Monday, July 20, 2015

Korvac Saga #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So far, the "Secret Wars" tie-in series have fallen mostly into one of two camps:  either an extension of a story previously told assuming a different outcome, like "Inferno" or "X-Tinction Agenda," or a completely new story using familiar characters, like "A-Force" or "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows."  This one falls into the latter camp.  In fact, Abnett probably takes the best advantage of anyone of the opportunity that "Secret Wars" provides him by presenting an impressively original story here.

We learn that Michael Korvac and Simon Williams are the barons of two neighboring domains, the Forest Hills and the Holy Wood.  (Just these names alone are almost too clever.)  The (original) Guardians of the Galaxy (led by Major Victory) serve as Korvac's guardians, and the Avengers (led by Captain Marvel) serve as Williams'.  Williams is coming to the Hills on a state visit to negotiate a security and trade accord just as the Guardians come across the seventh person infected by "the Madness," a disorder that causes them to ask where the stars are as they begin to remember the pre-Battleworld reality.  The latest victim is Emil Blonsky, and the Guardians are forced to kill him when his disorientation turns him into the Abomination (as it has previous victims).  Starhawk and his protégée, Geena, are working to solve the problem, and Starhawk underlines the stakes:  the greatest crime on Battleworld is heresy, and, if Korvac cannot combat it in his own domain, Doom will send the Thor Corps to purge Korvac and the Guardians.  Meanwhile, Williams arrives and makes it clear that he plans on shenanigans as he whispers to Korvac that he's not there to sign an accord.  To make matters worse, Michael's wife, Carina, begins showing signs of the Madness as the issue ends.

We have a lot to unpack here.  First, I'll say that I had the same problem here as I did with "Squadron Sinister," where the exact nature of domains and provinces are unclear.  If you look at Marvel's Battleworld map, this series takes place in a domain called "The City."  As such, Korvac and Williams' "domains" appear to be sub-domains within the larger one, though Abnett doesn't clarify that.  At some point, it would be nice for some to clear up these definitions.  On the plus side, though, this confusion doesn't weigh down the issue like it did "Squadron Sinister."  Abnett makes the political realities abundantly clear, as the charismatic Williams seeks to expand his power at a time when Korvac is already weakened.  To make matters more interesting, Carina asks Michael about his mental health earlier in the issue.  She's referring to how tired he is, though it raises the possibility that he might be unstable like the original Korvac.  (Plus, sleep disturbance is apparently a symptom of the Madness.  Is he also affected?)  Finally, it's interesting to me that Starhawk doesn't realize that they're stuck in a world created by Doom.  He is after all the One Who Knows.  I wonder if that won't come into play at some point.

In other words, Abnett has really managed to present a fully realized world in just one issue.  It's an impressive feat and really continues Marvel's impressive streak when it comes to these tie-in series.

*** (three of five stars)

Infinity Gauntlet #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Weaver and Duggan somehow manage to give us more information in this issue but leave us knowing less.

The main event here is Anwen's mother, Eve, turning the entire family (including Zig-Zag the dog, thanks to the intervention of Anwen's sister Fayne) into Novas.  Anwen's father, Menzin, objects, arguing that the girls aren't soldiers.  But, Eve argues that he can no longer keep them safe without powers.  Menzin doesn't exactly agree, but the girls happily accept the powers.  En route to the Nova base, Anwen reveals in passing that she found a "glowing rock" on a dead Nova, and Eve quickly identifies it as the Mind Gem (not the Reality Gem, as I first thought).  The Gem comes in handy when the family is attacked by bugs, since Eve is able to use the Gem to convince them to leave.

It's here where it gets odd.  The family arrives at the Nova base to discover it destroyed.  Eve reveals that they are now the last Novas and that the Novas had been in possession of another Gem, but someone stole it.  The thief is revealed to be Star-Lord, and, though he hoped that the Novas had all the stones, he tells Gamora that he's happy to sell this one.  Meanwhile, in "the future," Thanos fights an empowered Anwen, and we learn that he's apparently killed the rest of her family.  However, he disappears before she can kill him.  He reappears...somewhere...and tells another version of himself that it "happened the same way, once again."  This version pledges to "try harder," but the defeated Thanos destroys him and announces that it's time for a new strategy.

OK, obviously, I have several questions.  First, it's still unclear to me if Eve isn't a figment of the Mind Gem's imagination.  She's acting particularly cold, casually dismissing both the death of her father and the risks to her children becoming Nova, and it seems odd.  Moreover, Anwen herself mentions during the battle with the bugs that none of it feels real, like she's imaging it.  Obviously, I raised an eyebrow at that point.  In addition, Eve's disappearance seems to make less sense.  After all, Eve had gone into "space" to fight the bugs, but Weaver and Duggan remind us that "space" is still on Battleworld.  It's here where the constraints of the "Secret Wars" concept are the most evident.  The family can easily fly to the Nova base, and it raises the question why Eve, if she had really been alive all this time, never stopped to see how the family was doing.  After all, she would've always been on Battleworld and specifically in New Xandar; it's not like she would have to come from another galaxy or something.

In other words, Weaver and Duggan do a good job of keeping us engaged.  It's clear that they're telling a broader story than the one that we've seen so far.  Plus, the family continues to feel like a real one, full of arguing and squabbling but also pulling together.  Again, I really hope that we see them after "Secret Wars" ends.

 *** (three of five stars)

E is for Extinction #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although Burnham does his best, this issue did little more than remind me how unlikable all the characters from the Morisson era of the X-Men were.  It's oddly Emma, Logan, and Scott -- three of the most unlikeable characters in 2015 -- that provide the emotional core of this issue, as they struggle with their waning powers.  Meanwhile, the brats that Morisson introduced -- Angel, Basilisk, Dust, and Quentin -- have thrown in their lot with Magneto, becoming the dominant X-Men team.  Scott seems determined to dethrone Magneto, though I'm not entirely sure why.  After all, Magneto has renounced his segregationist ways, successfully convincing humanity that mutant abilities are simply a genetic advantage, like being good at math.  (I loved Beast essentially running a fertility clinic.)  Sure, he and the brats kill people on occasion, but his school is clearly the wave of the future.  Scott seems more motivated by a need to find faded glory than anything else.  I'm giving this issue two stars, but it's really a comment on Morrison than it is Burnham.

** (two of five stars)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grayson #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Díos mío.  That splash page.  I not only wanted Dick Grayson in that suit, but I wanted that suit!  (Also, him looking me in the eyes and asking if he's straight?  King is really just screwing with me at this point.)

Seeley gets right to work here.  In the wake of her murder of Minos (at least, to her mind), Matron has established herself as the head of Spyral.  We still know little about her or it, so it's unclear how she was able to establish herself as such so easily.  But, her colleagues seem to accept her, as do the international spy organizations that approach her at the start of this issue.  They call her to Brazil to bring to her attention that all the spies involved in the missions that lead to assembling Paragon would up dead.  We're supposed to believe that Dick did it, since they were beaten to death with sticks, but, as Helena herself says, it's too easy.  (The organizations order Helena to do something about it, since the killing of the spies broke the rules of the spy game.)

Meanwhile, Dick and Agent-1 have broken into the Prado to attend an event and swipe a necklace containing a Kryptonian crystal that could reveal everything about Superman.  Despite orders not to engage, Dick charms the bearer with a dance and swipes the crystal off her at some point during a dip.  During his flight with Agent-1, Helena warns Dick that Agent-1 might be the assassin, so Dick knocks him unconscious and hides.  When the real assassin appears to take out Agent-1, Dick also knocks him unconscious, leaving Agent-1 to explain why he's lying next to an unconscious man to the arriving authorities.

This issue is really a joy and not just because Dick looks so amazingly pretty during it.  We see Dick handle the mission on his own terms, using his...ahem...assets to full effect.  Moreover, Seeley leaves all sorts of new questions unanswered.  Dick was embedded in Spyral to help prevent it from revealing the identities of Earth's metahumans, but Matron sending him and Agent-1 into the field to protect Superman's secrets implies that this mission may have changed.  That said, the issue starts with Dick pleading with Bruce to allow him to come home.  It's clear that he's been forced to do things that are bringing him past the point that he can live with himself, so it seems unlikely that he's just going on missions that help him to protect his friends' secrets.  Plus, we still don't know what motivated Minos (though it's unclear if we're ever going to get an answer to that) and what Agent-Zero is doing.  (I re-read issue #8, and, given that Lois Lane has revealed Superman's identity to the world, are we supposed to believe that she really was Agent-Zero?)

