Saturday, August 29, 2015

Grayson #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

A question that I still have, ten issues into "Grayson," is what sort of organization Dick thinks Spyral is?

In this issue, Dick expresses shock that Spyral might be selling kryptonite to Lex Luthor (the "representative" of Argus and the Justice League of America) in exchange for upgrades to the Hypnos technology.  (Lex apparently is the one that created Hypnos, and this new version allows Spyral to take control over the bearer's body.)  It makes total sense to me for Spyral to make that deal.  After all, the entire reason that Batman embedded Dick into Spyral is that they were trying to ferret out the secret identities of superheroes.  I mean, he spent the first few issues of this series tracking down organs that allowed Mister Minos to reconstruct Paragon.  Can he be that surprised that Spyral would sell kryptonite to Lex?  Sure, it's a little unclear if Helena is continuing Minos' mission to expose superheroes, but it doesn't mean that Spyral is suddenly not the organization that had that goal in the first place.  Is Dick just pretending to be that naive to throw off everyone?  Or, does he really think that Spyral is some sort of force for goodness in the world?

I feel like we probably need an answer to these question sooner rather than later.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hawkeye #22 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's here.  The last issue.  It's over.

On some level, this series was everything great about modern comics.  Fraction and Aja no longer felt constrained by the traditional forms of storytelling that dominate the industry, and they were able to use this freedom to experiment and innovate.  That innovation is present throughout this final issue, with Fraction having the Clown swear by saying "[curse in Polish]" and Aja providing designs that show how the gun mechanism that the Clown has hidden up his sleeve (literally) works.  It's clear that comics are going to look and sound this way in the future, and you have to give enormous credit to Fraction and Aja for that.

But, this series wasn't perfect, and I'm not talking about the delays.  If you read the reviews that most people give it, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it is.  But, it isn't, at least for me.  Sana waxes poetic in the letters page about the fact that this series was successful in part because Clint is relatable:  he's a regular guy with great aim.  But, he's not.  Not really.  After all, he, Barney, and Pizza Dog all once again survive gun shots that should've left them dead.  It's at least the second (if not the third) time in this series that each of them has survived such an attack and, as a result, it felt incredibly anti-climatic.  (It might've had a little more impact if it had appeared before the new series debuted, since we already knew at least Hawkeye and Pizza Dog survived.)  Fraction just kept going to this well too often in this series to make it feel credible.  In fact, it was the opposite of innovative; it started feeling like Aunt May getting kidnapped, where you expected every issue to end with someone "dead."  On some level, it's easier to believe that Ian survived Zemo's attack in "All-New Captain America" #2 because he is actually super-human.  Here, I'm left to wonder why I'm so afraid of Ferris wheels, since in Fraction's world Hawkeye could probably fall from one and be OK.

But, it's not just that Fraction bent the rules too much when it came to portraying a "regular guy."  I could live with that, since it's not like I expect such realism in my comics.  I'm also left with no clear idea of how the story that has fueled this series for the last two years gets resolved.  When Kate confronts one of the bros in Clint's apartment, he dares her to shoot him, because he can easily be replaced by one of the other Tracksuit Draculas.  But, we never learn why he and the other Draculas are so committed.  It's not like he's some sort of cult member; he's part of an organized-crime group trying to pull off a real-estate swindle (one that I still don't completely understand).  After 22 issues, I really feel like I should have a better understanding of their motivations, particularly why they're willing to sacrifice their lives for their employer.  It goes to another point that I've made, about why Clint is willing to jeopardize the lives of his neighbors to protect the building when he had enough money to simply buy a new one.

Fraction also leaves a number of other loose ends.  Mockingbird forges Clint's signature on some forms (with him standing next to her), but we never learn what sort of forms they are.  Is he signing over the building to the Avengers?  We also have a group of super-villains, including Kate's father, decree that the Hawkeyes will die, but I'm not sure if Lemire has any intention of picking up that story.  They're just out there, like Fraction couldn't accept the fact that he was ending the series and wanted to give us a hint of where he would've gone with it.

In other words, I don't really understand any of it.  Clint got shot a bunch of times, Kate went to Los Angeles where she talked to a dead guy that wound up not being dead, and together they managed to prevent some sort of mafia from buying his building.  That's it, really.  Some people seem to have found more in it than I did, and I'm glad for them.  For me?  Even Pizza Dog wasn't enough to save it for me.

*** (three of five stars)

Years of Future Past #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of the challenges that the authors of the "Secret Wars" tie-in issues face is that they don't have a lot of time to convey the necessary details establishing the reality that they're shepherding.  Since most of the tie-in issues focus on previous events, they've got to show us how these events ended differently in fairly short order so that they can get onto telling the story that they want to tell.  It's not an easy job, I admit, but Bennett is really struggling to do that here.
The big revelation of this issue is that Cameron is actually Kitty and Colossus' son.  Kitty conveniently blurts out this information as she saves his life from the attacking Sentinels, and she escapes with the kids as Colossus and Logan try to help the refugees escape Centrum.  Later, we learn that Logan fled with Cameron when he was an infant as the Sentinels captured the rest of the team (Kitty was pregnant with Chrissie at the time).  As Cameron himself admits, it sort of makes sense, since they needed someone out there trained to fight President Kelly if he got fully genocidal.  (Kitty doesn't admit to that, but she doesn't necessarily deny it either.)  However, I still don't understand where Logan took him.  Bennett generally portrays the United Doomstates as a dictatorial regime that Kelly controls with an iron fist.  As such, it doesn't make sense to me that even Logan could escape observation for that long, particularly with a kid in tow.  Moreover, Bennett implied in the last issue that Logan seemed to leave Cameron for long periods of time to meet with Kitty and the team in the camps, making it seem all the more likely that he would've been caught at some point.  To make matters worse, Cameron is full of all sorts of pop-culture trivia (like "Star Wars" and Wikipedia) that make it seem like he was just chillin' at a bro's house all this time and not struggling to survive in a hostile world.  It leaves me really confused about how the Doomstates really work, and it distracts from the story that Bennett is trying to tell.

Beyond just the problems with the premise, Bennett doesn't really make anyone's motivations clear.  Kitty and the kids escape to a church that Nightcrawler runs, since even Kelly won't shut down a sanctuary dedicated to Doom.  However, rather than taking a minute to regroup, Kitty and Kurt decide almost immediately that Cameron and Chrissie should liberate a mutant detention-camp on the doorstep of the church.  Cameron then proceeds to point out all the various problems with this plan.  He reminds the group that Kitty just regained her powers and Chrissie has never used them, so maybe it's better to wait for Angel, Colossus, Logan, Ororo, and Rachel to return.  Moreover, he observes that this plan really makes little sense when you consider the fact that the prisoners are unlikely to be strong enough to lead some sort of revolt against Kelly.  Finally, he reminds them that Doom chose Kelly as baron, so it's not really clear if Doom would let the revolt succeed even if they could swing it.  I get Chrissie dismissing Cameron as pessimistic, but Bennett makes no attempt to explain what Kitty and Kurt were thinking or not thinking, as the case may be.  (I mean, we're talking about serious pet peeve #3 here:  using a character to lay out the problem with your plot doesn't excuse you for having the problems in the first place.)  However, Chrissie impulsively attacks the camp, everyone follows, and, surprise, surprise, Freedom Force is there, because it's a trap.  (I don't know how they knew that this group would attack.  Did Destiny foresee it?  Anyway, at this point, it's the least of my worries.)

Honestly, I just have no idea where we're going here.  To make matters worse, Bennett continues to fill up panel after panel with script, making it all the more upsetting that we have no clear idea of the plot, since we have to plow through so much exposition along the way.  Unfortunately, I really feel like this story is skippable.

* (one of five stars)

Korvac Saga #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ho boy, shit goes down here.

Carina turns into a monster, like everyone else that the Madness affects, and Captain Marvel "sanctions" her without realizing that she's the monster.  In the aftermath of her death, Simon implies that he may abandon the treaty that he's in Forest Hills to negotiate, since Doom is likely to wipe out the Hills soon to prevent the Madness from spreading.  (Since the "Madness" involves the victim realizing that the stars have disappeared, you could see why Doom would be anxious to eliminate it.)  However, Vance wryly notes that the Holy Wood might not be all that safe from the Madness, given its proximity to the Hills, and Simon might want an ally in case Doom comes calling on both of them.

