Friday, October 30, 2015

Spider-Verse #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Costa delivers an OK -- if inconsistent -- ending to this series.

The Web Warriors discover that the Siege Perilous is a device created to channel their powers into the user (i.e., Norman).  Correspondingly, the Thor is there to destroy it -- and them -- since they all represent a threat to Doom.  (In an example of pet peeve #1, the intro page provided us this information about the chair before Costa did.)  The Warriors try to destroy the chair, but doing so somehow creates a feedback loop that knocks everyone in the room (including the Thor) unconscious.  Meanwhile, Peter confronts the Goblin at the Brooklyn Bridge.  Without his powers, Peter is mostly just distracting him, something that he eventually admits to the Goblin when he eventually captures him.  (I didn't get this part.  First, the Goblin says that he wants to kill Peter, but he doesn't actually do so.  Why not kill Peter once he captures him and then return to the tower to take out the Warriors?  Also, why would Peter admit that he was just trying to distract the Goblin?  Was he trying to save his own skin by selling out the Warriors?  It feels un-Peter-ish.)  Norman eventually returns to the tower (with a kidnapped Peter in tow) and claims the Siege Perilous.  However, the Warriors unplug it while he's using it, rendering him brain dead.  They then decide to stay in this domain to help its people.  End scene.

Again, this issue is OK, but I still can't give it three stars.  Norman not killing Peter, Costa not explaining how Peter lost his powers, the Warriors defeating Norman so easily:  it still left a lot to be desiredFairly or not, one of the challenges that Costa had was setting up the series that we already know will take place after "Secret Wars."  But, I'm not really sure if he accomplishes that here.  Sure, some people within the group have some affection for each other -- Anya and Spider-Ham, Spider-UK and Indian Spider-Man -- but it's hard to say that they coalesced into a team.  For example, I have no idea why Spider-Man Noir or Spider-Gwen would stay.  But, I'll leave that part to Costa in the new series.  For this series, I'd really only recommend it for someone that loved the "Web Warriors" TV show.  Everyone else should probably stick to "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows" for your "Secret Wars" Spider-Man story.

** (two of five stars)

Spider-Island #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is solid, even though it's hard not to feel like Gage stalls for time at the end:  Peter stops the heroes from killing the Queen and thereby gives her enough time to evolve into a greater foe.  That said, Peter would oppose killing an opponent and he would have the cachet to make the rest of the team at least pause before they do so.  Moreover, if Gage had ended the story here, it would've felt rushed, since he wisely spent the early part of the issue setting up the team's attack on the Queen.  (Amazingly, Stegron uses his device not to rescue the infected minions of the Queen, but to animate the dinosaurs of the Museum of Natural History to create a distraction.  It certainly raises the question why we can resurrect the dinosaurs but not cure the mutates.)  Even though this series has had little to do with the main plot of "Secret Wars," it really does feel like the realization of a Doomsday scenario "Spider-Island."  (It's definitely stronger than other series in this category, like "Age of Apocalypse" or "Years of Future Past.")  I can't wait to see what Flash's final "Hail Mary" play is!

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Infinity Gauntlet #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series didn't deserve this issue.

First, it has two grammar/spelling mistakes.  Ignoring how much that sort of error can pull a reader from a story, it's also a mess, narratively and visually. 

We begin the issue with the revelation that Eve has used the Mind Gem to find a city full of people that they never knew existed.  (We don't know how Eve knew to look for said city, given that she didn't know it existed, but I digress.)  They discover that Adam Warlock has managed to keep the city (called Magus City) safe from the bugs with the help of the Soul Gem.  Eve demands that he surrender the gem, he refuses, and a fight ensues.  Eve aligns the gems to her chakras to form the Infinity Armor, but Warlock makes short work of her given his superior experience in wielding the Soul Gem.  (The spelling of "wield" is one of the mistakes.)  While her family fights Adam's "knights," Eve is drawn into a conflict with Warlock on some version of the Astral Plane.  We learn that Warlock essentially uses the Soul Gem to possess people (explaining the extreme allegiance of his people to him) and that he's been hiding the "Behemoth Bug" all this time.  Thanos arrives to take down Warlock, stealing the Soul Gem and killing Eve for the other four gems.

I tried to present the events of this issue as coherently as possible, but it was a challenge.  First, I sort of accept the idea that Warlock could pwn Eve, given his comfort with the Soul Gem.  But, Weaver portrays Eve as completely overwhelmed, as if she weren't already a Nova Centurion.  I'm pretty sure her battle smarts plus four Infinity Gems would've made her more of a force than she's shown to be here.  Then, we've got the totally left-field revelation that Warlock is controlling the bugs.  We're given no insight into how or why he came to control the bugs or what his goals are.  Presumably we'll get those next issue, but it's hard to believe that Weaver is going to have time to answer those questions organically and without a lot of exposition.  To make matters worse, we've also got Drax's insistence at the end that it's really Thanos that brought the bugs and the gems to this world.  In other words, we have a lot of questions.  It's a tall order for one issue.

Beyond just the plot challenges, the characterization is off.  Weaver has added Gamora, Groot, and Peter to the team, but they do little more than fight here.  We would've been better just focused on the family, given that they're the emotional core of this series.  Speaking of said family, Eve is downright crazy here.  Again, given her experience, she should know that she can't just waltz into someone's city and demand that they hand over a powerful artifact.  Sure, she has the four Gems and Weaver has already portrayed her as arrogant, but it really almost defies belief that she pretty much just instantly attacks Warlock.

In terms of the art, Weaver also suddenly goes all Liefeld here, throwing extra lines everywhere and making it difficult to follow the action.  For example, I have almost no idea what happened in Gamora's fight with Ch'od (one of Warlock's knights).

As I said, it's a mess.  Hopefully Weaver will be able to deliver next issue, but (as should be obvious) I have my doubts.  It's just a sad state of affairs that started as probably the most fresh and innovative of the "Secret Wars" tie-in series.

** (two of five stars)

House of M #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Oy.  OK, here we go.

The main problem with this issue is that it implies that Namor and Pietro somehow knew that the humans were going to attack Magneto. Despite the impromptu nature of that attack, the pair apparently planned their attack to coincide with it, so that they could blame the humans for Magneto's death.  It's possible that their actual plan was just to blame the humans anyway, and they don't yet realize that the humans attacked and that they should be concerned over the fact that they haven't yet found Magneto's body.  But, Hopeless and Bunn don't really make that clear.  It also doesn't help that it's hard to believe that Pietro is so naive that he thinks that Namor isn't going to betray him.  Seriously, was he born yesterday?  

The best part of this issue, beyond Anindito's beautiful art, is Lorna and Magneto's flight from Castle Magnus.  The authors give Lorna a wryer voice than she usually has, portraying her as the long-suffering adult among a family of over-grown children.  Magneto spends most of the issue sputtering over his lost powers and inability to exact vengeance on Clint, Felicia, and Misty.  First, he needs to keep them alive because he believes that they know how to reverse his power loss, then he needs to join forces with them to overthrow Pietro.  It's a lot for him to process, I guess.

I really wanted to give this issue a better score, I can't get past the weak plotting here.  I'm still excited about next issue, but hopefully Hopeless and Bunn will pay a little more attention to the basics.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of Knowhere #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis crams an unbelievable amount of developments into this issue, but, as he's often done in similar situations, he somehow makes it work.

The mysterious warrior woman that appeared at the end of last issue -- let's call her Blue -- towers over Angela and Gamora, prompting a (hilarious) discussion of how they should proceed.  Gamora suggests that they lay down their weapons so that she understands that they're not a threat.  Angela isn't convinced.  She tries to get Blue to surrender, and Blue promptly attacks.  Oopsie.  The Nova Corps arrives due to the strange energy signature, and Blue tells Adam Warlock that the Kree will not die.  She then proceeds to kill Venom, Warlock, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel in short order.  Angela and Gamora team together to stop her, and Angela tells Gamora that she'll overlook her transgression given the valor that she showed in combat.  But, Gamora tells her that she can't forget the name "Quill" or the image of a "Thanos," and it drives her to continue to search the "missing pieces" of Battleworld.  Before Angela can do anything, a revived Blue slays her.  At that point, the Guardians arrive (Mantis lives!) and help Gamora stop Blue for good.  Sitting among the scene of devastation, Gamora wonders what a Quill is and, on cue, Peter arrives.  He gathers up the Guardians, tells them that Doom's a "sham," and announces that they're going to do something about it.