Anyway, it's another great issue filled with intrigue and wit.  I'm glad to see Dick not getting embroiled in Gordon-as-Batman story, since Seeley does so much more interesting stuff with him here.

**** (four of five stars)

Batgirl #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Fletcher and Stewart do a great job here of not just taking the change in Batman's identity in stride, but actually using it to further an ongoing sub-plot of this series, namely Batgirl's tension with Commissioner Gordon (a.k.a. Babs' tension with her father).

Fletcher and Stewart have Gordon out himself to Babs here, and it raises a number of issues for Babs.  First, she has legitimate concern over her father taking on the role of Batman.  As she knows firsthand, being a cop is one thing, but being a superhero is another.  But, beyond just her concern, it also amplifies her guilt over the fact that her father doesn't know her identity.  She comes close to tell him here, but he interrupts her before she can, telling her that the Powers That Be have decided that one of his responsibilities is taking down costumed vigilantes.  Now, she's really stuck.  To make matters worse, this directive sets up the end of this issue, as Batman announces that he's going to arrest Batgirl.

Again, I'm impressed by how well Fletcher and Stewart use this change in the status quo to further a story that they were already telling.  These sorts of changes often throw a monkey wrench in affiliated books, but the authors handle it really beautifully.  Moreover, Gotham seems to have a distinct lack of costumed vigilantes at the moment, so it's pretty clear that Batgirl is going to be at the top of Gordon's list.  I'm excited to see how that develops.

*** (three of five stars)


When I started this issue, I didn't expect to be reading a police procedural.  But, it's exactly what we get here, and it's a good thing.  If Aaron decides that he's done with comics, he has a future writing for "C.S.I."

The Ultimate version of Thor, known as Lief, and Beta Ray Bill are investigating the fifth in a series of murders spanning several domains.  As they examine the body, they learn that Odin has declared it an "Allthing," meaning that all Thors are put on the task of solving the mystery.  Lief and Ray have no leads until Throg (the frog Thor that serves as the Thors' lab technician) reveals that they're all versions of the same woman.  (I was particularly pleased with this revelation, since it's really the first time that a "Secret Wars" issue has addressed the fact that multiple versions of the same person exist throughout Battleworld.)  Lief goes through mission-persons reports while Ray goes to talk to a contact who reveals himself to be Loki.  The Thors recognize Ray's clap of thunder, and they follow it to the source, discovering him dying in the alley where he encountered Loki.  Ray tells Lief that the woman is Jane Foster (dun-dun-DUN!) and then dies.

Seriously, I loved this issue.  I really don't have much to say about it, since it was solidly written and just a joy to read.  We still don't know why someone is killing Janes, whether Loki killed Ray, or how Ray actually got Jane's name, but Aaron is clearly going to get there.  In the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy the unexpected journey to that point.

**** (four of five stars)

Squadron Sinister #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Mark Gruenwald's "Squadron Supreme" mini-series from 1985-1986 remains one of my favorite stories to this day.  It's downright Shakespearean, exploring a full range of moral quandaries that superheroes face.  Gruenwald shows how quickly heroes can become villains when they begin to view themselves as better than civilians, and I'm hard pressed to think of comic that ends as tragically as issue #12 does.

Guggenheim does a great job here of recreating the rivalries and tension that led to that tragedy.  We learn that Squadron Sinister is in the process of annexing its neighbors, defeating other versions of the team each time.  However, they're not the unified front that they publicly appear to be.  Both Nighthawk and Warrior Woman are working to undermine Hyperion, the baron of Utopolis, though we're not yet privy to their motives.  Moreover, Iron Thor pays a visit to express concern over the pace of the annexations, only to appear dead in Hyperion's bedchamber later.  In true Shakespearean fashion, it's pretty clear that we've got a number of players engaged in shenanigans here.

Unfortunately, Guggenheim never really gives us a clear picture of the setting for these shenanigans, making it hard to appreciate them.  To continue the Shakespeare theme, it's like reading "Henry VI" without knowing the difference between England and France.  The main problem is that Guggenheim doesn't make clear the difference between a province and a domain on Battleworld.  For example, we begin this issue with the Squadron annexing Supremia Province and end it with the Squadron defeating the heroes of the Shadow Province.  However, both these provinces appear to be within the domain of Utopolis if you look at Marvel's Battleworld map.  They're definitely not neighbors; the map shows that K'un Lun, King James' England, Doomgard, Higher Avalon, and Weirdworld surround Utopolis.  As such, are we seeing Hyperion consolidate his power in a way that leads to the situation that the map already describes?  Were these provinces previously independent domains eventually brought into Utopolis by the Squadron?  Is that why each "province" has its own version of the Squadron?  Again, it's not a moot point, since this series so far is all about these power relationships.

Although I thought that Guggenheim did a great job making these characters feel like real people full of flaws and insecurities (just like Gruenwald did in the original series), this lack of clarity on the political situation distracted me throughout the book.  I found myself in desperate need of some sort of map or cast of characters so that I could understand the players in this drama better.  Hopefully it'll get clearer next issue.

** (two of five stars)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bloodshot Reborn #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Although this issue follows roughly the same format as last issue, with Ray tracking down and killing the nanite-infested killer, it gets significantly darker.  First, Ray is forced to kill the killer with his bare hands, making it the first death that he truly feels (since the nanites numbed him to his previous kills).  Moreover, the shared nanite connection means that Ray gets to know his victim intimately, seeing his life through his eyes.  The combination leaves him understandably shaken.  To make matters worse, he realizes that five other people are in possession of the nanites while also coming to the conclusion that Kay is right about the fact that he's the only one that can handle them.  However, since Ray refuses to open his file, we still don't know if it's why Project:  Rising Spirit chose him to be Bloodshot in the first place.  At any rate, it sets up the possibility that he's going to have to kill five more people to prevent them from going on the type of killing sprees that the first two "victims" did.  Complicating matters even further, his former landlady recognizes Ray's image from the security camera at the store where he bought the gun, and the detectives on the case discover the Bloodshot symbols that he painted in his closet, making him a prime suspect.  Anyway you slice it, it's doesn't look good for Ray.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League of America #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First issues are tricky.  Some first issues are amazing and make you realize why you love comics, like "Hawkeye" #1.  However, they're not necessarily indicative of the quality of future issues, as the long road to "Hawkeye" #22 has shown.  Other series have solid first issues that wind up kicking off amazing runs, like Remender's Dimension Z story in "Captain America."  I'm hoping the latter is true for Hitch.
I'm not saying that this issue is bad by any stretch of the imagination.  It's a solid story that flows nicely.  It's got some clunky parts that I'll note, but, overall, it's fine.  But, Hitch clearly has ideas, and it's that part that makes me excited.  It reminds me of James Robinson in the early issues of "Earth 2."  If Hitch can iron out some of the dialogue issues, I think that he could really go great places with this title.

The story at hand revolves around a mysterious entity called the Infinity Corporation.  We're first introduced to it when they invite Clark to their HQ.  But, it's not that simple:  they embedded a Superman insignia in the invite that only Superman can read with his X-Ray vision, making it clear that they know his identity.  Upon his arrival, they reveal that they are in possession of the "Forever Stones" that let them somehow connect to the future.  They show him a room full of dead versions of him, and they then pull out another version of him from the time stream that tells not to trust "him" before he dies.  The Corporation's whiz kid, Vincent, tells Clark that his death will be an extinction event that destroys the universe, and he asks Clark to hide to prevent that from happening.  Superman says that he can't, because he's needed; Vincent calls him selfish for weighing the lives of the few over the lives of the many.  Vincent then makes him away of the Justice League battling an escaped Parasite.  We later learn that the Infinity Corporation was the one responsible for releasing him and inviting the other members of the League to the spot where he gained consciousness.  During the battle, Diana suddenly becomes overwhelmed with voices screaming in her head after Parasite swallowed her, and Barry and Hal are sucked into a wormhole after Hal loses consciousness and the ring teleports him to safety.  After they defeat Parasite, Batman, Cyborg, and Superman Boom Tube to New York, only to discover that the Infinity Corporation's HQ has disappeared as if it was never there.  Before they can investigate, a Kryptonian god called Rao appears in the sky announcing to Earth that he's going to save us.

