Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy #27 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Against all odds, Bendis manages to move the Guardians to a new status quo just in time for "Secret Wars."  Although he does it just in this issue, it really works in a way that feels organic and not like he's rushing to meet the deadline imposed on him by the editorial staff.

Kindun the Living Planet attacks Spartax because he followed the intergalactic news coverage of the Guardians' arrival there and he apparently hates Gamora.  (If we could've used any more details here, it would've been a little background on Kindun, since I didn't recognize him at all.)  Gamora convinces him to leave Spartax, but she also realizes that she has to leave the Guardians to take out Thanos, since she'll continue to put them at risk until she convinces the galaxy that she isn't his Thanos' loyal daughter.  (Peter and Rocket have a hilarious bit about how putting each other in danger is their "thing.")

Although it happens quickly, Bendis really manages to convey a lot of emotion here.  For example, I choked up a bit when Gamora told Peter that she couldn't imagine having to tell Groot that she was leaving.  Plus, I though that Kitty's response was really excellent.  She comforts a distraught Peter by telling him that the X-Men often had members leave to address personal problems; it's the nature of the game.  In a way, she's telling Peter that he has to acknowledge that the Guardians have become something more than they were, no longer just a band of misfits that found each other.  Along those lines, Peter now just has to decide if he wants to be President of Spartax...

As should become clear from the last few reviews that I've posted, this issue is just one of many that involves the authors preparing for the coming of "Secret Wars."   The quality of those stories have varied, with some authors doing a better job of clearing the decks than others.  (You really have to wonder how much notice they were given.)  However, it's clear how little we know about the future of all these series, once "Secret Wars" ends.  Although Bendis does a great job here, the fact that none of these moments -- Gamora's heartfelt farewell or Peter's ongoing indecision -- might matter when the dust settles certainly reduces their impact.  It's hard to get too sad when it seems just as likely that Gamora will be on the team, with no explanation, after the event ends.

If nothing else, I hope Marvel commits to putting these sorts of cross-over events on hiatus for a while to let us get used to whatever new status quo we're going to face.  I'm certainly tired of investing in stories only to find an author forced to compress three issues into one to meet some sort of hastily announced deadline.  Again, Bendis does a great job with what he has here, but you have to wonder what he could've done otherwise.  The motto really has to be, "Let the authors tell the stories."  One day, hopefully that'll be true.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Verse #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I mentioned in my review of "Secret Wars" #2 that Hickman took a matter-of-fact approach to Battleworld in that issue, with only Dragon Man expressing the sense that it might not be what it seems.  However, Costa makes it clear that some people do have the sense that Battleworld might not be real.  Spider-Gwen realizes that she's theoretically deceased in this world, and Anya, Indian Spider-Man, and Spider-UK all discuss a nagging sense that something is wrong.  Costa holds out the possibility that the four of them are able to sense reality due to their connection to the Web; in fact, Indian Spider-Man used this connection to track down Anya and Billy in the first place.  Moreover, they're not from the Marvel or Ultimate Universes, meaning that they might be able to see through the ruse more easily.  (Costa does probably have to explain why they're here in the first place.)  I guess we'll see where we go from here.

*** (three of five stars)

Bloodshot Reborn #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I didn't realize last issue that the fake Bloodshot that shot up the theater may have had the real Bloodshot's nanites in him.  Unfortunately, the title page spoils this revelation by telling me that, rather than letting me find out myself on the first page.  Hello, pet peeve #1.  It's been a while.

Ray can apparently sense the nanites, allowing him to head straight to the killer.  Lemire doesn't tell us how he can sense them or even how they still exist after Kay purged Ray of them, but I'm sure that we'll get there at some point.  After Ray kills him and re-absorbs them, he finds that he's still in control.  Moreover, another fake Bloodshot opens fire, this time at a mall.  It implies to me that the nanites might be spread across several killers, and Ray is going to have to go killer-to-killer to collect all the nanites.  But, the open question is whether he'll still be in control when he completes that task.  Meanwhile, a group of "True Detective" archetypes are on the trail of the killers, meaning that they'll likely run into Ray soon.

This series continues to be different from any other one that I'm reading.  It's really a welcome addition to my pull list.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Uncanny Avengers #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this series just continues to bum me out.  Each issue reads like it was written by a committee of editorial staff members implementing the Front Office's war with Fox and not by the guy currently writing "All-New Captain America."

This issue brings us the details of the ret-con of Pietro and Wanda's birth, alleging that the High Evolutionary kidnapped them, genetically engineered them, and then returned them to their parents.  The Evolutionary himself provides this history, though he elides over important details, like why he chose them in particular or why he gave them the powers that he did.  (Wasn't he at the time simply creating New Men from animals?)  All we do learn is that he learned from the mistakes that he made in creating them and used that lesson to create Luminous.  Given that Luminous is likely to join the trash heap of forgotten characters used to ret-con an established character's history, it's small comfort.

Meanwhile, the High Evolutionary ("High") is in the middle of his war with the Low ("Low") Evolutionary, and I still couldn't tell you anything about Low.  Remender keeps presenting him like we should know more about him, but I'm honestly at a loss.  All I know is that he finds High reprehensible.  I guess that's enough for a battle in comic books.

This series is the only one that I'm glad to see ending with the coming of "Secret Wars."  Hopefully it'll give Remender some time to get his head in the game as editorial interference moves elsewhere.

** (two of five stars)


Seriously, HERE BE SPOILERS!  In fact, this review is pretty much the definition of HERE BE SPOILERS!  Consider yourself duly warned.

This issue was as great as I expected it to be.  I forced myself to read it slowly, so I didn't just rush to the end to find out the identity of the new Thor.  It's worth reminding yourself to do that, because Aaron and Dauterman really deliver a crackerjack story.

First, Aaron makes you wonder why Marvel keeps giving Hickman event stories, given how beautifully he handles the multitude of heroes that appear in this issue.  He not only manages to get across their distinct personalities in their brief moments of dialogue, but he also has them interact in a way that reminds you why people read event stories in the first place.  They want to see their favorite characters interact in a way that they haven't seen before.  We're often disappointed with these stories, usually because the authors fail to find a way to manage all the characters.  But, Aaron really succeeds brilliantly in doing so here.  For example, he uses the existing relationship between Carol and Jessica as a proxy for the reader; they discuss Thor's secret identity, and Aaron makes it clear that it's the answer to that question that clear drew everyone to the battle in the first place.  But, he also gives us glimpses into new relationships, such as Sif asking Thor if pig-headedness comes with Mjolnir or if it is an innate characteristic of Thors.  (Heh.  Sif would know.)  Meanwhile, Dauterman makes it all just beautiful and stunning, as some of the most powerful figures in the Marvel Universe try to put a dent in the Destroyer.

But, Aaron and Dauterman remind us that they aren't just good at action scenes.  I waited with baited breath as Odinson spoke with Thor.  It's a fraught and quiet moment, with Odinson pledging to tell Thor all his secrets, including the words that Fury spoke to him, if she just reveals her identity to him.  (I'm starting to wonder if the secret isn't that he isn't Odin's son, meaning that Thor has to discover his own worthiness, something that the current Thor did on her own.)  Aaron conveys strong emotions as Thor struggles under his imploring (and, let's just admit, damn sexy) gaze.  She's (hilariously) saved by Roz Solomon appearing, ruining Thor's list and amping up the anticipation of the eventual revelation as we find ourselves back where we started.  When it comes -- and we learn that Thor is Jane Foster -- it's the perfect end to a great issue.

