Monday, March 30, 2015

Amazing Spider-Man #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm...not really sure what I can say about this issue.  I had pretty low hopes for this one from the start.  After all, it was pretty clear early in "Spider-Verse" that we were going to see some sort of ret-con.  I figured that it was going to be something endogenous to the plot, but it now appears that "Secret Wars" will largely fill that role.  I don't know which one is worst.

Let me take it back a step and walk through the story.  We spend the first few pages sending back various Spider-People to more or less happy endings.  May is returned to her world and, despite all possible odds, her mother and boyfriend have survived.  (If you read "Amazing Spider-Man" #8, it's pretty clear that they're dead.  I mean, we don't exactly see their deaths, but Daemos hurls Wes into a wall and we hear Mary Jane scream before the burning house collapses on them.  They're pretty dead.)  Apparently, Mary Jane just ditched Peter and pulled Wes from the house just in time!  [Sigh.]  Whatever.  Let's just keep going.  We then see Spider-Ham, two unidentified Spider-Men, one of the retro Spider-Men that was part of Miles' "Web Warriors" team, and Punk Spider-Man return to their timelines.  Jessica and Miles then return to the Ultimate Universe, with Miles telling Peter that he regrets that they didn't get to spend more time together and Peter alluding to "Secret Wars" by saying that he's sure that they'll see each other again.  [Gag.]  Then, conveniently, all hell breaks loose.

Otto decides that he's going to reject what fate has in store for him by...destroying the Web of Life and Death.  He's apparently doing it to restore free will, even though it's pretty much destroying reality.  It also is destroying the connections between the various worlds, since the Spiders have apparently been traveling between worlds thanks to the skeins of the Web.  (Who knew?)  Peter accelerates the time table of sending Spider-Men home as the portals collapse, deciding that the Earth-616 crowd can take the last portal home together.  Miguel and Gwen get sent to their timelines while Anya, Jessica, and Peter battle Otto.  In the process, Anya manages to read the dagger that Otto is using to destroy the Web, realizing that someone can re-create the Web.  Silk wonders if it's her destiny since everyone called her the Spinner.  (That would make sense, but it's unfortunately not the answer.)  It turns out that the Master Weaver has always been a future version of Karn.  (Seriously, we're just keeping on going.  Slott doesn't even try to explain how the future version of Karn returns to the past to become the Master Weaver that the Inheritors kidnapped millennia ago.  In fact, in a great example of pet peeve #3, the closest that we get to an explanation is Peter complaining about time-travel stories.)  Karn decides to take over the role as Weaver just as Peter takes down Otto.  Nefariously, Otto quietly orders Anna (his version of Lyla) to enter a 100-day sleep mode, as they had "discussed."

However, Otto regains his footing soon, and Peter eventually hurls him through a portal that Karn manages to open.  The explanation for him not remembering the events of "Spider-Verse" when he returns is that crossing into his own timeline will addle his brain sufficiently to cause amnesia...despite the fact that Miguel suffered none of those consequences when returning to 2099.  (Yes, I'm not even bothering to save my snark for parenthetical notations at this point.)  Apparently, Spider-UK didn't manage to return with everyone else -- despite the fact that he was completely absent during the battle with Otto -- but his universe has been destroyed by one of the "incursions" that I already found so mind-numbingly boring that I canceled my subscription to "New Avengers"  Karn announces that the Web has been damaged, weakening everyone's Spider-Sense.  Since he's now homeless, Spider-UK decides that he's going to go fix the Web, and Anya randomly decided to join him.  (It's unclear what exactly they're going to do.  Spider-UK originally implies that he'll go places that lost -- but need -- a Spider-Man, but Karn specifically states that they're going to "mend the severed skeins across time and space."  Apparently we can read more about it in "Secret Wars:  Spider-Verse."  I think you all know how I feel about that.)

Then, the Earth-616 team returns home, with Peter sparing at least 15 seconds to mourn Kaine (killed as the Other by the Inheritors) on the way.  Thankfully, it was just a "Chekhov's gun" moment, because Kaine's hand breaks through the skin of the Other's dead shell at the end.  In Earth-616, Peter now feels confident enough to run his company because he "led an entire army against crazed unkillable vampires."  Then, he helps a women while her purse is getting stolen.  The End.