Let's get to the brass tacks:

- First, I don't understand why Clark would take the bait and appear as Superman and not Clark, thereby proving his identity?  He could've pretty easily arrived as Clark Kent and pretended not to understand why they thought that he was Superman.  Given that Lois has already revealed his identity in his own series, it's pretty much a moot point, but it was weird to me that he was so casual about confirming his identity.

- The Forever Stones?  Mysterious people from sometime and somewhere that can inhabit other people's bodies and control their minds?  Oy.  If you're read this blog for a while, you know that I generally loathe time-travel stories.  Some people manage to do them well, but other authors fail to think through the consequences of the paradoxes that they create.  So far, Hitch seems to be in the latter category.  Vincent tells Superman that he just needs to hide so that he doesn't die, since it's his death that causes the end of the universe.  But, Vincent doesn't seem to have any proof that Superman isn't killed in hiding.  Now, we learn that the Infinity Corporation is hiding part of the story from Clark, so it's possible that he does know exactly what happens.  But, if he does, then wouldn't it be better to tell Clark, "Don't go to Starbucks on Thursday."  Did they really think that they were going to convince him to hide indefinitely in the Fortress of Solitude?

- As I mentioned, the dialogue is awkward at times.  At some points it's fine, like Diana telling Hal that subtlety isn't his forte or Flash telling Batman that they don't do their research because they have him to do it for them.  At other times, though, it's wholly expository, particularly when it comes to Batman and Cyborg.  Again, I think Hitch has plenty of time to work out the kinks, but, at least in this issue, it occasionally weighed down the story.

In other words, overall, it's a solid issue with some really interesting ideas.  I'm not entirely sure that we needed another "Justice League" title, but at least the one that we seem to have gotten is a decent addition.

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Spider-Gwen #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Latour gets in one last issue before his mandatory "Secret Wars" hiatus, and it's a doozy.

The main event of this issue is the Black Cat emerging from the shadows to challenge Daredevil.  This Black Cat is the daughter of a French cat-burglar that encouraged her to look past the riches and steal items that meant something to people.  Unfortunately, he went a step too far when he stole the first dollar that the Kingpin ever made, and it appears that the job that secured Matt's role as the Kingpin's right-hand man was killing Felicia's father in front of her.  Felicia lures Matt into public by inviting her to one of her shows, and he knowingly takes the bait in the hopes of finally securing the dollar.

The only part that doesn't make sense to me here is that Felicia invites the Mary Janes to replace her at the last minute.  Felicia is apparently an ex-member of the band that became more successful on her own, and, although Glory is reluctant to take up her offer, Mary Jane sees the opportunity.  At first I thought that she intended for the girls to become the targets instead of her...but then she jumps on stage in front of them to taunt Murdoch by burning the dollar.  I still don't get it, even after re-reading it.

But, whatever.  It seems possible that Felicia did it just to taunt Mary Jane along with Daredevil, and I'm just going to go with that explanation.  After all, it fades into the background given the awesomeness of the fight that follows.  Felicia's henchmen (dressed as cartoonish black cats, prompting Betty to comment that Felicia is living her own Hanna-Barbera cartoon) take on the Hand (who suddenly appear in that way that they do).  Gwen changes into Spider-Woman and tries to convince Felicia not to rise to Murdoch's provocations.  Gwen knocks out Felicia before she can get herself killed, and she has a creepy interaction with Murdoch where Latour implies that he knows her identity.  (If he does know it, it's because of his powers, and Gwen is unaware that he would know.)

Along those lines, Jean DeWolff appears at the Stacy homestead to warn Arthur to watch his back, possibly because she, too, knows the truth through Castle.  (She also gets in a peck on the cheek, on the heels of Arthur monologuing that his wife is dead.  Interesting.)

At any rate, we have a lot happening here.  This issue really brings Felicia and, most importantly, Matt from the shadows, and it feels like we're past the introductory phase of this series at this point.  The stage is set and the players have been introduced.  I can't wait to see where we go from here.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Verse #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't have a ton to say about this issue, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Costa takes us pretty clearly through the paces to get to the conclusion, leaving enough mystery along the way to keep us interested.

The biggest mystery is Norman Osborn himself.  His comments to Gwen have an almost fatherly bent to them, an impression seemingly confirmed when he orders his troops not to open fire on her while she's escaping and refers to her as a "poor girl."  Of course, the only problem with the argument that he's just a misunderstood good guy is that he's already killed a Gwen Stacy on this world and that he was keeping Peter Porker hooked to some sort of machine.  How nice can he be?

But, Gwen escapes with Peter, and they're quickly intercepted by Pavitr, Anya, and Spider-UK.  They barely have time to introduce themselves when Pavitr's tracking device discovers the whereabouts of Spider-Man Noir.  We learn that he had escaped detection by breaking into Pavitr's apartment and stealing tools to block the tracking device.  Clever!  He was at the waterfront to try to get some information on Carnage and Tombstone, but the Webbies ruined his plan and now they've got to face the Sinister Six.

Once again, this tie-in series continues to be the one most connected to the overall "Secret Wars" plot, since all the Spider-People here are aware that they don't belong on Battleworld.  The Sinister Six will serve as a distraction, but, at some point, I wonder if the team is going to play a major role in revealing the truth in the main series.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Wars 2099 #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Another awesome tie-in issue!  Let's get right to the heart of it, shall we?

In this issue, we get confirmation that Roberta has no idea that she's Captain America, though we still don't get any information on why that ruse is necessary.  To make matters worse, her husband and Hercules both know that she's Captain America; her husband is revealed also to be an Alchemax agent, though it's unclear if he has a costumed identity.  (Iron Man?)  In fact, it appears that many people know her identity, because someone at Alchemax may have leaked her identity to Stark-Fujikawa since it sent the Specialist to kill her.  Roberta instantly transforms to Cap to stop him, but he commits suicide so that she can't discover his employer.  Conveniently, he has on his person the business card of some dude named Martin Hargood, an "all-around criminal type" from Downtown.  The Avengers go Downtown to get some information from him, but John Eisenhart, a.k.a. Hulk 2099, has beat them to the punch.  The usual "superheroes fighting each other upon meeting for the first time" battle ensues.  However, Strange 2099 appears with the Silver Surfer to stop the fight, announcing that they're the Defenders.

Honestly, these revelations come fast and furious and each one is better than the next.  The Specialist!  Hulk 2099!  The Defenders!  David is pulling out all the stops.

In addition to confirming Roberta's ignorance of her identity, we also get confirmation that Miguel is Spider-Man, since his eyes are red.  (It's possible that we saw that last issue and I missed it.)  But, we still have a number of questions on the table.  As I said, we don't know why Roberta needs to be in the dark about her dual identity or if her husband himself also has one.  We don't know why someone would want to kill her, beyond the possibility of wanting to deny Alchemax her services.  Hulk 2099 was going after Hargood for his "after-hours activities," but it's unclear what they are and if they have anything to do with the hit on Roberta.  (Also, if it turns out that the business card wasn't a plant, expect me to do some major eye-rolling next issue.  Are we really supposed to believe that a guy willing to commit suicide to hide the name of his employer just happened to carry around his business card?)  Miguel slumps his shoulders when the Black Widow asks if he has any plans that evening, implying some sort of personal pain that I presume we'll eventually clarify.  Finally, I'd love to hear the Defenders' origin story.

In other words, as usual, David has managed to create a fully realized world in just two issues.  I don't know how he does it, but there you go.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Inferno #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hopeless delivers another solid installment here.  It hasn't got much to do with the larger "Secret Wars" story, but I'm totally fine with that, since it presents enough plot twists to keep the reader happy.