But, it's Starhawk and Moondragon's adventure on the astral plane that really raises the stakes in terms of the larger "Secret Wars" story.  Moondragon initially approaches Starhawk to help, offering to augment his powers with her own powers to try to track the Madness.  However, Starhawk's assistant, Geena, notes that the victims don't appear to be suffering from a mental disorder, but an altered sense of reality, given their focus on the absence of stars.  Although Moondragon and Starhawk caution her that she's going down a path to blasphemy, they're intrigued by her comments.  Starhawk wanders the astral plane, with Moondragon using her powers to bolster his form, and he comes to realize that Battleworld is really stitched together of other realities.  However, he encounters a large indistinct figure that utters the word "Doom," destroying him.

I'm really intrigued where Abnett goes from here.  This series (behind maybe "Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps") seems to be the one that could spell the most trouble for Doom and his grip on Battleworld.  I can't wait to see how it connects to the larger story in the end.  Plus, it's just nice spending time with the original Guardians.  I forgot how much I liked them.  This longing is thanks to the fact that Abnett does a great job capturing everyone's voice here, be it Nikki's brashness or Hercules' obnoxiousness.  As much as I don't need to be adding another title to my list, I'm really tempted to jump on board "Guardians 3000" now.  Decisions, decisions!

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hail Hydra #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ho boy, Ian is in t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Of all the premises of the "Secret Wars" tie-in issues, this one is perhaps the most interesting.  Ian is on Battleworld not because he made the transition like everyone else, but because he jumped into Hydra's Infinite Elevator to escape death when Zemo's island exploded.  It seems like he was briefly outside time when the "change" happened, meaning that he's from the Marvel Universe, just like the folks on Reed's life raft.  As such, he's understandably disoriented.  He encounters a kid spraying paint on a wall and asks for help, discovering in the process that Hydra rules this New York with an iron fist.  Startled, he has to pull himself together quickly when Hydra attacks.  He manages to escape, only to go into the belly of the beast to save the kid.  But, it's a futile effort:  he saves the kid and other folks designated for "sanitation," but this reality's version of Ian, Leopold, kills the kid.

Remender does a great job of keeping the focus of this issue on Ian and his emotional journey.  Although I've been impressed with virtually all the "Secret Wars" tie-in series, the weaker ones are the ones that focus too much on the changes in the status quo and not enough on using those changes as a prism through which the reader can see the character(s) in a new light.  Remender uses "Secret Wars" exactly that way here, as Ian is confronted with the version of himself that he would've been had he chose another path (Zola's, not Steve's).  None of the other tie-in series that I'm readying has gone with this approach so completely, even though it's a fascinating one.  (It's mostly because of the rule that you can't cross into other domains, so no one seems to have confronted an alternate version of themselves.)  Moreover, this premise gives us the opportunity to spend some quality time with the adult Ian, something that we haven't really had yet.  So, color me a happy camper.

*** (three of five stars)

Guardians of Knowhere #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of all the "Secret Wars" tie-in issues, this one was the one that probably intrigued me the most.  After all, the residents of Battleworld think that they are the sole planet in the universe.  If they believe that, it makes it hard to believe in the Guardians of the Galaxy as anything beyond the Guardians of, well, Battleworld.

The good news is that Bendis has a clever answer that gets us on stable ground pretty quickly.  In this revised history, Doom was the one to slice off the head of the Celestial that would come to house Knowhere.  It's now Earth's moon, and the Guardians protect it and its residents.  That said, this answer doesn't really resolve all outstanding issues.  For example, an unseen narrator tells us that only conspiracy theorists on Battleworld believe that aliens live there.  However, didn't anyone question from where the Celestial itself came?  If a creature like a Celestial could appear from the Void, then doesn't it stand to reason other aliens could exist?  Plus, if they do exist, then doesn't it prove that the Void isn't as empty as Doom says that it is?  Given that everyone in "Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps" also suffers from this lack of curiosity, I have to wonder if something other than the liberal definition of blasphemy on Battleworld keeps everyone this lobotomized. 


Moreover, it leaves us with the small questions of what the aliens living on Battleworld themselves believe.  Clearly they know that they're aliens, so they've got to know that they come from somewhere.  I wonder if the answer is that they do know that they're not alone in the universe, but Doom's ban on traveling between domains at least keeps that truth isolated on Knowhere.  After all, it would confirm why it's such a big deal to the Thors that Gamora has been breaking this rule.  We don't yet learn why she's doing so, though she utters Thanos' name, implying that her cosmic powers might be leading her to the truth.  (That said, she doesn't believe that Doom exists, so I'm not sure how reliable said powers are.)  However, before we got any conclusions, someone called Yotat attacks because he's got some sort of vendetta against Drax.

All in all, it's an OK issue.  The cosmology of "Secret Wars" weighs down the action, but that's more or less to be expected, given the nature of the series.  It makes me wonder, though, if this issue isn't going to be one of the ones that spells doom (heh) for Doom's iron-fisted control over Battleworld.

** (two of five stars)

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't have too much to report about this issue.  Carol's squad upgrades all their planes to enable them to travel into space, so that they can try to discover why Carol has her powers.  (We learn that the tale that they've been told is that Doom chose her as a child to have said powers, but the squadron's doctor confirms that they don't bear the hallmarks of Doom's magic.)  Carol also has a chat with Rhodey (the guy that she saved from the alleged Ultron ship last issue).  He tells her that he's from Limbo, and that he and his crew left after they grew disillusioned with Doom for letting them live literally adjacent to Hell.  However, we still haven't learned why Carol's superiors ordered her to destroy the ship, though my guess is that it has to do with the rule that you don't cross borders in Battleworld.  I guess we'll see.  At least we got some explanation for how Carol allegedly got her powers, since it was clear that it couldn't involve the Kree in a reality where Battleworld is the only planet in the universe.

** (two of five stars)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book of Death #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Venditti takes us from Point A to Point B in a way that I find that only Valiant does so efficiently.

First, he answers the main remaining question that I had from "The Valiant" event, revealing that a new Geomancer gained his powers pretty much immediately upon Kay dying.  We see this child, David, frolicking with the animals in his yard, but, at some point, someone (possibly the Immortal Enemy) takes him prisoner and raises him in his dark image.  The import of that development is quickly made clear as Tama reads from the Book of the Geomancers, a chronicle of the end of the world.  This Armageddon comes at David's hands, as he reclaims Earth for nature, wiping out cities and nations.  You'd think that Unity would be assembling to help Gilad protect Tama.  However, they believe that her powers are no longer under her control and that she's responsible for trees murdering the entire populace of four villages in the United States.  (Gilad doesn't refute this accusation when X-O Manowar confronts him.)  At any rate, David makes his first strike, under the tutelage of the dark figure, against Gilad and Tama.  Unity ironically saves them, only for Ninjak to attack them.

All in all, i
t's a really solid issue.  Venditti infuses it with tension, because it really feels like everything is on the table, like the Immortal Enemy might actually succeed in destroying the Earth.  Plus, Venditti seems like he may turn environmentalism on its head.  After all, maybe the Immortal Enemy is just an uber-environmentalist that wants to reclaim Earth for nature.  How evil is that?  In other words, I'm not sure where we're going, but I'm excited about the trip.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League #42 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Once again, I think that it's best to recap this issue in checklist format, since we've got a lot happening at once:

- Lex and Superman are on Apokolips.  Darkseid declares that he doesn't just want Clark dead -- he wants his soul.  He decides to send the slaves of Apokolips after him, though Steppenwolf (correctly) observes that "no slave could kill the Kryptonian."  Desaad apparently thinks that it'll teach Superman that his belief that hope exists everywhere is mistaken, because it clearly doesn't exist for you if you're a slave on Apokolips.  But, I think we all know that Clark will find a way.

- On Earth, Metron arrives just in time to teleport the Justice League from the clutches of the Anti-Monitor and Grail.  He takes them to Shazam's HQ, and Diana lassoes him to get the information that she needs to stop the Anti-Monitor.  He resists giving details, but tells her to displace him from the chair.  She does, and Bats jumps on it before it can disappear.  He asks for the identity of his parents' murderer, and it confirms that it was Joe Chill.  He also asks for Joker's true name, though he disbelieves its answer.  Diana asks if he's OK, and he replies that he's fine, because he's now a god.  Um, OK.