In other words, we didn't get a ret-con, but it didn't matter, because the entire Marvel Universe is getting ret-conned.  Maybe if I didn't know about "Secret Wars" I would've been able to give Slott credit for at least making some consequences stick.  Then again, maybe not.  On some level, the real tension of this series was how Slott was going to manage to send back Otto into the timeline where his knowledge of these events didn't change everything that happened after "Superior Spider-Man" #19.  But, it feels like Slott just sort of decided to worry about that part later and, when "later" came, he didn't have any better ideas.  So, he pretended that he was writing for "General Hospital" and went with the amnesia excuse.  I guess that he's hoping that we're all so tired of Otto-Spidey that we'd just go with it. (He wouldn't necessarily wrong.)

Moreover, Slott created so many alternate realities that it's hard to believe that the characters that died are really dead.  Every moment in every Spider-Man's life seemed to create another Spider-Man, so it seems, in all likelihood, that Peter Parquagh is still out there in some version of 1602, if not several billion versions.  In other words, the whole nature of "Spider-Verse" served as a ret-con, even without "Secret Wars."

Man, "Spider-Verse" sucked.

* (one of five stars)

Secret Origins #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue really shouldn't be in "Secret Origins."  Seriously.  You can't be a loyal reader of "Batgirl" and miss this story.  The Firestorm and Poison Ivy stories really just cover ground that we've seen covered elsewhere, but the Batgirl story directly relates to the ongoing story that Fletcher and Stewart are telling in "Batgirl."

First, we learn how Babs met Frankie.  Initially, I didn't question how Babs suddenly had all these new friends when the re-launch started.  I've read comics long enough not to question those sorts of details.  You just sort of fill in the background story on your own.  I figured that she put an add on Craigslist and found Frankie.  Here, we learn that they actually met in the lobby of the medical center that restored Barbara's ability to walk.  So far, Fletcher and Stewart have only shown us glimpses of Frankie's problems walking; it wasn't until she appeared on crutches a few issues ago that we even heard about it.  Here, we learn that she has muscular dystrophy; we're left to draw the conclusion that the doctors were less successful treating her than they were Babs.

But, we also learn that it's the scan that the doctors were taking of Barbara's brain on the day that she met Frankie that serves as the basis for the anti-crime algorithm that she wrote.  In fact, we're really not reading about the secret origin of Batgirl; we're reading about the secret origin of the algorithm.  As far as I can piece it together, the algorithm (or, I guess, the Algorithm) encounters a second brain-scan taken at a later date or Barbara's own consciousness, full of events that she doesn't recognize (like Babs' friendship with Alicia or her fight with the Joker during "Death of the Family").  She comes to feel like someone stole her body and the rest, as we know, is history.

With all these revelations, it's easy to miss the fact that the original intent of the algorithm is to re-write Babs' nervous system.  It put out there the possibility that someone (like the Algorithm) would be capable of not only denying Babs her ability to walk but also taking over her entire body.  Talk about fertile ground for drama.

The best part of this story is that Fletcher and Stewart really focus on the story itself.  Whereas the other two stories have pretty weak framing devices, I was definitely surprised when, suddenly, at the end, we learn that we had been watching the Algorithm's awakening the whole time.  Again, if you're a "Batgirl" fan, you can't miss this issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm really over weekly series.  It's getting harder and harder to write these reviews.  What can I say that I haven't already said 20 times?  Should I complain yet again about the randomness of the Dick Grayson plot?  Should I whine yet again that we've got so many irons in the fire that it's hard to keep track?  It's a "Choose Your Own Lament Adventure" at this point.

That said, I actually have something positive to say for this one!  The authors (at this point, we've got so many of them that it's hard to tell how else to address them) manage to make things worse and better at the same time.

On the down side for our group, the satellites that Apokolips sent to encircle the Earth are apparently turning it to "goo" (the technical term).  This revelation clarifies that Darkseid isn't turning Earth into Apokolips, but destroying it for its natural resources.  It's all very Galactan.  Kara, Lois, and Val are trying to destroy the satellites, but they have to fight through robo-para-demons to get there.  Val rightfully notes that he thinks that they're just a distraction.  (A complaint about this sequence also concerns Val.  He initially told Kara that he didn't want to destroy the satellites, because they'd crash to Earth and kill people.  But, everyone on Earth is underground, so they'd be safe.  Pay attention, Val.)  Moreover, it appears that Terry Sloan has destroyed the evacuation ship, though it's allegedly all part of his plan.

