Saturday, November 28, 2015

Justice League #45 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If I was confused last issue, I'm even more confused after this one.

That said, it's not necessarily a bad thing.  Johns again seems to want us to be as confused as the characters are as they deal with the aftermath of Darkseid's (alleged) death.  If I'm guessing correctly, Johns is hinting that Darkseid's power(s) are dispersing, as several Leaguers becoming New Gods:  Batman becomes the God of Knowledge, Flash the God of Death, Shazam the God of Gods, and Superman the God of Strength.  Most interestingly, Lex becomes the God of Apokolips.  Superman left Lex to die on the surface of Apokolips earlier in the issue, and a tribe of escaped human slaves stumbled upon him.  They seemed to believe that he was a prophesied Superman (based on their description of the prophesy) that would change the world, and Lex let them believe that.  Unfortunately for him at the time, it meant that they strapped him into a machine to receive the Omega Energy returning to Apokolips from Darkseid's corpse.  Lex survives the infusion, raising the possibility that the prophesy really was about him.

My main question from these revelations is why Darkseid had all this power (if it was indeed his power).  Had he previously killed the New Gods with these powers, meaning that their portfolios were now divided as they used to be?  If not, what about Darkseid's death caused these new New Gods to be created?

But, the new New Gods isn't the only side effect of Darkseid's death.  The parademons are now leaderless, and they're racing to the brightest light in the Universe:  Oa.  (Needless to say, Green Lantern is en route.)  Moreover, Anti-Monitor is -- for reasons that are unclear to me -- reverting to Mobius, and this transformation is something that Grail wants to happen for her to get what she wants.  Of all the parts of this issue, it's this one that left me the most confused, mainly because I'm still confused about the nature of the Anti-Monitor.  Batman says that he became who he is because he touched the Anti-Life Equation, but what does that mean?  Plus, what can Mobius do for Grail that the Anti-Monitor couldn't?  Didn't he achieve her goal of killing Darkseid?

Again, I'm happy to be as confused as the characters are, but my patience isn't infinite.  Although we got some background on the Black Racer here (Johns informs us that it was an aspect of Death that Darkseid captured and that needs a human host), I'm really going to need a lot of exposition about DC's mythology next issue to stay engaged.  (Hopefully it doesn't involve too many speech bubbles.)  In the meantime, Fabok definitely earns this issue a third star.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I'm a lot happier three issues into this series than I thought that I would be.

First, Seeley continues to do a great job with characterization, particularly with Jason.  In fact, I find myself longing for DC to realize that he writes the best Jason possibly ever and finally putting an end of Lobdell's control over the character.  Jason is all aggressive charm and wit here, from complaining that he's not in touch with music because he's too busy "getting into wacky adventures" to grudgingly acknowledging that he owed Cassandra $500 for breaking up a pool game that he was losing.  Also, let's not forget him telling Helena, when he's introduced to her over Dick's comm-link, "I hear you're hot."  Of course he does.  We finally have our Jason back, people.

But, it isn't just the individual characterizations that make this series great; it's the way that Seeley really makes the interactions between the characters sing.  My favorite moment in comics this year may very well be Dick and Jason sitting at the bar, with Jason drinking a beer while Dick explains how this job went wrong.  Seeley has show Jason fully embracing Dick as his big brother, even commenting to that effect (with a caveat) in this issue.  When Dick has to keep him from fighting Cassandra again, Jason whines at him ("She attacked me, Grayson!") just like a little brother would.  The two of them at the bar just cements to this brotherly dynamic.  But, it's made all the better by Tim having to remind them that Harper is slowly bleeding into unconsciousness while they enjoy "happy hour."  It's just...brilliant.  This scene just really distills their three personalities and relationship perfectly.  It's not just the guys, either.  I loved Harper debating whether she should follow Cassandra's signal to go with her deeper into the Batcave, acknowledging the possible ire of the "beefy, undoubtedly short-tempered Robin boys."  Like I said, I really could just watch this entire crew play charades at a housewarming party for 52 issues and be happy.