I don't know how he does it, but Bendis really managed to fit in all the feels despite the non-stop action.  Gamora is really the emotional center here, and Bendis makes her pain over feeling unmoored in this universe obvious.  Her friendship with Angela is built quickly but firmly, so that we feel her pain when Blue unexpectedly kills her.  Beyond just the emotions, it's the revelation that, as implied in "Korvac Saga" #4, Doom isn't the savior that he appears to be that piqued my interest.  My guess is that we're going to see that revelation in the delayed "Secret Wars" #6, particularly given Peter's reference to the group of heroes assembled ready to overthrow him.  (Maybe they'll even tell us how Peter found the Guardians, since Bendis doesn't establish that here.)

Overall, this series was a weird one.  We spent more time on Yotat than we really did on anything else, even though he had virtually no impact on the final outcome.  But, Bendis ends on a high note with this issue.  As you'd expect from the Guardians, it might not be the most coherent of stories, but it's at the very least a fun one.

**** (four of five stars)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Age of Apocalypse #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I haven't been the biggest fan of this series, but Nicieza finally finds the emotional core that it's been lacking.

My main problem has been that Nicieza never really made clear why a certain character was on a particular side.  Why did Cannonball chose Apocalypse?  Why did Emma chose Magneto?  But, those divisions fade in this issue as all the mutants team together to try to stop the Legacy Virus.  As such, my main problem with this series is essentially overcome by events.  Scott leads Burner and Wolverine into McCoy's lab and even Havok is forced to join them when Scott shows him live feeds of the chaos in the Human Ghetto.  They discover what I expected:  Dr. Nemesis did, in fact, create the Virus, though it's not clear yet why he did so.  Meanwhile, Apocalypse becomes one of the first to succumb to the Virus, dissolving into nothingness as it used his mutant power -- control over his cellular composition -- as fuel to consume him.  Magneto is also a victim, and Emma is forced to euthanize him lest his powers go so haywire before the Virus consumes him that he inadvertently destroys the Earth's electromagnetic field.  Emma's grief is one of the rare moments of identifiable emotion in this series, and it lifts the entire issue.

Nicieza sets up the battle royale with Dr. Nemesis in the next issue, particularly because it appears that he may be using the virus to steal the powers of people that it infects.  At the very least, everyone will be have the same enemy, so I won't find myself wanting everyone to wear jerseys to define their team, as I have most of this series.

*** (three of five stars)

Bloodshot #5-#6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of the problems of developing a backlog of comics is that occasionally one or two fall through the cracks and you don't realize it until you open an issue and realize that you're more lost than you should be.  Along those lines, I somehow missed issue #5.  But, it feeds pretty well into issue #6, so I'm going to cover both of them here.

Issue #5 brings to a close the opening arc, with Ray "killing" Bloodsquirt and Kay after they encourage him to kill Magic in cold blood, since she's dead weight.  In the end, Ray hypothesizes that they're actually manifestations of the nanites.  He thinks that they're trying to find a way to control him because he actually now has better control over them than he previously did.  After he "kills" them, he asks Magic to read his "secret origin" file, because he needs to know if he was ever good before the nanites take control of him and he possibly becomes evil again.  It's a compellingly sad request, and it also establishes why Magic stays in the picture:  she's the only one that really understand him, literally.  But, the real stars of the show in issue #5 are Raul Allen and Patricia Martin as they brilliantly juxtapose Ray's growing bloodlust with Bloodsquirt's cartoonish world.  (The scene where he kills a cartoon Unity is hilarious and disturbing at the same time, particularly since Ray is beside himself in grief as it happens.)

Freed from his hallucinations (for now), Ray begins to hunt down the four remaining hosts of the nanites.  That said, issue #6 is really about Ray and Magic.  Ray tries to convince her to leave, but she stresses that she has nowhere else to go.  She has no money and the police are also looking for her.  (It reminds us that it's a two-way street; she's not just here because Ray needs her, but because she needs him.)  Ray initially leaves her, but he returns.  Lemire isn't 100 percent clear why he returns, but the kiss that they share outside the motel when he does gives us a hint.  They begin driving around Colorado, and Ray eventually finds the next host.  However, in a development that actually gave me chills, he discovers that two hosts at the same house:  one of the hosts has begun hunting other hosts.  This new actor kills the other host and absorbs the nanites, meaning that we essentially have two Bloodshots at this point.  Disturbing, no?

Meanwhile, Lemire also develops Mulder and Scully, or Festival and Hoyt.  They wind up sleeping together here, because Festival thought that it would spark her powers.  It doesn't, in part because Hoyt, um, couldn't actually light the spark.  (This entire scene is amazingly funny, with Festival frequently finding euphemisms for Hoyt's inability to perform.)  My only question here is how Festival and Hoyt know about Project:  Rising Spirit (Hoyt mentions it).  I don't remember it from previous issues, so I'll have to check my back issues.  Hoyt plans on asking a buddy from the CIA for more details about them, and I'm just as intrigued as they are about the answer.

All in all, both these issues are remarkably solid.  I can't believe what a complicated and layered story Lemire is telling after just six issues.  I shouldn't be surprised given that he's done something similar on "All-New Hawkeye," but it's worth noting nonetheless.  I keep looking for titles to drop, and this title is an easy candidate since it's the only Valiant title that I collect.  But, every time I read an issue I remember why it stays securely on my pull list.

**** (four of five stars)

Tokyo Ghost #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

By the time I was halfway through this issue, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to make it to the end.  By the time I did get to the end of it, I was pretty sure that I was definitely going to be there for the second issue.

Part of my initial response to the issue was revulsion, and it becomes clear that Remender and Murphy actually try really hard to make you feel that way.  The point of this series is to explore a world where unplugging from the Internet is essentially no longer an option, and, as you'd expect, it's not a pretty scene.

First, let's lay down the plot.  Debbie Decay is the only person left in "the Isles of Los Angeles" that isn't connected to the Internet virtually all the time.  She works as a "constable" for Flak Corp, an entertainment conglomerate.  Her boyfriend, Led Dent, is her net-addicted enforcer.  Flak has sent them to find Davey Trauma, a terrorist that uses the "nanopacs" that everyone (except Debbie) has embedded into their bodies to hijack people.  He then uses them as weapons.  (He essentially views life as a game of "Grand Theft Auto.")  Flak obviously views the death of this many customers as bad for business, and they promise Debbie that she and Led can walk if they defeat him.  (Conversely, they threaten to cut off Led entirely if they don't succeed.)  They eventually do succeed, though Debbie is forced to inject so many chemicals into Led that he briefly becomes Bane-ified.  She uses sex to try to make him remember who he was before his addiction:  a guy named Teddy (and the person that Debbie has addressed in her monologue throughout the issue).  But, he can't.  The issue ends with him wanting to return to his "stories," and Debbie realizes that they can't retreat to Tokyo (where tech was banned after the war):  her deal with Flak was that Led to relinquish the Internet on his own.

Now, let's get to the revulsion part.  Murphy doesn't shy from showing the horror of this world.  At one point, Led drags the body of an informant along a wall and a road until his face is completely ripped off his head.  All this time, Led is still focused only on the virtual console showing a ton of porn in front of him.  Once the informant is no longer useful, Led throws his body to a pack of cannibals.  The combination of sex and violence continues throughout the issue; its apex is Debbie essentially raping Led in the middle of the street in an attempt to make him remember that he's Teddy.  It's a lot to handle.

