Thursday, April 30, 2015

Amazing X-Men #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I know from reading other reviews of this series that people either love it or hate it.  (I'm personally in the "love it" camp.)  As a result, this issue will serve as a Rorschach test for those reactions.  To paraphrase Dickens, nothing wonderful can come from this issue if you don't believe that Storm, when faced with the Living Monolith having gained the power of the Crimson Gem, takes a seat on the grass and reminisces about easier days.

Sure, I admit that it's weird.  But, in all honesty, it's the closest that we've come in years to these characters sounding like they used to sound.  (In fact, it's probably the closest that we've come in years to them actually having a conversation.)  Bobby is annoying, Firestar is earnest, Northstar is imperious.  After Storm apologizes to Peter for treating him harshly, they all tease him for his over-eagerness to be a martyr.  Bobby even manages to get in a dig at Cain about the fact that Spidey defeated him.  It's glorious.

Do I totally understand what happened here?  Not really.  Peter seemed to want Cyttorak to give him the power of the Crimson Gem to kill him, but Cyttorak gave it to Cain instead.  I'm not really sure what the implications of that are.  Cain and Colossus apparently fight next issue, so I guess we'll find out then.  But, for this issue, it was just nice to spend it hanging around a campfire with some old friends.  Not everyone is going to see it that way, but I can live with that.  More marshmallows for me.


*** (three of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, a lot happens here in pretty quick succession.

J'Son has Thane encase Spartax in amber so that he can sell it to the Brood.  In exchange, he gets control over every tenth planet that the Brood conquer.  Meanwhile, the Brood get to implant eggs in the immobilized Spartaxans, drastically expanding their population overnight.  (The Spartaxans will die in the birthing process, since the eggs are placed in their brains.)  Peter and the Hala team arrive to find the encased bodies, and he tearfully confesses to a fossilized Kitty that she was right about everything.  Kitty manages to phase through the amber, and a sarcastic and tearful reunion ensues.  ("The time to berate you is later.  Just kiss me, space boy.")  Magik and the runaway team members also arrive, but, before anyone can devise a solution to save the Spartaxans, the Slaughter Lords attack!

This event has been pretty uneven, but this issue is one of the better installments.  For the first time, someone seems to have some sort of plan (i.e., J'Son).  (It now explains why he needed Thane, given his ability to case people in amber.)  I'm definitely more engaged than I was after the disastrous "Nova" issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Nova #28 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Are we really supposed to believe that Thane is such an idiot that he thinks that the Guardians and the X-Men killed his followers, not Mr. Knife?  Really?  The problem is that you have to believe it if you're going to believe this issue.  After all, it revolves around Sam accidentally bringing the Black Vortex into J'Son's flying fortress, where Thane is waiting to get his hands on it.  (I was reminded why I stopped getting this series with this development, since Sam seems to be a Looney Tunes character given his ability to do exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time.)  Now, we have a Vortex-ed Thane.  [Sigh.]

* (one of five stars)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, that escalated quickly.

This issue starts off pretty modestly.  Carol is trying convince the Supreme Intelligence to allow them to take the Black Vortex to save their friends, and the Intelligence (somewhat reasonably, if you ask me) tells her that their friends made their choice knowing the consequences.  He would really just like to have the Vortex under lock and key again.  (Again, it's really hard to argue with this sentiment.)  The teams realize that the conversation isn't going their way, so they attack the Intelligence and his guards to provide cover to Nova to steal the Vortex.  The problem is that J'Son and the Slaughter Lords arrive.  One of them swipes the Vortex from Nova, and the two spend the rest of the issue trading possession of it between them.

Then, J'Son's fortress eats Hala.

Yup, J'Son destroys Hala.  Schiti does a great job of conveying the gravity of that event, with a two-page spread that really grabs your attention.  The only problem with it is from a narrative perspective.  Bendis never tells us why J'Son felt the need to destroy Hala.  It wasn't to get the Vortex; at the time of destruction, one of his Slaughter Lords already had it.  Bendis seems to make it about revenge, since J'Son blames the Intelligence for his role in his downfall.  To that end, I certainly get his hatred of the Intelligence.  But, are we really supposed to believe that J'Son has so embraced his role as a villain that he's willing to destroy a planet?  Before, he really just wanted revenge on Peter.  It wasn't even like he sent the Slaughter Lords to kill everyone at the orphanage, something that he could've done to toy with Peter's emotions.  He pretty specifically just wanted to get his revenge on Peter.  But, now, he's destroying planets?  It's a pretty big leap.

We're halfway through this event at this point, and I'm still honestly not sure where we're going.  Other than the Intelligence, everyone wants the Vortex, but their motives still aren't really clear.  Sure, Carol argued that she wanted it to save her friends, but we don't know what she planned on doing with it after that.  Does J'Son want the Vortex so that he can destroy most of the galaxy in revenge for losing his kingdom?  It's just a jumble (if not a mess) at this point.

** (two of five stars)

The Valiant #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, I didn't expect that.

The good guys fail here.  But, part of the reason that it's so unexpected is that Lemire actually makes you think that he's got a deus ex machina up his sleeve.  We learn that the box that Alcott and his team recovered contains a weapon sent from a future Eternal Warrior to his present self, one that can defeat the Immortal Enemy.  Of course, only the Warrior can open it, so Lemire builds up the dramatic tension by taking him from the battle to wait for Alcott and the box to arrive.  Meanwhile, Bloodshot and Kay fight off the Enemy at the mall, the romantic tension building between them.  You're already for the Warrior open the box, pull out some futuristic bazooka, and take out the Enemy in the nick of time; I could see the final page of Bloodshot and Kay finally kissing before I even got to it.

But, it doesn't happen that way.  The Enemy successfully kills Kay (though she removes the nanites from Bloodshot's body before she dies).  The future Warrior simply sent back a young Geomancer, saving her from a future Enemy.  It raises all sorts of questions about the future for the Warrior.  The world is supposed to be plunged into a Dark Age given the death of the Geomancer (Kay), but the world also still has a Geomancer (the girl), even if she's a time-displaced one.  It's an ambiguous ending, to say the least.

I picked up this series as my attempt to continue to read stories outside the Big Two, and I'm definitely glad that I did.  Lemire does a really great job here telling a nuanced story that the Big Two would be unlikely to tell, and I'm happily following him to "Bloodshot:  Reborn."  If you were on the fence about getting this mini-series, I'd really recommend it, since it does give you a chance to dip your toe into the Valiant pool to see if you like it.  It was great, from start to finish.

**** (four of five stars)

Loki: Agent of Asgard #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't have too much to say here, because Ewing lays out King Loki's case brilliantly.

First, we learn how our Loki becomes King Loki.  King Loki tries to save himself (for reasons that Ewing doesn't really lay out here, other than possibly boredom over his lot in life) by creating this new Loki, erasing the sins of his previou self to create a new future.  We learn that it takes our Loki ten years (and a final victory over Ultron) to accomplish this goal.  But, in the end, no one forgets that he's the God of Lies, and this inability to change people's perceptions of him -- depsite his success in erasing his history -- finally drives him mad.  He tries to kill King Thor (after Thor also refers to him as the God of Lies as if it were an imutable part of him), and King Loki is born.