- In an exposition-heavy sequence, Myrina explains to Mr. Miracle that she had Darkseid's daughter since she knew that she needed a weapon for the day when Darkseid decided to enslave everyone on Earth.  Scott is shocked that Myrina has provoked a war with Darkseid, believing her to be optimistic that it's possible to kill him.  For this belief, Myrina attacks him and he flees.

This issue isn't the strongest, and I'm hoping that it's a transitional one, with Johns getting us the information that we needed as quickly (if inelegantly) as possible.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #151-#155 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

About a year or so ago, I spent some money that I'd been saving to buy all "Amazing Spider-Man" issues from #150-#199.  (I already have #200-#423.)  I hadn't particularly planned on reviewing the issues as I read them, but I was motivated to do so after reading these five issues, since we're dealing with a really interesting period of Spidey's history.

Len Wein starts his run on "Amazing Spider-Man" with issue #151, following in the footsteps of the great Gerry Conway and the conclusion of the Jackal story, now known as the first Clone Saga.  In fact, Wein is the one to deal with the aftermath of the story, with Peter dumping the clone's (supposedly) dead body into the now-famous smokestack.  (I say "famous" because this moment inspired a storyline in the second Clone Saga that became the moment where that story really ran off the rails.)  Issue #151 is also notable because it reintroduces Harry Osborn as a supporting character; he returns after leaving the mental institution where he stayed after his time as the Green Goblin in issues #136-#137.

With Harry's arrival, the "gang" that later comes to define Peter's supporting cast is firmly in place.  Peter spends most of his time at Empire State University (ESU) with Harry as well as Flash and Mary Jane; Betty Brant and Ned Leeds also frequently appear in these issues.  As a kid of the '80s, I'll be honest that I was surprised by the role that Ned plays in these issues (including the preceding issues under Conway).  I always thought of Ned as a somewhat random character that they revived to serve as the fall guy for the Hobgoblin's secret identity.  But, he's really an integral part of this cast, and it makes me better appreciate the shock that it must've been for Peter (and, obviously, Betty) to learn that he was the villain.  (That said, I also remember being impressed by how dark and difficult his character was in the early 200s, making it easier to believe that he eventually became the Hobgoblin.)  

In terms of the "gang," I will say that their characterizations are definitely rougher than they are now, some 40 years later.  Flash is pretty much still Flash, though a slightly more gentle version of his previous self.  It's Harry and Mary Jane that are...odd.  Harry appears like he's had so much shock therapy and/or is taking so many psychotropic drugs that he can barely manage a declarative statement.  But, at least it's sort of a reason for his odd characterization.  It's really Mary Jane that seems like she's had some sort of personality transplant.  Under Conway, she was aloof but determined, whereas Wein portrays her as flighty and mean.  She becomes furious with Peter for abandoning her to "go take photos" at Betty and Ned's engagement party in issue #151.  In issue #153, she's equally perturbed when Peter talks to Ned instead of dancing with her and later for allowing Harry to "cut in" when they are dancing.  In fact, she spends most of these issues refusing to talk to Peter for these affronts, leading to an exchange in issue #153 where it seems that she's quite possibly schizophrenic.  She tells Peter that she's decided that it's not worth fighting for him (changing her mind from issue #146), and he begins to leave as a result.  But, she immediately calls on him to stay, saying that she's changed her mind (again) and asking him if he wants to share her ice cream.  It's bizarre to say the least.

Conversely, a highlight of characterization comes as result of the aforementioned engagement party that Robbie Robertson talks JJJ, Jr. into hosting.  JJJ, Jr. hilariously spends the entire party trying to make sure no one breaks any of his valuable tchotchke and "encouraging" his guests to eat and drink the cheaper items.  (Interestingly, Peter complains that the waiter gives him a Dr. Pepper instead of something with "a little zing in it," despite the fact that he's currently portrayed as someone that doesn't really drink.)

In terms of plotting, issues #151-#152 are pretty standard, with Peter foiling a fairly ridiculous Shocker plan.  It's in issues #153-#155 where it all gets weird.

In issue #153, Ned introduces Peter to a guy named Dr. Bolton.  He's a former star quarterback at ESU, and he relates a story about how he fell a foot short of scoring a championship-winning touchdown.  (He was apparently trying to run the full 100 yards, and I'd say that any quarterback that thinks that he can run 100 yards better than an actual running back has delusions of grandeur.)  At any rate, he went into computers after graduating.  He and a colleague, Dr. Smith, have invented the "Worldwide Habitual Offender" (WHO) catalog, a computer that will allow authorities to enter in crime details and find likely suspects.  However, some guy named Paine has kidnapped Bolton's daughter and his employer wants Bolton to turn over the final part to the machine.  When Bolton does so, Paine tries to abscond with his daughter anyway as "insurance."  In one of the oddest moment that I think that I've ever read in a comic, Bolton runs across the football field where they met, just like in his story.  This time, Bolton makes it to the goal line and saves his daughter, but not before Paine's men kill him.  Who knew that quarterbacks were all secretly superheroes able to (mostly) evade bullets?  (Spidey had realized that something was wrong with Bolton, and it's why he left MJ with Harry at the dance.  Unfortunately, he arrives too late to save Bolton, but manages to take down Paine.)  Despite the somewhat ridiculous premise, it's definitely shocking to see someone actually die in a Spidey comic, particularly in front of his young daughter.  The last image -- of his dead body on the goal line -- makes it almost seem like he cared more about making it the entire 100 years than saving his daughter.

However, in the next issue, Wein implies that the incident with Paine isn't an isolated one.  The same costumed goons that Paine employed break out the Sandman and deliver him to an unseen employer (presumably the same one that Paine mentioned in the previous issue).  He sends him to get a piece of equipment from a research facility, but Sandman calls an audible (to continue the football theme).  He activates a Spider-Tracer to attract Spider-Man and, in a moment straight from the 1960s "Batman" TV show, captures him and plans to use the device -- some sort of industrial freeze-ray -- on him.  Shockingly, Peter breaks free of the bonds and eventually evades Sandman until he (Sandman) accidentally slides himself in front of the ray.  This entire sequence is odd for two reasons.  First, I initially assumed that the employer, since his goons were the same ones as Paine's, would have wanted Sandman to collect the piece of the WHO catalog that Paine failed to secure in the previous issue.  However, I sort of doubt that the missing piece was a freeze ray.  As such, it's unclear at this point if it is the same employer.  If it is, does he have some larger plan that would require both the WHO and the freeze ray?  If it isn't, is someone running some sort of henchman-for-hire company?  Second, Peter initially frets that the freeze ray will kill Sandman if it hits him, but, after it does, Peter announces that he'll be fine once we get to the summer thaw.  Seriously, it seems sloppy at this point.


But, it all gets even weirder in issue #155.  The District Attorney has invited JJJ, Jr. and Peter to the unveiling of the WHO catalog.  However, they instead discover Dr. Smith dead.  As Spider-Man, Peter breaks into the office later that night to use the machine to develop a list of likely suspects.  However, when none of the names on the list winds up being involved, Peter realizes that it was WHO itself.  Smith apparently realized that it had become sentient, and it killed him, leading to the terrible title of this issue, "WHOdunit?"  (Get it?  Who dunit?  WHO dunit.)  However, this resolution makes no sense in terms of the developments of the previous two issues.  Paine and Sandman are both (again, presumably) working for the same person, as the similarly costumed goons imply.  As such, Paine's employer had to be human, since Sandman's was.  So, we never learn what he wanted to do with the WHO (or, for that matter, the freeze ray).  Did he just want to prevent the police from having such a powerful tool?  Put another way, it seems unlikely that WHO hired Paine to get the last piece of equipment needed to complete him (particularly since Smith didn't realize WHO was sentient until after he finished him).  As such, we're never given any insight into Paine's employer's motives.  I guess that it's possible that he has some master plan that Wein will reveal in a later issue, but, at this stage, it all feels disconnected and odd.

In other words, it's a weird start for Wein's run.  He seems to have interesting ideas and a desire to tell larger stories (as the mysterious man that we've seen a few times implies), but he seems to have trouble closing the deal.

