Catwoman suddenly (and correctly) decides that the answer will come by scrubbing the hit list to identify the most disproportionate bounty on the list?  Yes.  But, to be honest, I'm not going to push on this one, because it's the first time in ages that someone seems to be doing something that makes sense.  In fact, if we started calling this series "Catwoman Eternal," it might stop sucking.

All that said, we also seem close to getting to the bottom of the nano-virus, reminding me that this series will actually come to an end at some point.  For that reminder alone, I'll give it three stars.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Miracleman Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'll be upfront and say that I'm not sure that this annual is really worth the $4.99 price tag.

We're clearly paying for the Morrison story that they've unearthed, written in 1984 but unpublished.  It's an interesting look into (presumably) the moment that Johnny Bates crossed into villain territory, killing a Catholic priest who saw him fall to the ground the night that the Miracleman Family was purportedly killed.  I'm assuming that he did it to cover his tracks, to make sure his identity remained a secret, but Morrison doesn't really make that clear.  After all, Bates never used his powers in public after that night, so I'm not sure why he would need to be worried that someone would know that a super-human was out there somewhere.  But, as usual with Morrison, we're left to draw those conclusion on our own.

The second story features another moment where Miracleman came close to realizing that he was in a dream, after a week of fighting "death rays, evil dolphins, and amnesia vapors" resulted in no one getting seriously hurt.  It's a clever story, but it is something that we've already seen in the main title, so it's not particularly entrancing here.  That said, I'm not usually a fan of the Allreds' work, but they are the perfect people to depict the retro Miracleman Family stories.

In other words, it's a solid regular issue, but don't expect anything groundbreaking in this first annual outing.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a jumble of events with little by way of explanation for most of them.

For example, Flash left Dr. Fate, Hawkgirl, and Jimmy Olsen to help evacuate people last issue so that he could scout for any trouble in the tunnels.  He encounters some sort of robots (though I don't think we ever learn why they're hostile to him), and Hawkgirl is on hand at the start of this issue to help him fight them.  That's all fine.  However, they're also randomly joined by Captain Steel.  I had no memory of seeing him since "Earth 2" #13, where he announced the terror of the Red Lantern.  I checked online, and the DC Wikia page led me to two blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances in this series:  in a flashback in issue #1 and a brief appearance in a hospital bed next to the Atom in issue #8.  That's it.  But, suddenly, he appears totally fine and part of the team in this issue.  Similarly, the Atom appeared to be in a medically induced coma last issue (and, again, we saw him lying next to Steel in issue #8), but he's in costume and totally healthy in this issue, with no explanation.  On the flip side, we also get no explanation of why he dies at the end of this issue creating the subterranean haven.  Is it stress on his heart from growing to the size of ten cities?  Is it the fact that he appears to be lying in a lava bed while doing it?    No clue.

Continuing the theme of random appearances, Ted Grant suddenly appears in time to save Dick from himself.  He knows that Barbara has been killed, though I'm not sure how.  Has he been lurking in the shadows this entire time?  Maybe he could've lent a hand?  Moreover, I continue to be totally confused by Dick's motives.  He seems to be embracing suicide-by-wave here, but, as I've previously mentioned, he's also stressed the need to track down his son (who he gave to strangers) in past issues.  I get that he's emotionally unstable right now due to his grief over losing Barbara, but it's hard to keep track of where we are with him from panel to panel.

We also have an odd sequence in the fight between the Avatars and the Furies that seems to make no sense to me.  Alan begs Helena not to kill Sam.  She agrees, but she says that he's sacrificed the Earth to save Sam.  But, it's not really clear why that would be true.  Alan seems just as capable of fighting as he was before he begged her not to kill Sam, and it's not like he made an explicit deal with her.  The authors seem to think that he made an implicit deal, since he threatens to destroy her if she doesn't give him Sam, implying that her giving Sam to him would mean he wouldn't do so.  But, it really isn't at all clear that's the case, and it makes Helena declaration of victory all the odder.  (Plus, it's no like Solomon Grundy or the Avatar of the Blue are bound by any such deal.)

Anyway, I could continue, but I won't.  I'm still enjoying this series, but we're starting to reach "Batman Eternal" levels of confusion here.  The authors really need to start pulling some of these groups together to make it easier to follow the stories that they're trying to tell.

* (one of five stars)

Batman Eternal #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't know why I'm still reading this series.  I converted to getting it digitally so at least it wasn't taking up space in my boxes, but, at this point, I just feel like I'm torturing myself.

This issue is yet another in a long line of issues where Snyder proves that Batman is an idiot.  He's so desperate to discover the identity of the perpetrator that he plays the Riddler's games, hoping that he'll tell reveal it to him.  Really?  He's suddenly become such a terrible detective that he has to rely on the Riddler?  Jesus, I mean, Vicky Vale and her boss even seem poised to figure out the plan before their duplicitous intern tries to kill them.  Are we really supposed to believe that Bruce is so incapable of solving this mystery?  Apparently, yes, we are.  We're also supposed to believe that Bruce is half-exhausted from the events of all these issues, but, honestly, I just don't buy it.  He's spent most of his time in the Batcave.  Sure, he's had a few fisticuffs here and there, but he's been so inert throughout this series that it's hard to believe he isn't even getting a good night's sleep, let alone that he's close to some sort of breakdown.

We're also apparently supposed to believe that he's so focused on the identity of the mastermind that he has totally abdicated his responsibility to Gotham.  He apparently doesn't care -- at all -- that the weapons that Hush stole from his caches are still out there, evidenced by the fact that the mastermind just gave them to pretty much every costumed villain in the city.  When we dispatched Batgirl, Red Hood, and Red Robin a few issues ago to play catch-up, no one was given orders to find the weapons?  Doesn't Harper need something to do?  She's pretty good at this stuff.  Does it matter if he solves the mystery of the mastermind's identity if everyone in Gotham is already dead?

I hope reading this series is building up my karma for the afterlife, because, man, I have no idea why I keep doing it to myself.

* (one of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #29 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Just once -- just once -- I would like the answer to a problem that someone created himself or herself in the Marvel Universe not to be time travel.

To make matters worse, we have twice the time travel here.  We've got Illyana consulting her mentor, the past version of Dr. Strange, to find a way to control Matthew and we've got Eva traveling in the past to warn Prof. X that his attempt to build walls in Matthew's mind will ultimately fail.  Moreover, we know that Eva's gambit works, since it's unlikely that the shock ending of this issue -- Cyclops', Magik's, and Matthew's deaths at the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- will stand.