But, the plot also continues to get interesting.  First, I thought Dick's assessment that Cassandra was having a "conversation" with them by "attacking" them was brilliant.  Since she's not capable of speech, this "conversation" was the only way that she could verify that they are who they say they are.  Meanwhile, we learn that Poppy has gone MIA after she ate the nanites that Spyral implants in their agents to track them.  Helena is suitably disturbed, and her investigation into "Mother" leads to a 25-year-old reference in Agent Zero's journals about her claim that she can "build a human being for whatever needs arise."  Dick asks what sort of person would need designer human beings, and Jason insightfully (maybe too insightfully) comments, "Maybe someone who could use a loyal child soldier or three?"  Thus Bruce's connection with Mother gets all the more interesting.  It also gets more lethal:  the last nanite on Poppy's person crawled inside her cell phone and revealed that her calls were all going into the Beacon Tower, where Gotham was throwing a "re-welcome" gala for Bruce.  Cue the guests suddenly speaking into phones saying, "Yes, Mother," and Bruce getting led into a kitchen full of axe-wielding guests!

Again, I'm intrigued where we're going here.  Snyder and Tynion seem to want us to believe that Bruce may have had some sort of relationship with Mother that impacts what we know about the Robins, and the interesting part is that it might actually be true.  They're definitely hinting that the answer is going to surprise us.  That said, though, even the interesting plot pales in comparison to the joy of seeing the boys and girls all interacting together, without Bruce's presence changing the dynamics.  God, I hope this series manages to stay this good for as long as possible.

**** (four of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue isn't perfect, but I will say, of the new Avengers titles that I've read so far, this series is the one with the most promise.

The strongest part of the series is going to be that Duggan really has the characterizations down.  First, everyone sounds the way that they're supposed to sound, particularly in their interactions with each other.  Johnny manages to be both sincere and snarky (virtually at the same time) with Peter, and Rogue is understandably hostile to the Inhuman member of the team, Synapse.  Plus, everyone hates Deadpool.  Moreover, these interactions show the type of underlying tension that you expect to see in an "Avengers" title.  It's why Bendis went too far making everyone get along all the time.  If someone isn't at someone else's throat, it's not the Avengers!

That said, Duggan also hints at the new status quo that we saw introduced in "Avengers" #0:  the Terrigen Mists are apparently slowly killing mutants.  Rogue herself has to take an "anti-Terrigen solution," presumably from the sample of the Mists that Deadpool swiped in that issue.  At some point, someone is going to have to give us a better explanation, though I'm not 100 percent sure how it's going to happen.  After all, this title seems the obvious vehicle.  Maybe it has to do with something that happens at the end of "Secret Wars" and we've just got to cool our jets?  Along those lines, we do get more hints about the fate of some of the characters, with Johnny commenting on Ben being in space and Reed and Sue being "gone."

Speaking of Johnny, can I say how much I love his new costume?  It's much better than him flying around the place with that stupid 4 on his chest.  That said, I thought that Duggan did a great job in having Johnny comment on how much he missed his old team, after Pietro chided Johnny for saving him and not innocents.  It was a really poignant moment, because it shows how adrift and isolated Johnny feels.  (An introspective Johnny Storm is a scary thing.)  I'm really excited to see him as part of this team, particularly since I really don't want to read "Uncanny Inhumans" to see him.  (Also, did he and Rogue have some sort of fling?  It seems that way.)

That said, I wasn't a fan of everything here.  Although I do like the idea of Deadpool getting to be on the team because he's footing the bill, Duggan doesn't address the three seemingly obvious questions that this revelation inspires.  First, he doesn't tell us why Deadpool wants to be an Avenger.  In fact, in "Avengers" #0, it seemed like Steve was forcing him to become one.  On the flip side, we're not told why Steve trusts Deadpool.  It's all very Dumbledore and Snape, with Steve just insisting to Rogue that he does.  Finally, he choose Deadpool over Spider-Man seemingly for funding reasons, despite the fact that Spidey could pretty easily get "Peter Parker" to fund the Avengers.  Duggan hints that Steve has other motives here, though I can't for the life of me guess what they are.

Moreover, Steve seems awfully blas√© about the lethal actions that both Brother Voodoo and Deadpool take in dispatching the Super-Adaptoid.  Sure, he's mostly an android, but both Voodoo and Deadpool engage in attacks that kill the organic side of him.  Peter is outraged (in part because Deadpool could've made him more powerful if he took his regenerative powers), but Steve just sort of shrugs.  Is he a Skrull?  It feels that way.