Perhaps the most amazing parts of these issues, though, are found in their letter pages.  In issue #153, Marvel declares itself so overwhelmed by letters demanding No-Prizes for spotting the legion of inconsistencies in the Jackal story that it's forced to write a narrative explanation to clarify.  But, it's Carol A. Strickland of Fayetteville, NC that could've saved us all a world of hurt if someone would've just listened to her.  She points out something that honestly never occurred to me in the years that I was reading the second Clone Saga.  She observes that Spidey should've fairly easily been able to tell if he was the original Spider-Man, since he'd likely have scars and bruises for years of crime-fighting, something that a newly baked clone wouldn't.  Ladies and gentleman, why couldn't someone have re-read her letter in 1994?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Batman: Earth One - Volume 2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I didn't review the first volume of this series, and I haven't reviewed any of the three "Superman:  Earth One" volumes either.  But, here we go.

Although the first volume was a solid story, I'll be honest and say that it didn't seem to stake out any groundbreaking territory.  Sure, some details were different.  Thomas Wayne called Alfred to Gotham because he was an old war buddy and he needed someone that he trusted to work security for him as he was poised to become the new Mayor.  Indeed, the Penguin, the current Mayor, had hired someone to kill him, but a random thug wound up killing Thomas and Martha before Penguin's men got the chance to do so.  (Martha is also an Arkham, the other most important family in this Gotham besides the Waynes.)  Otherwise, it's a pretty straight-forward re-telling of Batman's origin story.  Alfred is a little more bad-ass, but it all sticks to a familiar, if well written, script as Bruce learns the ropes.  My only real complaint about the first volume is a scene meant to be heart-warming, where Alfred embraces Bruce and tells him that he was never alone.  But, to be honest, Johns never really showed us that any warmth even remotely existed in their relationship, so I found myself rolling my eyes at the forced emotion behind it.  If Alfred is going to be a bad-ass, it's a stretch to believe that he would also be Bruce's emotional steward at the same time.  In fact, I feel like Johns missed the chance to stake out said groundbreaking territory, since he could've made this story different by making Alfred emotionally withdrawn.

Johns perform equally solidly in this volume, but I'm not entirely sure that it's any more original than the first volume.  The part that piqued my interest the most was the possibility that this Batman wasn't going to be the world's greatest detective.  For most of this volume, Bruce looks to Gordon to help him piece together the murders that the Riddler is committing.  In fact, Bruce relies on him so much that Alfred gets jealous.  At one point, Bruce tramples a crime scene; when Gordon cautions him, he reminds Gordon that he (Gordon) is the detective.  It's here where I felt like Johns was going to go a different route.  After all, if Bruce isn't the world's greatest detective, Batman is essentially just a vigilante taking down street thugs.  But, is that enough in this Gotham?  We never find out the answer to that question, since Johns has Bruce become the detective that he needs to be.  At first, I cut Johns some slack, since he initially set Bruce on the course of learning the tools of the trade from Gordon, and I though that could be interesting (if still ending at the same point of him becoming the world's greatest detective.)  But, it's pretty clear that this sort of development would take too much time in this format, so Johns is forced to have Bruce develop these skills essentially off-panel.  One minute, he's trampling crime scenes, the next one he's seeing a pattern that no one else can see.  It's not terrible, exactly, but it was disappointing, in much the same way as Alfred eventually showing his emotional connection to Bruce was disappointing.  By the end of this volume, both Alfred and Bruce are only slightly different from their prime counterparts.

Instead, Johns focuses his attention mostly on supporting characters to make this story feel distinct from the DCnU.  Again, though, it feels rushed, since he's not able to fully explore characters.  The most egregious example is the fact that we still don't know, at the end of this volume, why the Riddler did what he did here.  At one point, he seemed to be a figure similar to Anarky, killing the rich that held themselves above the hoi polloi.  However, we eventually learn that he's really killing the five government officials colluding to take over the Penguin's criminal empire.  In a way, he's Gotham's version of the Punisher, just with more collateral damage, leaving 40+ people dead in his quest to kill five crooks.  Batman hypothesizes that he needed the body count to throw people off the trail of his true intent, but he never explains why the Riddler wouldn't want the authorities to know about the five officials in the first place.  Bruce originally thought that he was one of the cabal and he was trying to off the competition, but it doesn't seem to be the case at the end of the issue.  We're just sort of left wondering.

But, it's not just the Riddler's actions that left me confused.  We repeatedly see Harvey Dent jealously attack Bruce every time that he shows interest in his sister, but we're never told why he does so.  Johns uses that lack of clarity in his favor at the beginning, since this level of existing emotional instability certainly makes it believable that he could become Two-Face at a later point.  But, with that possibility discarded by the end of the issue, we're just left wondering why he was so overprotective.  Moreover, it's hard to say that Jessica Dent ever becomes a fully realized character.  She's mostly defined by her relationship with Bruce and Harvey, and it makes you wonder how she became Mayor in the first place.  In fact, except for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Catwoman, you'd be within your rights to wonder if Gotham has any women in it at all.  (I guess that I should count the elderly woman that we learn was one of the five corrupt officials, but her portrayal was so obviously intended for us to be shocked -- Aunt May is a crook! -- that I just can't bring myself to count it.)

Honestly, I enjoyed the book more than this review probably implies.  But, maybe all the Batman stories have been told.  Maybe Scott Snyder was right to kill off Bruce Wayne.  If even Geoff Johns can't tell a story where Batman isn't a shining paragon of brawn, intelligence, and morality, then do we just call it a day?

** (two of five stars)

Squadron Sinister #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of my problems with the "Secret Wars" series depicting struggles between territories has been that a bunch of said territories haven't appeared on the main Battleworld map.  For example, the Squadron controls "Utopolis" on the main map.  Last issue, the team annexed the neighboring region of Supremia.  However, Supremia doesn't appear anywhere on the main map.  Thankfully, the editors make it a littler easier to understand these dynamics in this issue, because they include a more detailed map.  This map shows the domain of "Utopolis" with an outline that conforms to the outline on the main map.  Within "Utopolis" is a number of smaller regions, and one of them confusingly is also named Utopolis.  As such, "Utopolis" appears to be both the larger domain and the smaller region, sort of like New York.  I'm just going to go with that and call it a mystery solved.

Focusing on the issue itself, Guggenheim ramps up the "Game of Thrones" drama.  The Nutopians are planning to give a vast number of people a small part of the power of the Starbrand to defend themselves against the Squadron.  The Frightful Four make a move on Europix, one of the other regions, forcing the Squadron to defend it (and then annex it).  However, this attack might've been simply a distraction so that Sandman could swipe Doctor Zero's "Argonite weapon," something that Nightwing earlier wanted to examine to see if it was the weapon used to kill the Thor last issue.  However, it's unclear to me how Sandman would've known about the weapon or what he planned to do with it.  After all, it seems unlikely that he swiped it for the Wizard to do something with it later, since the Four had to know that they'd be unlikely to survive a fight with the Squadron (and, as such, for the Wizard to be alive to use it.)  Meanwhile, Hyperion is increasingly concerned that the murder of the Thor is going to attract Doom's attention, since he's clearly the only thing that Hyperion fears.

All that said, I'm not sure that the story that Guggenheim is telling is all that interesting.  The Squadron is still stereotypically villainous here, killing and torturing people with abandon.  We still don't know why Warrior Woman is betraying Hyperion to Nutopia, and I have no idea why Nightwing really believes that he could defeat someone as seemingly omnipotent as Hyperion.  (I'm assuming his desire to investigate the Argonite weapon has something to do with that plan.)  We'll likely get some answers to those questions, and I hope that Guggenheim gives us a little more characterization along the way.

** (two of five stars)

Spider-Verse #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'm thoroughly confused here.  Costa wants us to believe that everyone other than Gwen doesn't see Norman Osborn as a villain.  It's all just a big misunderstanding, apparently.  The problem is that you don't have to know that Norman is a bad guy in other realities to know that he is one here.  First, Gwen seems pretty sure that he killed the Gwen Stacy of this reality, and Norman so far hasn't done anything to disabuse her of that notion.  It's hard to see how a CEO of a corporation could innocently kill a young woman.  Second, he employs a goon squad, this reality's version of the Sinister Six, to "collect" the Spider-People after Spider-Ham calls in their location.  OK, sure, maybe Osborn's doing something to help Ham, but no one raises an eyebrow at the fact that he hires known criminals to be his enforcers?  This lack of curiosity is particularly odd when you consider the fact that he claims that he was initially antagonistic towards the Spider-People because he wasn't sure if they were criminals or not.  So, it wouldn't be OK for them to be criminals, but it's OK for him to hire them?  Finally, if Osborn really was helping Ham, why did Ham more or less willingly go with Gwen in issue #2?  I think that Costa is going to eventually reveal that it's all a ruse, possibly due to some sort of mind control, but, until then, I really don't get where we're going here.