But, the revelation that Thor is Jane doesn't mean that all our questions are answered and we can just close up shop.  We still don't know why Jane decided to take up the hammer or how she's managing to hide from Odin.  I'm also not sure if her cancer pre-existed her taking up the hammer or if possessing the hammer caused it (as she seems to imply when she said that it's killing her).  Also, Freya finally seems to have lost her patience with Odin, and it seems an open question where they go from here.  That answer obviously has implications for all of Asgardia, Odinson and Thor included.

Of all the series that I'm loathe to see go on hiatus for "Secret Wars," this one is probably it.  We better resume exactly where we left, Marvel, or there'll be hell to pay!

**** (four of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Come baaack!  I only want to eat you!  It won't hurt!  I promise!" -- Tempest to Miguel, unconvincingly

Miguel is in free fall, with Tempest in pursuit above him, as he contemplates the events of the last few moments.  He is convinced that the cure that he administered to Tempest last issue worked, since she no longer has cancer, but wonders why she's turned into a spider-wasp.  He hypothesizes that it may have been a result of carrying it through dimensions and/or time (as he did in "Spider-Verse") or that Tyler Stone may have tampered with it.  Whatever the answer, he pledges that it's the last time that he brings something from the future to the past with him, though admits that this promise might be premature, since he might not survive for a next time to happen.  Miguel attempts to get Tempest to remember who she is, but instead she...emits some sort of tentacle from her mouth.  They crash onto a news helicopter, and Miguel uses the moment to knock Tempest off him.  He then dives to the ground, hoping to put some distance between them to think.

He heads to Central Park, since he realizes that he doesn't have to worry about her attacking anyone else (since she only wants a spider).  He calls up Lyla and asks if she still has access to Alchemax files in her memory.  She confirms that she does and he asks her to find out how they managed to restructure someone DNA simply by using a formula.  (Meanwhile, Tempest is searching for Miguel and encounters a police officer.)  Lyla informs Miguel that it is impossible to change someone's DNA from just one injection; at most, they could only be temporarily transformed (possibly to ascertain how a future long-term change might affect them).  Miguel asks how long the change persists, and Lyla says that it lasts anywhere from six minutes to six hours.  At that moment, Tempest appears with the cop in her clutches, threatening to kill her unless he surrenders to her.  The cop tells Miguel to let Tempest kill her since the city needs him more.  Miguel asks where she's been hiding, "considering all the hits cops have been taking publicly lately."  He tries to reason with Tempest, but she demands that he choose.  He then grabs the cop's gun and fires at Tempest, realizing that he exoskeleton will protect her from the bullets, but the impact of the bullets will keep her off-balance.  With the cop safe, Miguel then pushes Tempest into the lake.

Under water, Miguel realizes that Tempest's wings do her no good.  He tries to find a way to knock her unconscious, but he's at a disadvantage, since Tempest is trying to kill him while he's trying not to hurt her.  She eventually overpowers him, and, as she's choking him to death, he tells her that he's Miguel.  She expresses surprise, giving him the opening to knock her unconscious.  He observes that he'd leave her to drown if he had any brains, but acknowledges that it's actually common sense that he's lacking.  On land, the cop has radioed for help and tells her colleagues that she didn't get a look at the face of the guy that fired at her.  However, Miguel surfaces at that moment, and the cops pull their guns on him.  He's holding Tempest, and she suddenly reverts to her human form, sufficiently freaking out the cops.  Rather than heeding the cops' instructions to release her, Miguel flees and heads to Tempest's apartment.  She awakens as he's fixing her window, and he tells her that he gave her the cure for the cancer but that something unexpected happened.  She thanks him for curing her and tells him that she doesn't remember anything.  He leaves, wishing her good night, and she responds to the closed door, "Good night, Miguel."

The Review
As the "Summary" shows, this issue is remarkably single-minded:  Miguel has to keep Tempest from killing him long enough for her mutation to fade.  Uncharacteristically, David advances no other story or sub-plot:  Miguel deals with Tempest and then goes home.  The only event of real significance is Tempest learning Miguel's identity.  However, with the series ending for "Secret Wars," it's unclear how significant that this development really is.  Unlike every other "last" issue that I've read so far when it comes to "Secret Wars," the letter column implies that this cancellation may actually be permanent.  I'm concerned in part because David doesn't really leave too much on the table here.  The only ongoing sub-plot is Miguel's attempt to identify the threat that turns his world into the Maestro's world.  But, it seems pretty easy to argue that said threat happened during "Secret Wars."  David could wrap up this last loose end in "Secret Wars 2009" and then return Miguel to the future, bringing his story full circle.  I'm hoping that it doesn't happen that way, but I'm afraid that it will.

The Unknown
Miguel asking Lyla if she still had access to the Alchemax files in her memory seemed to refer to an event in the past, but I didn't recognize it if it does.

The Bad
1) David doesn't really give us any information about why the formula that Miguel administered to Tempest transformed her.  Miguel has some theories, but we never learn one way or another if he's right.  In fact, it appears that the purpose of the drug wasn't to cure cancer but to temporarily transform someone to allow scientists to study the impact of said transformation.  Did they discover that it cured cancer as a side effect?  Also, did they know that it would transform the recipient into a spider-wasp, or is it possible that Tempest could've transformed into something else?  I get that we can't know everything, but I was definitely left unsatisfied by how little information that we were given here.

2) Can you really knock someone unconscious underwater?  We're supposed to believe that Miguel lands some sort of devastating punch on a startled Tempest, but I'm not sure that it's physically possible to do that in water.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Legendary Star-Lord #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite the title, Star-Lord doesn't appear in this issue at all.  (I honestly can't remember where we left him at the end of last issue.  Isn't he trying to escape his responsibilities as newly elected President of Spartax?)

Instead, Victoria takes center stage (literally) as she successfully convinces the Collector to surrender J'Son's fossilized body so he can face justice for his crimes.  Bendis uses the conversation as an opportunity to show us how cold J'Son was to Victoria during her youth, so it's no wonder that she seems particularly committed to fulfilling her task.  But, we eventually learn that her real aim is swiping the seed of the next Supreme Intelligence, something that she plans to keep from the Kree so that Spartax can invade it while it is in disarray.  Meanwhile, J'Son appears to have some of his own tricks up his sleeve, so he may not be facing any sort of music on Spartax.

Bendis leaves open the question of who's pulling Victoria's strings.  She seems to be acting on behalf of the Spartax government, but it's still unclear who they are.  Is she working for the people that we saw trying to convince Peter to take the throne in "Guardians of the Galaxy" #26?  Is she working on her own and plans to install herself as leader of the Kree?  Or, is it someone else entirely pulling her strings?  Hopefully Bendis'll get a chance to let us know after "Secret Wars."  If he doesn't, it's going to make "Secret Wars" feel like "Flashpoint," where we all expected to return to regularly scheduled programming after it concluded but DC changed its mind mid-way through the event.  I'm still holding out hope that Marvel learned from DC's mistake.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain Marvel #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't have much to say here, given the onion-chopping ninjas distracting me right now.  But, DeConnick proves once again that she's a master of characterization, since Tracy's good-bye letter to Carol (particularly the last part) reminds you just how much you knew about her.  It reads exactly as you'd expect it to read, and it's really a marvel that it does, since it shows how invested DeConnick has made us in Tracy.  As I've often said, Carol's supporting cast is one of the best things about her, and DeConnick reminds us of that here.  Now, I've got to get rid of these ninjas.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Wars #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised with this issue.