So, we're left with the usual problem of time-travel stories, where the entire story that we've spent months following becomes irrelevant.  We don't even really learn anything interesting about the characters.  In theory, time-travel stories are supposed to give authors the ability to break the world and see how the characters react, knowing that they can reconstruct the world in the end.  However, no one's back is really to the wall like "Days of Future Past" or "Age of Ultron" here:  Matthew may become a threat, but he isn't really one here.  It just feels sloppy, like the X-Men are going to start returning to the past to make sure that they drink all the milk before it expires.

I really hope that Bendis wraps up this story soon, because I can't say that I'm really all that interested.  In an example of pet peeve #1, we were promised on the cover the possibility that we'd learn what Charles' will said, but we don't even get that.  Instead, we're still wrapping up a story from two events ago.  [Sigh.]  I can't think of anything better to sum up the sorry state of affairs at Marvel lately.

** (two of five stars)

Loki: Agent of Axis #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ewing's challenge here is that he's already telling a much better tale about inversion in this series than Remender is in "Axis."  Loki already inverted himself on his own, making this issue's focus on his "sudden" inversion during "Axis" difficult to explain.  In fact, if Loki really is trying to become a better man, wouldn't his inversion remove that impulse?  Or, are we saying that he isn't really trying to become a better man and, therefore, the inversion turning him into a hero revealed the truth?

Ewing tries to side step those problematic questions, since answering them now would essentially close the shop on this series.  The problem is that this issue makes little sense as a result.  We're distracted by Amora taking a page from "Incorruptible's" Max Damage's book, becoming unflinchingly good to the point of absurdity.  But, it's really about Odin and Thor not believing Loki has become nobler (again distracting us from the question of whether it's true or not).  One challenge I always face with Odin is that he's such a spectacularly hypocritical asshole that I have no idea why anyone cares about his opinion.  Peter Quill told his condescendingly imperious oaf of a father to go *$&% himself.  I think that it's about time for Loki to do the same.  But, he doesn't, and we instead get an overwrought sequence where Loki seeks to proving his nobility by wielding Mjolnir.  He does, but, again, it's unclear if it's just because of the spell or if it's because he's really changed.  Ewing even seems to imply that it's a former, with the narrative box seeming to imply the inversion was his only chance to be a hero.

At any rate, this issue is sort of the opposite of those issues that excel by using the event to further an ongoing plot in the series.  Ewing is forced to awkwardly handle the "Axis" event without undermining the larger story that he's telling in this series.  It's also complicated by the fact that, in just nine issues of this series, it's the second event to intrude, after the series was suspended for the "Original Sin" story.  God only knows what horror "Secret Wars" will wreck.

** (two of five stars)



OK, OK.  Sorry for that outburst.  Let's regroup.

As predicted, little of the events that occurred in this series will wind up having any enduring impact.  From the public's perspective, the main "event" of this series was Apocalypse forcing the evacuation of New York, seemingly with the help of the X-Men.  However, thanks to a video that the villains conveniently taped and released, the public "knows" that the villains formed an Axis of Evil to manipulate the heroes into acting like villains.  Unfortunately, this story doesn't really survive under any scrutiny, since it makes little sense why the non-mutant villains would help Apocalypse in his attempt to murder humankind, but I digress.  In the end, the only permanent changes are Havok, Iron Man, and Sabretooth stay inverted because Tony created some sort of shield to keep him that way.  That's it.  I guess we were supposed to be moved by Evan being the only hero or villain to successfully fight past the inversion, but it's so overwhelmed by the noise of the rest of the issue that, needless to say, I wasn't.

It's hard to remember my excitement for this series before it start.  After the amazing fight against the Apocalypse Twins that took up most of the "Uncanny Avengers" series, this series held such promise.  Remender has teased the Red Onslaught since the start of that series, so it's clear not only that he'd given a lot of thought to this event but that it would also have a significant impact on the story that he's telling.  I expected the Avengers and the X-Men working together to prevent the dark future of Ahab's camps from becoming a reality, bringing to a close a story that Claremont set into motion with "Days of Future Past."  (Tony even alludes to that possibility in this issue, telling Xavier that he was going to mass manufacture Sentinels to eliminate mutants.)

Instead, we got...what we got.  Rather than seeing the sort of heroism necessary to save the world from hate on a grand scale, we got long expository sequences telling us what heroism is.  In fact, we never really see much heroism.  Carnage sacrificing himself to save humanity is the only real sacrifice, and we rushed past it just like we did Evan asserting control over Apocalypse.  I'd continue, but there doesn't seem to be a point.

* (one of five stars)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Grayson Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Unlike most annual issues, this one really ties into the ongoing story that Seeley is telling in "Grayson," with Dick and Helena obtaining the skin that Spyral needs to create its meta-human.  Dick lets us know that they've gotten five of the seven pieces that they need, though I'm not sure if that includes the heart from issue #5 that, um, slipped through their fingers.

Beyond the plot, the story itself is top notch.  King handles the scripting and does a spectacular job.  He weaves a tale about the Irish winning battles with stories, setting up the denouement, as Dick reveals that his "Rock" persona was just a story designed to get him and Helena in front of the guy with the stolen skin.  Even though it's pretty clear that Rock is Dick from the start, King does a good job not belaboring the point, just giving us a wink or two as we go.  Solid stuff, from start to finish.

**** (four of five stars)

Batman Annual #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The cover says that this issue is an "Endgame" tie-in, and it's not joking.  Whoa.  Tynion summons the same sense that the Joker is an almost demonic figure that Snyder has been striking in the regular issues.  His ability to seep within the cracks of a brash reporter's life is awesome (in the awe-inspiring sense), and Tynion uses it to remind us why someone could confuse him as a supernatural force.  In fact, the reporter comes to the Joker's attention because of his impudence for even questioning that power -- "What is so scary about a clown?" -- and it makes his eventual breaking all the more awful.  It reminds me of the "Batman:  The Animated Series" episode, "Joker's Favor," where the Joker similarly spends years tormenting his prey for a perceived slight.  It was scary then, and it's scary now.

**** (four of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue succeeds in conveying a sense of urgency as the world comes closer to destruction, but I feel like we're really rushing past important details.