But, Remender got me because he really has a story in there.  Debbie's longing for Led to shake off his addiction is haunting.  It's particularly devastating when it's revealed that Teddy is Led.  We learn that she had to take care of her "dishonorably discharged dad the dud detective" in her childhood, and she's repeating that codependent relationship with Teddy.  In fact, Davey accuses of her of facilitating Led's addiction so that she's needed.  But, it is the future, and Remender lets us know that it's gone beyond just addiction.  The nanopacs deliver a plethora of chemicals and hormones to accentuate the experience, to really make you addicted.  It's horrifying in part because it seems 100 percent possible that we could really be somewhere like that by 2089, the setting for this story.

In other words, the sex and violence is really a necessary component of the plot, to get us to realize how awful this world has gotten given our inability to unplug.  Remender says in the letters column that he intended it exactly for this purpose, contemplating that we can't even get through lunch without checking our phones.  (I'm sitting here with a laptop, smart phone, and tablet next to me, and I suddenly feel ill.)  I may need this series to inspire me to actually live my life.  So, I'll be here for issue #2.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Shattered Empire #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

(I'm just using the title "Shattered Empire" here because "Journey to 'Star Wars:  The Force Awakens' - Shattered Empire" is just ridiculously long.)

Rucka follows in Aaron and Gillen's footsteps here, telling a story that sounds and feels exactly like the movies.  He gets the fun task of showing us the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor.  (In fact, the issue starts in the furious last few moments before Lando and Nien Nunb blow up the Death Star.)  We see the celebration on Endor from a number of different perspectives, at times entering and departing scenes that we recognize from "Return of the Jedi" (like Lando and Han arguing over damage to the Falcon).  It's an amazing what Rucka accomplishes in just these few pages, humanizing the war in a way that the movies didn't.

In fact, the main point of this issue (and, seemingly, series) is contemplating the sacrifices that the rank-and-file members of the Rebellion made.  Our main character is a woman named Shara, a.k.a. Green-Four, one of the rebel pilots assigned to protect the Falcon on its run at the Death Star.  Rucka uses her to shift the point-of-view of the Battle from the main characters to a minor one.  In a way, it felt like reading the "Order of the Stick."  Whereas the main characters in the movie hardly ever express concern that they might die, most of this issue is focused on Shara's worry that her husband, a member of Han's strike force, might not have survived the Battle.  (NPC woes, man.)  He did (hurrah!), but the two of them almost immediately volunteer for Han's mission to take down an Imperial base on the other side of Endor.  Shara's husband, Kes, proposes that they build a house on a nice plot of land just before he enters the base with Han, so we all know that he's going to die soon.  (Shara herself alludes to that cliché, so maybe Rucka will have to surprise us and let him live.)

Again, Rucka tells a great story.  In the end, Han emerges from the base announcing that the fight isn't over, setting up the next phase of the Rebels' war with the Empire.  Kes and Shara had spent the night after the Battle wondering what they were going to do in peace time (setting up Kes' comment about the house), but Rucka calls into question how much peace they'll actually see in the immediate aftermath of the Battle.  Rucka manages to really take the energy from "Return of the Jedi" and extend it here, and I'm unspeakably excited to see where it goes.  Once I finish the current book I'm reading, I'm jumping right to "Star Wars:  Aftermath!"

*** (three of five stars)

Darth Vader #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is s-l-o-w.

First, Gillen has oddly decided to focus a lot of time on the Inquisitor's inquiry into the theft from the Star Cruiser (as we saw last issue).  First, we already know that Aphra stole the credits and gave them to Vader, so it's not like Gillen is using the inquiry as an expository device to reveal the culprits.  Moreover, we know that the inquiry isn't exactly going to result in Vader being charged with crimes against the Empire and locked in a basement somewhere.  Given the lack of mystery and stakes, it makes you feel like you're reading a comic about a tax audit.

Moreover, the inquiry reduces Vader to handling the clean-up work, like killing a bunch of rebels in this issue to create an alibi for why he was on Anthan-13 last issue (where he met Aphra to collect the credits).  Vader is just as annoyed as I am, telling Thanoth that the entire endeavor is beneath him.  But, Gillen persists, and we spend this issue trying to chase down the person that provided Aphra with the explosives, since the Inquisitor has deduced that the asteroid field that hit the ship was man-made.

Speaking of Aphra, her plot is equally odd.  She approaches someone that traffics in information to confirm that a person of interest served as a mortician on Naboo.  Presumably, she's tracking down information on Padme, but, if she knew the guy's name in the first place, why did she even have to bother with paying the trafficker?  Doesn't the Empire have Google?

In sum, this issue felt like we were spinning our wheels.  It's OK for it to happen every once in a while, but this series is about Darth Vader.  I don't really want to feel like I'm reading about some intern working for the Empire's equivalent of Mr. Wolf from "Pulp Fiction."  More action, please.

** (two of five stars)

Siege #1-#3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I accidentally bought the third issue of this series, thinking that I had already bought the first two issues.  I hadn't, but I decided that I might as well.  Given how many "Secret Wars" tie-in issues that I was reading, I figured that I might as well add another one.

Despite my love for Kieron Gillen, I can't say that I was particularly taken with anything that he does here.  We're introduced to Abigail Brand as the Woman on the Wall, orphaned when a breach in the Shield 30 years ago leveled Breakworld (she was nine years old) and widowed (as such) when the Beast was lost to the Annihilation Wave.  Her sole allies are Leah, her second-in-command that leaves her to find her lost love, Illyana, and Major Summers of the Eternal Summers, leader of an army of clones that Baron Sinister sent to the Shield when he realized that he had no use for them.  Kang replaces Leah after she departs, and his bravado is undermined when a future version of him (of course) appears to warn them that Thanos will breach the Shield in 20 days.  Over the next 19 days, we watch Abigail and company defeat a series of threats, including the return of Nick Fury (her predecessor) as part of the Ultron Perfection.  Illyana and Leah return to lend a hand, revealing that they actually simply wanted to be rulers so they decided on taking over a sub-domain of the Deadlands, since it's the only part of Battleworld that Doom doesn't rule.

Along the way, Gillen attempts to show us how the people on the Shield are a special sort of person and correspondingly share strong bonds with each other.  But, he never really sells it to me.  We see flashes of this sort of camaraderie -- like when Leah leaves Abigail to find Illyana or when Major Summer is touched when Abigail orders him not send in any more of his "good men" to needlessly die -- but somehow it never fully assembles into the esprit de corps that we're supposed to feel.  Instead, I think that he does a better job getting across the futility of the struggle at the Shield, or, as Abigail tells Kang when he first arrives, of hoping that on Monday you merely knock the enemy into Wednesday.

In other words, it's not a terrible series, but I'll admit that I don't really feel like it adds all that much to the main story or tells all that interesting story on its own merits.  If you're an Abigail Brand fan, you'll probably dig it, but, otherwise, I think you can focus your money elsewhere.

** (two of five stars)

Secret Wars 2099 #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Jiminy Crickets!

David decides to go for fun over plot here, and I can't say that it's a bad call.  OK, to be fair, it's not like David totally abandons the story that he wast telling.  We learn that it was Roberta's husband that injected her with the Super-Soldier Serum and that Black Widow really does eat her prey.  Also, Miguel throws Tyler from the top floor of Alchemax after Tyler revealed that he sent the Specialist after Roberta because he though that she wasn't meeting expectations.  (Apparently this Miguel does have a conscience somewhere in there.)  That said, though, we don't learn why Roberta's husband decided to inject her with the Serum and why it had to be kept a secret from her.  We also don't learn what big secret Tyler was going to tell Miguel (if any), as he swore that he was going to do right before Miguel threw him out the window.  In other words, we get some answers, but they really only lead to more questions.

Instead, Peter decides to take a sharp turn to the loony.  Apparently, the Defenders' escape from the Alchemax building last issue cut the power to the cell where Miguel was keeping Hargood.  (Remember him?  He had something to do with the hit on Roberta, because the Specialist had his card on him, but I don't think that we really got any more clarity on that connection.)  Anyway, it turns out Hargood is a descendant of Baron Mordo, so he uses the virtual-unreality portal at Alchemax (that he conveniently knew existed) to bring through the Dweller in the Darkness.  (Why?  Who knows?  Roberta winds up knocking him unconscious before he can go Bond villain and explain it to us.)  Miguel calls Roberta, turns her into Cap remotely, and tells her that everyone gets forgiven if they come defeat the Dweller.  The Defenders leap into action, and Roman eventually arrives with an even bigger creature to take on the Dweller.  Meanwhile, Hercules and Roberta deliver the aforementioned knocks, and Strange closes the portal.  'Nuff said.