First, Hickman lays out a fairly easy-to-understand status quo in the opening pages.  We learn that Doom has somehow created a new world from the remains of the Earths of the Marvel and Ultimate Universes.  He's divided them into kingdoms, and each one has a baron (such as the Braddocks in Higher Avalon and Hyperion in Utopolis) that rules it  Moreover, Doom has created a squad of police consisting entirely of Thors to make sure that no one breaks the rules or asks too many questions.  After all, he presents himself as the God that created this world, even though some inhabitants (like Dragon Man) suspect that the world isn't a naturally occurring one and other inhabitants (like James Braddock) are actively working against his rule.  

But, it's really the tone that Hickman strikes that makes this issue as interesting as it is.  The original "Age of Apocalypse" was infused with tension because the entire point of the story was the X-Men's frantic attempt to bring back the original timeline.  Conversely, Hickman spends this issue exploring the mundane reality of this world, called Battleworld by the hoi polloi.  In so doing, he conveys the sense that virtually everyone accepts Battleworld as being the "real" Earth.  Moreover, he sets up the various cross-over issues that seem to be the main point of "Secret Wars."  I'll admit that I've read few events that set up the tie-in issues to tell such unique stories, rather than simply presenting off-stage asides to the main event.  Hickman makes it clear that a lot of stuff is happening on Battleworld, and I actually find myself excited to start diving into the tie-in issues.

That said, we still have a lot of questions.  We don't know how Doom created this new Earth, and we don't know if he's actually aware of the existence of the previous worlds (though he appears to be).  We're also left with questions of how Battleworld works.  For example, it's unclear how it could have as many legitimate Mjolnirs as the size of the Thors Corps implies or how it brought back previous eras, such as the "Age of Apocalypse" or "Inferno."  But, Hickman will clearly get there.

Finally, I've never heard of Esad Ribic before, but he's amazing.  He really makes you feel like you're taking a tour of this world, doing a great job of conveying both intimate details (such as the look of wonder on the new Thor's face) as well as the grandeur of Battleworld (like the horror of the denizens from the other side of the Shield).  It's great stuff.

Look at that:  I'm starting to get excited about this event.  Go figure.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Gwen #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I've never read Ultimate Spider-Man, but I think that I have a better understanding of the allure of the Ultimate Universe as a result of this series (just in time for it to be destroyed).

Latour continues to use Peter's origin story as inspiration for Gwen's own story, as we hit a number of familiar steps in this issue.  But, he's also taking advantage of the opportunity to depart from "canon" where it works for the story.  The most obvious examples of that are putting the story in a modern time frame and getting to re-imagine certain characters.  (I feel like we're getting to know Uncle Ben for the first time, since Latour isn't treating him like a saint that has to teach Peter a lesson in every appearance.)  Regarding the latter, it means that he also gets a chance to make Gwen's relationship with these characters different from Peter's relationship with them.  Here, he corrects one of the most problematic parts of Spidey's original history:  Aunt May's dislike of Spider-Man.

At the end of last issue, it felt like Latour was going to beat the well trod path of having Aunt May hate Spider-Woman.  After all, she had even more reason to hate her than the original Aunt May did Spider-Man:  whereas "our" May didn't know that Peter (and, by extension, Spider-Man) was indirectly responsible for Uncle Ben's death, Gwen's May certainly knows that Spider-Woman was involved in Peter's.  But, Latour doesn't make May as simple as that.  In an amazing seven-page (!) conversation, May makes it clear that she blamed Spider-Woman for Peter's death immediately after it happened because she needed to blame someone and JJJ, Jr. was sticking a microphone in her face.  Latour uses the scrapbook of clippings of Spider-Woman that she and Peter kept as a vehicle for May to have continued to pay attention to Spider-Woman.  This attention allows her to realize that Spider-Woman was actually helping people.  It's a beautifully crafted scene, particularly because Latour also works in May commenting on Peter not being "well" for a long time.  May makes it clear that Peter wasn't just imitating Gwen because he was tired of ridicule and wanted to escape into a fantasy; he had actually crossed the line into mental-health issues that compelled him to do what he did.  (Latour really makes it seem like Peter would've been the villain of the story if he had survived, and it's a shame that the story itself precludes the possibility of us getting to see that.)  Moreover, May encourages Gwen not to hide in her grief, sending her (thankfully) into the arms of the Mary Janes.  It all sounds too easy and convenient, but Latour really makes it feel like the logical outcome of the conversation that they have here.  Moreover, in terms of Spider-Man's mythos, it corrects, in a way, May's portrayal as a hysterical widow, turning her into a grieving woman with complicated emotions (or, in other words, a human).

If it's not clear from this review, I continue to think Latour is just doing an amazing job here.  Moreover, Rodriguez continues to kill it.  The splash page with the images from Aunt May's scrapbook imposed on Gwen's face?  Amazeballs.  Every issue, my anticipation for the next one grows.

**** (four of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to had it to Slott that he manages to resolve a number of outstanding plot issues before the launch of "Secret Wars" without making this issue feel rushed at all.

The action in this issue revolves around Spidey's fight with the Ghost as he also tries to save the people inside Parker Industries.  But, the real focus is Peter's relationship with his supporting cast, and Slott really delivers some great moments along these lines.  I loved Clayton getting a chance to prove himself, using the sonic technology on Spidey's stealth suit to shock the Ghost corporeal and opening up a window for Anna Maria to use flaming webs to restrain him.  (I'll admit that I don't really remember why Peter developed the flaming webs or why they were necessary here.  Anna Maria hypothesized that the Ghost could feel heat, so she chose them to use against him.  But, once he was corporeal, any ol' webbing would've done in terms of restraining him, wouldn't they?  But, I'm not too fussed, since, after all, it gave us the moment where Anna Maria rode into the fight on the Living Brain's shoulders.)

With the Ghost handled, Peter, Sajani, and Anna Maria have a come-to-Jesus moment.  Sajani is furious with Peter for keeping secret the fact that he was still designing Spidey's technology and for overruling her in deciding to take the prison contract, since both decisions may ultimately have doomed Parker Industries.  However, Anna Maria admits to Peter that she and Sajani have been working on the nano-technology, and she encourages an outraged Peter to remember the feeling that he has in that moment, when he realizes that someone that he thought that he could trust has lied to him.  Emphasizing her point, Peter pledges not to keep any more "important" secrets from them, but Sajani dismisses this vow, accurately suggesting that Peter'll decide what secrets are sufficiently important for him to keep.  Parker Industries then collapses around them, forcing Peter to give a not-so-convincing speech that the people, and not the building, constitute the company.  (Someone in the crowd notes that, even with the insurance money, they'll still be where they were before the first day, and another stresses that Peter designing tech for Spidey will always put them at risk.  Obviously I wasn't the only one not convinced.)

Finally, in the epilogue, the Black Cat sets her former penthouse ablaze, with all the valuable bought from auctions -- along with Jay, May, and the heiress that we saw last issue -- inside it.  Peter arrives just in time to save them, but the story provides two important hints about where Slott is going in the future.  First, Peter suggests that the Cat has lost her mind, possibly due to some sort of unanticipated impact of her bad-luck powers.  Second, May tells Spidey that his rescue reminded her how many times that he's saved her and her nephew and informs him that she would allow Peter to design for him again.  It's an interesting development, in part because it really heightens Peter's dilemma.  He's got free rein from May to design Spidey's tech again, but it's Peter's connection to Spidey that causes his colleagues at Parker Industries to worry.