For example, we learn this issue that a billion people died when Apokolips displaced the moon.  How did that happen?  Tidal waves?  Wilson does a good job of using Sato to convey this information to us, but it makes me realize that it would've been nice for the authors to have used her this way throughout the series.  Also, why are we only now sending people into the World Army's underground transport tunnels?  It's hard to tell how much time has passed at this point (another consequence of the rushing), but it seems like Apokolips had to have appeared a few days ago.  Why did we wait after the tidal wave to move people, particularly given the ongoing scourge of the falling meteors?

Also, while I'm asking questions, why is Dick talking about his son being out there as if he had no control of that situation?  He's the guy who put him on a train with strangers.  Also, he makes it sound like he wants to find him, but nothing he does here makes that likely to happen.  He threw him on a train so that he could beat Barbara's killer to death with a bat and then seems to welcome the possibility of the tidal wave killing?  It just doesn't make sense.

All that said, I'm excited about Khan getting to kick Terry Sloan's ass.  Let's not rush that part, OK?  (That said, I don't understand how Khan seems to have recovered so quickly from the spear to the gut that he received just a few issues ago, but the Atom is in some sort of drug-induced coma for losing his arm many, many issues ago.  I should probably stop asking such questions.)

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #38 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

By the time we got to Croc talking about French literature, I knew we were in one of the worst issues of this series.  That just to confirm it.

Seeley's "Grayson" is a study in keeping the reader guessing in a way that doesn't become overly annoying.  We've gone several issues now with only vague hints of the mysterious plot lying at the center of the series, but Seeley gives us just enough information each issue to keep us interested.

This issue is exactly the opposite of that.  We're given so much information that it's incredibly annoying.  Scarecrow and Gordon's cellmate, the Lion, engage in long expository sequences for no reason.  Scarecrow's musings about the pasts of each of the villains in his little group is wholly unnecessary, done as if the reader has no idea who Clayface or Mr. Freeze is.  The Lion's babbling is possibly worse, awkwardly bringing the reader to speed on the happenings in the prison since we last saw him and Gordon.  It serves as a reminder of how we just drop plots for issues at a time and suddenly re-engage with them for no apparent reason.  Moreover, I'm not sure how accurate what he says is.  The Lion says that everyone knows that Jim's not responsible for the train crash, but how?  Batgirl told Bard, but I don't see how or why that information would've been passed to the Blackgate crowd.

Moreover, I have no idea what the point of Scarecrow's gang was.  They were introduced last issue to much fanfare, since a union of six of Batman's enemies seemed appropriate for the last part of this series.  But, suddenly, Batman dispatches them this issue, making you wonder why we even bothered.  Plus, certain parts of their story still doesn't make sense.  For example, how did Ivy get word to Catwoman to set up Croc's confrontation with Bane?  How did Selina even know Ivy was running with that crowd?

I'm not going to even go into Bard's miraculous conversion to the side of angels.  He kills cops willy-nilly with Hush and tried to murder Batman extrajudicially, but now suddenly he wants to save Gotham?  Really?  I feel like I'm crazy to keep harping on it, because the authors just keep treating him like he did nothing wrong.

I just...yeah.  This series needs to end.

* (one of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to say, I don't think I would've believed if someone told me before I read this issue that Bendis manages to play up the Venom symbiote jumping from Guardian to Guardian for yucks, but he totally does it.  That is, until Venom jumps to Drax, because, man, it's probably hard for Peter to see the funny about that.  I'm still not sure where we're going with this arc, but this issue is a welcome distraction.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Captain Marvel #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If this issue does anything, it'll make you appreciate the travesty that DeConnick isn't writing "Spider-Woman."  I just love her Jessica to pieces.  But, beyond that, it'll also warm your heart, as Carol's friends take turns via letters telling her about how they worked together to beat Grace Valentine and her cybernetically controlled rats.  (Yup, cybernetically controlled rates.)  It's as good as it sounds.  It's also a great platform for DeConnick to do what she does best, delivering pitch-perfect characterization of multiple characters.  If only everyone were this good...

***** (five of five stars)

All-New X-Men #34 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'll admit to being lost here.  I'm not sure if it's Bendis' fault or my fault, but lost I am.

The story as it stands:  Logan, Jr. tells Laura and Warren that some dude at the Weapon X facility allegedly created all the mutants on this Earth, Iceman fights a monster only to get arrested and then escape, Beast tells Dr. Doom everything (and I mean, everything), and Jean meets Jean.  Along the way, Jean and Laura come to the conclusion that they have to find the Ultimate version of the mutant who sent them to the Ultimate Universe in order to have a hope of going home.  Right now, Jean, with the aid of Cerebro, seems the most likely to accomplish that goal, though Dr. Doom might have also come to a similar conclusion after his chat with Hank.

OK, so, I'm not "lost" lost.  But, I'm lost in the sense that this story just feels unnecessary.  Maybe it's because I'm mired in "Axis" and "Spider-Verse," so I'm sort of tired of these sorts of grand-idea stories, but I just feel like we're spinning our wheels here.  It's like I said in a previous review:  did we really need them lost in time and space?  We're covering the same emotional ground that we did when they were displaced in time.  For example, Jean is struggling with the revelation that the Ultimate Jean lived a different, more tragic life than she did; it's the same story as her discovering the different, more tragic life that her future self lived.  Nothing feels particularly original here.

In other words:  meh.  If you're a fan of the Ultimate Universe, this arc is probably pretty cool, but I'm just ready for us to move to the next one.

** (two of five stars)

All-New Captain America #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I loved everything about this issue.  Espionage!  Secrets!  Fights!

First, let's talk about the fights.  This issue hums with energy, as we spring from the first panel into an amazing series of well scripted and beautifully drawn battle sequences. Remender does a great job keeping the guys' conversation short and Sam's narration scattered, showing them struggling to stay on their toes as they confront HYDRA's new inner circle.  Then, we watch Crossbones stalk and battle Sam across Bagalia.  I'm not an artist, so I don't know how Immomen complemented the script to make these fight scenes so believable and tense, but he really does.  He somehow conveys Sam's frustration as he can't free himself of Crossbones to return to Ian and the sense that Crossbones is really outmatching Sam.  It's just spectacular.