All in all, it's a solid, if not particularly exciting, debut.  Duggan has a lot of fertile ground to till here, so we'll see how it grows.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Shattered Empire #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue really unfolds at a perfect pace.  Rucka keeps us worried throughout the issue that Kes and Shara won't survive to see one another again.  Kes is almost killed attacking an Imperial black site with Han; Chewie saves him from a Storm Trooper at the last minute.  Meanwhile, Shara almost sacrifices herself to buy Leia and the Queen time to destroy the satellites wrecking Naboo's climate, saved (also at the last minute) when Lando and his squadron arrive to support them.  Moreover, the two stories link beautifully:  when Han and his team enter the black site, Threepio leans of "Operation:  Cinder" and the threat to Naboo (presumably allowing Han to call in Lando in time).  Plus, heroics abound:  Kes is the one to find the opening so that Han and his team can invade the black site, and Queen Soruna is the one that not only tips off Shara and Leia that a hanger of ships has been hidden under the Palace for years but also demands to go with them.  We also have an awesome moment when Leia enters the hanger and senses Darth Maul (since he died in that room years earlier).  Although something about the tone of this series never really left me in doubt that Kes and Shara would be reunited, as they are on the last page, Rucka does an admirable job of keeping that enough in question to remind us how brave everyone here is and how much they're willing to risk to see the Rebellion succeed.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy fucking crap.

At this point, all I can do is walk you through my emotional journey as I read this issue:

- I like the idea of Miguel giving up his role as Spider-Man to live a normal life.  As he says, New York has so many costumed superheroes -- particularly Spider-related ones -- that it's not like he'd be that missed.  In Nueva York, even Miguel fell prey to the "great powers, great responsibilities" appeal, since he was virtually the only game in town.  In this New York, he can go on "American Ninja Warrior!"

- This relationship with Tempest seems to have gone really fast.  I get that it's been eight month, but she was just a wasp trying to devour him last time that I checked.  Plus, she never really seemed to like him.

- I get an answer to my Alchemax/prison question from "Amazing Spider-Man" #1!  Leave it to Peter David not to drop a loose end!  Apparently, Parker Industries -- or, at least, Miguel's unit at Parker Industries -- used its influence to get the funding for Alchemax's prison yanked.  Now, PI is only in competition with Empire Unlimited, though we know from "Amazing Spider-Man" #1 that Empire ultimately gets the contract.  Dun-dun-DUN!

- That said, it's interesting that Miguel's team at PI seems a little more...ethically challenged than Peter's commitment to responsible business conduct would imply.  

- Huh.  Roberta's introduction here is interesting, because it raises all sorts of questions about the aftermath of "Secret Wars," questions that the other series to debut so far have managed to avoid.  The image of Captain America behind her at the end of the issue certainly implies that some sort of crossed wires exist.

- I'm intrigued that Miguel's future is still fizzucked, particularly given the events of "Secret Wars."  But, you could certainly make an argument that "Secret Wars" also happened in the past of the 2099 timeline, so Miguel's former future had incorporated its outcomes into it.  As such, it must still have been something else that changed Miguel's future.  That said, Miguel thinks that it wasn't Alchemax building the prison, since he got the funding yanked.  But, we know that the "Department of Internal Security" is paying them to build a similar prison for them to "question" super-powered terrorists.  Maybe this prison is still a problem?  I can't remember why Miguel settled on the prison as the anomaly in the first place, but David is definitely making it clear that it's important.

- I sort of agree with Miguel about Tempest.  I really think that she may really just love him for saving her life.  OMG, she's pregnant?  How's that going to work?  [Turns page.]  Holy fucking crap.  What just happened?  OMG, Peter David wouldn't kill Miguel's pregnant girlfriend, would he?  Would he?

**** (four of five stars)

Spider-Gwen #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

...and, we're back!

Even before "Secret Wars" began, Marvel bent over backwards to make clear that the event wouldn't impact "Spider-Gwen," essentially keeping the Multiverse intact for her.  Latour and Rodriguez fulfill that promise here, delivering exactly the same combination of emotion and irreverence that makes this series so great.  Latour also manages to cram in an incredible amount of information into the issue without it feeling like awkward exposition.  Let's get started.