Was it a totally weird ending?  Yes.  Would part of me preferred that we wrapped up a number of the open plot points that David left unclear?  Yes.  Am I excited by the end of the issue saying "The end...for now!"  Yes.  At the end of the day, even if the Dweller pushed other plots to the background, I can't deny that it was a fun issue.  This series had little to nothing to do with "Secret Wars," but, again, I'm not complaining.  Sometimes being a comic-book fan means that you just enjoy watching some superheroes prevent a giant squid from devouring the world.

*** (three of five stars)

Korvac Saga #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I've mentioned in reviews of this series and other ones how "Secret Wars" lets the authors put everything -- even a terrible ending for the heroes -- on the table.  As the tie-in series begin to draw to a close, we get our first taste of such an ending here.

With Korvac revealed, Doom sends his troops to destroy Korvac and "cleanse" the Forest Hills and the Holy Wood.  Before they get there, the Guardians are able to convince the Avengers to stop attacking Korvac, allowing Starhawk enough time to show the two teams the origins of Battleworld as he saw it on the Astral Plane.  (I think that we also learn that the Astral Plane itself was essentially Korvac's hidden telepathic powers.)  Now fully in charge of his powers, Korvac realizes that he hid his powers from himself in the hope of eventually overthrowing Doom.  (Here, I think that Korvac is talking about his full powers.  I think Abnett is saying that even the "unrestricted" version of Korvac that the world saw during the Ultron Wars - before he pledged to Doom that he would limit his powers in exchange for the baronship - was less powerful than it could've been.)  In other words, he was hiding his powers until he was strong enough to take them back and defeat Doom.  Unfortunately, he may have the powers now, but he doesn't have the strength to take down Doom and remake the universe.  As such, the Thors are able to defeat him, as well as the Avengers and the Guardians.  His last act is to resurrect the Guardians, as he did the Avengers at the end of the original "Korvac Saga."  They're now the guardians of the truth about Battleworld.

This series is one of several -- "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows," "Spider-Verse," etc. -- where a character (usually a villain) sees Doom as a threat and wants to gain enough power to overthrow him.  What isn't clear yet is whether Doom is really a villain.  Hickman has taken a sympathetic view of him in "Secret Wars," as the man willing to take on the power and responsibility necessary to save what he could of the previous multiverse.  Sure, he put himself on a throne, as Mr. Fantastic accused him of doing in the main title, but it's just as clear that he did so to keep Battleworld together.

In other words, no one's proposed a viable alternative to what Doom did to save the multiverse...until possibly now.  In explaining the nature of Battleworld, Stakar says that Korvac wanted to use his powers to remake the lost multiverse, but Doom didn't want him to do so, because he wants to keep the power.  It's a more cynical view of Doom than we've seen in the main title, but we also know that the main title is running late.  This series seems to posit a scenario where Doom had some other option than create Battleworld, but he did so specifically to keep the power.  If it's true, then I can't wait to see what the heroes do to him in the main title.

In the meantime, Abnett allows Korvac to be the good guy that the Avengers didn't allow him to be in the original "Korvac Saga."  Stakar holds out the possibility that Korvac also saved himself at the last minute, and you've got to wonder what role he, and the Guardians, might play in the denouement of this event.  Looking at this series itself, though, I'd consider it one of the essential tie-in series of this event.  It's not only a good series in and of itself, but it's also the one that fleshes out the details of the main event in the most interesting way.  If you pick up one tie-in series, it should probably be this one.

**** (four of five stars)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Civil War #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All along, it's been "Civil War" versus "Secret Invasion" and we didn't even know!  (In retrospect, we probably should've known, given that "Secret Invasion" was one of the few events that Marvel didn't pull into "Secret Wars."  But, until now, we didn't know!)

T'Challa is revealed to be the Skrull Queen, Veranke, in this issue.  Tony arrives to save Jennifer from "him," but "T'Challa's" defenses make short work of Tony.  "T'Challa" then goes full Bond villain by narrating the secret history of the Warzone.  "He" admits to destroying the Negative Zone prison.  Since "his" forces weren't yet strong enough to initiate an invasion, "he" let Steve and Tony weaken each other further with their civil war.  "He" alludes to "his" lost homeland as motivation for finding a new nation for "his" people, and we of course think that "he's" talking about Wakanda.  However, Tony realizes that he's not dealing with T'Challa, since T'Challa would be smart enough to have killed Tony immediately.  (Heh.)  Veranke is confident that she knows all Tony's tricks, but he informs her that he doesn't exactly advertise all his abilities:  he uses thunder that he created after cloning Thor to attack her (and reveal her identity).  He and Jennifer make quick work of the remaining Skrulls, and Jennifer tells Tony that she has to tell him about her mission in the Blue.  (I think that we're supposed to believe that she stumbled upon Project:  Bellcurve, but I don't see how she could've, since Bullseye almost immediately caught her.)  Meanwhile, Steve has led his forces across the Divide and rides into the middle of the Iron's heroes with the hope that they attack him so he can deploy the bomb.
  
I'm only giving this issue three stars, despite thoroughly enjoying it, because Vernake's monologue is just too expository and wasteful:  seriously, she should've just killed Tony so that she could impersonate him, as she planned.  But, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how suitably epic Yu's art is:  I pretty much want him drawing all huge battle-scenes.  It also doesn't mean that I'm not excited to see how Soule brings the story to an end next issue.  It would be interesting to learn when Veranke replaced T'Challa.  But, the real question is whether Tony will get to Steve in time to stop him from detonating the bomb.  Even if Steve learns that he and Tony were manipulated into their war, I don't know if he's going to care.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I believe that this "Secret Wars" tie-in series is the first one to come to a conclusion.  It's fitting that it is, because it's also possibly the best of the lot, an already high bar given the quality of this event's tie-in series so far.

When the denouement comes, it really is the perfect culmination of the previous issues.  The Avengers face Regent, but he uses Peter's Spider-Sense to avoid the power-inhibiting arrow that Clint sends his way.  Meanwhile, Spot's other portal delivers MJ and Annie to the monitoring room, and Annie makes quick work of Regent's chief scientist, even though she's wearing a suit that similarly channels the captured heroes' power.  During the mêlée, the scientist commented that she's channeling a far stronger power than Annie's, and MJ concludes that Peter is in one of the ruby containers.  Hoping that he hasn't been in there long enough to die, she begins putting on the scientist's suit while sending in Annie to break containers.  One by one, Regent is denied powers as he fights the Avengers, and he arrives in the container room to stop Annie and MJ.  MJ puts up a fight, and an immobilized but observant Peter -- driven by anger, fear, and love -- breaks free of his container to save them.  He hurtles outside the building with Regent, and Annie and MJ continue going town on the containers.  But, Annie realizes that Regent is still too powerful and, taking the remains of the inhibitor arrow from Hawkeye, leaps onto Regent and digs the arrow into his neck.  Denied the constant flow of power, he grabs Annie and threatens to kill her.  Holding off the heroes with her as a hostage, Regent explains that he was just trying to gain enough power to overthrow the "mad god" Doom.  Peter makes him laugh with a truly terrible joke (about Annie's allowance coming from "spider cents") and then takes advantage of the moment to knock him unconscious.  The Avengers and the Parkers flee from the police with Regent's body, and we later see the Parkers happily settled into their family routine.

Overall, it's a solid ending to the story.  Sure, the joke part was sort of cheesy, but it was Slott showing us that Peter was still Peter, even after all the darkness that surrounded him.  The only off moment, for me, occurred at the end, when MJ somewhat randomly asked Peter whether he would've been willing to kill Regent if he had really threatened Annie's life.  Given that Peter already killed Venom to save Annie, I don't get why MJ was testing him again?  I mean, jeez, MJ, how many people does Pete have to kill for you to consider him a good father?