First, we've got the Goblin Queen's straightforward offer of allegiance to Colossus:  he rescues Illyana, she gets to rule Limbo.  To help make that a possibility, she provides Colossus with the Soulsword.  To be honest, I didn't totally get this part.  Illyana apparently left behind the Soulsword after a battle, but I don't understand why she didn't return to retrieve it.  After all, Madelyne admits that neither she nor Alex could move it.  Are we supposed to believe that Illyana just left it out there, like a toy rusting in the rain?  Moreover, if Madelyne didn't move it, how does she transport it to Peter?  She claims Peter called it, but she also states that she and Alex somehow "seized the opportunity" of Illyana leaving it in the first place.  In other words, it's a bit of a mess.  But, I guess that we just have to go with it.  At any rate, Peter takes up the Soulsword and they all storm the Empire State Building, where Illyana is waiting with Nightcrawler, who she mutated into a dragon.  Meanwhile, one of the goblins has dragged a dying Boomer to an underground laboratory to feed her to his mysterious master (likely to be Mr. Sinister).

Again, this issue isn't perfect, but it does really feel like a logical extension of the "Inferno" cross-over event, if the X-Men failed to stop the invasion.  Since we know that Alex eventually takes over the domain from Madelyne, I'm intrigued to see how we get there.  Add to the mix a young Cable talking about guns with Domino and I'm a happy camper.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is difficult to follow, for a number of reasons.

First, it's at least the third version of Carol that we've seen in this event.  We've got the Carol from "A-Force" and the Carol that was on Reed's ship in "Secret Wars."  I had to go to Wikipedia to confirm that Hala Field is indeed separate from Arcadia, the domain of "A-Force."  At any rate, it's a lot of Carols.

Second, the plot loses integrity the more you think about it.  I'll try to summarize it here the best that I can.  Kit is Hala Field's representative on the Thor Corps, and she runs into Carol after the Corps takes out an invading squadron from the neighboring Hydra Empire.  Kit off-handedly remarks that Doom made each Thor's hammer from a star in the sky, and this comment startles Carol, since she's never seen a star in the sky.  Carol consults with one of the members of her squadron, Bee, since she's the resident nerd.  It appears that Bee openly questions Doom's assertion that nothing but "the Void" exists beyond the edge of the sky and skipped exercises that day in an attempt to gather proof.  (She swiped a scanner and discovered that the team's ships are capable of going farther than the sky allegedly goes.)  She also apparently thinks that Carol comes from the beyond the edge of the sky.  Later, Carol and her squadron are sent to destroy an incoming ship of rogue Ultrons, but Carol spots a human on the ship.  Her suspicions already primed, she decides to save him after her Corps destroys the ship.  She returns with him to the barracks and asks her teammates to help her reach the other end of the sky, motivated by her horror that the other people on the ship died because she didn't questions orders.  

Unusually for DeConnick, I felt like this story not only flowed poorly but suffered from a number of logic gaps.  First, it seems odd to me that Kit's comment would provoke such a response in Carol.  Kit repeats the hammer story as if it's fairly common knowledge on Battleworld, not some sort of top-secret revelation that will unravel Doom's web of lies.  If it's not common knowledge, then Kit should express some anxiety over revealing that secret to Carol, given the liberal definition of blasphemy that exists on Battleworld.  Second, it took me two readings to realize that the Thor Corps' attack on the alleged squadron from the Hydra Empire and the Carol Corps' attack on the allegedly rogue Ultrons were connected.  I get that it's supposed to be a mystery why the Powers That Be need to create elaborate ruses to destroy whatever group it is that's trying to infiltrate Hala Field.  But, Carol and her Corps are presented as so lobotomized that it's hard to figure out why they would even need to bother developing a cover story.  The answer appears to be that Carol seems shaken by the high casualty rates.  But, as a soldier, she does have some sort of responsibility to follow orders.  Why lie to her in the first place?  Third, I'm not sure why Bee thinks that Carol comes from the same place as the light in the sky.  Doesn't everyone come from there?  If Doom has everyone believing that Battleworld is the only thing that exists in the universe, then it's not like Carol's origin story involving Kree would be accepted.  After all, the Baroness herself says that Carol's a gift from Doom.  If Bee thinks that Carol come from that light, then doesn't that mean that everyone would come from it?

I could continue but I'll stop there.  DeConnick could still go somewhere with this story, so I'll hold out hope.  But, I will say that I found this story to be the first one that felt obviously forced to connect to "Secret Wars."  The other stories have had fairly natural hooks, but this one felt like DeConnick really struggled to find some sort of way to connect "Captain Marvel" to the larger story.

** (two of five stars)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Earth 2: Society #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you read the sneak peek that appeared in late May, then you're probably as confused as I am.  In the pages contained in that issue, we saw a team composed of Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Power Girl rush to prevent the Huntress, Jimmy Olsen (now called Dr. Impossible), and the Red Arrow from activating the Genesis Machine, using it to wipe clean the life on New Earth 2 and replace it with lifeforms that existed on the original Earth 2.  However, this issue covers a time well before that confrontation happens.

Instead, this issue focuses mostly on the time after planetfall.  With Telos and his influence over the world gone, Dick Grayson finds himself paralyzed again.  From his viewpoint on the newly terraformed New Earth 2, he watches the twelve ships that fled the original Earth 2 arrive, thanks to the message sent to them from Green Lantern at the end of "Convergence" #8.  However, they weren't meant to land, meaning that they crash into the planet.  Terry Sloan, on TSS Overwatch-One, narrates that the people that survive this crash landing will form twelve different cities, to be ruled by the "Overwatch-One."

In the present, a year after planetfall, it doesn't appear this plan is going so well.  Gotham is the same den of scum and villainy that it was on Earth 2, with Batman noting to himself that every ship carries some rats.  He's in pursuit of Sloan, but he's got to fend off his own (unidentified) pursuers.  We also learn that Dick hasn't found his son yet, since he pauses in his pursuit to see if a kid getting mugged by two men is his son.  Meanwhile, someone named Johnny Sorrow is also after Sloan.  Sorrow tries to grab Sloan, but Batman intervenes, announcing that Sloan is wanted for "crimes against society."  Sloan notes that he is Overwatch-One, but tells Batman that Overwatch has been compromised.  He uses a rocketpack to flee, but not before he asks Batman if "he" sent him.  Failing to capture him, Batman wonders who possibly could have scared Sloan so badly.

Despite deviating from the sneak-peak story, this issue is a solid enough start.  It doesn't blow your mind or anything, but it does a good job of establishing the current status quo without answering so many questions that you feel like you have nothing left to .  We still don't know how Dick has regained use of his legs or where the other heroes are.  (All we learned in the sneak peak was that Val appears to have retired.)  We get a hint that Alan has lost his humanity.  It's clear that the politics of New Earth 2 are complicated, but we're going to have to wait to get more information.

But, I actually have high hopes for Wilson answering those questions.  The Apokolips storyline dominated virtually the entire run of "Earth 2;" I actually have problems remembering the stories not related in some way to Darkseid.  In that way, this series actually feels like the first time that we're really engaging with these characters on their own terms.  It's almost like the last series didn't happen.  Given how that series started with an amazing burst of creativity but ended with a depressing jumble of chaos, maybe it's not a bad thing to view the past as the past.  In other words, I'm hoping that this issue is the fresh start that we need to enjoy this setting in the way that it was originally intended.  I'm going to dare to hope.

*** (three of five stars)

Detective Comics #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We have a lot of ground to cover here.

This issue follows from "Divergence FCBD Special Edition" #1 and "Batman" #41, with Jim Gordon fully ensconced as the new government-approved Batman.  At first, I wondered how Manallato responded to getting a change in the identity of Batman forced on them.  After all, they've only been at the helm of "Detective Comics" for a short while, and they seemed to be telling a long story, given how characters flowed from minor to major to minor from issue to issue.  But, Manallato make it clear that they're not only fully on board with the change, but that it gives them a chance to explore Bullock (clearly the main character of the series at this point) in a way that they haven't before.