Moreover, the resolution is amazing.  Misty Knight is in Bagalia on deep cover for S.H.I.E.L.D., trying to get more information on HYDRA.  Although it might seem overly convenient that Misty is there to save Sam, this reason for her being there really works.  (I mean, it's not like she's going to go looking to infiltrate HYDRA at the Vatican.)  Plus, it further the existing plot, since she reveals to Sam that she's tracking HYDRA because of the moles that it's put in every superhero team (following onto the revelation of an "Avengers" mole at the end of "Captain America" #25).  I'm really excited to watch her and Sam lead a full-on assault on Baron Zemo and HYDRA.

Let's talk about Zemo.  Remender really gets the characterizations of everyone here right, and Zemo is a great example of that.  I totally believe that Zemo is so delusional and egotistical that he would tell Ian his plans, even if it furthers the cliché of the villain spilling the beans to the seemingly helpless hero.  I also love him essentially putting himself out there as some sort of misunderstood hero, with his plan to use the toxin in the blood of the kid that Cap and Ian thought that they were saving to eliminate most of the human race and, thus, saving the Earth from overpopulation.  (I mean, sure, HYDRA conveniently immunized all its members from the toxin, meaning that it would rule a de-populated Earth.  That's just good occupational health and safety practices.  Also, did I mention that I loved that the kid was in league with HYDRA?  Because I did.)  This plan is exactly the sort of high-brow scheme that I expect a Zemo-lead HYDRA to implement.

In other words, I love this plot so much that I found myself nervous about the recent announcement of "Secret Wars," because I don't want Remender to be forced to cut it short to make room for an event.  We could easily keep this story going for a year like "Dimension Z," since it's fueled with that same sense of tension and urgency.  Moles!  Spies!  Sexy Ian in bondage!  If you're not reading this series, pick up this issue and the last one and get on board!

***** (five of five stars)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Spider-Woman #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, this issue makes marginally more sense than the last one.  It's still jarring that we've gone from Jessica and Spider-Man Noir guarding Silk to Jessica trying to gather intel on the Loom World, but you've just got to go with it here.  (You've unfortunately also got to go with Greg Land, so, honestly, Marvel is asking a lot of you.  You should know that upfront.)

We learn that Jessica's doppelgänger on this world just so happens to be the head of the Inheritor's household (or at least responsible for procurement) and the girlfriend of Morlun.  Surprise!  (I am actually legitimately surprised that Morlun is dating the help.  It seems way too pedestrian of him.)  Also, we watch as Silk just so happens to jump to an Earth shattered by a thermo-nuclear war.  She apparently can process radiation, so the Twins realize that it's the one place where they can't follow her.  (Though, in all seriousness, it seems like Jennix could pretty easily build radiation suits for them, so it's hard to see it as a long-term win for Silk.)

If you couldn't tell, it's all just a coincidence too many to make it remotely believable.  I mean, "Scarlet Spiders" has relied on a similar number of coincidences, but Costa has put some effort into trying to explain them, like asserting that Iron Man would likely check the source of the disturbance that the three clones create at the start of the first issue, given that that Earth is a police state.  Hopeless just conveniently sets Jessica a few steps from her doppelgänger, and Silk just magically finds herself on a safe world.  It feels like he's really just checking boxes here.  Moreover, Costa has made the stakes clear in "Scarlet Spiders;" if the team succeeds, the Inheritors can be definitively killed.  We still don't know what sort of intelligence Jessica is collecting here or how it could help the overall effort.

In other words, in the battle of the tie-ins, I'm team "Scarlet Spiders" all the way.

** (two of five stars)

Scarlet Spiders #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this issue gets dark quickly.

First, two things become clearer here.  The heroes of this world aren't necessarily working for Jennix willingly.  Although it's unclear how long Jennix has run this world, it seems possible that it's within the last generation, with the heroes remembering a world before Jennix.  That seems like something that could be important later, since the clones might inspire some of the heroes to rebel against Jennix if they give them the opening.  Moreover, Johnny's surprise over "Iron Man" walking in Spider-Man last issue wasn't because Peter is some sort of hero in this world; it's just because Jennix hadn't told him (the head of security) that Peter would be coming.  I actually like this revelation, since it makes you stop waiting to get more information on this world's Peter Parker and engage with the story directly.

As I said above, that story is d-a-r-k.  Ben and Kaine find the clones, but they realize that they can't go about killing all of them because it would take too much time.  So, they try to find the place that powers the stasis chambers, figuring that unplugging them will result in the bodies withering on the vine (so to speak).  Instead, they find the place where Jennix keeps his cloned failures.  They're both enraged, and Jennix arrives to exposit that he has never successfully been able to harvest his own Spider; the ones that we see here never had the "spark."  He's excited by the presence of two clones with said spark, setting up what should be a pretty epic battle of survival next issue.

Once again, Costa moves us efficiently from Point A to Point B.  Also again, I wish we had a little more time for characterization, and the narration is a little overwrought.  But, compared to other tie-in issues, we could've done a lot worse.

*** (three of five stars)

Axis: Revolutions #4

OMG, this issue could not be more terrible.  Iceman becomes some sort of broody teenage poet lusting after a woman that he thinks that he's saving, and Chaykin confuses misogyny for something that makes a character interesting.  Ugh.  This issue is why women feel like they're not welcome in comics

(zero of five stars)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Axis: Hobgoblin #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I realized in reading this issue that the reason that I liked this series was that it had very little to do with "Axis."  Unfortunately, that changes here, and my enjoyment with it.

Shinick is eventually forced to toe the Axis line, with Steve Rogers recruiting Hobgbolin for the Avengers at the end of the issue.  This offer comes after Hobby successfully foils Phil's plans to assassinate him at a public ceremony thanking him for his efforts to save the city.  (Yeah, we're not even going to talk about it.  Shinick cleverly uses an aside comment from one police officer to another to establish that they're going to "overlook" his previous crimes because they can't confirm that it was Kingsley under the mask when they were committed.  It's weak, but I'll throw Shinick that bone, since Hobby's convoluted 30-year history isn't his fault.)

It gets interestinly only in a brief moment where Hobby seems to acknowledge to Phil that he is, indeed, still evil, after he seems to have killed his crew lest Phil use them against him.  But, this moment is undermined by his subsequent revelation that he only "killed" holograms of his crew; they're all still fine.  It's unclear then why Hobby gave his little speech.  Moreover, the rules of the inversion in "Axis" have so far been air-tight.  No one -- not a single person, so far -- has been able to shake off the inversion, not matter how inspired to do so they are.  As such, Hobby's speech about being evil can't be true, because he literally can't feel that way.