Why is King Loki here now?  Glad you asked.  Basically, he wants to skip to the end.  King Loki already knows that this plot will fail, and so he wants to bring about his creation sooner.  Moreover, he recognizes that this particular time in history is ripe for action, since Odinson is shattered, Angela is learning, and Baldur is distracted.  If he gets our Loki to act, he could rule the Ten Realms.  He didn't do it originally because he was still trying to redeem himself.  But, now, he no longer see a reason to hold back.

The question is whether our Loki will go for it.  King Loki does something here that implies that he casts a spell on him, but we'll see how it affects him. If everyone wrote exposition so cleverly, I wouldn't complain about it nearly so much.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Amazing Spider-Man #16.1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I like Dan Slott.

By my count, Slott has written 124 issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Superior Spider-Man" (including the "Spider-Verse" one-shot), and I have enjoyed the vast majority of them.  OK, sure, I wasn't thrilled with Otto taking possession of Peter's body, but I can at least acknowledge that it was an innovative story (at first) now that I don't have to deal with daily assertion from him and Wacker that the change was permanent.  Slott injected the type of fun into "Amazing Spider-Man" that it had been missing for a long time, while at the same time moving Peter to a more adult status quo, from his initial gig at Horizon Labs to his current position at Parker Industries.  He also brought back the Spidey-focused events that I used to love as a teenager, like "Assassin Nation Plot" or "Round Robin;" even if "Spider-Verse" was little meh, "Ends of the Earth" was solid and "Spider-Island" is probably the best event that I've read.  When Slott eventually wraps up his time on Spidey, I have no doubt that we'll all think Spidey is much better for his time writing him.

But...

...it was really great to read a "real" Spidey story again.  It makes me realize that they're going to need someone like Conway after Slott leaves, to return us to basics.  Although Slott may be great at witty repartee, he's never been particularly good about "normal" conversations.  It's not even just the conversations.  Last issue, everyone treated Peter as a bumbling idiot when he couldn't get to the company's presentation on time.  He couldn't just be chronically late; he had to be comically late.  Again, I love(d) the fact that Slott introduced fun into the series again, but, occasionally, it's forced, undermining a dramatic point that he's trying to make.  (Similarly, when we do have drama, it also feels forced, like Aunt May suddenly becoming a bigot in time to disapprove of Anna Maria.)

Conway obviously doesn't suffer from this problem.  Although Spider-Man is funny and witty as he always, both he and Peter are capable of serious moments befitting the fact that "they've" been at this game a long time.  Peter isn't cracking wise when he visits Yuri at the hospital as she keeps a vigil over her dying partner.  Spider-Man isn't flip as he warns the Wraith that she's crossing a line in breaking into Tombstone's vault to try to show that he control the judge that let him off the hook.  In other words, he isn't a happy-go-lucky kid reveling in Web-Slinging; he's a hardened hero that knows that Yuri is engaging in behavior that could lead her down dangerous paths.

It's hard to put my finger on it, but I guess that I'm saying that this story just doesn't seem like one that Slott would think of writing or manage to execute.  But, a cop with a vendetta adopting an secret identity as a vigilante to take down a crime boss like Tombstone is exactly the sort of story that we've been missing in this title.  When you add in there that her actions could set off a larger gang war as everyone scrambles to fill the void that the Kingpin left when he headed to Europe, I suddenly find myself wistfully thinking of "Amazing Spider-Man" #284-#288.

In other words, yes, you should definitely pick up this issue.

**** (four of five stars)

All-New Captain America #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was going to say that this issue has a pacing problem, but "problem" is the wrong word, since this issue is pretty damn exciting.  It's more that the pacing of this issue doesn't fit the standard format of these sorts of the stories, where the hero pulls out the win after he hit rock bottom.

Instead, Sam, aided in the nick of time by a revived Ian, manages to defeat Zemo and destroy the swarm of plague-infested fleas that Lucas (the kid with sterilization powers) released at the end of last issue.  Remender cleverly uses this victory -- achieved when Sam uses his control over birds to deploy them to eat the fleas before they reach the ground -- to rebut the criticism that starts off this issue.  In a flashback, Sam overhears someone in the diner tell his son that Sam only became Captain America as part of an effort to "make sure everything is politically correct and color-coordinated.  He argues that Steve Rogers had saved the world countless times, but Sam just "flies and talks to birds."  Sam admits that this criticism isn't any different from the criticism he applies to himself.  But, saving the day through his control of the birds reminds us (and him) that Sam may solve problems differently than Steve, but the end result is still a saved world.

Before moving onto the second part, I want to comment on two notable aspects of the fight with Zemo.  First, we learn that Ian is alive because he can use the "gel" that Zola used to create him to heal himself.  Honestly, this revelation makes sense.  Plus, it gives us someone in the partnership able to push past normal physical limits.  But, that brings me to my second point.  Sam manages to pull himself -- using his bare hands -- up the sword that Zemo is using to pierce his lung; he does so to (brilliantly) use the hilt to knock out Zemo.  I cringe just even writing it, as I did when I read it.  Both Remender and Immonen did an amazing job of making you feel like you were doing it, showing Sam pushing through the pain.  The problem is that he then goes about the rest of the issue like nothing happened.  As far as I'm aware, Sam is still technically a normal dude.  Although Ian might be able to pull off this stunt and then go onto other fights, it's unclear how Sam could possibly do that.  Remender has to be careful here to remember that Sam isn't Steve.  In fact, stories exploring the physical limitations that Sam faces that Steve didn't would be much more interesting.

Returning to the pacing of this issue, as I mentioned, we defeat Zemo in the middle of this issue.  But, the story isn't over, because Ian has learned Zemo's back-up plan:  he (ingeniously) had Baron Blood fill himself full of Lucas' blood and sent him to Paris to "self-explode."  (On that front, we learn that Lucas is angry because some doctors let his brother die of "curable" pneumonia.  I really don't get why that would result in him deciding to sterilize pretty much everyone on the planet. Hopefully we'll get a little more on that front, otherwise it'll be a missed opportunity.)  Batroc re-appears to distract Ian (and make sure that he's not a murderer), and Sam heads through the Infinite Elevator to take on Blood.  But, everything grinds to a halt at the end of this issue, when it appears that Blood has killed Redwing.  Remender better not go there; it would be like killing Lockheed, for Xavier's sake.

Overall, I'd say this issue is uneven, but it's still part of a strong overall story.  Remender has a lot happening here (I didn't event mention Misty paying off Taskmaster), and it really does make you feel the rush that Sam must be feeling at this point.  Hopefully, Redwing will be there to relax with him when he wins.

*** (three of five stars)

Guardians Team-Up #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The battle for Hala is over pretty quickly here, as Peter helps Ronan defy the Supreme Intelligence and submit to the Vortex.  Ronan uses his new amped-up powers to take out Angel, but it's not really this moment that saves Hala.  Instead, it's when Beast uses his cosmic awareness to create a replica of space-time (so that he can hold all possibilities in his hand) and then realizes that he broke the fabric of space-time when he brought back the younger X-Men.  He flees in horror, and Gamora, now bereft of allies, is forced to cut her losses and flee as well.  (I'll admit that I have no idea how it's even remotely possible to create a "replica" of space-time or why said replica would necessarily include the tear that Hank sees here, but I can't waste too much energy on that).