** (two of five stars)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Spider-Island #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gage doesn't even pretend to care about the larger "Secret Wars" continuity in this inaugural issue.  Whereas some authors half-heartedly include references like, "May Doom save us," Gage instead focuses entirely on telling his "What If...?" story, where Spider-Man and his allies fail to defeat the Spider-Queen during "Spider-Island."  The good news is that the story is sufficiently strong that I didn't really care all that much about the lack of mention of the larger "Secret Wars" story.

Gage makes Flash the hero of this story, and it totally fits.  Flash survives the final encounter with the Queen only because he was forced to flee after her sonic scream robbed him of the symbiote.  With Spidey's death and the Queen's victory, essentially everyone in New York, including superheroes, remains spider-creatures.  Flash runs a limited resistance with Spider-Woman and the Vision, though Flash admits that the death of Spider-Man basically robbed them of the only person capable of the sort of last-minute save that they need.  Gage is telling a story about how essential certain characters like Spider-Man are in preventing the tragedies that could have happened in most events.  He's reminding us that a darker reality where the heroes aren't able to save the day every time is possible.  After all, Venom tries a Hail Mary pass in this issue and manages to (maybe) get Cap, Captain Marvel, and the Hulk on his side, but it accomplishes little else.  Everyone believes that a cure is off the table, so it seems that the best-case scenario is that they defeat the Queen and allow the spider-creatures that used to be the residents of New York to regain their faculties (if not their humanity).  It's not exactly a happy ending.

Speaking of "not happy endings," the Spider-Girl back-up story is equally grim.  May Parker is still reeling from the death of her father during "Spider-Verse," but she's distracted when the Dream Team (a group that seems pretty similar to the Avengers, despite them appearing elsewhere in this story) attack her for no reason.  I say "no reason" not just because we're not told what the reason is, but because it's also possible that they, too, don't have the reason.  After all, May's ally Stinger suddenly attacks her, declaring her to be an impostor.  I'm not really sure where DeFalco is going with this one, but I guess we'll see.  I know that a lot of people love the "Spider-Girl" continuity, so it's probably just nice for them to see her in action again.

Overall, it's two solid stories that may not set my world on fire like "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows," but do the job that they mean to do.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Wars 2099 #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Uncharacteristically, David gets somewhat predictable here.  Cap gives her word to Strange that the Defenders won't be detained if they come to Alchemax to learn more about Hargood, and Miguel, natch, attempts to detain them once Strange refuses his "offer" to work for Alchemax.  We learn (possibly in an example of pet peeve #1) that all superheroes are legally obligated to work for Alchemax, explaining why Miguel does what he does here.  But, we still don't know why it's the case.  I think that it's supposed to be a reminder that corporations control the 2099 world, but David doesn't make that entirely clear.  Also, I'm not sure if we're supposed to believe that Cap thought that she was telling the truth to Strange when she said that they wouldn't be detained.

Although entertaining at points, this conflict between the Avengers and Defenders obscures the fact that the plot of this mini-series hasn't really been made clear to us (if it has one).  Before the inevitable confrontation that concludes the issues, Hargood revealed under torture that he didn't know who hired him to try to assassinate Cap, since he received his orders through middlemen.  But, he threatened that they'd all be sorry when the "Dweller" comes.  Strange informs Miguel that several people call themselves the "Dweller," so it doesn't really help us (or the characters).  (David also continues to keep the story isolated from the larger "Secret Wars" storyline, so we don't really have any hints from there.)

In terms of the other open questions, we get some answers.  Miguel was the one to incapacitate the Hulk with his venomous fangs, confirming (beyond the red eyes) that he's still Spider-Man in this reality and that at least the Avengers know that.  Also, although it initially appears that this 2099 is an entirely different reality from the one that we've seen in either volume of "Spider-Man 2099," David uses the same Sub-Mariner that we first met in issue #43 of the first volume of the series.  As such, it seems possible that this future comes extends the timeline of the first volume, where Miguel was CEO.

In sum, this issue has its moments, but I do wish that I had a better sense of where we're going.


** (two of five stars)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Inferno #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hopeless wastes no time taking matters from bad to worse here.  Illyana uses her dragonized Nightcrawler to teleport to the X-Men's side of the wall, stranding Colossus and his team in Limbo.  She makes short work of the X-Men that greet her on the battlefield, and the Magic and Science Teams leave their bunker to come help.  They think that it's safe to do so because they have wards that keep Illyana from entering, but they realize too late that they're not prepared for Nightcrawler.  She takes out Beast and Dr. Strange, disabling the wall and sending her demon hordes across the river.  It's plusungood.  Making it doubleplusungood, Mr. Sinister is revealed to be the mysterious man in a laboratory.  He's clearly got some sort of scheme, so it's probably all going to get worse for the X-Men.  Surprise, I know.

*** (three of five stars)

Civil War #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is probably the best first issue of any comics series that I've ever read.  Seriously.  Wow.

Unlike most events, "Secret Wars'" tie-in issues have been its real strength.  (I actually like the larger story that Hickman is telling, so I don't mean that as a dig against him.)  In most events, the tie-in issues are unloved step-children, telling stories that happen off-panel in the main series but that aren't necessarily all that interesting in the first place.  But, with "Secret Wars," the tie-in issue are actually the entire point of the event.  Doom pulled together all these realities where some of the best-known events of Marvel's past didn't get resolved in the way that they did in the prime reality, and we get to see how they went instead.  It initially sounded like fan-wanking, but, I'll be honest, it makes me wonder if Marvel shouldn't go the opposite way from where they're planning:  rather than ending the Multiverse with this event, maybe they should keep telling all these stories.

Turning to the matter at hand, "Civil War" happened when I wasn't reading comics.  I know the outlines of the story mainly from the "Marvel:  Ultimate Alliance 2" video game.  Soule starts us at the tipping point of the event, with Captain America and the anti-registration heroes storming Iron Man's "Prison 42" to free their allies.  However, it doesn't go according to plan.  Someone activates a self-destruct sequence, though it's unclear which party did it.  T'challa claims that it was Iron Man, so he sends Dagger to Cloak to get him to evacuate as many people as possible.  Maria Hill claims that T'challa did it but she has no options because he (allegedly) locked out S.H.I.E.L.D. so that they can't stop the countdown.  The truth is likely neither story, but Soule will get to that eventually.  At this stage, the result is more important:  Cloak tries to save as many people as possible, but he winds up serving as a conduit for the explosion, destroying St. Louis and 15 million people.

It's where Soule goes from here that makes this issue one of the most imaginative stories that I've ever read.  Similarly to Slott's work on "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows," one action flows logically from another action, carrying you seamlessly through the story.  In the war that follows (including Norman Osborn's failed coup), Captain America and Iron Man wind up splitting the country, with Tony establishing a benign dictatorship called the Iron in the East and Cap setting up a libertarian paradise called the Blue in the West.  Miriam Sharpe, mother of one of the children killed in Stamford, arranges a peace conference on the Divide, the No Man's Land between the two countries.

Needless to say, it doesn't go well.  Tony needs land for his growing population, and he's been applying pressure on Cap by blocking off trade to the Blue, since the Iron is seen by other countries as the successor to the United States.  However, Cap refuses.  It's honestly one of the most tensely scripted conversations that I've ever read in comics.  In the mainstream Marvel Universe, "Civil War" represents the nadir of Steve and Tony's relationship.  However, they eventually recover.  Soule brilliantly takes their relationship at the nadir and embitters it even more, to the point where the two can barely be in the same room.  Moreover, his characterizations of both men are brilliant extensions of who they were during "Civil War:"  Cap has become a weary but committed rebel, an extreme version of his Nomad/Captain persona, and Tony is the arrogant and confidant leader, an extreme version of his CEO responsibilities.  Soule makes it clear that Steve and Tony are able to reconcile in the mainstream Marvel Universe because they haven't been pushed to the point where they are here; they still had some common ground.  But, that ground is gone, as is any doubt that they might actually be wrong.