In other words, Peter's life is a familiar mess.  His responsibilities as Spider-Man once again threaten his professional life.  His personal life is non-existent, though he gets a modicum of relief here as May gives him some breathing space in terms of his relationship to Spider-Man.  Even his costumed identity isn't going well, as he watches a former ally fully embrace a life of crime (whatever her reasons).  In fact, without Anna Maria, all aspects of his life would be in totally shambles.  Thinking more about that, I'm starting to wonder if Slott isn't relying too much on Anna Maria to solve Peter's problems, as she does here not only in smoothing over Peter's fight with Sajani but also in making sure that he's able to preserve his secret identity by getting him his civilian clothes.  I get that she's becoming his Girl Friday, but she's really becoming his Girl Monday though Friday.

Looking ahead, I could really use an issue where Peter takes stock of his life.  Slott's greatest weakness in this series has been his inability to see Peter as a serious person and not a perpetual optimist.  I could use a story similar to the ones that we used to see in the 200s era, with Spider-Man webbing around Manhattan to clear his head as he contemplates his life.  (Maybe it's just because Gerry Conway is back.)  I'm not sure if Slott is ever going to deliver that to us, but it would be interesting to see Slott stretch himself in that way.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Secret Wars #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I...dislike Jonathan Hickman.  I've previously said that I feel like his writing style is intentionally obtuse, like he writes a script and then randomly deletes 25 percent of the words to make it appear more "deep" and "mysterious."  I stopped reading "Avengers" and "New Avengers" because it felt more like I was reading outlines for plots than I was reading stories with characters.  I'm sad to say that this issue is no different.

I'll admit that it starts out OK.  I read enough of "Avengers" and "New Avengers" to know about the incursions, and Hickman makes it sufficiently clear in the first few pages that we've gotten to the point that the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe are the only ones left.  The Ultimate Reed Richards gets the Ultimate Nick Fury to send the Ultimate Iron Man against the heroes of the Marvel Universe, though he doesn't let them know that they're really a distraction so that he can have more time to...do something.  (It's never really clear what that something is, but we'll get to that.)  Meanwhile, the Marvel Fantastic Four are preparing an escape shuttle* so that the human race can survive if the heroes lose.  (This part, I don't get.  If the Marvel heroes lose, as I understand it, the Ultimate Universe will be the one to continue to exist; as such, humanity will continuity to exist.  It's just the Marvel Universe's humans that won't exist.  I get that Reed might want to save them, but I don't get where exactly they're going to go.  Is he planning on taking them into the Ultimate Universe?  If not, won't they just die with all the other people in the Marvel Universe?)

Unfortunately, the wheels fall off the bus quickly.  As someone that stopped reading "New Avengers" at issue #8, I get that I might be a little confused about the Avengers' status quo.  But, I read a lot of other Marvel comics, so I really shouldn't be that confused about the other heroes'.  Unfortunately, I am.  First, the Guardians of the Galaxy are inexplicably on Earth.  That part is easily explained, since it's not that much of a stretch that they'd come to Earth to help and it wouldn't take them that long to get here.  But, Cyclops is head of something called Nation X, he's controlling Sentinels, and he's in possession of a Phoenix Egg.  When exactly did that happen?  Honestly, I felt like I had somehow missed six months of comics.  I almost stopped reading the issue to check.

But, it's not just the lack of coordination with other series that starts to derail the story.  It's also that Hickman characteristically stops making sense.  With Ultimate Iron Man defeated, Ultimate Richards reveals that he was just a stalling tactic and launches a fleet of ships to attack the Marvel heroes.  I feel like we're supposed to be more in awe of them than I am, since Richards alludes to the fact that he's been manufacturing them in secret all this time.  To me, they're just futuristic fighter jets piloted by humans.  What's the big deal?  But, they suddenly start defeating the heroes, even though no one really explains why they would be powerful enough to do so.  It makes Marvel Reed Richards panic, so he uses Manifold to teleport heroes onto his escape shuttle and they depart as Earth apparently begins to fracture.  The ship then loses part of itself (and Sue Richards, her children, and the Thing in process), and we're left with a devastated Marvel Richards telling us that he believes in nothing.  Cue the page that says that the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe are both dead.

At this stage, it's unclear where we go from here.  My hope is that the Hickman phase of this story is done, given that we have no more incursions left to witness.  If he stays, we'll at least move to Battleworld and he'll be forced to give us a fresher concept.  But, my real problem right now is that it all still feels forced.  It's like Marvel's editorial staff decided to go with Secret Wars to bring the Ultimate Universe to a close, but they couldn't figure out a way to launch it that didn't involve exactly the same premise as the first "Secret Wars," with the Beyonder just kidnapping everyone.  It's like someone just interjected, "Hickman is destroying universes.  Why not just let him destroy both of them?"  It feels like it could've just as easily been the Black Vortex bringing everyone to Battleworld as it was the incursions.

[Sigh.]  I'm going to try to be optimistic that the tie-in series are at least good...

** (two of five stars)

* "Secret Wars" #0 (a.k.a. "Free Comic Book Day (Secret Wars) (2015)" #1) details how the Future Foundation kids constructed the escape shuttle while Reed and the Illuminati focused on trying to prevent the incursion.  It's not exactly an essential read, but, if you're interested, at least it's free.

Free Comic Book Day (Avengers) (2015) #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Unlike "Divergence:  FCBD" #1, this issue doesn't really do much in terms of the larger events in the Marvel Universe.  It (presumably) gives us a glimpse of the Avengers team that forms after "Secret Wars," since Miles Morales now appears to exist in the mainstream Marvel Universe.  But, it's mostly just a cute romp, with the senior Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Vision) using an unexpected attack by Radioactive Man to impart some wisdom on the new recruits (Ms. Marvel, Nova, and Spider-Man).  Nova is still as annoying as ever, but I'l admit that I could handle him better since Miles serves as my proxy by expressing a similar annoyance at him.  Unfortunately, it's only a few pages long, since ten pages of this issue is dedicated to the effing Inhumans.  I'm going to continue my practice of totally ignoring their existence in defiance of Marvel's efforts to make me care about them, though I'll acknowledge that they dragged down my rating of this issue.

** (two of five stars)

Divergence FCBD Special Edition #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Dan DiDio and Jim Lee promise in the introduction to this issue a re-imaging of DC's major characters, striving to "preserve what makes our characters so iconic while never being too precious of the mythology for fear of chaining down our characters."  It's a high bar, and we'll see if they get over it in the coming months.  I'm going to focus on the Batman and Justice League stories here, since I really know nothing about Superman.

The Batman story is a prelude to the next era of Batman.  Snyder makes it clear here that he plans to stick with this idea that Bruce died fighting the Joker.  If we hadn't just gone down this road a few years ago, maybe I could muster more excitement about it.  After all, Snyder stakes out some pretty interesting territory here.  Some unknown minor company named Powers International has bought the remains of Wayne Enterprises, and its CEO builds a suit for Commission Gordon to become the next Batman.  This development certainly does play with major aspects of the mythology, along the lines of DiDio and Lee's comments.  While the funding from Wayne Enterprises certainly facilitated Bruce having the tools that the needed as Batman, Batman was never a corporate symbol, like Iron Man was for Stark Enterprises.  In one fell swoop, Snyder has not only made Batman an extension of a corporation (with unclear motivations)  but also as a tool of the police (and no longer a vigilante).  I'm certainly intrigued to see where Snyder takes that, and I'll give him credit for not telling exactly the same story that Morrison did when he killed Bruce.  In fact, an open question here is whether the Bat-family even has any connection to Batman at all at this point.