I would've really loved to see what Shinick could've done here if he didn't have to set up Hobby being part of the "Avengers" in "Axis" #6.  But, I pretty much feel that way about every "Axis"-related issue, so it's not really a surprise.

** (two of five stars)


This issue is beautiful.  It doesn't make a lick of sense, but Yu really pulls out all the stops in showing the heroes turn against each others and the villains.

I don't even know where to start.  I read a review of a previous issue where the reviewer commented that Remender isn't really putting much effort into trying to imagine what heroes would sound like if they suddenly became villains.  Instead, they all just sound like super-villains from the '40s.  I'm not really sure that I believe an inverted Medusa would say, "All of you whimpering mutant dogs will be transplanted by Inhuman superiority!"  (Maybe the Front Office made Remender include it to prove that they really are trying supplant the X-Men with the Inhumans.)  Other than Thor and his unique typeface, you could pretty much just switch any of the heroes for another one and the dialogue would match.

But, the problem isn't just the characterization.  Whole segments just make little sense.  Magneto warns Wanda that if she kills people it won't be because of some manipulation, it'll be her choosing.  Really?  I mean, the whole point of this event is manipulation.  No one is acting the way that s/he's supposed to be acting because s/he was manipulated (by Doom and Wanda's spell).  It's like Remender can't even remember the story that he's telling.

Then, we've got the Spider-Man problem.  The last time we saw him, last issue, he was fighting Nightcrawler in the street after Apocalypse hurled him and Deadpool from the room where they were trying to diffuse the human-killing bomb.  During said fight, Apocalypse ripped off Deadpool's head, with the X-Men surrounding him to share in his triumph.  Apparently, they all then went and got a cup of coffee, because Spidey was able to waltz right back into the room where the bomb was to try again to diffuse it.  Examining the art in that issue, it's possible that Kubert screwed up sequencing.  Carnage at some point saves Spidey from Nightcrawler; we then see Nightcrawler and Spidey re-engaging, in the scene that I just described.  If you invert that sequence, it sort of makes sense.  Nightcrawler and Spidey spar, Carnage knocks out Nightcrawler, and then Spidey has the chance to disarm the bomb.  The problem, of course, is that the CLOCK STRIKES ZERO at the end of issue #7, meaning that he wouldn't have the time.  Having re-read issue #7, I can see where Remender could be moving us back in time at the start of this issue to just before the bomb exploded, but it took that re-reading to remember that.  It's just an example of how chaotic the events in this series are, that it's hard to remember where we are from minute to minute.  I have to invert fight sequences and re-read previous issue just for scenes to make sense.  For example, I had no memory of the Enchantress and Loki being defeated, as they appear here (as they regain their consciousness).  In re-reading issue #7, I discovered that Nightcrawler dispatches them (somewhat unbelievably) in the background action in one panel.  Does Remender really expect us to pour over every issue that preceded the most recent one just to have some idea of what we're seeing?

I haven't even mentioned the magical resurrection of Doctor Voodoo.  Doom made a "Faustian pact with a demigod" to resurrect him?  If we're just willy-nilly ret-conning everything, couldn't he have just made a pact to undo his and Wanda's spell?  Wouldn't it be easier to do that than resurrect someone?

I just don't know.  I mean, I just don't know.

* (one of five stars)

Justice League #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is pretty straightforward.  Lex exposits to a curious Lena that his Amazo virus temporarily disables the abilities of metahumans and that he invented it as a way to contain the threat that he saw metahumans as posing to humans.  But, he admits that the virus has changed in two ways that he didn't predict:  it seems not to have been as temporary as he thought (laying low most of the Justice League) and it is causing humans to develop metahuman powers until "their cells burn out and they die."  Whoops.  Meanwhile, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman try to wrangle Patient Zero into the Lexcorp HQ so that Lex can try to work up a cure.

The only not straightforward part is, of course, the intriguing part.  Lena listens to Lex's selfless story of wanting to save humans from metahumans and then reminds him that she knows when he's lying.  She asks why he really created the cure, and he doesn't tell her.  But, Lena isn't the only one hip to Lex's ways.  Lex tells Captain Cold that he's worried that the virus is going to wipe out the Justice League, because it wasn't designed to do so, and Cold questions what he intended to do with it.  Lex responds to him just as angrily as he did to Lena, leading us to want the answer to that questions all the more.  I truly can't guess the answer, and I'm excited about that.  We'll see where we go from here.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Earth 2: World's End #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One thing that's never been particularly clear to me is if the Earth 2 Darkseid is the same as "our" Darkseid.  In other words, does Darkseid and the other New Gods exist across the Multiverse in one form, or do they exist in multiple forms?  I'm not sure that we get the answer here, but we seem to be closer to it.

A lot happens here, and it mostly serves as a (welcome) primer for people not intimately familiar with the New Gods.  I'm appreciative of that, because I fall into that category.  After I read last issue, I vaguely remembered that Mister Miracle isn't Darkseid's son, because he was traded for Darkseid's real son as part of a peace agreement with Apokolips' "good" counterpart, New Genesis.  Mister Miracle is somehow aware of that this issue as well, though we never see anyone tell him that and he didn't seem to know it last issue.  He just asserts that High Father, the ruler of New Genesis, is his real father.  If I'm reading between the lines, it's because he believes anyone born of Apokolips to be evil, a conclusion that he draws after Barda and Fury betray him in this issue.  He's not evil, so he assumes that he's not from Apokolips?  I'm stretching on that one.  If he does believe that, he's seemingly proven wrong when Fury shows that she didn't betray him at all.  In fact, he's proven doubly wrong, since the allegedly "good" High Father has agreed to allow Darkseid to absorb Earth 2.  A horrified Mister Miracle comes to the conclusion that none of the New Gods deserve his allegiance, and he and Fury throw in their lot with the humans.  (He's probably solid on that assertion.)

The only thing left unclear to me is how and why Barda betrayed Mister Miracle.  Barda seems to have done something to the Boom Spheres to free Darkseid and not destroy him, but we don't get any clarity on that front here.  Darkseid makes mention of eating the heart of Apokolips to power him, relying on Miracle's rage to free him, but we don't learn why it was necessary for him to do that in the first place.  Was he facing some sort of challenge from other New Gods?  How did he know that Miracle would travel from Earth and try to kill him just in time to save him?