To make matters worse, Miriam is assassinated during the conference.  The shot cam from the west, so Tony instantly blames Cap.  Steve dispatches his deputy, Peter Parker, now the Falcon, to investigate.  (In a heart-breaking twist, Tony had brought MJ and Peter's daughter with him, allowing them time together for the first time in six years.  My only criticism of this issue is that I'm not entirely sure why MJ hasn't been allowed to move to the Blue, though I'm hoping that we get more clarity on that.  Has Tony essentially been keeping her hostage to exert pressure on Steve?)  Peter and Steve come to realize that only Bullseye (who Steve claims works for Tony) could've taken the shot and that he hit Miriam by accident:  he was really aiming for Steve, but Miriam unexpectedly stood.  Steve quits the talks, despite Tony claiming that he didn't do it, and commits to Peter to end the war. 

Honestly, I just don't know what more I can say.  It's like reading "Civil War" crossed with "The Road."  It's pretty much the dystopic comic that I've always wanted to read, and I'm so excited about the next issue that I can't believe I have to wait as long as I do.

***** (five of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy effing crap, this issue is crazy.  The first few pages are intense as Slott slowly but surely builds up the tension.  It's like pulling back a slingshot as far as it can go.

First, Slott takes his time revealing how scary society is under Regent's rule.  Initially, everything seems fine:  MJ is a soap-opera actress and Peter is a "Daily Bugle" photographer.  It's all just like the old days!  Plus, they now have a daughter, and they all can wax poetic about pancakes on the walk to school.

However, Slott eventually lowers the boom.  Peter isn't taking photos of superheroes fighting super-villains for JJJ, Jr. to publish; he sells them to JJJ, Jr. so that they don't get published.  (Regent controls the media, and he seems to want to hide the fact that superheroes still exist.)  MJ isn't a soap-opera actress because she likes the fame; it's so that they can afford to buy equipment for Peter to make new inhibitor bracelets for Annie.  (She breaks hers every time she unconsciously uses her powers when she has a nightmare about Venom.)  Plus, Annie isn't the only one suffering from PTSD after the encounter with Venom:  Peter dreams of Venom taunting him for killing him.  But, the coup de grĂ¢ce comes when Peter tells Annie that she has great powers and the "great responsibility" that comes with them is not to use them.  This corruption of his motto shows just how different this society is, even if it looks normal.

But, even this facade falls apart quickly.  Regent's patrols discover a superhuman at a local elementary school, and Peter fears that they've discovered Annie since he hasn't had time to fix her bracelet.  He uses his powers to get to her as fast as he can, revealing himself to the world for the first time since he was believed dead.  Upon arrival, Regent's squad of super-villains (the Beetle, Boomerang, and Rhino) are indeed confronting a super-powered child.  Actually, they're confronting four of them:  the Power children.  Peter buys time for them to escape, and later, at home, MJ dissuades Peter from running, since Regent is likely to find them anywhere.  She then reveals that she's saved his black costume for a "rainy day."  Meanwhile, Regent dispatches his elite squad, the Sinister Six, to find Spider-Man.

Seriously, this issue has everything.  Slott is in total control of the pacing of the story, with each event flowing logically from the previously one.  The tone is perfect, with Slott somehow managing to convey the stress and tension in conversations that otherwise seem light and familiar.  He also packs in surprises, like Power Pack's debut and the revelation that Regent's elite squad is the Sinister Six.  (I may have gasped).  But, more than anything, it's the relationship between MJ and Peter that sings.  Slott and Kubert gives us a great moment where Spidey is engaging Regent's henchman as MJ appears on site to grab Annie.  As she does, she remarks, "Great.  Feels like the good old days."  It's true, too.  It's a reminder how great she is, and I found myself longing for Slott to get a chance to write about MJ and Peter's relationship.  That sentiment is all the more profound since, possibly for the first time since I've read him, Slott actually manages to find a mature voice for Peter.  He doesn't lose his goofy charm, but he's no longer the immature optimist that he's become in "Amazing Spider-Man."

In other words, I pretty much think that "Secret Wars" was worth it for this issue alone.

***** (five of five stars)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Age of Apocalypse #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Not surprisingly, Nicieza pulled me right into this reality like the 20 years that passed since I last read about it hadn't happened.

Like most of the other "Secret Wars" tie-in issues, Nicieza does a great job of laying out the dynamics of Apocalypse's realm on Battleworld in fairly short order.  Apocalypse had previously sent Sabretooth (one of his Four Horsemen) to the Savage Land to find Doug Ramsey, but he was unable to do so.  (He apparently got "distracted.")  As such, Apocalypse then sent Holocaust (another Horseman) to find him, and he does.  Before he can depart, however, Storm's team of X-Men arrive to try to save Doug.  At this point, it's pretty clear that he's an important figure, but he's as confused by that as anyone.  Both Holocaust and the X-Men die in the confrontation, and Doug is brought to Dark Beast's lab to recover from the ensuing explosion.  Dark Beast asks Sinister (another Horseman) why they suddenly care about Doug, since he's been on their registry for years.  However, Sinister can't shed any light on the subject.  The Summers brothers interrogate Doug, but Cyclops realizes that he has nothing to reveal.  Sinister orders them to take him to the human ghetto, presumably to ferret out any attempt to overthrow Apocalypse.  Once there, Doug comes to realize that the humans are working on a virus to exterminate mutants, but he's conflicted about telling the Summers brothers, since they'd likely kill all the humans as a result.  Before he can decide, Magneto's team of X-Men attack, demanding Doug.

Again, Nicieza really does a spectacular job laying all these cards on the table.  It makes the mysteries all the more exciting.  At this stage, we still don't know the answer to Dark Beast's question, why Apocalypse and the X-Men suddenly took interest in Doug (particularly at the same time).  Moreover, it's clear that the humans were hiding the X-Men, but it's not clear if the X-Men know about their plans to release a virus that could destroy mutantkind.  Plus, Nicieza has gone for the option of only alluding to the larger events of "Secret Wars," so it's unclear if they'll have any impact on the story at some point.  I'll definitely be here to see.

*** (three of five stars)

Bloodshot Reborn #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue unfolds like pretty much all the other ones, with Ray taking back nanites from the most recent homicidal maniac to come into possession of them.  The difference is that he also winds up taking along said maniac's girlfriend, Magic.  In fact, it's Magic that killed the maniac in the first place, and she pleads with Ray to save her since the cops are going to enter the apartment full of drugs and guns at any minute.  It's Ray's closing narration that tells us everything that we need to know about the impact of this decision.  Ray not only confirms that he was naive to think that he could retain his humanity while taking back the nanites, but he also tells us that he comes to fall in love with Magic and his life crumbles as a result (or, at least, alongside said love).  Needless to say, I'm intrigued to see where we go from here.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League of America #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hitch is playing his cards close to the vest here.  This issue is all about Superman introducing Rao to Earth, and Rao doing his best to convince us that he's really a god by healing pretty much everyone everywhere.  Although Batman is characteristically skeptical, Rao really does nothing to arouse our suspicions.  If you go into it assuming that he's really not a god, then the only possible hint that he isn't is the fact that his priests are the ones that technically handle the healing.  (In other words, maybe he's just an alien with advance healing devices that he has the "priests" use in the field.)  But, again, I'm stretching here.  So far, Hitch is playing it totally straight.  The only sign of trouble comes at the end of the issue, when Diana awakens to find herself in a destroyed Olympus.  But, if Rao destroyed Olympus, it probably means that he's a god, doesn't it?

** (two of five stars)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

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

OK, it too me a while to piece together the events of this issue with the events from the "Earth 2:  Society" sneak peak that DC released a while ago.  The problem is that they don't really match that well.