On the plus side, the authors identify a possible save.  Ollie Queen is revealed to be holding a "codex" that Bruce, Clark, and Diana created, containing the DNA of every living animal, plant, and organism on Earth.  It presumably means that the damage that Darkseid has caused to Earth could be undone if the heroes manage to stop him.  It's hard to underestimate this development, but it's really key.  It helps keep us engaged, delaying the point when the authors have to confirm whether or not Earth 2 is actually going to be destroyed.

But, another possible save may be out there, though the authors don't make that clear.  The telepath from Constantine's group reveals that he's so powerful that he's basically able to take over the minds of everyone on Earth.  He takes over the pilots of the ships planning to take refugees to the main evacuation ship and sends them, seemingly, to Chicago.  But, he doesn't seem to be doing so nefariously, since he also uses his powers to control the refugees there to calmly board the ships.  First, it makes you wonder why he didn't use these powers on this scale previously.  (Actually, it doesn't, because it's a deus ex machina and we all know it.)  Second, he's previously been portrayed as a villain, but we don't really know anything about him, so it's hard to judge his motivations.  But, something definitely seems to be up here, though we'll have to wait to see what, exactly.

I'm still not sure how many issues we have left, but I'll say that we do seem to be winding down here.  Hopefully, the authors stick the landing.  I'm really pulling for "Earth 2" to actually stay on Earth 2 and not take decamp to the DCnU Earth.  At the very start of "Earth 2," I enjoyed this series so much because it was an innovative take on a number of characters that I wanted to get to know better.  The problem with this Apokolips plot, though, is that we've been sidetracked for so long that the authors never really got a chance to tell the more nuanced stories that you need to understand a character.  I'm hoping that, if we stay on Earth 2, we might get those sorts of stories after the dust settles.  Fingers crossed.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Batman Eternal #47 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'll admit that this issue is better than the last few (dozen). Rather than using several characters involved in several plots, Snyder and Tynion use several characters to focus on one story.  As Bruce returns from his confrontation with Ra's al Ghul, Julia sends the Bat-family to stop the villains before they use the weapons that the mastermind gave them to destroy Gotham.  It seems to be the denouement, with Bruce likely to confront the mastermind as the family takes out the other villains.  If this series started wtih this issue, it would be pretty sweet.

But, of course, it didn't.  We've got 46 issues of baggage, and it still manages to weigh down the story.  Batman tells Julia that destroying Gotham isn't Ra's' style, and you have to wonder why he didn't have that epiphany before he flew to Pakistan in the middle of the crisis.  Batwing appears from nowhere to take down Scarecrow, and you have to wonder if he ever dealt with the ghosts in his apartment.  Bluebird is sent to take out Mr. Freeze, and you have to wonder why she left Spoiler since she's allegedly the key to everything.  The mastermind breaks into the Batcave to free Hush, and you have to wonder whether the Batcave has started appearing on some sort of "Gotham Map of the Stars!" given all the people that've broken into it lately.  Spoiler calls Vicky Vale for...some reason, and you have to wonder where we last left Bard (and, for that matter, Commissioner Gordon).  At this stage, every new development just reminds you of an abandoned previous one.

Also, some of these new developments still don't make a lot of sense.  Sure, the mastermind helped the villains "level up," if you will, but only Scarecrow seems to be doing anything that could help the mastermind in his goal of destroying Gotham (distributing his fear gas via Wayne Enterprises drones).  Bane is fighting some luchadores in a dive bar, Clayface is filming a movie with actors that he took hostage, Joker's Daughter is drawing Batgirl into a trap at Amusement Mile (where the Joker tortured her father with photos of her), and Mr. Freeze is freezing a family in their home.  (We don't see Poison Ivy at this point.)  It's not exactly ambitious schemes of death and mayhem.  What's the point?

I'm not sure what I expect from this series, but it's sad that, even when an issue is decent, it's too little, too late.  Let's just reveal the mastermind and be done with it, OK?

** (two of five stars)

Loki: Agent of Asgard #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this story just get sadder and sadder.

Loki loses everything here.  The Asgardians turn their backs on him, Freya exiles him, and King Loki drives away Verity Williams by proving that he's Loki's future (since she'd be able to see through his lie if he were telling one).  It's a bad day for our guy.  Of course, Loki doesn't take it all without putting up a fight.  He calls Freya on her self-righteous, noting that it makes it all the worse if she believed that he were Kid Loki, since she planned to betray him in the end.  I'm glad that he managed to twist that knife a little before she exiled him.