That said, though, it's hard to say that it feels fresh.  After all, Snyder initially made his mark on the Batman mythos by brilliantly chronicling Dick's struggle to fill Bruce's shoes.  In other words, Snyder isn't only telling a story that Morrison already told; he's telling one that he himself has also told.  It's why Bruce's "death" in issue #40 felt anticlimactic in the first place.  All comic-book deaths seem meaningless at this point, but Bruce dying twice in seven years just seems like overkill.  (Heh.)

Plus, the story carries with it a number of original sins from weaknesses of previous stories.  First and foremost, I'm still confused by Bruce's somewhat unhinged decision to kill the Joker and himself in that cave in "Batman" #40, since it still seems like he had other options.  Moreover, Wayne Enterprises was bankrupted because Bruce was too careless to diversity his holdings, something that didn't make sense when we first learned about in "Batman Eternal" and doesn't make any more sense now.  We also just resurrected Damian, but it's par for the course for Snyder to deny them time together, since he's always seemed to be bent on making sure that the family never stayed intact.  Finally, as the Justice League story later in this issue makes clear, Bruce doesn't seem to be dead for the Darkseid War, something that presumably will last more than a handful of issues.  As such, it's going to be hard to buy the mourning for Bruce in the Bat-titles when he's hale and hearty in "Justice League."

But, I'm willing to give Snyder a shot.  I can't say that I've really been a fan of his run on "Batman" (as I was on the one in "Detective Comics") but I haven't hated it either.  I'll say that I'm much more excited about the upcoming Darkseid War in "Justice League."  Johns reveals that Darkseid's daughter, Grail, was born to an Amazonian assassin on the same night as Diana on Themyscira.  The assassin vowed to protect her daughter, hiding her birth from Hippolyta and escaping with her.  We don't learn why the woman had the child with Darkseid or why she and her daughter now want to kill him.  But, this story does exactly what it's supposed to do, make you eager to keep reading.  It really amped up my excitement for the "Darkseid War," despite the fact that I'm a little over him after "Earth 2."

I have to say, this issue was really critical for both "Batman" and "Justice League" readers.  I give a lot of credit to DC for using the "Free Comic Book Day" event the way that it was meant, pulling in new readers and getting existed ones pumped for where they're going.  If you haven't read it, you should really do so, particularly since it's free!

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Avengers #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The story in and of itself is fairly simple:  Vladimir explodes onto the portal into Tlön, creating a black hole that somehow destroys the portal and, in Hawkeye's words, "reverse-swallow(s)" everything.  World saved!  I will say that I'm still not 100 percent clear on the role that the "imaging a better world" bit from last issue played in this ending.  Later in this issue, M.O.D.O.K. makes it seem like Maria's ability to imagine just such a world actually saved the day, but I'm not sure how it did.  Didn't Vladimir do it by closing the portal?  What else had to be done?

But, it doesn't really matter all that much, because this issue (and, maybe, this series) is really about Maria and her feels.  She realizes that her hateful behavior in the past made her the ideal medium to serve as the portal for "horrifying things from another dimension."  In fact, Kot makes it pretty clear that Maria had become overwhelmed with her job because she had started seeing horrifying things everywhere.  However, when she stared into the void that came when she served as the medium, she went beyond scared and realized how many possibilities lay in that nothingness.  She's on vacation now, because she realized that she needs to learn how not to see the good possibilities (and not just the horrifying things).

Honestly?  I totally, totally feel Maria.  She fucked up a lot of stuff, and maybe she did because she just couldn't handle the void anymore, and, again, I totally, totally get that.  It doesn't excuse her behavior, but it helps me understand it (and her) a lot better.  Hopefully we'll see her and the other Avengers when they've had some time to rest, because I'd like her to get a shot of redemption.  Given how much I had come to dislike her character, it's really a testament to Kot that I feel this way.

I'm not the greatest non-linear thinker; in fact, sometimes I worry that this entire blog is an extended rant about continuity.  But, I realized reading this issue that I don't really care about continuity at all.  It's just a proxy for whether I feel like an author is treating the character and material with respect.  Kot did that here, even though he didn't give us answers to all our questions or endings to all our stories.  In fact, I feel like the whole point of this series is that the answers don't matter as much as asking the questions.  (You could see Maria becoming comfortable with the void as Maria becoming comfortable that she doesn't have all the answers.)  In other words, Kot brought such care to the story that we didn't need to be constrained by continuity or reality for it to be great.  I can't think of a lot of authors that could manage to do that in this medium, so I really applaud Kot for doing it here.  I'm going to miss this series a lot.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Captain America #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I really wanted Remender to stick the landing on this arc, but I'm not sure that he did.  Let's get right to it.

First, this issue revolves around Sam trying to disarm the bombs that Zemo has placed on Baron Blood without getting so close to Blood that he can infect him.  Remender uses flashbacks to remind us how important having a family is to Sam, and I have to say that it really amps up the tension as the story unfolds.  It also makes it all the more heroic when Blood does infect Sam, since Sam had no choice but to get close enough to stop him.  This part was totally fine.  Remender effectively pulled at the heart strings while Immonen delivered a masterclass in drawing aerial combat.

The problem isn't just that Remender almost immediately undoes this development; the problem is also that the undoing itself makes no sense within the confines of the story.  When Ian insisted to Zemo that the Avengers' scientists could undo the sterilization, Zemo tells him that they can't, because the serum actually rewrites the victim's DNA.  (I have to say here that Zemo's sarcastic retort -- "If only I had known!  The Avengers have scientists!" -- is the issue's obvious highlight.)  However, Misty simply injects Sam with the antidote that she swiped off Viper, and Sam is cured.  How does that work?  Does it re-re-write his DNA?  I thought that the whole point of the HYDRA leaders taking the antidote before infecting the rest of the world was to prevent the re-writing of their DNA in the first place.  In other words, it didn't work once you were infected, so you had to be immunized against it before exposure.  Moreover, I can't imagine how the antidote could retroactively restore Sam's DNA.  Even Zemo admitted that it was impossible.  Remender might give Sam his happy ending here, but it comes at the cost of undermining his sacrifice in a way that makes no sense.

But, this development isn't the issue's only surprise happy ending.  Redwing has apparently survived Blood's attack, though it appears that he's now a vampire?  I assume that we're going to learn that the Avengers' scientists have a cure for vampirism lying around the lab.  Or, maybe we're just going to ret-con that in "Secret Wars."  At least he's not dead?

Second, Remender has to stop killing Ian.  Seriously.  It's the third time that he's killed him, and the second time in just six issues.  It's totally lost its impact.  I think he's officially died more than Jean Grey has.

Third, I have to say that I feel like Remender has raised Sam's parents to nearly mythic levels of goodness.  When a grieving Sam asks his mother why his father had to intervene in the altercation that ended up killing him, she scolds him with a speech so dripping with earnestness that it defies belief.  Remender similarly presented Steve's mother as a saint, constantly reminding us of her exhortation for Steve to always "stand up."  But, at some point, someone has to have some human emotions here.  Sam's mother can't take a moment to acknowledge why a young Sam would feel the grief that he feels, but then stress the importance of moving past those feelings to honor his father?  She just launches into lecturing him about how noble he should be, as if it were that easy (or that they should all just be sacrificing their lives willy-nilly for the greater good?  It's a little too much.