First, we learn that the Lizard has returned.  We're introduced to a character (in both senses of the word) named the "Bodega Bandit:"  he and his dog, Bandito, steal items from small stores.  The Bandit and Bandito had just held up the corn-dog establishment where Gwen was supposed to start her new job the next day, when the Lizard appears from the sewers and appears to eat Bandito.  As crazy as it sounds, Latour really makes the Bandit human.  For example, we learn that he's a repeat offender -- he almost immediately gets caught after his "jobs."  It's pretty clear that he has some sort of mental illness, so everyone treats him with kid gloves (even if they're exasperated by him).  But, it's the moment where Gwen finds him crying in a dumpster, clutching Bandito's collar, that makes you really realize how much heart Latour brings to this series.  It made me want to immediately go home and hug my dog.  But, it also shows that Latour sees even a character like the Bandit as a way to connect with the readers.


Gwen is looking for the Bandit in the first place because, upon reporting for her first day of work, her boss told her about the Lizard storming through his store the previous night.  (Apparently the cops don't believe him.)  After failing to get anything from the Bandit, Gwen heads to Midtown High, and we learn that it was Dr. Conners, a teacher at the school, that helped Peter develop the Lizard Formula in the first place.  Gwen breaks into the school's computers to try to find him, only to learn that Dr. Conners appears to be in some sort of witness-protection program.  She hurls a computer into a wall in frustration, and we take a trip down memory lane...


We're privy to an adorable conversation in the cafeteria between Gwen and Peter where Peter is fangasming over Spider-Woman.  Gwen asks him about Harry Osborn, who sits at the other end of the table from them.  Peter gives her the deal:  he's transferred to Midtown High after he allegedly burning down his prep school and came to Flash's attention when he went all "my precioussss" when dropping some role-playing die.  (I can't tell if the die themselves are important to Osborn, or he was just embarrassed to be outted as an RPGer.  I think Latour keeps that part purposefully vague.)  Gwen is intrigued, and she takes Peter with her to introduce themselves.  ("If even half that stuff is true, there's no way we're not making friends with this kid.")  Later, we see Harry awkwardly ask out Gwen during band practice, sparking Peter's quiet anger.  Peter becomes the Lizard later when Flash hurls on him in the hallway at school, and we finally see Gwen and Harry at his gravesite, with Harry regretting that he couldn't prevent Peter's death.  (Interestingly, Harry seemed to have been there when Peter changed, meaning he also knows that Peter was the Lizard.)

In the present, Gwen heads into the sewers with a bunch of corn dogs to lure the Lizard, but she instead encounters a swarm of missing pets.  (Dun-dun-DUN!)  She's then attacked by a whole group of Lizards, only to be saved by a female Captain America, announcing that the men are the property of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Gwen is under arrest!  Drama!


Seriously, Latour goes straight for the jugular here.  It's a relief to know that we're not going to have to wait months or years to start getting to the bottom of Peter's death.  Along the way, we're given much more insight into Gwen's world.  Latour includes the sort of Easter eggs that make this series fun, like Gwen mentioning that "Ms. Van Dyne" created her Web-Shooters and Captain Stacy referring to the "James Barnes V.A. Medical Center."  But, Latour continues to strike the right balance, where the series is clearly telling its own story and not focusing too much on the shock value of us running across the Earth-616 analogues.


Speaking of Captain Stacy, the plot thickens when he has a fight with Jean DeWolff about Spider-Woman.  He not only insists that she's innocent, meaning that he won't help Frank Castle nail her, but he also gives us some important information:  six vets have gone missing from the Medical Center, two dozen "alligators" have been spotted, and a bunch of pets have gone missing in the same six-block radius.  Dun-dun-DUN-DUN!  (I'm just glad adorable, corn-dog-loving Bandito is OK!)

In other words, lightning strikes a second time with a "Spider-Gwen" #1.  Latour and Rodriguez again present us with a fully realized world that implies that we're only just at the tip of the iceberg.  Plus, you not only want more information, but you care how it impacts Gwen and her friends, because we're come to heart them so much (in such a little time).  That hearting comes from the fact that Latour does such a great job on her voice, from showing her hilarious (and nervous) banter as Spider-Woman to her dark moments of reflection when she's alone.  I couldn't have a more favorite series.

***** (five of five stars)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This first issue is...rough.

Before I get into the details, though, let me just say that I'm committed.  As I mentioned in my review of "Avengers" #0, I'm really thrilled to return to the Avengers' world, after Hickman drove me from it when he took over the line.  I also love Al Ewing, after his amazing work on "Loki:  Agent of Asgard."  As such, I'm confident that he has a vision for where he's going.