Manallato do a great job of using flashbacks to show Bullock coming to grips with this new Batman.  First, he's the only person in Gotham that thinks that the original Batman is still alive (showing how clever he is, given the last page of "Batman" #41).  However, Commissioner Sawyer refuses his request to continue investigating that possibility.  The Powers That Be want him to head up the Batman Task Force, but he declines.  Later, he sets off a brawl at a cop bar when a few bikers enter, ostensibly because he's offended that they're there.  But, Manallato remind us how clever Bullock is, because it's clear that he did so so that Yip, now his girlfriend, can save one of the members of the review board.  (She's still suspended after shooting Lonnie a few weeks earlier.)  Eventually, Montoya appears, saving Bullock from getting clobbered over the head with a beer bottle.  (Their conversation later, where she calls him "Glass jaw" and he calls her "Man hands" is a highlight of the issue.)  We learn that she's returned to Gotham to work on the Task Force, and she lets slip to Harvey that Jim may be the Batman.  This revelation brings Bullock on board, but he extracts a promise from Montoya to help him keep investigating the original Batman.

Again, Manallato give us quintessential Harvey here.  They remind us that he's an excellent detective (given his hunch about Bruce) and that he's principled (since his initial reluctance to join the Task Force came from his disapproval of masked vigilantes).  But, they continue to show his vulnerable side.  First, they remind us that, for his gruff, macho exterior, Bullock's closest relationships are with women that he respects:  Montoya, Sawyer, and Yip.  But, his emotions cloud his judgment with Yip, since we learn here that she might be colluding with someone to blow up a circus performance for cops and firefighters.  (Jim is earlier seen talking with Sawyer about protecting it.)  I instantly felt bad for Harvey since he's not going to recover from the revelation, if it happens, that he missed the fact that Yip had turned to the dark side.

Moreover, Manallato make this book an integral part of the larger story that DC is telling about Batman.  While "Batman" so far is focused on Jim and his team, "Detective Comics" looks like it's going to be the place where we get to the bottom of what happened in that cave under Gotham.  Come for Batman, stay for Harvey.  I can dig it.

**** (four of five stars)

Batman #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I have to give credit where credit is due:  Snyder really nails this one.  As I mentioned in my review of "Divergence FCBD Special Edition" #1, I was having trouble getting excited about the idea of Commissioner Gordon as Batman.  But, Snyder sells me on it here.

First, he wisely takes us through Commissioner Gordon's journey in accepting Geri Powers' offer, using Jim's (and Harvey's) skepticism as a proxy for the reader's.  He's too old.  He's not the smartest candidate.  He smokes.  He's got glasses.  The Batsuit looks like a robo-bunny.  One by one, Snyder addresses them.  Actually, to be honest, he doesn't so much as address them as he dismisses them, because Jim doesn't care about them.  At the end of the day, he only cares about making sure that he's the one putting his neck on the line, not one of the young cadets that Geri was training to take the job.  (In a brilliant moment, this decision comes as one of those candidates comes to the roof where Jim and Harvey are smoking to Facetime with his 11-month-old son.)  Jim earlier talked about how he had often wondered what it would be like if Batman had worked within the system, not outside it.  Now, he decides to see.

Moreover, Geri's offer seems less crazy once we see Jim in action.  She argues that only he knows Gotham like the original Batman did, and the battle in this issue proves that.  He knew that a championship baseball player lived in the same area as where a creature made of energy was attacking a bank; as a result, he realizes that the creature is a distraction so that the actual perpetrator can rob the player.  In a moment that reminds us that Snyder and Capullo have a lot of tricks up their sleeves, he leaves his armor to locate the thief and save the player.  In the process, Capullo reveals his internal suit, and it's one of the coolest ones that Batman has ever had.

Along those lines, Snyder also makes it clear that everything isn't as it appears.  We never learn how the thief -- a small-time gang member -- got access to the technology that he did.  Snyder doesn't seem to be trying too hard to hide the fact that Powers may have provided it to him in the first place, given that her introductory speech about her company's manipulation of elements.  Moreover, Julia is the head of strategy for Jim's support team, but her identity as Alfred's daughter has been concealed; she's simply come highly recommended by Wayne Enterprises.  Last but certainly not least, we get to the last page where someone appears to recognize Bruce Wayne sitting on a park bench.

It's really this last moment that sold it to me.  Snyder is more or less acknowledging that this story of replacing Batman may have been told many times already, given how this image mirrors the ending of "The Dark Knight Rises."  But, he makes it clear that it's his turn to tell that story now.  Comics frequently trod over previously covered ground, and a 76-year-old character has had a lot of stories told about him.  Snyder is asking us to accept the story on its own merits, and I found myself easily convinced to do that here.  Onwards and upwards.

***** (five of five stars)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Star Wars #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

His wife!  The other bounty hunter is his wife?

At some point, I'll accept how brilliant Aaron is at getting the voices of these characters so perfect and stop mentioning it.  But, for now, I think that it's still worth noting.  Han and Leia's argument over his (alleged) attempted seduction is brilliantly scripted; I could hear Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford yelling at each other.  But, Aaron also shows his understanding of the characters themselves.  Han tells Leia that no one else knew about his smuggler's den other than Chewie.  The fact that we learn that he was lying because his wife appears says everything that we need to know about Han's trustworthiness at this point.  In fact, the revelation that he even had a wife serves as a reminder of just how little we know about the lives of these characters before the movies take place.  Although Luke may not have had much of a past, Han and Leia clearly did, and I can't wait for Aaron to explore these stories.  I'm also obviously anxious to learn more about Sana.  She's clearly not a hero, given the brutality that she's shown in shaking down people for information about Han.  Did Han leave her before of that?  It'll be interesting to see.

Meanwhile, on Tatooine, Luke manages to defeat Boba Fett and escape with Ben's journals.  I'll admit that I don't totally buy the fact that a blind Luke managed to take out Fett, even with his Jedi tricks.  But, Cassaday does his best to sell it, showing it as a fairly clumsy affair where the cramped quarters limited some of Fett's moves (such as using his rocket pack offensively).  But, it's the final scene, of Darth Vader cracking the window in front of him when Fett tells him Skywalker's name, that really takes the cake here.  Cassaday shifts perspective from a side view within the room to a full view looking through the window, and it really amps up the drama.  I'm pretty sure that I gasped!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I can't wait to see where we go from here.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #18.1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Conway continues to build his story, and I can honestly say that I'm not sure where it's going to go.

First, the appearance of a new Crime Master leading the Enforcers raises all sorts of questions, but Conway puts them aside for the moment.  All we know is that Crime Master is offering to help the Black Cat take the Kingpin's place as the head of organized crime in New York.  When she fails to convince Hammerhead and Tombstone's crews to switch allegiance to her, he suggests that she gets the two of them to swear allegiance to her by breaking them out of jail.  Mr. Negative passes word of this plan to Yuri (presumably thanks to one of his snitches), and Spider-Man and the Wraith go to Ryker's Island to stop the jailbreak.

The most interesting part of the issue is Peter's conversation with Felicia.  He convinces her to take her men and withdraw since the cops are en route and they'll likely shower the place with bullets.  She agrees (leaving Hammerhead in his cell), though Conway implies that she does so simply because she acknowledges Peter's point.  Spidey tries to make the larger point that he worries that she's a good person making bad decisions, but Felicia isn't buying it, specifically telling him that him letting her leave doesn't change anything between them.  I'm still not sure where Conway is going with Felicia, but we seem to have some sort of opening here that may mean we might finally get back our Black Cat.

Meanwhile, Yuri gets her hands on a semi-automatic weapon and fires at Tombstone, presumably in anger after she discovers that Judge Howell was stabbed as part of a contract killing.  Conway does a good job here of showing how erratic Yuri is at this point, acting on emotions alone.  (Peter makes an early speech to himself that felt totally forced, but identified that the self-confidence that makes Yuri a good cop has become corrupted.)  It's obviously not going to end well.

Before I go, I just have to note how much I love Barberi's art.  He not only draws a great Spider-Man, but he also really has a knack for detail.  In the scene where the crews are leaving the scene of their fight, he has one guy dragging another behind him.  Something about it made me laugh, acknowledging the ridiculousness of these sorts of rumbles.  I would love to see him on the title full time at some point.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New X-Men #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Like "Guardians of the Galaxy" #27 (though not "Uncanny X-Men" #34), Bendis wraps up the Utopia sub-plot a lot more quickly than I thought that he would, but in a way that doesn't feel rushed.  He does a great job of showing how the Utopians are exhausted from years of persecution and how they've come to view everything as a threat.