Finally, I'm not sure where we're going with Misty.  I mean, color me intrigued, definitely.  But, if she didn't work for SHIELD (and, as such, SHIELD didn't send her to save Sam), why did she get involved?  Or, put another way, how did she know to get involved?  The easy answer is that she's HYDRA's mole in the Avengers, but it doesn't really make any sense.  She knows that Sam would know that she didn't work for SHIELD the minute that he was debriefed, so it seems unlikely that she would risk getting caught in a lie by claiming that she did.  Plus, why would she want Lucas?  Does she want to sterilize something?  Again, I'm intrigued, but I'm still worried that the answer to the mystery isn't going to make any more sense than the rest of this issue.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Convergence #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'll admit that King and Lobdell do a better job than I thought possible wrapping up this story.  It's not perfect, but it's not as terrible as it could've been either.

Thanks to the convenient arrival of Waverider, the heroes learn that Brainiac can (magically) absorb some of the temporal energy that Parallax unleashed when he killed Deimos.  To that end, Waverider frees Brainiac, though the heroes still view him as a threat.  But, Brainiac reveals that he wants to help.  After he survived Flashpoint, he traveled the multiverse to collect knowledge, but he fell victim to the crises and they apparently turned him into the monster that he is now.  (Yeah, I don't get it either, but let's just keep going.)  He reveals that he wants to become who he was before he was corrupted.  He plans to use the temporal energy to send everyone home, because it will reset the multiverse (I think).  However, the first crisis proves "too strong," so he sends back a pre-Crisis Flash, Supergirl, and Superman (along with a redemption-seeking Parallax) to stop the multiverse from collapsing in that crisis.  They succeed off-page, and Brainiac is able to reset the mutliverse.  We learn that each world has now evolved, but they still exist.  The exception is Earth-2, but, as a parting gift, Telos shifts the abandoned planet to the Earth-2 universe after Brainiac strips it bear.  Brainiac was apparently suppressing the Green on Telos; with him gone, Alan is able to regrow the world.  He also hears the evacuating ships' distress signal, now allowing for Telos the planet to become the New Earth 2 (while Telos the person searches for his family and people).

This ending obviously has several implications.

First, Earth 2 is now reborn on its own planet.  This development is huge, since it basically rejects the outcome that "The New 52!:  Futures End" and "Earth 2:  World's End" predicted, that the survivors would re-settle on the New 52!'s Earth.  In fact, earlier in this event, it seemed like the outcome was going to be the Earth 2ers becoming the winning "society" and surviving Brainiac's experiment.  In a way, it is actually the outcome, even though it doesn't happen through gladiatorial competition.  Moreover, it's more uplifting than we probably had any right to expect.  King and Lobdell purposefully seem to downplay some of the darker elements, such as the possibility that Dick's son was either dead or in the hands of a villain; he's seen excitedly telling a nice-looking woman on the deck of an evacuation ship that he knows that his father is alive.

Moreover, it seems unclear where we are now with "our" Earth.  I really know nothing about the various crises, but, if the first crisis didn't happen, it seems like it should have a profound impact on the current universe.  That said, though, it's impact would still be filtered through the impact of Flashpoint, so it's definitely unclear to me how much DC is going to use this event to rewrite its past and present.  Is it "Flashpoint" 1.5?  I guess we'll see.

In the end, it was an OK ending to a terrible event.  I could dwell on all the outstanding questions and bizarre twists, like the fact that we still don't really know why Brainiac created Telos in the first place or the fact that Deimos wound up being a totally inconsequential part of the overall story.  But, in the end, I'm just glad that it's done in a way that (finally) brings the story revolving around the destruction of Earth 2 to a close.  I'll consider it a win, even if it was a win in a game that we didn't have to play in the first place.

** (two of five stars)

Convergence #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, let's just get it done here.

The battle royale is under way when Yolanda (conveniently and inexplicably) realizes that Deimos holds the power of death and that he's afraid of Telos.  She concludes that he organized this battle to create more death and thus more power for him.  This revelation gives the super-villains pause, since Deimos probably isn't going to honor his promise of turning over Telos to them if they win.  Telos arrives, and they engage in a scuffle.  However, Hal Jordan (I think the Parallax version of him) grows bored and destroys Deimos.  Telos reveals that Deimos' absorption of the Time Masters' powers meant that he had full control over the past, present, and future (though he didn't yet realize it), meaning that Hal essentially destroyed reality in destroying Deimos.  On cue, reality begins to crumble.

It's really hard to tell where we're going here.  This entire event is like the "Age of Ultron," where we're so far from the original premise that it's hard to know what story the authors are telling.  Where's Brainiac?  What's happening in the cities on Telos?  What did Deimos want?  It seems unlikely that we're going to get answers in the last issue.  (Two stars is probably a gift, but after giving this series and its tie-in issues so many one- and zero-star reviews, I'm feeling guilty.)

** (two of five stars)

Convergence: Batman: Shadow of the Bat #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

"But I've punched out more people than you've kissed" is a phrase that Batman utters in this issue.  It's probably all you need to know about it.

Hama follows in Simone's footsteps in "Convergence:  Nightwing and Oracle" #2 and keeps this issue primarily focused on Azrael and Batman's battle with Wetworks.  But, for an action-oriented issue, it's excessively wordy.  At some point, Hama just seems to be proving that he knows a lot about ships and weapons; the characters pretty much just talk about where they are and where they're going throughout the issue.  When the end finally comes, it doesn't off much in the way of resolution.  Azrael miraculously convinces the leader of Wetworks to join Batman in an attempt to take the battle to Telos, though they're just likely to be part of the scenery in the fight that I expect we'll see in "Convergence" #7.  That's it.

To be fair, Hana is really the only author that I've read that makes his characters confront the citizens of the other city, the one whose champions that they're trying to defeat.  (Azrael and Batman are aided by a woman whose son they saved.)  But, again, the narration is just too much and the event just too lost.

* (one of five stars)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Convergence #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

King abruptly shifts direction here, confirming that the focus of the superheroes' battle has changed from Telos (and, to a lesser extent, Brainiac) to Deimos.  Given the fact that the original plot wasn't all that interesting, it might actually be a good move.

The confusing part about this issue is that the superheroes and super-villains are suddenly wandering the world.  It took me a minute to realize that it's because the domes have been dropped, so everyone can interact with one another now.  It sets up a battle royale after Deimos promises the super-villains control of Telos if they win.  We still have no idea what Deimos wants, but at least the art should be interesting next issue.

Meanwhile, Dick finds Telos and convinces him to help the superheroes win so that he can find his family and people (assuming that Deimos knows where they are).  It's a solid option for Telos, but I still don't understand what the Earth 2 heroes think is going to happen.  Dick says that they would be returned to their worlds, but the whole point of this event is that the cities come from destroyed worlds.  They should actually be fighting for control over Telos, just as the super-villains are, since it's the only viable option.

Oh, did I mention Telos is inserting itself into the DCnU?  It is.  I don't know what it means, but I guess I should mention it.

** (two of five stars) 

Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Probably not surprisingly given the characters involved, Simone delivers the best "Convergence" tie-in issue (in fact, probably the best "Convergence" issue) that I've read.  She does it by keeping her focus on the matter at hand -- the battle between Barbara, Dick, Hawkman, and Hawkwoman -- while also remembering that the whole point of this event is indulging in some nostalgia for departed characters.