Looking forward, Thane's discovery that someone (likely J'Son) slaughtered his flock and Gara's arrival on the scene are likely the most significant developments.  It's not clear why Gara (the last of the Viscardi) appeared at the orphanage, but she announces that she's there to destroy the Black Vortex, so she may have just tracked it there.  Thane taking on J'Son also raises the stakes, since the former Emperor now has a number of people gunning for him.

I'm still not sure what Peter and company are going to do now.  They originally went to Hala not just to save it from their three lost sheep, but convince said sheep to join them in attacking J'Son.  Since the sheep have all fled, is Peter eventually going to join forces with Thane?  Plus, Peter also wanted the Black Vortex to fight J'Son, but I don't see the Supreme Intelligence -- who views it as a dangerous object -- just giving it to him.  I guess we'll see.

(Also, Nova appears again this issue, but doesn't say a word.  Weird.)

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, April 27, 2015

All-New X-Men #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, when did Nova arrive?  As far as I can tell, we haven't seen him in this event, but he appears in Peter's ship heading to Hala.  WTF?

This issue hews closely to the cross-over event rulebook, with the group now splitting into three separate teams as we enter the middle act:  Kitty leads a group to save the kids at the Spartax orphanage (presumably from attackers trying to draw out Peter), Peter leads a group to Hala to save it from Angel, Beast, and Gamora (and try to convince them to help attack J'Son's fortress), and Scott takes Bobby and Groot to the Spartax moon to try to distract the Slaughter Squad so the other two teams can take off safely.  It's a pretty solid plan (except for sending two teenagers and a talking tree to take on a group called "the Slaughter Squad," but I digress).

Bendis does a good job of making it about more than just hitting the usual marks as we build to the conclusion.  We've got a number of star-crossed (pretty much literally) lovers in bad places worried about saying good-bye:  Kitty and Peter, Jean and Scott, Laura and Scott.  Moreover, Corsair (wisely) isn't thrilled with the idea of Scott going to confront the Slaughter Squad.  It adds a tension to the event that it has been missing, since it's pretty much been the usual jumble of characters randomly interacting.

The big question here is how exactly Peter is going to manage to convince Angel, Beast, and Gamora not to be genocidal maniacs.  It was easier said than done when he didn't know that they were destroying Hala.  Now, it's pretty clear that charm along isn't going to do the deed.  Moreover, Thane seems to be haunted by a devil (or actual demon) on his shoulder pushing him to embrace his father's murderous ways, making it clear that Peter may think that J'Son is his only problem, but he'd be wrong.

Again, I can't say that I exactly see why we needed this event, but at least it's getting interesting.

*** (three of five stars)

Batgirl: Endgame #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you're a fan of wordless issues, this one is a pretty solid entry in the genre.  I mean, I can't say that it's essential reading for Batgirl fans or "Endgame" readers.  But, it does show Barbara Gordon doing what she does best, somehow saving a bus full of refugees (including Lucius Fox and his family) from the Jokerized zombies.  (Lucius' daughter, of course, gets lost in the shuttle, resulting in a pretty awesome moment where I honestly wasn't sure how Babs was going to save her.  Let's just say, I was pleasantly surprised when it involved driving a bus off a bridge and deploying glider wings.)  The only interesting part from an Endgame perspective is that we seem to be evacuating Gotham.  Honestly, it seems like forever since I've read a "Batman" issue, so I really can't remember where we are in the main story.  In that way, it probably didn't hurt to have this issue at least keep the story fresh for me.  But, again, it doesn't really forward the plot of "Endgame," so you can skip it if you're not totally inspired.

*** (three of five stars)

Batgirl #40 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

With this issue, Fletcher and Stewart wrap up this first arc in a way that really puts Babs in the first exciting yet stable status quo that she's had in the New 52!

Before we get to the end, though, let's talk about how we got there.  The fight with Oracle was intense.  Oracle reveals that she sent each villain that Babs has faced since issue #35 (when Stewart and Fletcher took over the title) for a specific reason.  The Jawbreakers (the twin motorcycle thieves) from issue #36 were meant to use her past to destroy her (since they were her favorite cartoon as a child).  Dagger Type from issue #37 was meant to use her image to discredit her.  Her tense relationship with Officer Liam from issue #38 was supposed to prove that she can't be happy, and the anti-Batgirl riots in issue #39 was supposed to show that she can't be loved.  The icing on the cake is that Oracle is controlling Riot Black from issue #35, using him as her physical agent to take Frankie and Babs hostage.

Beyond trying to break Babs, Oracle had another plan up her sleeve.  She was going to use Babs' algorithm and its connection to Hooq to attract everyone that could potentially become or abet a criminal to a street fair; then, she planned on using missiles from a military satellite that she had hacked to kill them.  Fletcher and Stewart up the ante by making sure that pretty much Babs' entire supporting cast is there.  (Did anyone notice poor, sad George drinking by himself?  Is he going to become a bad guy?  I hope not.)


In the end, Babs doesn't save the day; Babs and her supporting cast save the day.  Fletcher and Stewart use this issue to show that, despite the strained relationships that Babs has with her friends (partly due to her own poor behavior, partly due to Oracle's aforementioned manipulations), they're all there for her.  Qadir tells Babs that sonic blasts along a certain frequency would disable the razor drones that Oracle sends into the crowd; Dinah (whose band is providing the entertainment at the fair) delivers the blast; Liam calms the crowd after Oracle causes panic by announcing her plans, via video screens, to kill everyone; and Frankie disables the satellite while Babs distracts Oracle.  Group hug!

Along the way, Fletcher and Stewart give us a moment that reminds us why that group is there for Babs, even when she's off her game.  During the time when Riot Black has tied Babs to a chair, Oracle insists to Frankie that they're friends, but Frankie says that they're not; she calls Oracle "a piece of her head from when she was in a bad place."  In other words, Frankie -- and, ultimately, Qadir, Dinah, and even Liam -- see Babs and Batgirl as more than they were when they hit bottom.  It's really all that we need from friends, and Fletcher and Stewart really do a great job of reminding us of that.

All that great stuff said, I have two complaints, one small, one not-so-small.  First, I'm still a little confused about how Babs' algorithm got connected to Hooq in the first place.  It's a small complaint because I feel like Fletcher and Stewart have probably explained that at some point, and it's really just a matter of re-reading these last few issues to remind myself of the answer.  But, more significantly, I don't really buy how easily Frankie fixes the algorithm here.  She announces that it's a "clean, safe version," but how exactly can she guarantee that?  After all, if anything, these six issues have shown us how dangerous this sort of algorithm is in terms of making hypothetical connections that may, or may not,unfold in real life.  Can there really ever be a "clean, safe version" of the algorithm?  Hopefully, we'll return to this issue at a later date; otherwise, this sequence amounts to a professor just waving her hands in front of the board and hoping that we buy what she's selling.

But, all that said, I'm still thrilled with this arc and quite happy with this issue.  Oracle put Babs through the ringer, and she was forced to decide who she is now.  It's been a long road, but I'm glad that we got to the end of it.  Onwards and upwards!


*** (three of five stars)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Thor #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although Odinson's quest for Thor's identity is the framing device for this issue, Aaron actually tells a number of different stories within it.