The story starts with Maria Hill convincing the team to go X-Factor, resolving the "big mutant problem" on Utopia.  We get the usual trope of the good guys coming into conflict as a result of a misunderstanding, but it gets resolved quickly thanks to Jean and Xi'an having (literally) a meeting of the minds.  The original X-Men invite the Utopians to live with them at the New Xavier School, offering them the sort of haven that they sought on Utopia.  But, more importantly, the kids also tell S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop coming after mutants.

I'll admit that I was annoyed that Bendis suddenly turned the Utopians into less of the threat that they seemed to be last issue, when it appeared that they murdered the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents for simply setting foot on their property.  (It turns out they just incapacitated them.)  It's a real bait-and-switch move, as they go from a new Brotherhood of Mutants to essentially the Morlocks.  But, I'll take it because Bendis does a great job of showing how the experience radicalizes the kids.  They ask Hill a number of questions that make it clear that they understand how poorly treated mutants are, and it provokes Jean to express dismay that they're still where they were in their original timeline.  She ponders what they can do to change that situation, and I can't wait to see what the answer is in "Uncanny X-Men" #600.  It's going to be a doozy of an issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Years of Future Past #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

So far, the tie-in issues for "Secret Wars" have fallen along a pretty wide continuum when it comes to their connections to the main story.  For example, the characters in "Spider-Verse" #1 seem to be aware of the fact that Battleworld may be some sort of construct, and She-Hulk plays a Lando Calrissian role where she has to find a way to maneuver under the terms of an unfavorable agreement with Doom in "A-Force" #1.  However, Bennett falls on the other side of the spectrum, only alluding to the large issues at play in "Secret Wars" and instead focusing on the matter at hand.

In the "Days of Future Past" timeline, the heroes of the future seem not to have decided to try to change the past.  Instead, they're trying to take advantage of a movement where some humans are lobbying to relax the Mutant Control Act and plan to do so by exposing their suffering under the Act.  It has taken 15 years for Colossus, Magneto, Rachel Summers, Shadowcat, and Wolverine to find chemicals to destroy their restraint collars.  But, they're now free and set about their mission.  However, Rachel has discovered, in the work that she's forced to do for the United Doomstates, that someone has managed to insert a virus into the new Sentinels.  This unknown person now has full control over one and plans to assassinate President Kelly.  Magneto figures that the best play is for the X-Men to send their youngest members -- Kitty and Peter's daughter Cristina and Wolverine's son Cameron -- to save him, winning the sympathy of the people.  However, Kelly has freed the Blob and Mystique and sent them after Kitty, hoping that the footage of mutants fighting each other will show how dangerous they are.

Bennett tells a good story, though I'll admit that she may have gone a little too far in adopting a 1980s tone.  Everyone is either incredibly virtuous (like Cristina) or dastardly evil (like Kelly).  Even the plot seems overly optimistic, since a jaded reader in 2015 (like me) will likely find it hard to believe that Cristina and Cameron saving Kelly will accomplish anything.  But, I'm intrigued to see where it goes.

** (two of five stars)

X-Tinction Agenda #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Like everyone else so far writing these tie-in issues, Guggenheim does a great job of immersing us completely in the world that he's portraying in a short period of time.  His task is a particularly grim one:  he's telling the story of Genosha after the defeat of Cameron Hodge in the "X-Tinction Agenda."  We learn that Alex and Rahne have stayed on the island to help the mutates recover, but a virus (not the Legacy Virus) threatens to wipe out the island.

Honestly, I was so engrossed in these first few pages that I was surprised when Alex and Rahne suddenly appear before Doom, reminding me that we were here because of "Secret Wars."  We learn that Doom or Baron (Rachel) Grey of X-Topia have imposed a quarantine on the island, lest the virus wipe out the larger mutant population.  With no good options, Alex and Rahne decide to attack X-Topia to extract Triage and Rogue to use their healing powers to save the mutates.

Guggenheim makes it clear that a lot is at foot here.  First, X-Topia isn't listed on the Battleworld map.  From a "Secret Wars" perspective, it raises all sorts of issues.  We learn that Genosha has been isolated so long that the mutates don't know that Xavier is dead, but it's actually unclear to me if we're talking about the recent quarantine or if X-Topia itself is somehow removed from Battleworld.  (We also don't know how Xavier and, apparently, Scott died.)  Second, Rachel is sympathetic to the mutates' plight, but it seems like it's the Beast pushing her to keep them isolated.  He's the one that declared that Triage and Rogue couldn't possibly save the mutates, but its seems weird to me that he just accepts that reality so readily.  Finally, Genosha's Genegineer is apparently trying to resurrect Cameron Hodge, something that probably isn't going to go well for anyone.

I'm definitely intrigued to see how this story develops.  First, it really raises some interesting moral dilemmas, such as the X-Men having to sacrifice their integrity to protect themselves from the mutates' virus.  But, it also raises questions about how the mutants of Battleworld are faring.  So far, I've only seen them in Limbo in "Inferno," and it's hard to say that it's going well for them there.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue may be the best Spider-Man story that Dan Slott has ever told.

First, let's taking about the setting.  The intro page states that Doom created Battleworld from "fragments of worlds that no longer exist."  This assertion isn't exactly true, since we learned in "Secret Wars" #3 that some aspects of the Marvel Universe still exist on Battleworld.  Even if it were true, though, it still doesn't make any sense.  As I noted in my review of "Secret Wars" #3, I don't understand how these fragments could still have existed given the fact that their respective universes were destroyed.  (If the Marvel and Ultimate Universes were the only ones left standing after all the incursions, then where were these fragments hiding?)

But, Slott isn't really responsible for the overall plot here; he's playing by the rules of the game that someone else created.  Instead, he sets about showing how these rules impact the story that he's telling.  He makes it pretty clear that we're dealing with a universe that approximates the 1990s Marvel Universe, given the presence of the New Warriors of that era.  I say "approximates," because Kubert hints through small changes in costumes, particularly Captain America's and Iron Man's, that it's not the same timeline.  (Maybe it's the Marvel Universe if "Acts of Vengeance" or some other 1990s event didn't happen.)  Slott and Kubert are impressively able to get across all this information in the first five pages, grounding the reader pretty quickly in this new world.

Now, let's talk about the plot.  Peter and Mary Jane are parents to a toddler named not May, but Annie.  Slott doesn't get stuck trying to clarify whether it's the baby that Mary Jane "miscarried" or a different child entirely.  She's just their child.  The issue begins with Peter telling Mary Jane that he's picking up a lot of slack for some of the other street-level heroes, and Mary Jane reminds him that he's now a father and suggests that they should be picking up his slack.  A trip to the "Daily Bugle" reveals that these heroes are actually missing (Daredevil and Iron Fist) or dead (Moon Knight, Night Thrasher, and Punisher).  A quick stop at Avengers Mansion confirms that someone is killing the non-powered members of the superhero community and kidnapping the powered ones.  (Ominously, we learn that all of the X-Men have disappeared.)  Cap announces that the Black Widow fingered someone (before she herself disappeared) named Augustus Roman, C.E.O. of Empire Unlimited, a company "researching super-human abilities and bio-technologies."  Cap leaves with the assembled heroes to take on Roman, but Peter bails after learning about a prison break at Ryker's Island.  Confirming his fears, he arrives home to find Venom holding Mary Jane and Annie hostage.

The next sequence tells the type of story that "Secret Wars" was created to tell.  It's the ultimate "What If...?" story, letting Slott explore Peter's response to this sort of situation without worrying about continuity.  While the Avengers discover that Roman has found a way to steal the powers of the powered members of the superhero community, Peter fights Venom as Mary Jane flees with Annie.  This sequence really does have a 1990s vibe, since Slott and Kubert remind us just how much of a menace Venom really was back then.  Moreover, we're reminded how resourceful Mary Jane is, as she follows fire engines to a burning building since it'll give Peter access to Venom's two weaknesses:  fire and sonics.  As Roman, now calling himself Regent, kills the remaining Avengers one by one, Mary Jane confirms with the firefighters that the burning building is cleared of people and shouts that information to Peter.  Understanding her meaning, Peter crashes the building onto Brock (as he continues to taunt Peter about the harm that he'll inflict on Annie).  Brock dies and, we learn, Spider-Man does as well:  Peter renounces his identity to protect Annie, particularly since, as we learn, Regent has taken over the world.