That said, it's hard not to be happy with this story, even though Slott doesn't tie up all the loose ends.  It's remains unclear what happens to this domain after Regent's fall, given Dazzler's comment about the police possibly remaining loyal to him.  Presumably, someone steps into the power vacuum, but we don't know if it's a good guy or a bad guy.  Plus, Slott includes a late wrinkle when MJ reveals that she didn't know who Doom was; he doesn't explain how this domain could be ignorant of Doom.  (Even if Regent thought Doom a "mad god," he would've never been allowed to stay on the throne without at least pretending to worship Doom.)  But, Slott makes it clear that he left these loose ends on purpose, given that the issue ends with a line about the Parkers' lives always being "to be continued" and not "happily ever after."  They have responsibilities, even if our view into their story is complete.  It's a strong ending to a great series and, as expected, I find myself hoping that, when we move into the rebooted Marvel Universe, the Parker family is exactly as we see it here.

***** (four of five stars)

A-Force #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Now we're talking!

I haven't been that big of a fan of this series, mostly because Bennett and Wilson have failed to answer pretty basic questions about Arcadia and the plot against it.  But, once they finally fill in the details, as they do here, it goes a long way to giving me the answers that I wanted.

We learn that Jennifer recognized that the portals that opened in Arcadia last issue were actually from Arcadia because she recognized them as part of the Rainbow Bridge.  As such, they were connected to an Asgardian:  namely, Loki.  Now, I'm not exactly sure how the Asgard mythology works in Battleworld, particularly since the Thors on this world aren't all Asgardian by birth.  But, I'm just going to go with the idea that the Rainbow Bridge exists somewhere out there in a way that works in Battleworld.  At this point, I'm already at saturation point in trying to understand the physics of "Secret Wars."

With the traitor revealed, A-Force assaults Loki in Arcadia's castle, just as the Thors are naming her Baroness (given Jennifer's fall from grace for crossing into another domain). She eventually falls after Nico attacks her.  Niko also rebuffs Loki's efforts to justify her actions as protecting Arcadia from Jennifer's indecisive and rule-bound reign.  She observes that the portals opened before the attack that cost them America, meaning that Loki was responsible for her loss.  The Thors accuse Loki of being a traitor and strip away her crown.  (This part made little sense to me.  The Thors knew that portals were opening in Arcadia just as Jennifer and the rest of A-Force did.  They never bothered to investigate the source?  After all, America got banished just for inadvertently sending something across a barrier and Jennifer lost her crown for using one of the portals.  Shouldn't they have been trying to find the source of said portals, given that they were facilitating illegal cross-domain travel?)  Her plan ruined, Loki gets her revenge, unleashing a bolt that shatters the Shield and opens the door to a zombie invasion.  As such, A-Force rallies to save Arcadia, possibly one last time.

Beyond finally getting some basic details about the plot, the best part of this issue is the overdue characterization that the authors finally deliver.  Niko telling the Thors that she's sorry as she delivers a beat-down, but Dazzler singing that she's not sorry at all:  it's these sort of exchanges that this series has been missing, reducing some of Marvel's best female characters into little more than chess pieces advancing a plot.  I'd need more than these brief flashes of personality before declaring this series a success, but it's at least a lot stronger of an outing than we've had so far.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Rebels #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a great conclusion to a 24-issue series bringing Seth through the Revolutionary War.  Unfortunately, it comes in issue #6.

I'm not sure why Wood decides to skip the entire war, starting us with the last day of fighting in 1783 after we ended the last issue in January 25, 1776.  But he does, and it makes it hard to connect to the emotions that he wants us to feel as we watch Seth make his way home.  For example, we learn that Ezekiel died, but we didn't actually see it happen.  It comes across as a jarring bit of exposition, making it hard to shed any tears as Seth stands on the random meadow where he buried him and regrets not being able to lay him to rest back home.  It's not that it's difficult to believe that Seth suffered in those six years that he found himself in the war.  But, when he's arguing with Mercy that she should excuse his absence, it would be a lot easier to be sympathetic if we had seen that suffering.  After all, it's even easier to imagine Mercy's suffering, particularly when she talks about delivering their child on her own because the midwife was late.

That said, Wood does do a solid job of showing Seth's struggle as he's suddenly thrust into domesticity.  He could write an entire series following on Seth's comment that he went from taking down an empire in battle to worrying about how to keep jarred fruit cool in the summer.  He's also not easy on Seth.  His protestations to Mercy that she's not being fair sound like a teenager whining to his mother, and we're reminded that he's barely much older than a teenager (despite the way that Mutti draws him).  He's also pretty honest with us that he'd easily leave his wife and son again if another adventure presented itself, and here Wood answers my question about Seth's motives.  He says at the end of the issue that he's proud that he'll build his future on free land.  However, you can't help but feel that it's justification for having gone on the "grand adventure," as opposed to the grand adventure itself merely helping him achieve his goal of freedom.  It's nice to get this sense of closure, since it gives us our first real insight into Seth's character.

I'm not sure where I'm going from here with "Rebels."  Given that I'm at a six-week backlog of comics and some weeks involve 14 comics, I feel like I could definitely stand to cut a few.  Wood's vision for this series is different from the one that I had, though we certainly find ourselves in the same ballpark.  Moreover, this issue was an improvement over previous ones, where I was left with some pretty basic questions about the plot.  At this stage, I'm willing to stick with it another arc to see how it goes.  I'm just hoping we don't skip over the good parts again.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2: Society #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue suffers from the same problem as its predecessors, with Wilson leaving huge gaps from issue to issue.  But, for the first time, the story in this issue actually makes sense in and of itself.

This issue begins abruptly, with Batman arriving in Nexus, the city that Val has created for himself, and trying to arrest him for killing Terry Sloan.  Flash arrives to defend Val, though we're not told why he just so happened to arrive at the same time as Dick.  Also, Dick's reasons for wanting to arrest Val are entirely circumstantial:  Val hated Sloan so...he killed him.  (Dick didn't seem to have gotten the memo that Val's a pacifist.)  The attempted arrest devolves into squabbling:  despite us seeing Flash last issue building Midwest City pretty much with his bare hands, Dick accuses him of hiding in the wake of Planetfall.  Oddly, Flash doesn't seem to dispute that assertion, instead just accusing Dick of doing the same thing, hiding in the shadows.  These moments, where each issue includes information that seems to directly contradict something that we learned in the previous issue, make it feel like a committee is writing this book and not just one guy.

But, everyone puts aside their issues for story time!  Val reveals why Karen hates him:  he constructed the Fire Pits.  Of course, he didn't know that he was constructing the Fire Pits for Sloan, but Karen hates him nonetheless, since it was the Pits that killed her father.  (Of course, I don't really remember it that way, but let's just keep going.)  It all gets revealed as a result of an attack by the Earth 2 version of Anarky on Neotropolis, where she steals a set of engines part of the original ship.  Sloan uses a stun blast from Overwatch-One to disperse the crowd of civilians that Anarky has assembled, and Kara and Val decide that enough is enough.  They storm Overwatch-One to take down Sloan, and Sloan tells Kara the truth.  Fast-forwarding to the present, Val's story time comes to a close when they learn that Anarky has hacked into Overwatch-One and set it on a collision course with Neotropolis.

I really want to give this issue three stars, but I just can't.  It's starting to feel like work reading this series, and I think Wilson's best course of action is recognizing that throwing us a year into the future was a bad call.  We need to spend a few issues focusing on each character in the wake of Planetfall, instead of getting the information in awkwardly inserted flashback stories that leave us (or, at least, me) more confused than enlightened.  I'll give Wilson to issue #6 (maybe), but then I think that it'll time to reassess.

** (two of five stars)

Batman #44 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wow.