First, we have the events of this issue.  While approaching New Earth 2, Terry Sloan discovered that one of the metahuman refugees was trying to destroy the rescue ships, and he was forced to crash land all of them before the saboteur could destroy them.  (It seems to me that the only two candidates for the saboteur are Mr. Terrific or Jimmy Olsen, though I'm not sure why either of them would try to destroy humanity.)  Sloan decides that it's not worth trying to explain his actions to the general public, since no one would believe him anyway.  (This part sort of makes sense, but it comes across as a way too convenient ploy meant simply to re-establish Sloan as the villain.)  He and Commander Sato establish themselves as dictators from Overwatch-One, the rescue ship that they were controlling and that they decide to keep in orbit around Earth.  (I'm less clear on how exactly they become dictators from such a remote position or why anyone would follow them given Sloan's actions  What power does Sloan wind up having over them?)  In the aftermath of the crashes, Sloan invades the TSS Endurance (the progenitor of New Gotham) to secure Batman's Source Vault before the others (i.e., Helena) can secure it.  A year later, Sloan has inexplicably returned to the proto-tunnels of the TSS Endurance to combine the Source Vault with his Genesis Machine to recreate the world in the original Earth 2's image.  (Unfortunately, we're not privy to why Sloan decided to act at this point.  He's originally worried about the alien species inhabiting New Earth 2, but you'd figure that humanity has found a way to deal with them after a year.)

However, these events conflict with the events that we saw in the preview.  There, it's Helena and Red Arrow, working with Jimmy Olsen (calling himself Dr. Impossible) that are activating the Genesis Machine, with the rest of the Justice Society (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Power Girl) trying to stop them.  Moreover, Helena refers to the gift from her father as the Genesis Machine itself, not the Source Vault.  I'm not sure the significance of that.  It seems notable, except for the fact that Sloan controls both items already in issue #2, so it functionally doesn't matter.  It seems incompatible for Helena and Sloan both to activate the Genesis Machine, so I have to wonder if Wilson was forced to change stories?  I just don't see how it'll work otherwise.

At any rate, even without the sneak peak, I'm seriously confused about the story that Wilson is telling.  He uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to tell the story, but I feel like we don't really know enough the new status quo to stay grounded.  Moreover, they were essentially the same story, with the Wonders trying to stop Sloan from doing something.  It just all wound up feeling repetitive.  It's particularly egregious because I've got a ton of questions that I'd love to see answered.  I'm hoping that we don't again spend a lot of time on some overarching crisis (like Darkseid in the last series) and eventually get to know the characters a little better.

** (two of five stars)

Batman #42 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Julie Madison!  Bruce Wayne!  Bat-Truck!  We have a lot to discuss.

The issue continues to focus on Jim's development as Batman, particularly as he comes to grips with the limits imposed on him as an officially sanctioned Batman.  He realizes that Julia worked for Bruce, and he asks her how he did it.  Her response -- that he didn't worry about Batman's image because that image simply reflected Bruce doing what he thought was right -- was right on the mark.  (It shows that maybe Snyder gets Bruce a little more than I thought.)  However, Jim doesn't have that luxury.  He's struggling in his role as Batman because he has to toe several lines:  he not only has to do what the authorities tell him to do, but he also wants to ensure that people respect the badge that he metaphorically wears.  It's restricting his ability to act on his instincts, a situation made all the more complicated by the fact that someone named Mr. Bloom is handing out powers to street-level gang leaders and the Powers That Be don't want him to get involved.

But, the issue really kicks into gear at the end, as we learn that Bruce is alive and working maintenance for some sort of child-care facility that Julie Madison runs.  At first I didn't think that Julie recognized him, but, upon re-reading the sequence, she clearly does.  Duke Thomas also does, as Bruce apparently isn't hiding his identity.  As such, it's not all that surprising that Jim appears at the facility at the end of the issue to "talk."  I hope that Snyder makes it a little clearer why Bruce is using his name.  It's pretty clear that he must not want to stay totally hidden, but it does raise the question of why he's keeping a low-profile at all if he's not looking to disappear entirely.

Finally, Snyder does a good job of giving Jim a different internal voice as Batman than Bruce.  His tour of the "Three Little Pigs" story in his head was a stream-of-consciousness dialogue with himself (inspired by the fact that he was fighting a member of the Devil Pig gang), but it got him to where he needed to get to find a way to defeat him.  That said, though, he's in that situation because the suit once again fails him, and I consider myself officially tired of this plot device.

Overall, though, it's still a solid story keeping my attention.  I want answers, but I'm hoping that Snyder doesn't rush them, because I'm enjoying the process.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #19.1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

For the first three issues, Conway was telling a solid story of Mr. Negative manipulating Yuri Watanabe (a.k.a. the Wraith) into eliminating his competition to run the streets of New York and Yuri knowing full well that he was manipulating her.  But, a bunch of developments in this issue left me wondering if Conway hasn't literally lost the plot here:

- Mr. Negative offers an alliance to the Ringmaster, noting that the Black Cat and Goblin King were "temporarily sidelined."  However, I'm not really sure that I buy that.  Felicia was active last issue in her attempt to lock up more territory.  Sure, she decided not to break out Hammerhead and Tombstone (and thus win their loyalty and territory), but it doesn't mean that she won't make another attempt.  Moreover, the Goblin King was fine after he tangled with Hammerhead; he also could make another play.  That said, I initially had no recollection of the Goblin King and Hammerhead fighting.  Mr. Negative mentions it as he recites the tips that he gave to Yuri, but I had to re-read issue#17.1 to recall it.  In that issue, Yuri hypothesizes that Phil "got the message" after she and Spider-Man beat down Hammerhead's men, so I guess that we're supposed to believe that Mr. Negative also believes that he's no longer a player.  Phil is pretty cowardly, so I guess that I buy it.  But, I think that you could make an argument that he's also ambitious, so he'd be reluctant to pass up the opening that Hammerhead and Tombstone behind bars presents.  In other words, I don't buy the fact that control over the streets is simply a matter of Mr. Negative working out a deal with Ringmaster.

- Conway rushes through the revelations about the Crime-Master (another potential player).  Yuri claims that he's one of Mr. Negative's Inner Demons and that he's the one that shot Tombstone at the end of issue #18.1.  Although it theoretically makes sense, Conway never established it on its own merits (outside Yuri saying so).  Moreover, I'm not sure why Mr. Negative would have him shoot Tombstone.  Spidey hypothesizes that he was trying to frame Yuri, but he'd really be framing the Wraith.  Did he believe that Yuri would get caught and her identity exposed?  That seems like a stretch.  Was Yuri simply lying?  I actually think that it's the more likely scenario, though Conway has Spidey tell us that he believes Yuri, so I'm not sure what we're supposed to think.

- Finally, I'm not sure what we're supposed to believe about Mr. Negative and the Ringmaster.  As I already mentioned, Mr. Negative offered an alliance with Ringmaster to split up crime in New York, but Ringmaster declined.  However, Mr. Negative somehow knew that the Circus of Crime was going to hit a technology fair to steal an expensive watch, so he dispatched Yuri (and Spider-Man).  But, once there, the Ringmaster revealed that it was all a distraction so that one of Mr. Negative's Inner Demons could swipe the watch.  Were they really working together?  If they were, why would Mr. Negative get Yuri involved in the first place?  Wouldn't the distraction go better if two superheroes weren't there and the Circus only had to distract the guards?  It makes more sense that they weren't working together, and Mr. Negative dispatched Yuri and Spider-Man to distract the Circus of Crime so that his man could swipe the watch.  But, then, what distraction did the Ringmaster mean?  It wasn't like the Inner Demon had to beat one of his men to the watch.

Needless to say, I feel like I need a map to follow all the crosses and double-crosses.  I was doing well, but, seriously, even after re-reading the first three issues, I'm not really sure where we are at this point.

All that said, Barberi can draw Spider-Man any time that he wants.  His movements are really fluid, something that works well with both Spider-Man and the Wraith.  Moreover, he really manages to juggle a lot of action on a page, as the two-page splash shot of the Circus of Crime proves.  Even though the plot confused me, at least I had pretty pictures.

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Years of Future Past #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I'm just going to say that this issue is not good.

Bennett just spends way too much time moralizing, with several characters giving long monologues that felt like reading Facebook posts from your annoying and earnest cousin.  I mean, Colossus literally delivers a page-long version of the "First they came for..." speech that the original managed to convey more powerfully in fewer words.  I just can't believe an editor let it get published.  Beyond their tediousness, these moments all time that could've been better spent developing the actual plot.

We learn here that Angel has been running an underground city called Centrum for years, though we're not given any reason why the above-ground team couldn't be in contact with them.  (I'm assuming that it's because they had to stay well placed enough on the surface world to steal the chemicals that they needed to disable their restraint collars, but Bennett doesn't actually make that clear.)  Moreover, I have no idea where Wolverine and his son, Cameron, have been.  Christina makes it clear that she knows Wolverine, and we saw him in play with the surface-world team last issue.  But, she meets Cameron for the first time as a teenager, so Wolverine must've also been spending time outside the bunker?  (Maybe he inherited his prime counterpart's ability to be in multiple places at once?)  Why couldn't Cameron have the childhood that Christina had?  Bennett doesn't put much effort into addressing their different upbringings, despite the fact that they're the two most important characters to the story that she's telling.