I know that a lot of people probably hated the fact that Peter kills Venom.  (Venom himself actually doesn't see it coming, since he was convinced that Peter would never kill.)  But, I've never exactly been the type of guy that believes that superheroes should never kill.  Honestly?  Batman probably should've killed the Joker a long time ago.  Xavier probably should've killed Magneto.  That said, in both those cases, you could argue that the heroes have to be careful about starting down a road where they become judge, jury, and executioner, since it's hard to get off that road.

However, Peter isn't facing a philosophical debate here:  he needs to save his family from someone that won't stop until they are tortured and dead.  As he said, it was his responsibility to do something.  When he tells MJ that he did what he had to do, you can see that the innocence about him dies; he becomes an adult in a way that we've maybe never seen.  It's not a happy moment, by any stretch of the imagination.  But, it's the sort of growth that he was denied when his marriage got dissolved by a demon and not by a conversation.  It's the type of growth that Slott himself doesn't seem to allow him to experience in "Amazing Spider-Man," where he's a relentless optimist.  The closest that Slott has come to it is in "Amazing Spider-Man" #700, when Peter commits to renounce his Spider-Man identity if he successfully manages to kill Otto and get back control over his body.  "Secret Wars" actually lets him explore this darker possibility.

But, it's also clear now that the title might be a double entendre.  It seems like Slott is probably not referring to renewing Peter's vows to Mary Jane, but his vows as Spider-Man.  Regent seems to be an unbeatable foe, so I'm intrigued where Slott goes from here.

***** (five of five stars)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Secret Wars #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I think a list approach is probably the best one for this issue:
- We finally learn that Doom and Strange do remember the old world, unlike the rest of the inhabitants of Battleworld.  We also learn that Strange could've just as easily been "god" as Doom, but he chose not to be.  (Intriguingly, we also see that Doom keeps a statue of the Molecule Man in his backyard, though Hickman doesn't elaborate on that at this point.  However, Owen was the other person with Doom to face the Beyonders, so it's intriguing to say the least.)

- I love the fact that Miles managed to get himself onto the Cabal's ship in issue #1.  I had actually forgotten that the Cabal had invaded the Ultimate Universe, and I now realize that they did so to steal its version of the life raft that Reed had built.  (I'm assuming that it means that the Reed of that world also built one.)  Moreover, we learn that the crew that we see survive at the end of issue #1 -- Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Mr. Fantastic, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, and Thor -- entered the same stasis that the Cabal did.  The difference is that Strange discovered them three years ago and left the that way, because he felt that Doom was actually a decent god.

- We seem to get the answer to the question why we have so many alternate histories in Battleworld.  Doom apparently built it from "remnants of incursion points between collapsing world."  I sort of get that, but, still, I thought all those points would've been destroyed when their universes were destroyed?  Shouldn't the only point left be the final one, between the Marvel and Ultimate Universes?

- Susan had Doom turn Johnny Storm into the sun rather than execute him.  Dayum.

- An obvious question that comes with the existence of pre-incursion heroes is whether they are going to be the only ones in whatever unified universe that we get at the end of this story to recall who they are.  Put another way, it seems possible that they are the only ones whose histories aren't on the table to change.  That said, we already know that other versions of them exist on this world, such as Captain Marvel in "A-Force."  It works with the idea that we're dealing with multiple universes pulled from incursion points but it's still unclear how Hickman is going to combine them all into one character (and history) at the end.  Moreover, Strange tells them some of Earth remains on Battleworld, so other "original" (if you will) heroes might have survived, even if they don't remember the previous world like the pre-incursion heroes do.  In other words, does being "original" matter?  I guess that we'll see.

*** (three of five stars)

Nonplayer #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's hard to believe that it's been over four years since the first issue of "Nonplayer" hit the stands.  It makes complaining about the "Hawkeye" delays seem a little silly.  But, I'm happy to say that it was totally worth the wait.

In the first issue, we were introduced to the "Warriors of Jarvath," a "World of Warcraft" analogue played in the near virtual-reality future.  Our protagonist, Dana, leads an attack on two of Jarvath's most famous non-player characters (NPCs):  Queen Fendra and her consort, Heremoth.  Before she can kill Fendra, the Queen disappears, though Heremoth and the Queen's brother, Elioden, assume that Dana is responsible. She and her partner are killed, but they re-appear in some sort of headquarters later.  (She had previously mentioned that she didn't get "resurrection cash" until the 15th.)  Dana observes that Fendra disappeared before she could kill her, and her partner assumes that it was a bug.  (That said, they apparently didn't get the experience points that they thought that they would.)  She also notes that she felt guilty for killing Fendra given how real Heremoth's reaction was.  We also hear reference to an event called "the Incident" when Dana invites her partner to visit a Museum of Pre-Incident Tech with her in "meatspace."  He declines, and she awakens to return to her tamale-delivery job.

However, the story really starts with this issue.  I'm going to go into a detailed summary here, since it's clearly going to be a while before we get the next issue.

We begin with an avatar interviewing Jeph Homer, the CEO of Lands Unlimited and the creator of Warriors of Jarvath.  The interviewer notes that someone called "Whistleblower" has accused Homer of violating "AI control laws."  Homer insists that his characters aren't alive and that the National Artificial Intelligence Board (NAIB) has audited them several times without raising a red flag.  Meanwhile, at a wharf, NAIB agents are on the scene after something killed eight people and took one hostage there.  The perp apparently wants "Pope Pius XIII" to recant, using language similar to an incident that the lead detective, Hanley, refers to as "that mess at the Y."  We also learn that "CUBE" got a look at the "entity" as it moved through the trunkline and it's similar to the one that committed the "Red Sword Massacre."  The perp has also ordered takeout from everywhere near the wharf to slow down first-responders.  Hanley takes a young agent into the building and they encounter a robot (a.k.a. the entity) that appears to have built himself from parts available on site.  Hanley takes out the robot and frees the hostage.  (Dana later appears in the background with the crowd of takeout delivery-folks trying to offload their food.)

Meanwhile, Homer fires someone named Alan that appears to have been responsible for turning the Jarvath NPCs into AI.  Alan says that he merely followed Homer's orders to create "something special," though Homer says that Alan was motivated solely by creating a world where he could get some.  Alan storms from the server room where the conversation is happening, and he leaves behind a mysterious glowing item that he had been trying to pry off a server when Homer entered; it's unclear if Homer noticed it.  Meanwhile, Hanley observes at NAIB headquarters that "two entities passed through the local trunkline," though his colleagues say that the second one was a false alarm because the alarms sounded within a thousandth of a second of each other.  Hanley asks if they're going to pin it on Red Sword again and call it terrorism.  When it looks like they plan to do exactly that, he notes that Pius XIII has died since the Red Sword Massacre and that the tech has gotten more advanced; he thinks that it's a ruse.  He asks CUBE, an acronym for "Cognitively Unlimited Bulwark Entity," for other possible suspects.  CUBE is a trio of people hooked to a device, and it notes that the event had similarities to "certain 'mad dog' diversions executed by puppetmaster malevolences during the Incident."  Everyone freaks out a bit, but CUBE assures them that the probability of it being an AI is less than one in forty million.  Hanley's colleagues are relieved and his boss orders him off the case.  Meanwhile, in his apartment, Alan has uploaded Fendra's identity into a "Lyke-Reel Synthetic Body - Custom" and plugs in a device that makes her see him as a Jarvath character.  In Jarvath, a soothsayer tells Heremoth that Fendra still lives, in Hell, and that magic can send him there if he acts quickly.  The soothsayer then draws an image of her killer (Dana), claiming that she continues to torture her.  Heremoth rises from his throne and tells Elioden to bring his sword.