First, as I said, the battle is pretty solid.  A lot of other battles that we've seen in the tie-in issues have involved all sorts of complicated politics as the heroes try to avoid having to kill anyone to satisfy Telos' demands.  In fact, the first issue of this series suffered from exactly that problem, as the Hawks tried to force Babs and Dick to accept their rule to save their Gotham.  But, Simone keeps us on familiar territory:  Dick negates the Hawks' ability to fly with his acrobatic skills, and Babs turns their own technology against them.  It's much better than Stephanie convincing Catman to surrender in "Convergence:  Batgirl," or Bruce, Damian, and Jason fighting some nobodies in "Convergence:  Batman and Robin."  When the victory comes, it actually feels like one.

Along the way, Simone also remembers to make it about Babs and Dick.  It obviously helps here that Simon knows the characters so intimately; it avoids creating the sort of uncharacteristic outpouring of emotion that we saw from Batman in "Convergence:  Batman and Robin" #2.  When they wed at the end of the issue, it feels real.

Interestingly, the wedding opens up a question that has been in the back of my mind throughout this event, but that I hadn't fully formed yet.  It takes places at some point after the pair's victory over the Hawks, implying that some period of time passes between when the champions win their fights and Brainiac or Telos activates the next phase.  If it were a real competition, this next phase would be another round of fights, but, given that each mini-series is only two issues, we know that's not going to happen.  As such, it implies that something happens in the main title to prevent Brainiac or Telos launching the next round.  But, since we haven't really heard anything about the competitions in that title, it's still unclear what it could be.

But, hey, I think three stars is the highest that I've given to any "Convergence" issue, so I'm just going to take the win.

*** (three of five stars)

Convergence: Batman and Robin #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, this issue reads like it was written by a ten-year-old.  Batman suddenly declaring that he loves Damian?  Batman morosely musing about the impact that the loss of his father had on him (and his rude dismissal of the role that Jonathon Kent played in Superman's life)?  Jason actually thanking Damian (all because he prevented him from falling off a rooftop, as if Jason couldn't find a way to stop his fall on his own)?  It was all just so awkward and stilted.  Plus, I have no idea who they're fighting.  Are they bad guys on their own world?  Are they good guys forced to fight Batman because of Telos' competition?  Marz never says.  Trust me that it's awful and save yourself the money.

zero of five stars

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Convergence: Batgirl #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

On the (very limited) plus side, we get some more information about Catman and Grodd in this issue.  Catman was in Gotham to find weapons to fight Grodd, and Grodd had followed him there, when the dome fell.  Grodd lost his super-powers, turning into a regular ape.  Once Telos lifted the dome, he regained his powers and went after Catman.  The two of them were fighting in Gotham when the globes transported them to the desert arena.  The part that I still don't get is why Catman told Stephanie that he was fighting her as a delaying tactic last issue.  I originally thought that he was colluding with Grodd to save his/their city, but it's clear from this issue that it wasn't the case.  But, I guess that I'm not going to get any more clarity on this front.

On the (very significant) negative side, this issue is quite simply a mess.  Tim suddenly starts acting like an ape, a continuation of his weird behavior last issue.  However, amazingly, Kwitney never explains why Tim started acting this way.  Worse, the conflict gets resolved when Stephanie convinces Catman to lose.  Catman agrees because he lost everyone that he loved back home.  I get that he doesn't feel like that city is his home anymore, but he's really willing to kill off everyone else in that city without a second thought?  Plus, his actual city is Cape Town, not Gotham, so it doesn't really matter anyway.  Is he essentially committing suicide?  After all, if he and Grodd are really returning to Cape Town, as he says at the end of the issue, then they're returning to a world on the verge of destruction.  Is he really ready to so willingly embrace that?

I could continue, but I won't.  The only reason that I'm giving this issue one star is that the final scene between Stephanie and Tim -- where they can't have sex because they're both too bruised -- is cute.  Otherwise, I'm planning on forgetting about this mini-series as soon as I can.

* (one of five stars)

Convergence #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I've decided to do what I did with "Batman Eternal" and "Earth 2:  World's End" and just read everything at once so that I can be done with it.  Here we go.

I honestly have no idea how we get to where we are at the end of this issue.  At the end of last issue, it appeared that Deimos was planning on freeing Brainiac to get power as a reward.  It wasn't clear why he wanted that power and what he was going to do with it, but it seemed to be the deal.

However, in this issue, it's totally unclear why he summoned Brainiac.  He clearly swiped enough power from the Time Masters to hold off the Wonders and Warlord, so it seems unlikely that it was just for power.  His only interaction with Brainiac is to taunt him by revealing Telos' origin:  he was originally a man who agreed to serve Brainiac if he spared his family and people, not a planet made sentient (as he believed himself to be).  But, King doesn't explain why (other than taunting Brainiac) Deimos decided to return Telos' memories to him or why he summoned Brainiac in the first place.  In fact, both actions seem to undermine Deimos' position.  The Wonders now consider both Brainiac and Telos as viable (if troubling) options to defeat Deimos, whereas they were previously on their own.  Given that Deimos is now trying to unite the cities under his leadership, it seems beyond foolish to throw a bone (or two) to the rebels.  (Also, I should mention that we never learn why Brainiac is imprisoned in the first place.)

I could continue, but let's stop there.  Only three more issues...

* (one of five stars)

Justice League #40 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As I've probably mentioned a few times here, I don't really think of myself as a reader DC comics; I think of myself more as a reader of Batman comics.  Plus, I only really started consistently reading Batman four years or so ago.  As such, I'm really not familiar with all the various "crises" that DC has used from time to time to clean up its multiverse.

The good news, though, is that Johns is familiar with these crises, and he does an excellent job of using this issue to introduce them to us.  He uses Metron (the DC equivalent of a Watcher, as I understand it) to review their history and let us know that the repeated collapses and births of reality that they've caused threaten existence itself.  We learn that, in the past, he's been willing to break his non-interference vow to save reality.  For example, he engineered a pact between Darkseid and the Highfather to end war between them, since it threatened reality at that time.  (Actually, I wasn't 100 percent clear on this part.  I think that he's saying that a war between Apokolips and New Genesis would've destroyed reality, but it's also possible that it could've just somehow interfered with his ability to perform his duties.  I may need to do some Wikipedia research on this front.)

Now, Metron wants to engineer another pact to save reality.  He worries that the Anti-Monitor (apparently the cause of the original crisis) is once again going to try to destroy the Justice League's universe, as he did the Crime Syndicate's Earth.  (I'm not entirely clear on why he hasn't destroyed the Crime Syndicate's universe as well as its planet.  Also, we learn that his destruction of their Earth apparently opened the hole in the multiverse that Brainiac is exploiting in "Convergence," but Johns doesn't explain exactly how that happened.)

Surprisingly, we learn that Anti-Monitor was Metron's predecessor, but, somehow, became a destroyer as opposed to an observer.  Metron makes his offer to the Anti-Monitor:  he'll put aside observing to find a cure for the Anti-Monitor (so that he's no longer a destroyer) if he agrees not to destroy the Justice League's universe.  He tells the Anti-Monitor that he has foreseen that his path will bring him in conflict with Darkseid.  However, the Anti-Monitor has a surprise up his sleeve:  Darkseid's daughter (whoever she is) blasts Metron from his chair, and the Anti-Monitor reveals that he actually wants a war with Darkseid, implying that it'll save him.

For long-time readers of DC, this issue was probably super dull, but I have to admit that it really helped me.  I understand the basics of the crises better than I did, and I'm really ready to fully engage with the upcoming "Darkseid War."  I haven't been this excited about "Justice League" in a long time.