Throughout this issue, I was wondering why Snyder went with a flashback story here.  As the title of the issue suggests, it's just a "simple case" taking place shortly after Zero Year, with Bruce trying to determine who killed a teenage boy named Peter.  He had been shot four times and his body dumped in the marshes on the edge of Gotham. Bruce figures that it's the Penguin, since he's running guns and supplies to street gangs using airships.

But, it wasn't the Penguin.  Peter had approached Oswald because the bank was trying to foreclose on his family's bodega to take advantage of the redevelopment of the neighborhood; an empty store would've given Penguin's enemies in the area, the Four Fives gang, a base of operations.  Peter proposed a deal:  the Penguin helps him save the bodega, and Peter spies on the Four Fives.  Instead, the Penguin turned over the shop to the Four Fives as a peace offering, since the bodega was located on their turf.   Bruce figures that it's them, then.

But, it isn't the Four Fives either.  Their leader tells Batman that they went to burn down the place as a message, but he was actually impressed with the kid's rage when Peter attacked his men.  But, Peter had fled before he could offer him a spot on the gang.  Then, Jim Gordon calls and tells Bruce that the bullets in Peter's body belonged to a cop.  Bruce pays him a visit, and he admits that he shot Peter as he fled the burning shop.  It doesn't take a CNN commentator to know what happens to young black men running from a burning shop.

But, it also isn't the cop.  Peter didn't die from the shots; Bruce knows he died from the fall.  He goes to visit the boy's father, in a coma since Zero Year, the reason that Peter is responsible for the bodega in the first place.  Peter's cousin is there, and he tells Batman that he told Peter to go to the man behind the bank and the redevelopment:  Bruce Wayne.  But, Wayne didn't hear Peter's pleas as he screamed to him from a crowd.  After everything, he decided that he wanted to push back against the bad guys like Batman.

So, he went to Mr. Bloom.  Honestly, I didn't see it coming until that moment.  Peter went to Bloom, grew wings, and tried to fly from Gotham.  But, his wings disappeared, and he died from the fall.  I'm going to guess that the serum also stopped him from dying from the four gunshot wounds, because Snyder doesn't really explain how he survived that incident so easily.  Jock doesn't even really portray him limping or pained after he's shot.

This story is important in a few ways.  First, it's really one of the first ones that I've read that incorporates the message of "Black Lives Matter" in a comic.  Some people might inevitably roll their eyes, but Snyder knows Batman well enough as a character to know that he should be confronting this issue.  Moreover, Snyder doesn't employ it as a preachy fable, but as part of the ongoing story and Batman's development.  It not only shows that Mr. Bloom has been a growing threat for a while, but it also teaches Bruce the lesson of keeping his ear to the ground.  Early in this issue, he scares away a bunch of teenagers that wanted to talk to him.  After solving the case, he finds them so that he can talk to them.  Snyder makes it clear that Bruce realizes that he could've saved Peter had he been there, on that street corner.  He would've heard that Wayne Enterprises was the reason that his life was going to be ruined, and he could've fixed the problem.  It's the whole point of community policing, and Snyder really shows it as the birth of the idea that the innocent have no reason to fear the Batman.

To add to the brilliance of the issue, it reunites Snyder and Jock.  This issue feels like their run on "Detective Comics" so much that it makes you long for those days, before Snyder got sucked into the "Batman Eternal" and "Night of the Owls" vortex of "Batman."  Something about their work together makes each one of them even better than they normally are.

In other words, it's a beautiful and important story without the connection to Mr. Bloom.  With that connection, it's a chilling foreshadowing to what we're going to see unfold over the next few issues.  It's rare when someone pulls off a story that works on this many levels, but Snyder really does it here, and it's one of the best issues that I've read in a long time.

***** (five of five stars)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite the fact that the title of this series officially changed to "Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham," I'm keeping the "Miracleman" tag.  If I changed tags every time Marvel re-launched a series at issue #1, the Internet probably wouldn't have enough space to save my blog.

This issue is odd, though not necessarily in a bad way.  Gaiman picks up pretty much exactly where Moore ended, with a group of four pilgrims ascending Olympus to seek favors from Miracleman himself.  Gaiman brilliantly uses their days-long ascent to show us just how beyond humanity -- literally and figuratively -- Miracleman now is.  Moore's last few issues dealt mostly with Miracleman's relationship with his own godhood and to other gods; here, Gaiman takes the time to show us humans' relationship to his godhood.  We see the grandeur that Miracleman is capable of producing and, hence, why humanity understandably has come to accept him as "god."

My guess is that the next few issues are going to focus on some humans, somewhere opposing him.  But, for now, our supplicants believe in his divinity, because they really don't have any reason not to believe in it.  The end result of this belief is crushing, with Miracleman granting one woman's wish to become an artist but not the man's wish for him to heal his daughter with brain damage that the Battle of London caused.  (The fact that the remaining supplicant attempted to kill Miracleman before committing suicide goes to this point that not all humans are likely comfortable with his new status.)  Gaiman doesn't give any motivations for Miracleman's decision, leaving us to wonder if he's become a capricious and cruel god.

In fact, Gaiman gives us few hints about the direction of his story, so we're just going to have to walk the walk with everyone else to see who Miracleman really is.  I was initially frustrated with this approach; at the end of the issue, I definitely found myself thinking, "That's it?"  But, Gaiman himself refers to the burden of taking over someone else's story in the epilogue, and, sleeping on it, I realized that it was a necessary transition from the story that Moore was telling.  We needed a different perspective to understand the realities of this world.  With that done, the path is clear to focus on this new Miracleman.  In other words, away we go.

*** (three of five stars)

Thors #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite everything that we've learned at this point, we still don't really know anything.

In the interrogation room, Loki tells Lief that he put the bodies of Jane Foster and Donald Blake where Lief could find them so that he'd stumble upon the truth.  Said "truth" appears to be the realization that Doom has upstaged the Asgardians' godhood, since Loki complains that his status as Prince of Lies was stolen from him.  He tells Lief that someone moved all the bodies after they discovered what he'd done, and he sends Lief to the Badlands to find them.  Confronting the skeletons, Lief admits to himself something that he denied when Loki pressed him on it, that he feels a surge of emotion every time that he hears Jane's name.  However, before he can reflect on that, "Runey," one of the other Thors, arrives with his partner, the Destroyer Thor, and reveals that he's the guilty party.  He beats Lief to a pulp and leaves him to the zombies, only for Odinson to arrive and save him.

Again, despite everything we know, we're still far from the truth.  We have no idea why Runey is killing Jane Fosters and Donald Blakes or how Loki thought that Lief discovering the truth would somehow lead to him regaining his powers.  But, I certainly trust Aaron to get us there, given how solid of a police procedural he's writing here.  As I said in previous reviews, I would really love him to continue writing some sort of Thor Corps meets "C.S.I." series in the new Marvel Universe.

*** (three of five stars)

Star-Lord & Kitty Pryde #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite the brief moment of seriousness last issue, Humphries finishes out this series focused on the yuks.  Peter sings Kitty's favorite song ("Once upon a Dream") to Widget to convince her to free him and Kitty, and, just when it looks like Gambit's Longshot blades are going to finish them, Drax appears dressed as Doom to fool Gambit and save the day.  In the end, the anomaly that Gambit had was Rocket's tail, and Kitty allows Peter to keep it since she knows what it's like to miss home.  They also share a kiss before she leaves, and Drax and Peter walk into the sunset with hopes of cloning Rocket from his tail.  It may not be the most serious of the "Secret Wars" series, but I can't deny that it put a smile on my face.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Squadron Sinister #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Guggenheim fills in some of the details of the various plots and counter-plots in this issue, though, as I said in my review of last issue, I'm not entirely sure that the story is actually all that interesting.

It turns out Nightwing paid Sandman to steal the argonite gun, explicitly so that he could blame Whizzer for the crime.  He tortures Paste-Post Pete into confessing to Hyperion that it was Whizzer that did it.  Whizzer realizes too late that Nightwing has betrayed him, and Hyperion kills him on the spot.  (Nightwing also kills Pete for good measure.)  And then there were four.