Given how important these questions are, it's possible (if not likely) that Bennett will answer them all next issue.  But, given the slog that it was to get through all the speeches in this issue, it was annoying to get to the end and find that I still had no real idea what I had just read.

* (one of five stars)

X-Tinction Agenda #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

While this issue appears to be a pretty straight-forward action sequence, focusing on the Genoshans' attack on X-City, Guggenheim actually raises all sorts of larger questions in it.

First, Hank continues to be an enigmatic character and a number of this series' mysteries relate to him.  For example, it's still not clear if he was correct in asserting that Triage wasn't going to be able to cure the Extinction Virus.  If he wasn't, it raises the question if he was intentionally lying to Rachel and, if he was, why he was would do so.  Moreover, Guggenheim makes it clear that he's not all that reliable.  This Hank also brought back people from the dead to inspire the current crop of mutants; this time, it's Banshee, Thunderbird, and Wolverine, shortly after their victory over Krakoa.  This revelation sparked two addition questions for me.  First, why did Hank think morale on X-Topia was low?  After all, it's presented as a Utopia.  Second, does time travel still work on Battleworld?  It's one thing for Doom to have pulled in alternate realities that extend previous storylines.  But, Hank would've had to reach back into the history of the "X-Tinction Agenda" storyline to pluck James, Logan, and Sean from the past.  How does that work?

Second, we learn that the Genegineer had the Genoshans rescue Triage so that he could use his healing powers not on the mutates (possibly supporting Hank's position that they won't work) but on Cameron Hodge.  I get the dastardly nature of that plot, but it raises the obvious question of how the Genegineer gained Havoc and Wolfsbane's trust if he's still loyal to Hodge.  I mean, clearly he isn't saying that he's loyal to him, but aren't they suspicious of him from the start?

But, the mysteries aren't the only part of the series.  As I said, this issue also has an extended action sequence, and it's really amazing.  I expect to see more in the future from Di Giandomenico.  He really does a great job keeping a lot of different characters distinct on the battlefield.  Similarly, Guggenheim manages to get across the conflicting emotions of all the major players, particularly Rachel, as they go to war with old friends.

In other words, it's another strong "Secret Wars" story, and I have to admit to my amazement that Marvel really seems to be making it work as well as it is.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, August 3, 2015

A-Force #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is pretty to the point.  We learn that the girl that fell from the sky at the end of last issue may be the cause of the portal that summoned the shark-monster that got America exiled and the Sentinel that attacks the team in this issue.  Medusa demands that Jennifer "deal" with her, but Jennifer instead decides to go through one of the portals to get more information.  However, she finds herself in the ruined Doomstates.  I'm pretty sure that you're not allowed to willy-nilly cross borders in Battleworld, though I'm definitely excited by some sort of internal cross-over event between this series and "Years of Future Past."  I'm not sure where Wilson and Bennett are going, but I'm on board.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Wars #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Another win!  Hickman and I are getting along!  Woot!  Hickman sets everything in motion in this issue, and I can honestly say, in a good way, that I'm not sure where it's going to go.

Dr. Strange starts the issue bringing the Life Raft heroes up to speed on Battleworld, explaining that the Beyonders were the ones that initiated the incursions and Doom killed them in order to save what remained of the Multiverse.  If I'm not mistaken, it's the first time that we hear that Doom killed the Beyonders and it's also the first time that Hickman has established them as the cause of the incursions.  However, Hickman doesn't explain why the Beyonders were intent on destroying the Multiverse.  (At the base of it, it actually goes to the heart of the story that he's been telling since he took over the Avengers line.)  We'll need to put that on the list of questions that we still need answered, though it's clear that we'll get there. 

However, the Life Raft heroes arent' the only prime characters, if you will, in play.  The Thors are meanwhile trying to stopped the escaped Cabal villains, though they quickly realize that they're outmatched.  It's here where we get the first hint of the true significance of the arrival of the prime characters, with Valeria seemingly coming to the conclusion that they're more powerful than the inhabitants of Battleworld.  Dr. Strange takes the heroes with him to try to stop the Cabal, but it's Doom's realization that Mr. Fantastic is among them that brings us to the next phase of the story.  (Apparently, he has no analogue on Battleworld, unlike seemingly everyone else on the life rafts.)

Scott (as Phoenix) challenges Doom, and, for a moment, it seems that the prime characters are even more powerful than Doom, as Scott seems to have Doom on the ropes.  But, Doom survives, and Hickman makes it clear how strong he is, given that he's able to defeat Scott fairly quickly.  Before Doom can do anything else, Dr. Strange disperses the heroes and the villains.  Doom is furious and demands that he return them, since they both know that it's in their nature to try to overthrow him.  However, Dr. Strange refuses, and Doom kills him after Strange (correctly) observes that Doom fears what Mr. Fantastic will do once he discovers that he's stolen his life (a.k.a. Susan and Valeria).

Again, Hickman definitely makes it clear that we're moving into the next phase of the event.  But, Hickman really subverts the typical event narrative, where the heroes have to rally to save the world.  Here, the players are in place to dethrone Doom, though it's still unclear if they would "save" the "world" if they do.  After all, Dr. Strange makes it clear from the start that Doom did what he had to do to save the Multiverse.  Sure, he put himself on the throne, but Hickman has presented that fact as a logical outcome of his godhood.  In other words, sure, Doom is power-hungry, but he is actually god here.  It makes sense that he's on a throne.  It's the part that makes the event exciting at this point:  if the heroes "win" and de-throne Doom, they might actually destroy the world, not save it.  Talk about a twist.

**** (four of five stars)

Midnighter #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Orlando is telling a lot of stories on a lot of levels in this series, and it's impressive that they're all evident in just the second issue.

First, I'm intrigued by the fact no one seems particularly concerned by how violent Midnighter is.  The guy that he was seeing last issue didn't seem to mind, and the guy that he's seeing in this issue actually seems excited by it.  Even Marina, the woman that he sort of recruits in this issue, agrees to listen to him as he goes on his missions, even though she doesn't really seem to have any reason to do so other than boredom.  It raises the question whether they all live in a world where this type of meta-human violence is so prevalent that it's lost all meaning or if Midnighter isn't exactly surrounding himself with the healthiest people.

Separately, the premise of the next few issues -- of Midnighter retrieving the items stolen from the God Garden -- is pretty great.  First, since the guy who provided Marina with the equipment she needed to make herself a super-villain used Hypnos, I have to wonder if Spyral is somehow involved.  Second, we don't know why the guy is supplying random people with equipment.  For example, we have no insight about how he knew about Marina's tragedy (that her husband was killed by a chemical that a corporation knew could've been hazardous) or why he chose her specifically to empower.  (That said, let me also mention how freaking awesome Marina's powers were.  The Six Killing Sounds?  Coolness.)

Moreover, we've got Midnighter's identity issue in the background, though, to be honest, I'm having problems keeping those problems separate from Bloodshot's similar issues.  I want to know why Midnighter eventually felt it was necessary to tell Apollo that he functionally had no identity.  Or, did Apollo discover the truth on his own?  (The latter seems more likely, since he was mad at Midnighter for hiding the truth from  him.)  But, putting aside the Apollo issue, we also have Midnighter spreading his wings as a gay man for the first time, and Orlando is really hitting that mark amazingly well.

However, we need to talk about the art.  Morgan uses a scratchy style similar to the one that Aco used in the first issue.  It sort of works for most of this issue, particularly the action sequences, though Aco used this style more skillfully.  But, it does a terrible job of conveying emotions, particularly during the scene where Apollo and Midnighter end their relationship.  For example, in the panel where Apollo activates his powers while fighting with Midnighter, the table that he throws doesn't even conform to basic aspects of perspective and Midnighter's eye is literally just a triangle with some blue in the middle of it.  I'm really excited about this book, and, as should be clear, I'm thrilled with the writing.  But, two artists in two issues (and one artist not seemingly bringing his A game) makes me worried that the editors are just phoning in their support.

*** (three of five stars)