The only good news is that he's not totally bereft of hope, even if he doesn't know it.  Odin tells Loki that he loves him (and knows that he's really the echo of his old self), but refuses to help him.  He tells Loki that it's his time of tribulation and that he now has a chance to prove himself.  It's essentially a parent making a child pass the test on his own.  It's a lovely moment, providing Loki his only glimmer of hope that he won't be alone forever.  (Loki isn't privy to Sif telling Fandral that she doubts that this Loki is the same as the old one that once hid in her body.)

In the next issue, King Loki is going to reveal (for reasons that still aren't clear to me) how our Loki becomes King Loki, and it's clear that it's going to serve as the impetus for Loki's hero's trial.  He'll need to find a way to change his future, with no one at his side.  Talk about a legend in the making!  The Story of the Echo of Old Loki Avoiding Becoming the King Loki That He Was Destined to Become.  I'm game for that story.

*** (three of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


This issue isn't terrible or anything.  I loved Drax making with the funny ("I have not yet begun to unleash the Grouch!").  It's cool when Angel becomes an Angel of Death, since it's essentially a different but similar corrupted form for him.  (Poor Warren.  Always destined for corruption.)  Storm holding her own with Gamora was also pretty awesome.

But, this arc is suffering from the same problem as any arc where it's obvious a ret-con is going to happen at the end:  it's hard to invest in it emotionally.  (Honestly, I'm wondering if Bendis is even capable of telling a story that doesn't involve a ret-con.)  Gamora, Beast, and Angel are clearly going to revert to their regular selves at some point, so it's hard to be worried about them.  As such, the only tension in the story is whether the Guardians and the X-Men are going to be able to stop J'Son from using the Vortex for his dark ends, and we all know that they will.  (We've also got the shrill Kitty, and it's really not helping matters.)

In other words?  Meh.

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Batman #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Snyder takes a bit of a break here, so I don't really have too much to say.  OK, sure, Joker invades the Batcave, cuts off Alfred's hand, and steals trophies to use in a grim parade through Gotham celebrating its imminent destruction.  But, other than that, it's pretty slow.

It's not necessarily a bad thing.  Snyder has been rushing us headlong into a wall for the last few issues, so it was time to hit the brakes before we hit it.  Bruce gets the Court of Owls to admit that it used a corrupted version of dionesium to create the electrum that brings back Talons, but its leader says that the Joker has the "pure" version.  Bruce engages the older Talon, asking if the Joker was alive when he was first operating, but we don't see the answer to that question.  Instead, Bruce decides to take the fight to the Joker in order to get a sample of the dionesium from his spine.  Essentially, it's the opposite of "Batman Eternal:"  whereas he's skulked in the shadows for almost 50 issues in that series, in this one, Bruce just grabs the bull by the horns here and goes with his hunch that the Joker is the key to curing the virus infecting Gotham.

To accomplish this goal, he calls in his allies and his enemies.  I thought that this part was clever, if somewhat flawed.  First, Batman calls his enemies through an upside-down Bat-signal; it's apparently part of a secret pact that the super-villains made to commemorate Batman if one of them manages to kill him.  Second, it's essentially the same group of villains that we've seen in "Batman Eternal:"  Bane, Clayface, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Scarecrow.  It's the first time that we've really seen a connection to that series in this one, other than the appearance of Bluebird.  It's nice to know all that suffering paid some sort of dividend.  Finally, it addresses a certain truth, that even the villains don't stand to benefit if the Joker takes out Gotham entirely.

Of course, that said, I'm not sure if this assertion is true across the board.  Of the group, Croc and the Penguin are the ones most directly connected to Gotham, and I guess that Ivy would be upset if the plants died.  But, I do find it hard to believe that Bane, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, or Scarecrow feel like Gotham needs to survive for them to continue operating as super-villains.  In other words, I've never got a sense that they were necessarily Gotham-specific operators, and it's not like taking on the Joker doesn't involve some risk.  Snyder keeps treating this weird little group as a monolithic one, and it's not helping the stories that he's trying to tell.  We really could've used a few pages here to flesh out the motivations of this latter group.

In the end, though, this issue really just sets up the denouement, the final assault on the Joker.  We know that the Joker has something up his sleeve, and he seemingly expected Bats to go to his enemies.  Whatever it is, it can't be good.