First, the Dario part of this issue was great.  We learn that a group of pirates slaughtered his family as they vacationed on his father's island when we was a child.  Dario managed to escape from the pirates and hide in a cave, where he prayed for power near an altar dedicated to the minotaur.  He got his wish, and, well, let's just say, we're reminded why you shouldn't really mess with him.  But, I also loved his present-day deal with Malekith, giving him the Giant King's skull in exchange for the mineral rights for every realm that Malekith conquers.  (Malekith warns him from making deals with powers greater than him, as he did with that god in the cave, but Dario doesn't seem too concerned.)  It's just such a clever reason to keep the two of them in cahoots.

Moreover, as Odinson rants to himself on the moon, we learn that he wants to know Thor's identity so that he can learn why he's unworthy but she is.  It's a solid motivation.  But, that said, he also makes it seem like he became unworthy because Nick Fury told him something about himself that made him feel unworthy.  It makes me wonder how learning Thor's identity is going to change that.

But, it's Odinson's moment with Jane Foster that really steals the show.  It's honestly one of the most emotional sequences that I've ever read in a comic.  She's losing her struggle with breast cancer, but she refuses magical treatment, because magic always comes with a price, as she reminds Odinson by noting his metal arm.  Thor struggles to respect her decision, at one point begging her to let Asgard's healers help her.  Instead, she chastises Odinson for his new name, telling him that he's more than just his father's son.  She then leaves, and Odinson realizes that she's not Thor, given her rejection of magic.  But, he does so wistfully, since he wants nothing more than her to accept said magic so that she can become well.  Seriously, Aaron is just damn good.

Finally, Agent Coulson is unable to help Odinson, because S.H.I.E.L.D. also doesn't have a sense of Thor's identity.  But, suddenly, looking at the monitors, Odinson asks where Agent Rosalind Solomon is, and we see her empty flying car hovering over the Roxxon HQ where Thor just happens to be attacking...and then the Destroyer appears and everything goes to hell.

In other words, this series just continues to be excellent.

 **** (four of five stars) 

Star Wars #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, I'm not sure I can even review this series anymore.  Aaron does such an amazing job of making you feel like you're watching a "Star Wars" movie by four or five minute intervals that engaging in criticism of it feels like a betrayal of my childhood self.  Moreover, even if I were to engage in criticism, I'm not sure what I would say.  Everyone sounds exactly like they should sound and behaves like they should behave.  It's hard to single out anything in particular.  I was intrigued by the revelation that Obi Wan left behind some sort of Jedi guidebook for Luke, but I'm really just here to bask in the glory of engaging with these characters in this way after so long.  I can definitely see this comic being the one that gets people who've never read a comic before to start reading them.

**** (four of five stars)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spider-Man 2099 #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "I'd explain it but I'd need charts and graphs and maybe an easel."  "You're hilarious.  Good thing I'm dying so I won't have to listen to this much longer."  -- Strange and Miguel, employing some gallows humor

Summary
As Maestro strides through the halls of his palace, his minister approaches him, cautiously asking him if it was wise to place Spider-Man in the same cell as Strange.  Maestro says that he's knows what he's doing and that he's not interested in the Minister's confusion.  He's also not interested in this world, because he's accomplished everything that he can.  (Foreshadowing!)  He says that he wants more and then joins a few scantily clad women in a room (with the usual, "Now, ladies...where were we?" line).

In their cell, Miguel tells Strange that he thinks that he's dying, and Strange asks if he could drag himself to her.  She tells him that the binders prevent her from projecting her magic, but she can help him if he enters her circle.  He tries, but he collapses en route.  He mutters that none of "this" should be here, and Strange agrees with him.  Miguel asks why she didn't change when the world changed around her, but she says that it's part of the "sorceress gig."  (Cue above exchange.)  She then tells him to shoot a Web-Line at her.  He does and he's startled when a demon-looking creature under her arm uses it to pull him towards her.  She then touches his hand and he screams in agony.  A guard rushes into the room as a result of the noise, and a fully healed Miguel knocks him into a wall.  Unfortunately, the guard doesn't have keys to her shackles.  He tells Strange that he's going to return to 2015 to fix the future, and she tells him that Maestro has a time machine but can't fix it.  Miguel asks if she can get him to it, and she tells him that she can if he gets rid of the symbols on her binders.  He uses his talons to scratch them and she then uses her powers to dissolve them.  Miguel asks where the machine is, and Strange tells him that it's in his Trophy Room.  Miguel then offers that his specialty is biology, not technology, so he's not sure if he can fix the machine.  Strange responds that Maestro has a bunch of other technology down there, so it may help.

En route to the Room, they run into some guards.  They make short work of them, with Miguel motivated by the realization that he has to succeed if he wants to save his world (and his mother and brother).  The aforementioned minister observes them as they run through the hall, and they arrive in the Room full of relics (like Spidey's mask and Cap's shield) that Maestro collected from the heroes "who survived the catastrophe in the early 21st century."  They then find, not surprisingly, at Doom's time platform.  Strange gives Miguel the device to control it, and she lets him know that Maestro hasn't figured out that device either.  Miguel asks how he's going to fix it, and Strange says that she doesn't know, since her specialty is mysticism, not machinery.  Miguel points out the fact that Bruce Banner builds bombs, so he's more likely to be able to fix the platform than Miguel is.  However, Strange lets him know that he hasn't built anything in decades, since he doesn't like to dwell on who he was.  Miguel then notices several of Iron Man's suits and realizes that he can hook up their power sources to the platform.  (While he's doing it, he mentions to himself that he still thinks that it's weird that Maestro didn't do it.)

Miguel finishes doing what he's doing, just in time for Strange to be stabbed from behind.  Maestro reveals himself, showing that he used the Hood's cloak to be invisible and a soul dagger to take out Strange.  Miguel leaps past him, grabbing the dagger with his Web-Line.  Maestro struggles, turning in time for Miguel to use the cannon on a huge (possibly Hulk-Buster) set of armor to take down Maestro.  Maestro hurls Miguel onto the platform in rage, and Miguel disappears as Maestro collapses.  In 2015, Miguel realizes that the platform's control device stayed in 2099 (likely because it's chronically locked to it), and Miguel worries that Maestro is still alive and might return to 2015.  In 2099, a voice tells Maestro that Miguel is gone, and Strange is revealed to be possessed by the demon that helped Miguel earlier.  He asks if they should complete the plan, and Maestro says that they should, soon arriving in New Mexico on Christmas Day (though the year is unclear).

The Review
I honestly don't have too much to say, because David is really only getting started here.  So far, though, everyone's motivations make sense, even if we don't have all the information that we need.  In other words, we have questions, but they're questions that flow from the story itself and not because the author missed making obvious connections.

My only complaint about this issue is that I'm really, really done with time-travel stories.  I had hoped that Miguel would stay in 2099 when he returned last issue.  I mean, I love Miguel, so I'll keep reading, even if he's in the Stone Age.  But, despite happening in the future, the 2099 stories weren't actually time-travel stories.  They were stories about a certain time and place, and I'm anxious to visit said time and place after so many years.

The Good
1) The best part of this issue is probably the hint that Sliney includes halfway through the issue that foreshadows how the issue is going to end.  It's the moment where we see the demon pulling Spidey to Strange.  He wasn't there in previous panel, and he's not there in the next one.  It would actually be pretty easy to miss him.  In fact, even if you do see him, you sort of forget about him immediately, because it's unclear if he's just a figment of Miguel's addled mind.  When it's revealed on the last page that the demon has been controlling Strange from the start, this moment becomes all the cooler.