It feels like we skipped a few steps here.  We really needed to see Miracle learning about his true parentage and not just guessing at it.  We also need some more clarity about Barda's and Fury's motives, since we don't really know them well enough to make said guesses to understand their actions.  That said, I have to give the authors credit for doing what I asked them to do last issue, namely focusing an issue on just one of the many sets of players that they have in action.  It really helped to clarify where we are in terms of Apokolips, and I hope that they do something similar for the Geneva-based team and the Avatars in coming issues.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman Eternal #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, this issue is actually pretty solid, though the larger problems with this series weigh it down a bit.

Catwoman is in the process of solidifying her hold over the Gotham Underworld, and she's spying on a coterie of Arkham escapees not just to keep tabs on them but to offer them to Batman.  If I were Selina, I'd be quite happy to have Bats take my logical competition off the board, so everything she does here makes sense.

My complaint with the Catwoman story is that it feels like a detour from other stories that we should be following.  We not only have Catwoman in play again, but Batwing also resurfaces, as he apparently brought some of the ghosts haunting Arkham home with him.  Honestly, we only have 15 issues left.  Can we maybe get to the bottom of the nano-virus story?  Maybe we could spring Jim Gordon from jail?  We were really worried about that, but now we don't seem to care so much.  Last issue, Bats sent the team into the field to get some answers to these questions, but it seems that Snyder and Tynion used that as a way to take them off the table (at least for now).  Also, what happened to Spoiler?  Last I remember, Bats saved her from Hush, but where is she now?  Are people still trying to kill her?

Also, I'll say that it would be nice if we got some consistency in the portrayal of Bullock and Sawyer.  Here, they won't even help Bard to his feet, but they've been more or less supporting him (even if grudgingly) throughout this series.  If they're really as good of detectives as we're supposed to believe that they are, shouldn't they be a little suspicious about his vendetta against Bats?  Also, conversely, shouldn't Bats be warning them that they're dealing with a guy who collaborated with Hush to kill his own men to achieve his goals?  I'd certainly like to know that my boss has no problem sending me to my death.

On a side note, has Jason always had a knee injury?  I thought maybe he was using the cane after Batman roughed him up last issue, but I checked and he had the cane before then.

Again, it's a solid story, but I still feel like we're just sort of veering from unresolved threat to unresolved threat.  It feels almost pointless to complain about it at this point, but, here I am, complaining about it.

** (two of five stars)

Batman #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


Before we get to the big reveal, let's talk about the road leading to it, that started with "Death of the Family."  The problem with "Death of the Family" is that it had a seemingly unintentionally split narrative.  If you read only "Batman," you were left with the impression that the Joker didn't know Batman's identity.  Bruce asserted that the Joker wasn't really interested in him as a man, so his identity was essentially irrelevant; he only cared about Bruce as Batman.  However, if you read the tie-in issues, you were sure that the Joker clearly knew his identity.  He burned down Haly's Circus to torture Nightwing, he kidnapped Batgirl's mother, he essentially created Jason Todd:  he had to have known, to inflict the damage that he does against the Bat-family.  In fact, the schism that happens between Batman and the family comes from Bruce's assertion that the Joker didn't know (something that Snyder more or less presented as the "right" point of view) and the family's assertion that he did.

Snyder pulls back the curtain on this debate, confirming that the Joker did know.  It more or less retroactively changes the message of "Death of the Family," showing Bruce to be so deeply afraid of admitting to making a mistake (that he failed to notice that the Joker had hitched a ride into the Batcave) that he's willing to inflict damage on everyone around him to keep it hidden.  It continues the theme of Snyder's run, of Batman as an unreasonably arrogant and incompetent actor.  Moreover, the premise of "Death of the Family" was that the Joker felt that Batman was losing his edge because of his emotional connections to the family.  If you follow that line of thought, Bruce's refusal to let the Joker kill them in that event essentially sets up the possibility that the Joker no longer sees him as a worthy adversary.  The Joker essentially said as much last issue, telling Bats that he was in town to tie up some loose ends.  Snyder seems to be implying here that the Joker can therefore allow himself to acknowledge Bruce's identity, because he no longer views him as some sort of demi-god.  Batman has become Bruce.  He's just one more human whose life he can ruin now.

Snyder doesn't stop there, though.  An interesting background theme so far is this idea of the Joker as a malevolent spirit.  Snyder puts him out there as an analogue to the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in "The Shining," a spirit that's been haunting Gotham all along.  Jim discovers his presence in the background of a number of photos at Gotham Presbyterian (the one where his arm appears in a doorway in the photo of a young Babs and James, Jr. is particularly creepy), and one of the escaped convicts in the back-up story presents him as a malevolent spirit that has haunted Gotham since its earliest days and lives off laughter.  Snyder also hints that Gotham "Pres" has some sort of special meaning, and it might mean that Snyder may intend to give us some information about the Joker's past through clarifying this meaning.  But, the mystical aspects of the Joker don't stop with the possibly doctored photos or an insane convict's story.  One of the more interesting moments in this issue is Jim getting up the courage to kill the Joker and feeling incredible relief after pulling the trigger.  The problem is that the Joker has somehow magically survived a slug to the chest.  Body double?  Bullet-proof vest?  Magical resurrection?  I guess we'll see.

**** (four of five stars)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thor #2 and #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I somehow missed issue #2 in converting to getting this title digitally, so let's do #2 and #3 at once, shall we?

We get our first real look at the female Thor in issue #2, and we learn a few things about her identity right off the bat.  Our first clue is that holding Mjolnir apparently means you speak Asgardian (cool font and all), whether you are one or not.  This Thor definitely seems not to be, given her "normal" sounding inner monologue.  (Though, I still think that it's possible that it's one of Thor's granddaughters from the future.  Do they speak Asgardian?)  At any rate, it may seem like a gimmick, but, again, it's actually our first clue to her identity, since it rules out Freya or other female Asgardians.  Our second clue comes from her comment that she's previously met Dario Agger, the head of Roxxon.  I didn't read "Thor:  God of Thunder," so I'm not clear on the details of Thor's battle with Agger and Roxxon.  (I did just join Marvel Unlimited to rectify that problem, however.) So, this clue doesn't mean as much to me as it may to other people.