*** (three of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I can't tell what happened here.  Did Bendis intend the story to end this way, or did he write himself into a corner?

The facts of the case:

Eva and Charles travel into the past and make sure that Matthew Malloy's parents never meet; as a result, he is never born.  (Charles once again uses telepathy to achieve this dubious outcome.)  Despite the fact that it shouldn't be that simple, it apparently is.  We jump immediately to the "new" timeline to see She-Hulk (again) reading his Last Will & Testament; in this version of events, he gives the School to Scott and, if Scott is dead, to Ororo.  Eva pulls aside Scott after this revelation and tells him what she did; she threatens to do the same thing to him that she did to Matthew if he doesn't get his act together.  Scott signs over the School to Ororo, asks her to take his students, and then leaves to find himself, announcing that he loves everyone in the room.  (No, he doesn't fight Alex, despite the cover, in a pet peeve #2 moment, depicting them fighting.)

First, the only apparent repercussion from Eva and Charles' act -- beyond Matthew not being born -- is that the Last Will & Testament doesn't reveal that Charles is married to Mystique.  (It's possible that they were still married; it just doesn't get revealed.)  It's unclear where Bendis is going to go from here; this revelation might be the first of many showing similar deviations from our understanding of the X-Men's recent past.  But, my sense is that we're not going to see other ones.  If we don't, it supports the idea that Bendis wrote himself into a corner and used time travel to escape it.  After all, we knew the ret-con was coming once he killed Cyclops and Magik (not to mention, Emma).

In fact, Bendis almost seems to be trolling us here.  In great examples of pet peeve #3, Eva asks if she and Charles should be worried about the "butterfly effect," and Emma asks if anyone was disappointed that they didn't learn that Charles had a secret family.  Using your characters to comment on the ridiculousness of your plot doesn't excuse the plot for being ridiculous in the first place!  (That said, Emma's comment alludes to the fact that Charles wasn't just married to Mystique, but had a child with her, Raze of the future Brotherhood.  As a result, either Charles just didn't mention it (for whatever reason) in his Last Will & Testament or Bendis just wiped out Raze from existence.)  Bendis seems to be flouting the fact that the removal of Malloy from time will have no other consequences than the ones portrayed in this issue, logic be damned!

In the end, this arc is actually all about Eva.  It was first about Charles, then about Matthew, and then about Scott.  But, it's now all about Eva and her seemingly unhinged willingness to screw with time.  Of course, as I've previously mentioned, it would be nice if we have a consistent portrayal of her powers.  In the annual cross-over story, she "lost" her future because she returned to the "past," wiping away that future.  It wasn't just that a few details were gone; it was clear that she couldn't return to it at all.  However, that restriction seems to have been dropped now that it served its purpose in establishing her tragic back story of losing her husband and child.  Even in that story, she regained her ability to travel to the past without the future disappearing.  But, regardless of how her power works, Bendis makes it clear that Eva's path is anything from certain.

In the end, I'm giving the issue two stars because the story -- in terms of the issue itself -- flowed pretty well.  But, the overall story -- "The Last Will & Testament of Charles Xavier" -- only deserves one star, since it devolved into yet another perfect example of why I hate time-travel stories.  At this point, it would be nice if we could actually go a month without some sort of time-travel story in an X-Men issue.  Wishful thinking, I know.  But, at some point, Bendis has to be able to tell a story that involves consequences.  Too often, he pushes his characters past their limit to see what they'll do when so pushed, but then uses time travel to move them into their comfort zone again.  We really didn't need an elaborate time-travel story for Eva to call Scott on his bullshit in a way that made him go all "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."  But, Bendis has gotten so used to time travel as his crutch that he couldn't even conceive of another way to tell this story.  It's time to lose the crutch.

** (two of five stars)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

All-New Captain America #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, this series continues to be possibly the most beautiful one on the market.  Immonen, Von Grawbadger, and Garcia are all really firing on all cylinders.  They do everything well, from facial expressions to action sequences to background atmospherics.  It's just a joy to behold.

That said, Remender is obviously no slouch.  He again uses flashbacks to excellent effect, showing us Sam's personal stake in preventing HYDRA from sterilizing the world:  he holds onto the hope that he'll have children some day.  In fact, Remender uses this hope to hint at a larger challenge that Sam faces, the fact that he seems to long for the day when he can put down the wings and resume something approaching a normal life.  In the meantime, it's still on him to save the world.