**** (four of five stars)

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

This issue starts out better than its siblings, but it collapses into inanity at the end.  Plus, it suffers the original sin of all the "Convergene" books, since the rules of the "game" at the heart of the event are neither clear nor consistent.

Initially, Wein does a solid job of delving into the impact that the "dome" has had on the two worlds that he examines here:  the pre-"Flashpoint" Earth 2 and the "Red Son" Moscow.  His exploration of the Red Son's world is the best, as a powerless Superman becomes increasingly desperate to hide his weakness from the people that he rules.  (I keep forgetting that the domes magically rob metahumans of their powers.)  His Earth 2 is a little weaker, with Dick oddly indifferent to the presence of the dome in way that Wein doesn't explore as fully as it probably merits.  (He seems to want us to think that Dick has a reason not to be affected, but it isn't really all that clear.)

But, the wheels fall off the bus when the dome is removed and the two sides come into conflict.  Wein portrays Helena as a hysterical woman jeopardizing the attempt by Robin and Superman to work out a deal.  (Dick even calls her "impulsive" at one point.)  It's not just the passive sexism of this portrayal that I found problematic.  Helena is also uncharacteristically dumb.  Her "plan," such as it is, is just to fire larger and larger explosives at Superman, despite the fact that she surely knows that anything without kryptonite isn't going to be effective.  Plus, she's not just "impulsive," but also inconsistent.  Just after Telos' speech, she expresses disbelief that he wants them to casually commit murder, but then she pretty easily embraces exactly that position when they confront Superman.

I have no idea why I'm still reading any of these stories.

** (two of five stars)

Convergence #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We begin the issue by learning that Telos believes that Brainiac ordered him to set the cities against each other, though it appears that Brainiac may have intended that process to take several eons and Telos has decided to complete the "experiment" in just a few days.  Although this information might give us a little more clarity on the overall plot, it still doesn't explain why Telos decided to accelerate the timeline.

In his long stretches of exposition (occurring as part of a conversation with a paralyzed Dick), Telos keeps referring to the "society" that will emerge victorious.  Given that the new Earth 2 series is called "Earth 2:  Society," is it a foregone conclusion that the Earth 2 heroes will "win" this contest?  Seemingly supporting that possibility, Deimos refers to them as the original heroes reborn; allegedly, it's why they're at the center of the "convergence."  I'm not really sure why we would need this event just to send them to the DCnU, since it's pretty clear that the other survivors are headed there, but I'll reserve judgement until the end.

Speaking of the heroes, they decide to help Deimos attack the Warlord here.  Although they realize the errors of their ways once Deimos disappears after they make it over the gates, you have to wonder how King expects us to believe that they were so trusting.  I get that they're in a bad spot, but they're literally supporting the first person that they met in the conflict.  No one thought that it may be a bad idea until Deimos disappeared?  It's not like Deimos even fooled them with a complicated story; he basically just told them that the Warlord was the bad guy.

The issue ends with Deimos revealing that he's a dark mage, but stressing that his goals are still the same as the heroes'.  He uses the powers of the "Time Masters" to summon some sort of portal to where, we learn, Brainiac is imprisoned.  (It's unclear how or why he was imprisoned.)  Brainiac promises to give Deimos anything that he wants if he frees him, though it's unclear what it is, exactly, that Deimos wants.  Does he want to rule Skararis, even if it's a dying city on a dying planet?  I guess we'll see.

I'm really just trying to grin and bear this series.  I'm at least engaged with the fate of the Earth 2 heroes; I can't imagine how awful it must be if you didn't read "Earth 2."  One more issue down, four more issues left.  Maybe something'll make sense at some point.

** (two of five stars)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Star Wars #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron really starts to hit the gas here, and, man, I'm excited.

First, we begin to get a better sense of the larger setting.  The first three issues were more or less a self-contained story that felt like a missing action scene from "The Empire Strikes Back."  It hinted at some of the larger dynamics at play after the destruction of the Death Star, but Aaron primarily kept the focus on the action.  In comparison, this issue is more like a lost plot scene, as Aaron establishes the status quo for the characters.

First, we learn that Jabba the Hutt has been supplying the Empire with equipment in its fight against the rebels.  It's not exactly an Earth-shattering revelation, since I assume that a lot of folks like Jabba were supplying the Empire.  These scenes are fun just to see Jabba expertly tweak Vader over the destruction of the Death Star at the hands of someone that he keeps insisting is just a boy.  More importantly, though, we learn that Jabba has also provided Vader with a Wookie bounty hunter with a "simple enough" mission and another bounty hunter looking for Luke.  (It's implied that Boba Fett is this other bounty hunter, after he shakes down some Rodians at the end of the issue as he searches for information on Obi-Wan.)  Even curiouser, we learn that Vader hasn't told the Emperor that he's using the bounty hunters, for reasons that Aaron doesn't identify here.  But, it's clearly why Jabba appears able to talk to Vader in a way that few can, since he has some actual leverage over him.  

Moreover, Luke isn't the only one attracting the interest of bounty hunters:  the Rodians previously encountered a pretty brutal one dressed like Leia in "Return of the Jedi," raising the possibility that it's where she originally swiped the suit.  This bounty hunger is looking for Han, saying that s/he "owns" him.  Has she picked up Greedo's mission after HAN SHOT FIRST?  I guess we'll see.

Meanwhile, the Alliance isn't maybe doing as well as the first three issues led us to believe.  Leia is pushing Admiral Ackbar and Chancellor Mothma to allow her to press the attack on the Empire while they're got them hurting.  But, Ackbar stresses that their limited resources have to be focused on protecting the fleet, and Mothma notes that not everyone on Leia's team might be ready for another fight.  Proving her point, Luke leaves the Alliance to go to Tatooine to find himself.

The fact that Luke goes to Tatooine is clearly the surprise, since, if you know anything about the movies, you likely initially concluded that he was going to Dagobah.  It's here where Aaron really surprises us, reminding us how many stories that he plans on telling before we get anywhere near the start of "The Empire Strikes Back."  He's probably going to have to do a lot more of that in the coming months, until we don't open every issue waiting to see the Battle of Hoth unfold before us.

**** (four of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #26 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I wasn't a real fan of "The Black Vortex."  I mean, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't really all that good, either.  It also left us with a number of odd changes in the status quo, such as the cosmically charged Gamora and Kitty, the destroyed Kree and (apparently) Skrull empires, and a newly engaged Kitty and Peter.  In this issue, we add another development to this list:  confirmation that Peter is king of the Spartax empire.

Happily, Bendis really manages to sell it.  Sure, it's an insane premise, but Bendis actually presents it in a way where you wonder if it might not stick.  For example, the Spartax delegates that Peter encounters not only convince Peter that he could keep the Guardians on board as an advisory council, but they also make pretty persuasive arguments that he could a lot more good leading a resurgent Spartax than he could railing against the system.  (One of them even notes that his attachment to his rebellious nature is a pretty immature life philosophy.)  But, Bendis also doesn't make it all that simple, since it's pretty clear that these two delegates could be motivated by more than just the best interests of the Spartax people.

But, before we can get any answers, a magical light appears around Spartax.  Off the top of my head, it seems that it could be Thane (since it has an amber glow), but it could also be the start of "Secret Wars."  I guess that we'll see.  I hope it's the former, because, if it's the latter, it'll mean that momentum in this series is once again disrupted for a bound-to-be-disappointing cross-over event.

*** (three of five stars