2) Moreover, the revelation that it was a demon controlling Strange answers all sots of questions.  It explains why she knew where the time platform was and how she knew so much about its workings, since she was really just walking Miguel through the plan.  But, it's not like Miguel doesn't have his suspicions; David makes it clear that he's either too injured or, later, too desperate to save his future to be paying particularly close attention.

The Unknown
1) Was "Strange" right that Maestro just stopped accessing the Banner part of his brain, meaning that he was no longer able to fix the time platform?  Or, did he need Miguel to fix it for another reason?  If so, I really can't think of what would prevent him from working on it.

2) Why did Maestro collude with the demon in the first place?  I get that he had to trick Miguel to fix the platform (assuming that he himself couldn't fix it and that Miguel was unlikely to do it if Maestro asked nicely).  But, why was a demon necessary?  What skin does the demon have in the game?

3) Moreover, why Strange?  My guess is that she's the only one left from Miguel's timeline, so they had to use her as bait since he'd recognize her.  But, we don't have confirmation of that.  Also, it seems possible that it really isn't Miguel's timeline, that they plucked her from their timeline since they needed someone that Miguel would trust in Maestro's timeline.

4) In fact, we really don't have confirmation of what timeline it is.  Is the canonical Maestro timeline really an alternate or future version of Miguel's time?  Or, are we dealing with an alternate timeline different from the canonical Maestro timeline?  The latter possibility would make more sense to me.  Otherwise, it's weird to think that the canonical Maestro timeline is based on Spidey 2099's timeline suddenly becoming corrupted by a "new" event in the past.  In other words, if the Maestro's timeline really is a corruption of Miguel's timeline, it means that someone from a different time specifically screwed up something in 2015.  Otherwise, the timeline would've unfolded the way that it originally did, leading to Miguel's timeline.  (Ugh, time travel.)

5) What does Maestro hope to accomplish in the past?  He just says that he's bored of his present.  Why is time travel necessary to alleviate that boredom?

6) This last one isn't a question specifically dealing with this issue, but Strange mentions the catastrophe from the early 21st century, an event frequently mentioned in the original "Spider-Man 2099" run.  It's interesting that David has kept that part canonical, since so much of that run is still in question.

Spider-Gwen #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, Spider-Ham serving as Gwen's Jiminy Cricket?  Possibly the greatest effing thing to happen to comic books...like...ever.  Matt Murdoch serving as the Kingpin's lawyer?  Possibly the second greatest effing thing to happen to comic books...like...ever.  All in one issue, to boot!

I really have no idea how Latour covers so much ground so seamlessly in this issue.  First, Spider-Ham appears as a result of Gwen suffering from some sort of brain injury when the Vulture dropped her at the end of last issue.  (Actually, it wasn't the dropping that caused the injury; it was her smashing into a garbage barge after she was dropped.)  In his role as Gwen's concussion-induced conscience, Spider-Ham pushes her not only to get her personal life in order by reconciling with the Mary Janes, but also to accept that her "professional life" isn't going to bring back Peter, encouraging her not to be out there alone.  Latour really uses him to great effect to show us how isolated and lonely Gwen is at this point.

Meanwhile, Captain Stacy has to cover for Gwen when a cop finds her bag and phone at the crime scene, forcing him to confront how far he's willing to go to protect her.  But, he comes to realize why he would need to protect her after he sees Frank Castle, the new lead of the Spider-Woman task force, threaten to kill Kingpin in prison when he refuses to divulge information about the hit on Stacy.  Moreover, we have a stone-cold Murdoch beating the Vulture for "stealing" the Kingpin's kill, since Spider-Woman refused his offer of help in "Edge of Spider-Verse" #2, and Jean DeWolff returning from some sort of mysterious absence.  Honestly, these characters are much more interesting here than they ever were in the prime Marvel Universe.

Finally, we have fun.  Spider-Ham is generally just awesome; the conversation about his form of cannibalism involving him eating not a corn dog but Porky Pig because he's a cartoon was really a highlight of the month for me.  Plus, you have the postersI mean, how could you not be happy here?  Again, Latour manages to run us through this gauntlet without missing a beat.  In fact, he does a great job of showing how dizzying it all is for Gwen.  At some point, sure, we're going to need a quiet moment to get a better sense of our setting, but, right now, I'm willing to ride the ride that Latour has built. 

***** (five of five stars)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Captain Marvel #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, Marvel is giving us some great stories this week.

After the excellent "All-New X-Men" #37, I was thrilled to see that this story also really delivered.  Harrison realizes that the group of hostile ships firing on them in the Endless Envelope are defending some sort of mining platforms.  What are they mining?  Glad you asked.  They're mining, as Harrison calls it, "water-bear juice."  What's "water-bear juice?"  Carol shared your confusion.  Apparently, the Envelope has creatures in it that resemble water bears from Earth, except that a liquid within them allows for travel through hyperspace.  Cap blows the mining platforms off the bears and then flies Harrison through the liquid that it poured from them, allowing them to punch their way through the Envelope.  I'm not sure that I understand it, but it's still pretty damn cool.  She also decides that she's got to play a more strategic game than the one that she usually plays (i.e., smashing stuff), so she reconfigures the guns on the ship to fire pin-point lasers.  Once they arrive at the Haffensye ship, she uses the beam to slice off the hair of the lead pirate, convincing him that he really should abandon ship and leave behind the hostages (and, most importantly, the cat).

The best part, though, is the farewell between Cap and Tic.  Tic decides to keep the ship; she and the refugees are going to take out the Haffensye to save all the refugees like her that they're using for slave labor.  As Cap and Chewie depart, Tic tells Cap that she's going to miss her, tears in her eyes.  Did I tear up a little in the McDonalds at the airport where I read this issue?  Yes, yes, I did.

***** (five of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

With "Spider-Verse" already fading into the past, Slott gives us an old-fashioned Spidey story as we kill some time before "Secret Wars."  It's honestly a nice change of pace.

The plot itself is pretty simple.  Peter is yet again scrambling to right his personal life, this time as a result of the havoc that his prolonged absence during "Spider-Verse" caused.  He assures Aunt May that he and Anna Maria are coming to dinner that weekend (while worry about finding a way to tell her that they're no longer a couple) and tries to put down the Iguana in time to make it to Parker Industries' presentation on building a new Raft.  He arrives not only in time to make the presentation, but also to tease Liz Allan about her chances of getting Alchemax the contract.  It inspires Tiberius and the Molten Man (Alchemax's "reformed" head of security") to hire the Ghost to try to take out Parker permanently, responding to an off-handed comment from Liz about Peter's ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and wishing that he weren't the competition.  Away we go!

Again, this plot feels like something that we could've read in the mid-200s of "Amazing Spider-Man," and I can't thinking of higher praise than that.  Slott also continues to keep his cards close to his chest when it comes to Liz.  Was her comment really off-handed?  Or, did she know exactly what she was doing when making that comment in front of her ex-con step-brother and ethically challenged staff member?  Slott isn't clear, and it's all part of the fun.

My only complaint continues to be Slott's portrayal of the Black Cat as a hardened criminal, as he does in this issue's back-up story.  It also doesn't help that her storyline almost exactly mirrors Catwoman's in "Batman Eternal" at this point, with both of them running their operations from an underground casino.  It's getting hard to keep the two of them straight.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New X-Men #37 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is truly excellent.