Although it's in the neighborhood of a deus ex machina, I actually liked Armadillo throwing in his lot with Sam.  It reminds me of "Amazing Spider-Man" #563, where Ox simply surrenders to Spider-Man because he knows that he's going to lose.  Here, it's a reminder that not every super-villain is evil incarnate.  You have a spectrum from "knocking over a bank" to "sterilizing almost all of humanity," and Remender shows us that Armadillo is more on the "bank" end of the spectrum.  That said, I did roll my eyes at the idea that Baron Zemo was dumb enough to give the locations of all the bombs to a henchman.  Really?  I sort of doubt that Zemo would trust a C-lister like Armadillo with his plans.

But, this problem aside, it's a solid issue and we continue to progress through the arc nicely.  Sam still thinks that Ian is dead, and he's enraged when Zemo gloats at the impact that the video that he took of killing Ian would have on Steve.  Again, he's furious not only on his friend's behalf, but Zemo is also still his own children from him.   We end the issue with Zero holding a sword to Sam's throat as the kid with the sterilization powers releases the virus (via flies infused with his blood) over America.  Even if Ian magically appears to save Sam, it's unclear how they're going to stop the plague of deadly flies.  (At some point, we should also probably get some insight into why this kid is so eager to destroy the world.)  But, these multiple conundrums explain why I'm excited every month when the newest issue of this series arrives.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Valiant #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As I've read this mini-series, I've obviously had in the back of my mind whether I would wind up collecting a Valiant series after it ended (since it's essentially its whole point). It would definitely be easier if Valiant had some sort of team book, like the Avengers, where I could commit to one book and see where I wanted to go from there.  But, they don't seem to have that.  As such, it sort of puts you in the market for a favorite character to follow.  After this issue, my guess is that I'm going with Bloodshot.

I had considered jumping on the new "Ninjack" series, because I also liked his character.  But, at the end of the day, I just wasn't feeling it.  He's essentially just a ninja.  It doesn't seem much more complicated.  Meanwhile, Bloodshot is a walking enigma, and Lemire does an amazing job of using Kay as a surrogate for the reader as we try to learn more about him.  To be honest, I'm surprised that I find his story compelling, since I hate Wolverine and he's clearly his analogue.  But, Bloodshot seems more human than Logan.  As Lemire says in his notes, you could see him as a uncaring robot with an analytical approach to the world or as a tragic figure with a black sense of humor.  He clearly wants us to believe the former, but Lemire uses Kay to show that it's the latter.  The fact that she manages to pull out the nanites from him also seems to open up a lot of issues.  Is Bloodshot going to have to chose to stay a "robot" now that he seemingly has the option of not being one, making him all the more tragic?

In terms of the issue itself, it's a pretty standard (if beautifully drawn) battle.  The assembled heroes of the Valiantverse attack the Immortal Enemy, but they can't overcome his psychological warfare, as he confronts each hero with their worst failures and fears.  Meanwhile, the spy folks seem ready to open (literally) Pandora's box.  It's a little difficult to believe that we're going to wrap up this story next issue, but I guess we'll see.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm going to say that the ending to this arc is anti-climatic, but maybe I'm just super-jaded.  After all, it's totally valid that the heroes discover that Patient Zero is vulnerable to cold when Captain Cold freezes him, just as it's completely believable that Superman's physiology doesn't allow viruses to bond to his cells.  Put together, the heroes are able to freeze the infected victims, giving Lex enough time to synthesize an antidote.

Plus, it's not like everything just returned to normal.  Three percent of the infected retained their metahuman powers; it's like the inverse of M-Day.  It means the world is now up a lot of potential new heroes and villains, implying that this arc could really have an impact on the future of the DCnU.  Plus, Patient Zero himself becomes Amazo, essentially a fully sentient virus.  It's clearly not the last we'll see of him.

Also, it's not like Johns wraps up everything in a nice little bow.  We're left wondering about how Luthor is going to react to Captain Cold stealing the spotlight and what information he gleaned from Superman's DNA.  Also, it seems possible that Steve Trevor was the one that sent Neutron to kill Luthor (kicking off this arc in the first place), though Neutron himself doesn't seem to know that?  Curiouser and curiouser.