Nightwing later reveals to Dr. Spectrum that Warrior Woman is working with the Nutopians.  He also tells him that she was the one that killed the Thor and that she plans on framing him for it, since he's the most powerful member of the Squadron after Hyperion and it'll hurt their image in Doom's eyes.  (Nightwing doesn't explain how she managed to do so in a way that mimicked Spectrum's power signature.  I'm assuming that it was Nightwing with the argonite gun.)  Spectrum subsequently bolts to avoid a fate like Whizzer's. And then there were three.

At this point, the Starbrand-ed Nutopians attack.  Spitfire manages to hurt Hyperion, but the remaining Squadron members make pretty short work of them.  Warrior Woman convinces the remaining forces to retreat, and we learn that she goaded them into attacking in the first place as part of a deal with Nightwing.  She'll flee Utopia, but I'm still not sure what she gains in return.  It seems a pretty one-sided deal.  At any rate, it leaves Nightwing with Hyperion, and the last panel reveals that he has Dr. Spectrum's power prism.  Dun-dun-DUN!

Again, we get a lot of answers here, but we don't get all of them.  For example, I don't see what Nightwing stood to gain, vis-à-vis Hyperion, with the failed invasion, though I suspect that we'll learn next issue.  It still seems too easy of a story to me, basically just showing the behind-the-scenes machinations that go into a coup.  Guggenheim does little to show the characters as anything other than evil; Nightwing in particular isn't given any real reason for revolting against Hyperion than power.  It makes them all feel like puppets putting on a show.  We'll see if something more interesting happens next issue.

** (two of five stars)

Spider-Island #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gage improves on the story that he's been telling over the last two issues, mostly by delivering the sort of characterization that some of the weaker tie-in series, like "Age of Apocalypse," have failed to muster.

The team escapes the Queen's headquarters, and, later, Flash and Peter marvel at the revelation of each other's secret identities.  Peter refuses to take the mantle of leadership from Flash, telling him that he's already failed at saving them so Flash is the quarterback to get them over the finish line.  Showing why Peter has faith in him, Flash does a great job rallying the troops, with a Goblinified Tony and Stegron working on the "Retro-Generation Ray" and Peter whipping up as many batches of the Lizard's formula that he can.  However, the Queen sucker punches them by sending spiderified Betty Brant, Sharon Carter, Carlie Cooper, and Mary Jane Watson after them.  Rather than using the Lizard formula on superheroes (the smart play that Flash originally advocates), an emotional Peter and a paranoid Tony convince him to rescue the ladies.  They do, injecting them with the Lizard's formula, but they also wind up leading the Queen's forces to their HQ.  (After all these years using Spider-Tracers, Peter never thinks to check the ladies for tracking devices?)  Tony sacrifices himself to buy time, deciding to die before the Goblin Formula fully takes hold of his mind and hoping that it redeems him for his years as a war profiteer.  The team escapes, and Flash feels confident that they can save New York.

Gage might not be telling the most enthralling story of the tie-in series, but it is a solid one, full of emotion and uncertainty.  As Flash himself says here, the return of Peter is the first time that hope seems to come to this corner of Battleworld.  Since it is "Secret Wars," we're going to have to wait and see if it really means that they can defeat the Queen.  But, this issue goes a long way to making me care about the outcome, raising this series in my estimation.

*** (three of five stars)

House of M #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is fun mainly because Hopeless and Bunn just let everything go from bad to worse to ridiculous.  Hawkeye and company invade Castle Magnus with an army of Deathloks, using them as a distraction while they get into Magneto's study and deploy a device that Deathlok devised to negate his powers.  But, they also inadvertently release Fin Fang Foom, who Magneto was for some reason keeping prisoner.  Just as it all comes to a head, Namor and Pietro invade.  It's essentially Magneto's horrible no-good very bad day.  To make matters worse for him, he doesn't even know that his grandsons have gone all human sympathizers on him and that it may push Wanda over the (increasingly close) edge.  The good news is that he apparently wanted more enemies to stem his boredom, so he should consider his prayers answered!  Although I can't say that it's the most complicated of stories or wittiest of dialogue, I did enjoy the issue, so three stars it gets.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hail Hydra #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender really covers an amazing amount of ground here.  He also really embraces the idea that anything can, and does, happen in "Secret Wars."

Before I get to the details, I just want to highlight that Remender does an amazing job of keeping Ian's voice in Leopold, his doppelgänger.  Extreme haughtiness is exactly what you'd expect from an evil version of Ian, and Leopold has it in spades.  It's a great example of how well Remender has fleshed out Ian in the few issues that he's appeared, since you can even recognize alternate versions of him.  Separately, I also thought that his commitment to returning to his parents was a great reminder of the love that he has for them.  In fact, Leopold is essentially the logical extreme of Ian if he never had this love, so this softer side of Ian, one that we rarely see, reminds us why he is who he is.  Now, onto the show!

After Leopold hands him his ass, Ian escapes into the sewers where he stumbles upon the Avengers' secret base.  The team is understandably skeptical of his story, since he looks just like "Captain Hydra" (Leopold).  However, Ian knows too much about Steve for him to be Leopold, and Steve decides to trust him.  He explains that he was the original Captain Hydra, but Zola proved too evil, so he escaped with a entire cache of munitions.  (I'll admit that I didn't fully follow Steve's story about the Revolutionary War.  If we're talking about the one that happened in 1776, it seems like Hydra was the one that revolted against the British, but the revolution turned dark, possibly under Zola's leadership.  Steve explains it all so quickly that I didn't really grasp it.  Suffice it to say, Steve left the revolution.)  We learn that the Avengers' main problem in defeating Zola is that he jumps from body to body.  Steve sees an opening with Ian's arrival:  they can use the munitions to create a distraction while Ian impersonates Leopold and gets close enough to Zola to use a device that Tony created to keep him in his body.

However, before Steve can finish sketching out this plan, Venom and the Vipers attack, since they followed Ian to the base.  Here, Boschi really lets loose.  Venom gruesomely kills the Avengers, putting his hand through Tony's chest and ripping the Wasp in half.  Later, after they're all dead, he begins devouring them.  Ian manages to escape with Steve and Sharon's daughter Ellie, but Venom lets Steve (the sole survivor) know that they've infected Ellie with a symbiote and she, too, will soon become a Viper.  He also seems prepared to turn Steve into a Venom as the issue ends.

The use of the symbiotes as a Zola-inspired device is really a brilliant twist, given their similarity to Zola's own mutates.  Given how quickly they decimate the Avengers here, it's hard to see how Ian could possibly win, particularly if he loses Ellie as a companion.  But, Remender reminds us several times here that he's the son of Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter, so he should really be fine with the one-man-against-all-odds fight.  Make Dad and Mom proud, Ian!

*** (three of five stars)

Age of Apocalypse #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Nicieza takes us on a sharp detour here, revealing that Apocalypse allowed someone to create the mutant-killing bomb as an extreme realization of his "survival of the fittest" motto.  But, it's about the only thing made clear in this issue.

First, we'll apparently learn next issue the identity of the person who made the bomb and why s/he provided it to the humans.  Sabretooth comments here that Dark Beast and Essex are the only people capable of making it, though I'd put my money on Dr. Nemesis at this point.  We learn in this issue that he's been running his own lab within Dark Beast's lab and that he has a grudge against the Four Horsemen for not giving him more support for his work.  In other words, he had the capability and the motive.

In terms of this issue, though, it feels like we're mostly spinning our wheels.  Nicieza uses the age-old cheat of delivering plot points through telepathy:  Nemesis does something to Jean Grey (it's not clear what he does), and she unleashes a psychic blast that somehow connects her to Emma telepathically.  It conveniently allows the X-Men to become aware of the bomb's existence just as the Horsemen learn of it from torturing Carol Danvers.  It sets off the scramble to recover it that we see at the end, with Apocalypse finally detonating the bomb.

I'll admit that I'm intrigued to see who survives the blast, showing that I don't really have too many problems with the plot of this series.  But, as a I mentioned last issue, the delivery still leaves me wanting for more information about the characters, their motivations, and their relationships with each other.  Right now, it still feels like a jumble, and we don't have a lot of time left for the pieces to fall nicely into place.