It's almost hard to remember what a character-focused story looks like for Marvel.  Looking over recent posts, it's clear to me the extent to which cross-over events have warped almost every series that I read.  "Original Sin."  "Avengers & X-Men:  Axis."  "Spider-Verse."  "The Black Vortex."  "Convergence."  "Secret Wars."  Then, you're got the high-concept events within series, like "Endgame" in "Batman" or the original X-Men's adventures in the Ultimate universe that we just had in this title.  It's almost like the one-and-done character study is a relic of the past.

But, I'm glad to say that Bendis revives it here to great success.  The relationship between Emma and young Jean is definitely the most interesting development coming from the original X-Men switching sides, and Bendis takes the time to explore it fully here.  Emma decides that Jean needs to develop her telekinesis (as opposed to her telepathy), a skill that she thinks that Xavier purposefully dampened in Jean (for reasons that she doesn't make clear).  As such, she takes her to Madripoor, strips her of her telepathy, and sends her after the Blob for selling MGH.

Jean Grey versus the Blob isn't really a battle that I would say that fans demanded, but Del Mundo makes me realize that we should have.  It's one of the most kinetic battle sequences that I've ever read.  It goes exactly as Emma planned, with Jean forced to push her telekinesis beyond its limits.  With the Blob successfully defeated, Emma encourages Jean to stop holding back her powers for fear of a darkness inside her that Emma doesn't believe exists.  Then, the walk into the sunset together, taking the long way home.

If only comics could be like this one more often...

(Also, this issue is also a great example of pet peeve #2, since it's all about Emma and Jean, but it has Bobby and Hank on the cover.)

***** (five of five stars)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Earth 2: World's End #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Jesus effing Christ, this issue is somehow the worst one yet. 

We have a moment here where the heroes of Earth are assembled one last time.  While Batman and Dick fight off the proto-demons swarming Atom's Haven and Kara, Val, and Lois soar (and presumably fight more proto-demons) in the sky, Jimmy Olsen sends Hawkgirl, Helena, Oliver, Sato, and Steel into battle against Kalibak and his troops.  (Also, the Court of Apokolips is allegedly in play, though we don't ever really see them.)  Flash joins the group, after a heartbreaking conversation with his mother where he tells her that he has to leave her to possibly die alone if he has any hope of saving her.  Similarly, the ghost of Sam tells Alan that he has to surrender his humanity so that the Parliament can take over his body fully.

(On a practical level, this moment makes little sense.  Alan has previously told us that he had used all the Parliament's powers in trying to shield Earth from Apokolips; his revival has only come through his access to the power of the Greens of the multiverse, since he was near the dimensional lenses that Sloan used to bring through all the other rescue ships.  It's also not explain why his humanity is preventing the Parliament or the multiversal Green (whichever one it is) from using his body as a tool.  (Heh.)  But, it's still the emotional height of the series, and I admit that I felt actual sorrow for Alan as he sacrificed himself to give the Parliament a chance to stop Darkseid.)

At this moment, we have the hope of a real final battle for Earth.  In fact, we even have some hope that people will survive, as Alan starts using his power to individually evacuate people.

But, then, it falls apart entirely.  Suddenly, it's inexplicably only Batman, Dick, Flash, Green Lantern, and Val facing Darkseid.  A flash of light occurs and, based on conversations that happen later in the issue, they might all die in this moment (presumably from an Omega Beam).  Meanwhile, Helena, Jimmy, Kara, Marella, Oliver, Sato, and Steel are inexplicably (again) on the evacuation ship.  Even Jay's mom is there.  Then, it's just over.  Apokolips has apparently won.  One moment, Alan is fighting Darkseid; the next moment, he's meditating to evacuate people.  One moment, the heroes are all in action; the next moment, some of them are magically on the evacuation ship and the rest are dead.  Kendra tells Jay's mom that he died a hero, they turn off the lights, and we're told to read "Convergence" #1.  It's is the worst concluding issue to an event that I've ever read (and that's saying a lot).

As I opened this issue, I was considering getting "Convergence."  "Earth 2" was my favorite series of the "New 52!" for a long time, and I feel committed to a number of characters here.  In fact, I was actually excited about "Earth 2:  World's End" ending, because we could finally get the sort of character development that we've been denied too long in this series due to the focus on the fight with Apokolips.  But, this ending is so bad that it just sapped my excitement for the entire setting.  I honestly just feel like calling it a day and saving the money.  It was that bad.  I can't believe, after six months, I'm left here.

zero of five stars

Earth 2: World's End #25 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, Kara's fight with Darkseid is pretty kick ass.  In fact, it's the only reason that this issue gets a star.  It's a wordless struggle as she just throws back everything that he throws at her, proving her assertion last issue that she really is Earth 2's Superman.

But, it's not enough to save this issue.  The authors are rushing so quickly to the end that we're skipping huge steps.  Kalibak is suddenly at Atom's Haven attacking the departing ships.  Dick has somehow found Batman, and they're firing a gun battery at Kalibak and his troops.  A four-armed woman with a head of fire appears with Earth's heroes to fight Darkseid, but I have no idea who she is.  The answer to the ship problem is pulling out the unused ships built by other Terry Sloans throughout the multiverse, a pretty simple solution that seemed evident from the start despite the authors' attempt to infuse the situation with drama.  At the end of the issue, Green Lantern appears to fly into Apokolips, where he finds Earth's heroes at Darkseid's feet, despite the fact that the battle initially appeared to happen on Earth.  (Earth appears in the background as Alan enters the gap, so it's pretty clearly Apokolips.)  If the battle did happen on Apokolips, then it's unclear how Earth's heroes made it to Apokolips.


Let it just be done.

* (one of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #24 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wait, when the hell did Dick get his kid?  At the end of issue #22, all he saw was his kid's empty sneaker, and we didn't see either him or the kid in issue #23.  After all this time searching for the brat, we miss their reunion?  Are you effing kidding me?  (Also, is he mute?  I swear he hasn't said anything in at least ten issues?)  Plus, they reunite only for Dick to give him, unknowingly, to Barda and Fury as they flee with the other women and children?  I just still have no idea where the authors are going with this story or what they want us to think.  Dick's entire storyline feels like a rejected plot from "The Young and the Restless."

Continuing, Kendra is a jerk to Flash because he wants to escort his mom onto the evacuation ships so that she actually escapes rather than dying with Earth like she wants.  It doesn't exactly leave you feeling good about Flash or Kendra, and it's a betrayal of Jay as a character, since he's been the most steadfast hero since the start of this book.  Also, Marella arrives with her people to flee and Kendra promises to help them do so, despite the fact that they don't have room.  Shouldn't she maybe have checked with Sato?  On Apokolips, Kara and Val take on Darkseid.  He removes the shield from Val's chest, which apparently leaves him totally incapacitated?  I just don't even know anymore.

* (one of five stars)

Earth 2: World's End #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, we're going to do the same thing here as I did with "Batman Eternal," because I just can't take it anymore.  All at once now!

Green Lantern is now with Kara, Lois, and Val fighting off Apokolips and uses his remaining power to blast a whole through the shield around Earth, allowing a fading Kara and Val to get a boost of power from the sun.  (Clever, Alan.  Clever.)  Jimmy apparently has all sorts of New God powers, but doesn't seem to be using them; here, he just opens a Boom Tube from Amazonia so that he and Dr. Crane (and, unbenownst to him, Barda) can escape to Atom's Haven.  Sato tells Mr. Terrific that his ship for 100,000 people needs to fit 2.5 million.  That's about it.