But, it all still felt kind of rote to me.  It's hard to explain, but it just wound up feeling predictable.  It feels like Johns has something up his sleeve, and this arc was just meant to get us one step closer to its reveal.  I guess that we'll see.

** (two of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #20 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I get most of this issue.  The Parliament and their avatars combine their essences and powers, infusing them into Alan so that he can fight off Darkseid's son before he destroys Earth's core.  (At this point Apokolips appears to have broken into pieces and seems to be reforming around Earth.)  It's a little unclear what this union means for Alan, since he apparently comes to possess the spirits of Grundy, Sam, and Yolanda.  But, we'll worry about that if Earth doesn't die.  Meanwhile, Helena successfully downloads some sort of encrypted map, and she deciphers it thanks to the practice she got tracking down Riddler with her father before Darkseid invaded (the first time).  It leads them to Ollie Queen and his underwater base.  Finally, Terry Sloan is revealed to be alive and well on his ship, and the heroes are going to have to work with him if they want to find a way to activate it and save Earth's population.  It all still feel like we're spinning our wheels, but it's more or less clear.

The only part of the issue that I don't get is the Dick story.  Since we never were really introduced to Constantine and his team, I never realized that they were "criminals."  However, Dick calls them that here, and it seems to fit.  Apparently, his son is with the one named Brainwave, and he's apparently controlling the minds of thousands of people.  Maybe?  It's unclear.  All we learn is that one of the "criminals" talks about "what happened" being "wrong" and owing Dick an explanation, so it doesn't sound like we're going to get a happy ending when it comes to Dick's son.  But, at this point, I don't get why we're seeing this story at all.  It's long ago outlived its purpose of showing us how "normal" people were coping with the events happening around them.  Now, it's just some weird plot that seems to be burning up time that could be better spent on some of the more essential -- and still unclear -- stories.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Batman Eternal #46 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have no idea what to say at this point.  It's like Snyder and Tynion aren't even trying to make sense.  We're just cycling through suspects without any real reason provided for why Batman thinks that they're the one behind the attack on Gotham.  He just figures Ra's is crafty, so it has to be him?  It's like how he thought it was the Riddler because the mastermind's identity was a mystery.  Another issue, another potential culprit exonerated.  This issue is unfortunately also burdened by some of the worst art this series has seen.  At this point, reading this series feels like a hostage situation.  Six issues until I get my life back.

* (one of five stars)

Batgirl #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy fucking crap.

Stewart and Fletcher (Flewart?) pace this issue like a horror movie, and you realize that they've actually paced this entire first arc as one as well.  We've slowly watched Babs' life fall to pieces around her, with each new development hitting her harder than the previous one did.  This issue is no different:  you'd think that Hooq putting out a $20 million bounty on her head would be sufficiently bad, but the revelation that her brain algorithm is the secret Batgirl and (somehow) kidnapped Frankie is pretty freaking bad.  It's Batgirl vs. Oracle, and the cards seem stacked in Oracle's favor.

The decision to resurrect Oracle, so to speak, is a great one, speaking to Babs' DCU past.  We've mostly glossed over the return of her ability to walk, learning only that she had some sort of experimental surgery in South Africa, if I remember correctly.  Stewart and Fletcher (Stetcher?) are instead putting that transition front and center, as "old' Barbara fights with "new" Barbara for control.  The hints have been there since the relaunch of this series:  the loss of her brain algorithm has been a major plot line, since it has imperiled her doctoral thesis.  In fact, the stakes in this fight are so high because it seems to offer the possibility that Babs could somehow regain control over the missing algorithm, solving her academic crisis.

That said, we still have a lot of questions here.  How did her algorithm become sentient?  How did it escape destruction when her laptop was destroyed?  Also, how did an algorithm kidnap Frankie?  Did someone we know act as Oracle's surrogate?  I'll also say that Stewart and Fletcher have to do more work selling us on Babs' reconciliation with Dinah.  It happens too quickly here, based on a hurried conversation.  We understand the isolation that drove Barbara to seek out Dinah, but we don't really get why Dinah would take back Babs.  Is it pity?  It's not the crisis at hand, since Babs doesn't know about Oracle's existence at the point when it happens.  I hope Stewart and Fletcher eventually address it, even if retroactively.

All that said, those complaints are fairly minor.  Overall, this issue does a great job of showing us how detailed of a story that Stewart and Fletcher are telling, even if we didn't realize it from the start.  I can't wait to see where we go from here.