The good news is that this issue isn't really focused on the clues.  Aaron puts them out there, since he knows that he has to service the mystery that he's created in making the new Thor's identity a secret.  But, he really tries to focus on the story of this woman adjusting to becoming Thor.  She's learning to wield Mjolnir, and it's not just a challenge physically; she's also realizing that she now shares an empathetic, if not telepathic, link with it.  (Him?  Her?  Does Mjolnir have a gender?)  She's also got to face the immiedate test of contemplating who she is without Mjolnir, since she's separated from it when Agger hides himself (and accidentally Mjolnir) in an impenetrable safe room.  Oopsie.

The female Thor resolves that problem in issue #3.  In fact, she resolves a lot of problems in issue #3.  The leader of the Frost Giants, Skrymir, freezes and eats her, but a little problem like that doesn't keep down our girl:  she claws her way to freedom via his skull.  (He doesn't survive, if you were wondering.)  However, we learn that she can't be without Mjolnir for too long, or she reverts to her human form.  (I'm assuming that it's her human form, since she's worried that she won't be able to beat back the Frost Giants in it.  You can contrast that with Thor, who maintains his divinity even if he doesn't have the powers that Mjolnir gives him.  It seems to be our third clue and possibly takes out Thor's future granddaughters from the running.)  This desperation inspires her to rip open the "unbreakable" doors to the safe room, get her hammer, and promptly smash Laufrey's skull as Agger and Malekith argue over it.  It's not a bad day's work as Thor, really, killing one Frost Giant king and preventing another one from getting resurrected.  Malekith mutters some dire warning about the Frost Giants getting upset, but, really, when aren't they upset?  Also, didn't she just kill a good number of them?  Unfortunately, the male Thor isn't as easily impressed as I am, apparently.  He appears at the end of this issue, with a new metal arm, and demands that the female Thor returns Mjolnir to him.  Trouble is coming next issue, obviously.

Looking at both issues together, Aaron's challenge at this point is that the mystery of the female Thor's identity is getting in the way of our ability to get to know her.  Introducing a female Thor is obviously a very big deal (as the letters page attest).  We're all going to want to get to know her.  But, it's hard to get to know her when our only access to her thoughts are carefully curated to make sure that we specifically don't get to know too much about her.  It's not going to be all that interesting if she simply waltzes into a room, kills a bunch of Frost Giants, and calls it a day.

In other words, the concept is only going to get us so far.  It's only the third issue, so I'm not saying that Aaron doesn't have plenty of time to develop her character.  But, he runs the risk of favoring the mystery over the characterization, and doing so would unfortunately reduce this experiment into feeling like a sale gimmick.  I'm pretty sure that Aaron doesn't see it that way, so I'm not too worried.  It's there, but hopefully not for too long.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Man and the X-Men #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Let's just say, before I even finished this issue, I canceled my digital description.  That right there tells you all that you need to know about this series.

I have no idea what Kalan is doing here.  First, Spidey has known Storm for years and she suddenly decides that she hates him?  Plus, her hatred of him is based on him being "a publicly derided maniac wanted by the policy and federal authorities?"  Jesus fucking Christ.  It's not even remotely believable.  She's a goddamn X-Man and she's going to hate someone based on the fact that the public and the authorities don't like him?  Kalan falls onto the pet peeve #3 defense here, with Spidey observing how bizarre it is that the X-Men are so fearful and hate-filled despite the fact that they live in a world that hates and fears them.  As I've said countless times, using a character to point out an obvious plot hole doesn't excuse the presence of said plot hole in the first place.  Moreover, Storm, she of essentially magical intuition and patience, can't see that the original teenage superhero might help her class of wayward teenage superheroes?  (I mean, we don't even mention that the Avengers already went this route with Spidey when he taught for the Avengers Academy kids.  I'd look up the issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" where it happened as a reference, but doing so would involve putting too much effort into this series.)  Plus, Kalan doesn't seem to be aware that Peter Parker fucking taught high school for a while.  Sure, it's not like he's collecting a desk clock for 20 years of molding young minds at Midtown High, but his panic over teaching in this issue makes no sense.

These are just the issues I have with the series in just the first FIVE PAGES.  I could continue describing the ridiculousness of the conceit of this series, that Logan believes that Peter could magically feret out a traitor that the cavalcade of telepaths at the Jean Grey School couldn't find, but I think you get the picture.  Save your money.

(zero of five stars)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is possibly the most perfect annual story of all-time.

First, Bendis does something that he actually hasn't managed to do in the regular series, namely assemble the entire team together.  I can't remember a time when Carol and Flash fought with the core team of Drax, Gamora, Groot, Peter, and Rocket.  Seeing them together in action for what feels like the first time makes this issue worth the price of admission from the start.  Carol and Flash actually operate as somewhat distilled versions of the opposing sides of Peter's personality.  Carol speaks to his adult side, giving him someone that can help on the strategy side.  Flash represents his goofy side, all awkward and blundering into trouble.  One of my complaints about Bendis' portrayal of Peter is that he's too often Flash and not enough Carol; it's like the character that we got to know in the fight against the Annihilation Wave ceased to exist.  Bendis actually sold me on Carol being part of this group if only because she brings out the best in him.

But, beyond the team dynamic Bendis also tells an interesting story.  I'm actually NOT going to spoil the surprise ending here, because Bendis pulled it off so brilliantly.  He really takes care giving you clues that something is wrong as you move through the issue, and it's fun to try to puzzle out the answer with Carol and Peter.  But, more than just being fun, it sets up the last page, where Carol confesses in her video message to Jessica Jones that she's worried that they're all just stuck in a terrible cycle of violence where their sacrifices just keep the world turning for ten more minutes.  She realizes that it's only worthwhile if you have people around you that you love, like she had in the New Avengers.  She worries that the Guardians aren't that for her, and we get some insight into the loneliness that she feels.  The good news?  Groot totally saves the day.  Hugs for everyone!

I recommend this issue to anyone, even if you're not reading the Guardians regularly, because it's just a top-notch stand-alone story, the type of story that I wish we saw more often in the regular series themselves.  Nice work, Mr. Bendis.

***** (five of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 [eye roll] (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm pretty sure that this "Annual #1" is at least the third one that "Amazing Spider-Man" has had, but I digress.