The one thing that I don't get, at this point, is the codex.  Thomas tells Helena that they have to keep it safe so that they can rebuild Earth if they manage to escape.  Is that the long game?  They escape, Darkseid moves onto somewhere else, and then they rebuild the planet?  I guess we'll see.

** (two of five stars)

Detective Comics: Endgame #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue isn't terrible, but it's certainly not great.

Buccellato tells us the story of Lonnie (a.k.a. Moneyspider) trying to get to his mother, a stripper working at a club besieged by both Jokerized citizens and mob hit-men.  Miraculously, along the way, he meets a trio of teens who just so happen to be superheroes in training (or something like that) and gets the help of Spoiler in infiltrating the club.  Lucky, right?  In fact, it's so wish fulfillment-y that I figured, at the end, it was going to be a dream that Lonnie had while he was in a coma after getting shot in "Detective Comics" #38.  But, no, it apparently actually happened.  (Whether this story happened before or after issue #38 is still unclear to me.)

The main point of the story seems to be a launching pad for Lonnie and these three teens becoming some sort of team.  I guess we'll see where that goes.  But, unless you really, really love Lonnie, this issue is easily skippable, since it doesn't even do a great job of giving us any insight into "Endgame" itself.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Batman Eternal #52 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Not surprisingly, for a series spanning 52 issues and an entire year, Snyder and Tynion have a lot of ground to cover here, in this final issue.  In reality, this issue is really two separate issues, the first handling the denouement of the story and the second giving us the aftermath. 

Let's start at the very beginning (always a very good place to start).  I'll admit that I was skeptical about Lincoln Marsh appearing as the Big Bad.  (We learn here that it really was Lincoln, not Hush, that Stephanie saw in the kitchen.)  It was too Gary Stu-ish, Snyder inserting his creation into a story where he didn't seem to fit.  That said, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was more or less necessary.  For all Cluemaster's brilliance in pulling together the scheme, he really did need resources to do it.  He made a compelling case last issue that all he really did was suggest that bad guys do the sort of things that bad guys do.  However, he definitely needed some seed money to facilitate them actually doing said things.  Lincoln provided that funding, something he could easily do given that he controlled the Court of Owls at that point.  You could argue over whether it had to be Lincoln, or whether any A- or B-List villain with access to that sort of funding could've filled this role.  But, in the end, Snyder chose Lincoln, and he's frankly as good of a choice as any.

As Bruce himself alludes, the fight between him and Lincoln goes pretty much the same way that it did the first time.  Lincoln monologues as Bruce dismantles his attacks.  In the end, we have the moment that Snyder and Tynion clearly view as the denouement of this series:  as Lincoln tells Bruce that his death will send Gotham into a permanent chaos similar to the one currently spreading throughout the city, Gordon flashes Bat-signals throughout the city, telling Gotham's citizens to be like Batman and save themselves.  I have to say, though, that this moment fell flat for me.  One of the hallmarks of this series has actually been how little Bruce has done.  While Batgirl, Batwing, Bluebird, Red Hood, and Red Robin have been out there saving people (as they do  here), Bruce has hid in the cave or flown to Pakistan.  He's done precious little to help Gotham; in fact, his quest to find the identity of the mastermind had more to do with his ego than it did with Gotham.  If that Bat-signal means anything, it's because of the Bat-family members' actions, not Bruce's.  In fact, combined with Snyder's theme of Batman's incompetence, you could almost read the moral of this story as:  Batman Irrelevant.  Even common citizens can do what he does now.  Maybe it's time for him to retire.

Looking to the aftermath, Snyder and Tynion leave a lot on the table.  It's still unclear if Bruce is going to get back his money.  Bard is allegedly going to tell his story to Vicky; she warns him that he'll never work in law enforcement again, but you have to wonder how he'd ever walk the streets a free man again after he was accessory to the murder of several GCPD officers.  Despite Mayor Hady a few issues ago calling Jim Gordon the most hated man in Gotham, doubting that even the truth could redeem him, it seems that all sins have now been forgiven.  Sure, he's no longer Commissioner, but how long will that last?  The only real resolution that we get is Catwoman bringing even the Penguin under her control.  (She was the boss that the Penguin mentioned as he fled Blackgate with Croc.)

Snyder and Tynion also don't focus on how the events of this series impact the Bat-family.  In fact, the only character to show any emotional arc over the course of the series is Jason.  When he thinks that he's dying, he tells the Cave that he wants them to record him, because he has to tell Bruce something.  (Boy, I would've loved to have heard that message.)  Later, he deletes a message to Babs about the possibility of something happening between them.  Other than Jason, the only hint of emotion happens when Stephanie and Tim share an awkward moment.

I was tempted to write a retrospective post, looking over this entire series.  But, honestly, I just don't care enough to do it.  When I read through my past review, I was reminded that my dislike of this series stands on pretty solid ground.  In the end, the story was just too big.  Moments like the Penguin being in Gordon's jail cell in issue #49 but then escaping on a boat with Croc in issue #50, with no explanation of how he got from Point A to Point B, were too frequent.  The story lacked any real emotional underpinning, other than the moments in this issue with Jason and a few moments of Babs coming unglued over her father's imprisonment earlier.  For the fact that this issue brings together the Bat-family after the events of "Death of the Family," you would've thought that we would've gotten some honest conversations between the team and Bruce.  But, Snyder and Tynion kept them separated for most of the series, funneling their communication through Julia.  Other than Catwoman, everyone is exactly where they were when they started.

In the end, I'm just glad to see it done.  I can't think of a better epitaph than that.

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #51 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Whether you enjoy this issue is going to depend entirely on whether you buy Cluemaster becoming a Bond villain during it.

The tension in the issue lies in the fact that Cluemaster doesn't immediately kill Batman.  As expected, he delivers his expository speech explaining how he and his merry crew of misfits came to realize that they could use Batman's obsession with his A-List adversaries to distract him while they wrecked havoc on Gotham.  Cluemaster tells Batman that he got the idea at a poker night with other C-List villains; the Joker was in the middle of launching one of his schemes, and Arthur realized that they could take advantage of Batman focusing on the Joker to pull off a major heist.  To give credit where credit is due, it's actually a pretty believable twist, to be honest.  (Look, I said something nice!)

The problem is that, as he walks us step-by-step through his plan, we never learn why Arthur did what he did.  After all, he didn't pull a heist, at least that we've seen.  The only motivation that he provides is that he wanted to show Batman that he wasn't a small fish.  But, it just seems too over the top to be believable.  He was willing to destroy Gotham just for his ego?  Are we really supposed to believe that he's that evil?  Snyder and Tynion haven't really done anything to introduce us to Cluemaster or his motivations, so it's hard to make our own judgment on that.

Moreover, this revelation speaks to Snyder's defining take on Batman, of him as an incompetent bungler.  Once Stephanie alerted Batman to the fact that her father was Cluemaster and allegedly colluding with Bruce Wayne, you have to wonder why he didn't send anyone after him.  Even if he thought that Hush was the guy posing as him (and we learn at the cliffhanger that ends this issue that it was his other doppelganger), it's pretty standard police work to go after the small fish first.  Sure, the fact that he didn't go after Arthur proves Arthur's point that Batman did consider them beneath his notice, but it does require you as the reader to believe that Arthur is actually right.  Would Bruce really ignore the C-List so entirely, even if they could offer him valuable clues?  I'm not sure that I buy that.