In other words, Simpson is apparently telling an AI-gone-wild story.  Can you imagine if "World of Warcraft" characters suddenly started appearing here?  If you can, I really think you're going to enjoy next issue!  Hopefully, we won't have to wait too long!

**** (four of five stars)

Midnighter #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

As a gay guy, I don't often find myself able to put myself in the position of a character going on a date with a superhero.  But, Orlando lets me do exactly that here, as Midnighter goes on a date with a guy, named Jason, that he met on a dating app.  Shenanigans ensue when Midnighter has to kill a bunch of enhanced soldiers that appear to assassinate three traitors that apparently just so happened to be in that restaurant.  But, Jason agrees to a second date, and it gets weirder, from a date perspective.  After they sleep together, Midnighter immediately tags him with a chip that allows him to contact him at any time.  Even more disturbingly, he begins telling him all about Apollo, leading Jason to remark that Midnighter is the definition of coming on strong.  But, the date ends when the God Garden is ransacked by an unknown assailant, and Midnighter discovers that the Gardener kept a file on his original history, despite what she told him.  In other words, if I were Jason, I'd think twice about a third date.

Orlando gives us an engaging story here, portraying Midnighter as a man adrift.  His relationship with Apollo has apparently come to an end, and the guy that we see here is more emotional than the one that I was expecting, given my limited knowledge of the character.  I actually welcome that, since I'd rather not read about an even more emotionally unavailable Bruce Wayne.  In fact, I found myself really warming to Midnighter, and it's not just because Aco made him a pretty damn attractive package.  Orlando makes it clear that we're reading about a man on a journey to discover himself, dropping some of the bravado that came in his previous incarnation.  I could definitely get behind that story.  However, Orlando also has to make it clear that he means it that way.  As Jason says, Midnighter comes on overly strong here, seemingly unhinged.  Again, a guy like Midnighter, to me, would probably be looking for meaningless sex for a while; tagging a guy on the first date seems a little uncharacteristically forward.  I've offered a hypothesis here for what I think is happening, but, at some point, Orlando actually has to tell us that he means it that way.  Otherwise, Midnighter is just going to seem erratic.

That said, I am still new to Midnighter, so some sort of overview of his past would be helpful.  As I made clear in my reviews of the Gardener when she appeared in "Grayson," I really have no idea who she is or what her deal is, so Orlando is going to need to fill in those blanks for me, particularly as they relate to Midnighter.  Plus, to appreciate his feelings over the loss of Apollo, it would be helpful to know more about their relationship in the first place.  It's only the first issue, so Orlando has time, obviously.  But, I wanted to lay down that marker here.  Also, it would be nice to know who the hell those enhanced soldiers were, lest we're left thinking that Midnighter just so happens to be the type of guy that just so happens to go to a restaurant that just so happens to have three traitors to the same cause in it at the same time.  He may be, but let's not push it.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Justice League #41 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Some disjoint thoughts on a really solid issue:

- Johns really builds the mystery of Myrina Black amazingly well.  First, we've got Kanto and Lashina, agents of Darkseid, killing a woman of that name, seemingly at random.  Then, we've got Mr. Miracle discovering...something...about someone of that name in Darkseid's files on Apokolips.  At this point, it becomes clear that Darkseid considers her dangerous enough to want her dead.  I have to say, you've got to pretty bad ass if you make Darkseid nervous.  When she appears on the last page,  I didn't immediately recognize her as the woman that gave birth to Grail in "Divergence FCBD Special Edition" #1.  I actually had to Google that.  But, color me intrigued.  After all, while she tries to recruit Scott Free, Grail makes her way through the Justice League to get to Power Ring so that she can summon the Anti-Monitor.  They're definitely not kidding about killing Darkseid.

- How the $&*% did Lena Luthor get a Mother Box?  Talk about unexpected developments.  Is she really Lex's sister, or is she a Darkseid sleeper agent?  If she's both, how -- and when -- did that happen?

- Despite the excitement of the battles in this issue -- and they are exciting -- Johns really shines in managing to work in some characterization:
  • Lex is creepy as ever, telling Clark that his new set of armor is fueled by kryptonite not because it would help him defeat Clark, but because it's so powerful.  (I continue to love him as an evil version of Iron Man.)
  • We also get some more insight into Shazam.  Billy has largely faded into the background since his back-up story came to an end.  (In fact, I don't really remember how it ended.  Did he join the team because they helped him defeat Black Adam?  Maybe?)  However, here, Johns reminds us how young he is.  Diana herself specifically mentions how young he acts (contrasting him to Cyborg), and, proving her point, we see Billy rattled as he faces his first dead body (of Myrina Black).  But, Johns also reminds us how powerful he is.  As Grail makes her way through the team, he's the first one to land a hit, and it's a helluva hit to boot.
  • Finally, Johns begins the process of fleshing out the adult version of Scott Free as a character, after we saw his origin in the "Divergence" issue.  I'll admit that I have some problems telling the difference between him and his "Earth 2" analogue, but Johns makes it clear that it's OK.  He focuses more on Scott's origin story, informing us that Scott has never returned to New Genesis after his father surrendered him to Apokolips.  (Scott even works in a snarky comment about how abandoning him didn't serve its purpose, since his father went to war with Apokolips anyway.)

*** (three of five stars)

All-New Hawkeye #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Even though a lot doesn't happen in this issue, it's adorable.  Maria hints to Clint and Kate that they should free the children from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, since someone wants to use them in the same way that HYDRA did.  The pair proceed to do so -- thanks to a particularly amazing combat sequence where Kate defeats the guards and technicians single-handedly -- and hilarity ensues as Clint and Kate essentially become foster parents.  (Needless to say, the kids like Lucky.)  However, Clint needed some convincing to free the kids in the first place, since he was worried (probably rightly) that Kate was getting too attached.  Meanwhile, Kate let him have it, telling him (probably rightly) that he has issues with letting in people.  Lemire parallels this conversation with a look at Clint's childhood relationship with the Swordsman, and it's clear that we're going nowhere good if that relationship is our example.  Plus, we still don't know what the kids do exactly.  But, it seems pretty clear that Kate is going to have to make a terrible decision when that truth is revealed.  Curiouser and curiouser, as they say.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Wars 2099 #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I mentioned in my review of "Inferno" #1 that Dennis Hopeless really used the premise of "Secret Wars" to the best of its potential.  Peter David not surprisingly seems to be doing the same here.

One of the challenges that I've had with the new "Spider-Man 2099" is that it obviously discards some of the existing continuity, but it's hard to tell what parts exactly.  I've tried placing the current story in a certain period of time in the original run, but it's been difficult to do that, for a variety of reasons.  However, David is essentially freed from caring about continuity in this mini-series, since we've already established that some of the domains in Battleworld come from alternate histories.

As a result, David uses that freedom to explore a history that we actually saw get its start, but that he's disregarded in the current run of "Spider-Man 2099," namely Miguel serving as CEO of Alchemax.  Presently, it appears that Tyler Stone has always been CEO; however, in the previous run, Miguel eventually took on that role.  David explores that reality here by postulating that Miguel uses his position to create a new Avengers team.  (It's unclear if he's still Spider-Man at this point.)  Rather than a fake resurrected Steve Rogers (as we saw in the original run), Captain America is now an administrative assistant at Alchemax, though it appears that she's unaware of her alter ego.  (In a twist, Miguel seems aware of it, and it raises all sorts of ethical flags if Roberta, the assistant, is truly unaware that she's Captain America.)  David also throws in the Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iron Man, and Vision to the mix, though we learn little about them here. 

(Actually, we do get a fairly odd sequence with Hercules, where we learn that he's been drinking to excess because it's the anniversary of him killing Megara.  This behavior becomes a problem when he sexually harasses a woman because he can't believe that she's refusing his advances.  But, honestly, this entire sequence of Hercules being drunk fees odd.  It seems to be there to show Miguel shrugging off his oafish behavior.  Combined with the Roberta situation, David might just be using it to confirm that Miguel is an evil asshole in this world.)

In other words, it's an interesting story in and of itself.  Like other tie-in issues, it doesn't resolve some of the questions that I still have about "Secret Wars," but I increasingly care less and less about those answers, since these stories are good on their own.  I just hope Marvel can keep this string of hits going.

*** (three of five stars)