Ryan tells a totally solid Spider-Man story here that actually gives us some insight into his character that I'm not sure we've seen elsewhere.  (Let's be honest, that's saying a lot.)  Ryan shows us that Peter isn't exclusively motivated by do-gooder-ism when he helps people; this story of Spidey trying to track down German tourists to return a cell phone shows us that it's a lot more fun doing that than reading a boring report (as Sanjani wants him to do).  As someone who spends a lot of time reading boring reports, I totally see the allure of Web-Slinging around Manhattan trying to return a cell phone instead.  The unexpected Hawkeye cameo is great, and I continue to hope that we continue to see my favorite super-villain team, the Menagerie, on a frequent basis.

The back-up stories?  Make not a lick of sense.  I mean, Dr. Bong?  But, the main story is solid.  I'm not sure it's $4.99 solid, but, if you're a fan, that's a price that we frequently have to pay.

*** (three of five stars)

The Updated Spider-People of "Spider-Verse" Checklist (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This update carries us through "Spider-Verse Team-Up" #2.  The Spider teams have merged (and seem to have lost the Safe Zone as a base of operations), so the distinctions at this point are increasingly arbitrary.  But, I'll stick to listing them this way just for consistency's sake.

One thing the most recent issues have done is reminded us that we've got more Spiders on the teams than the ones that I've listed here.  "Amazing Spider-Man" #11 introduces us to "Captain" Spider-Man, but only because Morlun kills him and a bikini-clad Spider-Woman calls out his name.  I'm assuming that both "Captain" and the bikini-clad Spider-Woman have been on one team or the other one the whole time, but they're not on my list.  Moreover, Miles and the animated Ultimate Spider-Man are sent to find more Spider-Men; they discover animated '67 Spider-Man and will likely add more.  Also, I'm still not including Spider-People that never make it to the team, like the Goblin version of Peter Parker from "Spider-Verse Team-Up" #2.

Safe Zone (Earth-13)

Ezekiel, Old Man Spider, Earth-4, "Edge of Spider-Verse" #5
Peter Parker, Cosmic Spider-Man, Earth-13, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
Peter Porker, Spider-Ham, Earth-25, "Edge of Spider-Verse" #5
Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman, Earth-65, "Edge of Spider-Verse" #2
Ben Reilly, Spider-Man, Earth-94, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
Cindy Moon, Silk, Earth-616, "Amazing Spider-Man" #7
Anya Corazon, Spider-Girl, Earth-616, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, Earth-616, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
Kaine Parker, Scarlet Spider, Earth-616, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
Peter Parker, Spider-Man, Earth-616, "Amazing Spider-Man" #7
Billy Braddock, Spider-UK, Earth-833, "Edge of Spider-Verse" #2
Miguel O'Hara, Spider-Man, Earth-928, "Spider-Man 2099" #5
Benjamin Parker, Spider-Baby, Earth-982, "Amazing Spider-Man" #8
Mayday Parker, Spider-Girl, Earth-982, "Amazing Spider-Man" #8
Peter (unknown), Spider-Man, Earth-2301, "Spider-Verse" #1
Bruce Banner, Spider-Man, Earth-70105, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9

Peni Parker, SP//dr, (unknown designation), "Edge of Spider-Verse" #5

Otto's Base of Operations (Spider-Man 2099's Earth)

(first name unknown) Brown, Spider-Punk, Earth-138, "Amazing Spider-Man" #10
Otto Octavius, Superior Spider-Man, Earth-616, "Superior Spider-Man" #32
Lady May Reilly*, Lady Spider, Earth-802, "Spider-Verse" #1
Jessica Drew, Black Widow, Earth-1610, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
Miles Morales, Spider-Man, Earth-1610, "Amazing Spider-Man" #9
name unknown, Cyborg Spider-Man, Earth-2818, "Superior Spider-Man" #33
Peter Parker, Spider-Monkey, Earth-8101, "Superior Spider-Man" #32
Peter Parker, Assassin Spider-Man, Earth-8351, "Superior Spider-Man" #32
Pavitr Prabhakar, Indian Spider-Man, Earth-50101, "Superior Spider-Man" #32
Peter Parker, Spider-Man Noir, Earth-90214, "Superior Spider-Man" #32
Peter Parker, Six-Armed Spider-Man, Earth-92100, "Superior Spider-Man" #32
Ashley Barton, Spider-Girl/-Woman, Earth-807128, "Superior Spider-Man" #32

Identified after Teams Combined in "Amazing Spider-Man" #11
Peter Parker, Ultimate Spider-Man, from TV, unknown, "Amazing Spider-Man" #11

Peter Parker, '67 (animated) Spider-Man, Earth-67, "Amazing Spider-Man" #11

* Lady Reilly isn't actually saved by anyone in "Spider-Verse" #1.  However, she appears at the side of Otto's team in "Amazing Spider-Man" #10.

issues in reading order

"Superior Spider-Man" #32
"Edge of Spider-Verse" #1-#2
"Superior Spider-Man" #33
"Edge of Spider-Verse" #3-#4
"Amazing Spider-Man" #7
"Edge of Spider-Verse" #5
"Spider-Man 2099" #5
"Amazing Spider-Man" #8-#9
"Spider-Verse Team-Up" #1
"Spider-Verse" #1
"Amazing Spider-Man" #10
"Spider-Woman" #1
"Scarlet Spiders" #1
"Spider-Man 2099" #6
"Amazing Spider-Man" #11
"Spider-Verse Team-Up" #2

Spider-Verse Team-Up #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series hasn't really produced the sort of fun team-ups that it should be producing, but I was pretty  happy with the Spider-Gwen story in this one.  She meets a Peter Parker who killed the Green Goblin after the "bridge incident" and who subsequently took over the Goblin's identity.  In trying to convince him to join her, Spider-Gwen tells him that she understands how he feels, given that she feels responsible for her own Peter's death.  It's really a touching moment (not surprisingly, since it's scripted by Gerry Conway), and it seems to help both of them process their grief.  I complained in my review of "Amazing Spider-Man" #11 that I wanted to see exactly this sort of conversation happen between our Spider-Man and Gwen.  I still want that conversation to happen, but it was nice to see a form of it here.  Moreover, the other story, featuring Miles Morales and two animated Spider-Men, was worthwhile if only for the gag about a potentially racist Peter "Mad Men" Parker from the animated '67 series.

*** (three of five stars)