But, Cluemaster becomes a Bond villain not just because of his intricate scheming or excessive exposition, but because he doesn't kill Batman when he has the chance.  He even (somewhat erotically) strips Bruce of his chestplate and cowl, but doesn't kill him.  Tynion actually adds a clever twist in here, implying that Cluemaster wanted him to break free and punch him so that he could show the boys that they did really spar.  I laughed at that, because, honestly, Tynion really sold it.  But, it's the moment at the very end, when he's literally talking about the fact that he's going to shoot Batman where you have to decide if you buy it or not.  If not, this issue is just one more disappointing issue among many disappointing issues.  If so, then you're ready for the surprise.  After all, Arthur can't possibly survive knowing Bruce's identity.

Enter Owlman.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman Eternal #50 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Normally, I make my way through my backlog of comics week by week; I'll read every comic from a certain week before progressing to the next week.  I do it so that I don't inadvertently spoils something, like if I read all my "Batman" issues only to read something that happened in a "Detective Comics" issue that I haven't read yet.

But, after how horrible issue #49 was, I decided that I just need to have "Batman Eternal" done.  I'm reading these last three issues in a row and starting the process of rebuilding my life.

Based on my review of this issue and how I feel about this one, I could really just write these last three reviews as a list of incredulous questions.  Last issue, Gordon beat down the Penguin, hog-tied him, and locked him in a prison cell with him.  This issue, Gordon is alone in the cell, and the Penguin is escaping the prison on a speedboat with Killer Croc, apparently trusting Croc's "boss" (whoever s/he is) more than the mastermind.  Did Gordon let him go?  If not, how the hell did he escape?  It seems like an important detail, unless Snyder and Tynion really do want us to believe that Gordon is corrupt.  Also, Batman calls Harper by her real name in front of Mr. Freeze.  Should she just start calling him Bruce?  I could continue.

But, it doesn't matter.  We finally learn that it's been Cluemaster all along.  The man that Spoiler saw giving Cluemaster orders that looked like Bruce Wayne was, in all likelihood, Hush.  Next issue, Cluemaster will deliver his Bond villain speech when he'll chastise Batman for not taking him seriously.  Let's just get that part done, shall we?

** (two of five stars)

Batman Eternal #49 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Blah blah blah, makes no sense, is terrible, blah blah blah.  If Red Robin was sufficiently paranoid to build his own Batcomputer, doesn't it stand to reason that he would've built it in a way that he could've initiated the override that Julia did from his mobile computer?  What good is it if he has to be sitting in his Nest to do it?  Are we supposed to believe that Cluemaster is the Big Bad?  Bard is suddenly rooting for Gordon to survive the riot at Blackgate, despite being the guy that kept him in there in the first place?  The only decent part of this issue was Gordon beating down the Penguin, but even that part was too little, too late.

* (one of five stars)

Miracleman #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is actually fairly dull, despite it concluding Moore's run on the title.  Most of it is given to Miracleman's description of how he, Miraclewoman, Huey Moon, and the Warpsmiths became Earth's New Gods and took over the world.

In so doing, Moore explores an idea that many other authors have treated, when superheroes overconfidently decide that they can rule the world better than humans can.  (Mark Gruenwald's "Squadron Supreme" mini-series from 1985-6 is probably the best example of this sort of story, to my mind.)  The key to these stories is how the heroes will eventually pay for this hubris, and Moore ends his run on the series without making that clear.  We seem to have a number of spoilers in the mix, such as the program that brings back the dead in artificial bodies but keeps them locked in the basement of Olympus or the one that gives ordinary people superpowers.  It seems to be creating rivals that may one day challenge the New Gods' rule.  But, the only hint that we get that something could currently be amiss is Miracleman's confusion over the fact that Liz turned down his offer to give her superpowers.  Will this confusion become doubt, and will that doubt divide the New Gods?  I guess we'll see.

If I'm not mistaken, we've got eight issues left of the original series.  I'm excited to see where Gaiman takes us.  These last few issues, Moore has been more focused on shocking us than really telling character-based stories.  I feel like I could use a few issues where we get into Miracleman's head and hopefully Gaiman will give it to us.

** (two of five stars)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All-New Hawkeye #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At some point, I'll need to write a requiem for "Hawkeye."  Of course, it hasn't ended yet, so it makes it hard to write a requiem for it.  But, a requiem for it will come one day.  But, we're not talking about "Hawkeye" anymore.  We're talking about "All-New Hawkeye."  I'm glad to say that Lemire shows right off the bat that he understands Hawkeye ("all-new" or otherwise) by telling not one, but two quintessential Hawkeye stories in the same issue.

The issue begins at the core of the Hawkeye mythos, taking us through a moment in Barney and Clint's tortured childhood.  Various authors over the years have treated Barney and Clint's childhood in different ways.  Some show Barney as Clint's guardian from abuse, others show him as Clint's guide into manhood, others show him as playing both roles.  Most recently, Fraction focused on the way that their childhood made both boys harder than boys of their age should have to be, with Barney playing both the guardian and guide roles.  Lemire adds his own take on their relationship by reminding us that the important part is that they really were just kids.

Lemire makes it clear that he doesn't see even a regular childhood through rose-colored glasses.  Barney and Clint have the tension that all siblings have here, with Clint eager to impress Barney and Barney reluctant to let him.  Pretty much everyone reading this issue will remember childhood as it actually was, filled with fun moments of looking for frogs while at the same time navigating emotions that you're too young to control.  But, Lemire reminds us that Barney and Clint had a special kind of childhood, and they return to their foster home only to be forced to leave it as their foster father flies into a rage over an unmowed lawn.  Perhaps the saddest moment is when Pérez makes sure that we see the abandoned tub where Clint had just put the frog that he had so proudly caught, a reminder that sentimentality had no room in Clint's childhood.  In the end, they find themselves at the carnival that would change their lives.

If Clint's childhood is the sun of Hawkeye's solar system, then ol' fashioned adventure stories are the inhabited planet that revolves around it.  Here, Clint and Kate, the tension between them apparently forgotten, have agreed to take out a HYDRA weapons cache for Maria Hill.  Pérez pays homage to Aja here, but it's still all him.  (In fact, it's amazing to watch him go from the wispy water colors that he used for the childhood scenes to the more cartoonish HYDRA scenes.)  Clint and Kate's battle through a never-ending series of HYDRA henchmen is beautifully drawn, full of great angles and fluid energy.  (I'd be remiss not to mention Herring's vivid colors here.)  Moreover, Lemire shows that he knows how to script a hilarious sequence, as Clint and Kate argue and tease each other in the face of danger.  It's unclear what Kate finds at the end here, but I'm excited to read next issue to get the answer, the first time that I've been able to say that about a Hawkeye comic in a long time.

In other words, this issue isn't as mind blowingly awesome as "Hawkeye" #1.  But, given how disappointing that series was, partially as a result of the weight of the expectations that came with launching with that sort of issue, I'm happy that it isn't.  Lemire tells the perfect Hawkeye story, evoking all the feels and smiles that come with such a story.  After where we've been, I'm thrilled to be in stable hands for where we're going.

**** (four of five stars)