**** (four of five stars)


Aaron eases us into a routine in this issue, putting the events that catapulted Thor into her new role behind us and getting about the business of establishing the new normal.

He does so first by identifying Thor's friends and enemies.  The enemy category is, not surprisingly, long.  Odin is hellbent not only on discovering her "true" identity, but also destroying her for her insolence.  Perhaps more disturbingly, Odin has brought Cul into the fold, naming him, of all things, Asgard's Minister of Justice.  Aaron plays his cards close to his chest on this one.  He uses Odinson to stress the obvious insanity of this move, but we get no greater clarity on Odin's motivations.  It seems entirely possible that Cul is manipulating Odin, but, if he is, Aaron isn't ready to reveal that right now.  The good news is that the friend category is pretty solid.  Odinson makes clear his support of Thor to Odin, and Freya pays her a secret visit, giving Thor her blessings and warning her of dark tidings.

But, it's not all Asgardian maneuverings.  Thor's fight with the Absorbing Man and Titania is thoroughly entertaining, particularly Crusher's misogynistic ramblings, where he waxes poetic about the old Thor being one of the last manly men.  I loved Titania giving Thor a one-time "girl power" pass.  I can't wait to see Thor make her way through Odinson's rogue gallery.  If we get these sorts of battles every few issues combined with some Asgardian intrigue, I'll be a happy camper.  Meanwhile, Odinson is trying to get to the bottom of Thor's identity, a side quest that promises to keep him prominently engaged in this series, even if it involves skulking around the background.

In other words, we're settling into a good rhythm here.  Aaron is juggling a lot of different characters, but keeping everyone true to themselves.  In the "Batman Eternal" era, that's a fear worth celebrating.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The challenge with this issue is remembering that the characters don't know what we know.  We've seen the Viscardi civilization devour itself because of the Black Vortex.  The Guardians and the X-Men haven't seen that.  As such, their fight over the Vortex makes sense, with one camp -- led by Peter -- arguing that they need the power to successfully fight off his father and his minions -- and another camp -- led by Kitty -- arguing that anything this powerful is bad news.  (Kitty actually doesn't make that argument, but it's implied.)

In other words, the problem in not dismissing Peter as an idiot is that you have to remember that Peter doesn't know about the fate of the Viscardi.  He sees a way to level the odds with his father and wants to take it.  It's easy to dismiss this argument as naive, but Bendis does a good job of defending this position, with Peter reminding Kitty that the rules in space are different than the ones on Earth.

But, at the end of the day, you have to wonder if Peter didn't read comic books as a kid, because the lessons here just seems too obvious.  As Uncle Ben said, you don't get great power without something really terrible happening.  The part that I didn't get was Kitty acting as if Peter suggested that they not only get more power but use it to conquer the galaxy.  She's terribly disappointed in him wanting to use the Vortex, but Bendis doesn't make it clear what moral failing this impulse allegedly reveals to St. Kitty.  As a result, it feels like dramatic tension for dramatic tension's sake.  We'll see where we go from here.

** (two of five stars)  

Captain Marvel #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

DeConnick returns Carol to space in this issue after her brief Earth sojourn, and it's not an easy homecoming.  

Carol discovers that the Haffenseye have kidnapped Chewie to use him against Mr. Knife as he encroaches on Haffenseye space; they also took Tic, for unknown reasons.  Carol manages to get Harrison online and they head to the slave planet where they think that the Haffenseye are going, based on their trajectory.  They take a "short cut" through the "Endless Envelope," hoping to beat the Haffenseye to the planet.  (In general, if your enemies decide to go around something in their own territory called the "Endless Envelope," it's probably a good idea not to doubt them.)

Unfortunately, DeConnick leaves out some details here, like how the Haffenseye knew that Carol was going to teleport into the ship.  After all, if they didn't know that she was going to teleport into the ship, it wouldn't have been worth it to solder all the doors shut, since she would've had to open one to enter.  I'm also not sure why they wouldn't just kill Tic.  Why take on the liability of keeping alive Tic?  DeConnick seems to argue that they're going to sell her as a slave, but was she really worth the effort?

But, the real joy of this issue is the art.  Lopez's rendering of the Endless Envelope is stunning, and you haven't lived until you've seen Chewie in a full-on Hannibal Lecter mask.  I definitely added a star for that reason alone.

*** (three of five stars)