** (two of five stars)

Detective Comics #44 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Buccellato really wraps up this arc nicely.  In fact, each arc just keeps getting tighter and tighter.  It already makes me excited about the next one.

In the end, this arc was really about re-establishing the Bullock/Montoya partnership.  Renée tells Harvey that she had to leave Gother (and him) to learn what she did in Blüdhaven, and he gets over his anger at her for leaving.  But, he can't have two partners, and it means that Yip has to go.  In truth, Buccellato gives her a better send-off than she deserved.  He had me going for a few pages that Harvey really did kill her, but eventually I figured that he simply rescued her from the burning car and let her slink into the night.  Instead, we learn that she went into the witness-protection program, turning on Stefano Falcone.  He had hired her to provide the seating chart for the circus not because he wanted to kill the VIPs (as everyone thought), but because he wanted to kill the cops attending the rehearsal that had refused to work with him.  It's a solid motive, one made all the clearer when he lets Yip live after he gives her the money, since he wants people that do work with him to know that they'll be rewarded.

I don't really have a problem with his motivation, but I still don't understand Yip's.  She tells Stefano that she worked with him since she realized that all the other cops in Gotham were in his pocket, so she might as well be.  I totally get that, but we don't learn why she immediately called Harvey after she takes the money.  I would buy her feeling enough guilt after a period of time to call, hurriedly confessing to the crime in time for Harvey to save everyone.  Instead, Buccellato essentially lets her have her cake and eat it, too:  she gets the blood money and a clean conscience.  But, if she had qualms about helping Stefano kill a bunch of cops, then why take the money in the first place?  Conversely, if her motivation came from the fact that she didn't care about the GCPD given how corrupt it was, then why feel guilt over a getting a bunch of cops killed?    Buccellato has her on a fine line here, as if she essentially only felt bad that clean cops would get killed so she makes the play to make everyone happy.  I'd rather the type of clear (and dark) motivation that we saw from Captain Watanabe in "Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral."

Motivations aside, her departure clears the deck for Bullock and Montoya to reunite, so good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.  Along the way, Jim is forced to take down Joker's Daughter's Jokerbot, a reminder that sometimes Batman has a lot of competing priorities that we has to tackle.  Jim ends the issue sharing a beer with Harvey on the rooftop, so all's well that ends well.  Just like Layman's run on this title giving us a better set of Batman-focused stories than the main title did, I feel like Buccellato is following the same path, stripping away the mythos that often plagues "Batman" and just telling a good story.  Hopefully he keeps up the good work.

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

E is for Extinction #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Given how meandering the plot of this series has been, it's sort of surprising that we find ourselves in a place that makes sense, even if it's an entirely different place from where the first two issues implied we'd be.

It turns out the army of Beasts is under the sway of Sublime.  Magneto had realized that he was resident in the Phoenix Egg and tried to control him, but he was able to spread himself to the four corners of Battleworld and infect the Beasts.  (We're not told why he chose the Beast in particular as a host, though it seems to be for his intellect.)  Sublime arrives to take control of the Egg, but a revived Professor X has taken control of Quentin's dead body and saves the day.  (Again, we're not told how Xavier survived death.)  Jean finally hatches, only for Xavier to reveal that she's under the control of Cassandra Nova.

Again, this series has been erratic at best.  Xavier and Nova were dismissed in the first issue as characters that merely set the stage for the drama between Magneto and the "classic" X-Men.  It's not necessarily an unwelcome development for them to rear their heads here, but it's one that feels as random as most of Morrison's original version of this story felt.  I guess Burnham is doing a solid job, by that measure.

*** (there of five stars)

Civil War #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of all the tie-in series, this one is definitely telling the darkest story.  To underline that point, Soule reveals in this issue that Kingpin once ripped the arms from Doc Ock and attached them to his body, but the arms killed him instead with 20,000 volts of electricity to the brain.  Not that dark, you think?  Could be darker, you scoff?  It doesn't end there.  The arms kept Kingpin's dead body as a host and got a job building tech for Iron Man.  Seriously, when I say "dark," I mean dark.

The best part of this issue is Soule exploring Peter's fractured psyche.  After Elektra is killed on their mission to retrieve supplies to implement Project Bellcurve, Peter tells the Beast that he felt nothing.  He's seen so much death that he may remember how he used to feel when someone died, but he can't connect with that feeling anymore.  From Logan, you'd probably just nod at this comment, but Soule reminds you how awful this reality is to force Peter Parker to such a place.

Meanwhile, Jennifer tracks down Bullseye, only to get captured by, of all people, T'Challa.  We learn that he survived the explosion in the Negative Zone, but we don't know how he survived, why he stayed in hiding, or why he's working with Bullseye.  But, given that he blames Stark for the explosion, I'm guessing that Jennifer isn't really going to get that warm of a welcome.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series isn't exactly the most enthralling of the "Secret Wars" tie-in series, but the authors manage to inject something like a shot in the arm here.  (Sorta.)

First, this issue opens up some questions that I've had for a while about the physics of Battleworld, if you will.  In "Secret Wars" #5, we learned that only Dr. Strange had an energy signature unique to him; all other energy on Battleworld is the same energy that Doom produces.  However, last issue, we learned that Carol isn't "from Doom."  I mention it here because it goes to the fact that I'm still not entirely sure what we're going to learn when/if Carol and the Banshees make it into the sky.  It seems like they can't discover that Carol is from beyond Battleworld, because everyone other than Dr. Strange if from Battleworld.  Sure, they were pulled from other realities, but the Foundation made it extremely clear in "Secret Wars" #5 that they all somehow became "of Doom" in the process.  If Carol isn't "of Doom," then isn't no one "of Doom?"

Putting aside my anal-retentive inquiry into Battleworld physics, we at least get some action here.  Helen's decision to try to make a break for it last issue results in the entire Squadron having to flee Hala lest someone confiscate their souped-up jets.  The Baroness is forced to call in Doom as Carol and company (including Rhodey) take up refuge on a small island somewhere within the domain.  However, you can't hide from the Thors and they appear here to address the situation.

As I've said with other tie-in series, the most exciting part about "Secret Wars" so far is that the authors have a license not to tell a happy ending.  It's entirely possible that the Thors could wipe out Carol and the squadron and we'll never learn about her powers.  Wouldn't that be a helluva ending?

** (two of five stars)

Justice League of America #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hitch isn't exactly covering new ground with this first arc, but it doesn't mean that he isn't telling an interesting story.

In a way, it's a familiar Superman story.  After all, Rao is really just an extreme version of Superman.  He stokes all the same fears in the establishment that Superman did when he first appeared on the scene.  In fact, the story that Hitch is telling here isn't dissimilar from the one that Straczynski is telling in his Earth One volumes.  After Rao topples the corrupt dictators of Africa, other countries at the United Nations worry what he'll do when he decides that their human-rights records are unacceptable.  Rao appears and basically validates their fears by saying that more force may be necessary.

Meanwhile, Batman is...skeptical.  In a way, he postulates the problem through the prism of Newton's Third Law of Motion:  every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  If Rao is terraforming the desert in Africa and healing the sick around the world, then some cost must be paid.  Superman essentially believes that Rao is above such a law, but Batman remains unconvinced.  He invites Superman to follow with him one of Rao's first acolytes, an allegedly "reformed" convict, to see who's right.  Elsewhere, we learn that the Speed Force interacting with the wormhole sent Green Lantern into Krypton's past; some soldiers escort him to meet Rao at the end of the issue.  Also, Diana is trapped in Olympus by some mystical force that appeared after the Greek gods fled.

Again, it's a familiar story, but still an intriguing one.  Hitch has managed to play his cards close to his chest.  Rao becomes slightly more aggressive, if you will, in this issue, but we still can't point to him doing anything evil, per se.  Unless DC comics is going to close up shop and declare its universe happy with Rao, I'm guessing that Batman is going to find something.  But, Hitch keeps us guessing about what that something will be.  All in all, it's good stuff.

*** (three of five stars)