That said, this issue doesn't really do much to add to that confidence.  I get the general outline of the story, but the important details and larger arc are elusive.  We learn that Sunspot has taken over A.I.M., renamed it "Avengers Ideas Mechanics," and set up shop on Avengers Island (now off the coast of California).  We're not told how or why he's done so, though Ewing will presumably get there.  Roberto has assembled an incredibly random group of heroes into his strike force.  We've got Hulkling and Wiccan, Power Man and White Tiger, and Songbird and...Squirrel Girl.  The first four make sense:  it's like a merger of "Young Avengers" and "Mighty Avengers."  Plus, they're all more or less the same age.  But, then we've got Songbird, a villain that's been in the game for a long, long time, and...Squirrel Girl.  Later in the issue, S.H.I.E.L.D. openly places Hawkeye on the team as a plant, and I actually like his presence here, since he'll lend a little experience to the team.  In fact, it completes the idea of couples (not necessarily romantic ones) comprising the team, since he'd be a good match for Songbird.  Of course, Squirrel Girl also considers herself a couple, with her...squirrel (Tippy-Toe), so I guess it still works.  (You can see why I'm struggling here.  The only good part about her presence is that the rest of the team seems as confused by her as I am.  But, it gets close to pet peeve #3, where the author uses a character pointing out a plot flaw as an excuse for including said flaw in the first place.)

Anyway, someone has deployed an army of creatures in Paris:  they look human, except for the fact that they have a glowing diamond for a head.  (Seriously.)  While the strike force tries to deal with them, Roberto has his scientific staff try to get to the bottom of the story.  Meanwhile, he hosts a visit from Dum Dum Duggan (now openly known as a cyborg).  Dum Dum says that S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to trust 'Berto, since they still consider him a good guy, but they're putting Clint on the team as their spy.  (Hilariously, 'Berto asks for the other Hawkeye, and, man, I'd love that.)  In Paris, the team engages the...creatures, and Power Man uses his chi power to realize that the "crystals" are really the souls of the dead.  'Berto's scientists realize that the creatures are creating a pentagram pattern, and Power Man puts two and two together (somehow) to realize that they're creating a "telephone to the dead."  Meanwhile, we're treated to more exposition, since we're shown W.H.I.S.P.E.R. headquarters, where the Maker is revealed to be the culprit.  He's working on something called "Life-Minus."  (He also refers to it as the "excavation," though the only way that make sense is if he's excavating souls.)  The issue ends with him deploying souped-up versions of the creatures, calling them his Neohedron.  (It took me a second read to realize that they're the members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team that Duggan tells 'Berto went missing in Paris ten minutes earlier.)

As I said, it's not a terribly inspiring start.  I'm happy to give Ewing time to develop the team dynamics and the addition of Hawkeye does offer promise.  But, my skepticism comes from the fact that I don't think that the answers to the big mysteries hovering over this issue will be all that interesting.  Once we find out why 'Berto took over A.I.M. and its connection to the Avengers, is it really going to be that interesting?  How will it distinguish itself from the modus operandi of all the other Avengers teams?  Will the Maker ever not sound like a Bond villain?  If he does, will W.H.I.S.P.E.R. ever feel like it's not inspired by M.A.D. from "Inspector Gadget?"  Will Squirrel Girl even not be annoying?  I'm not super hopeful about the answers to these questions, but we'll see.

** (two of five stars)

Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, this issue is AMAZING.  Let's get right into it.

Spencer does a spectacular job of letting the story unfold through a series of flashbacks.  If you've read my reviews of "Earth 2:  Society," you know how difficult it can be to use flashbacks well.  It doesn't always work the way that the author intends.  But, Spencer uses a brilliant framing device:  Sam is flying in coach to Arizona, and he's seated between two bros that recognize him.  Over the course of the issue, we come to learn why he's flying coach.  The answer is even better than the device!

Spencer really evokes "Captain America" history here by essentially giving us a retelling of the "Nomad" era.  We watch as Sam becomes disillusioned with the increasingly adversarial nature of American politics.  He struggles with this frustration, because he realizes that Steve (mostly) managed to stay above the politics.  But, he feels that the current situation is more dangerous, since this divide is resulting in deaths, as people embrace violence against each other.  As such, he makes a speech to the press about the need for empathy.

It's the next scenes where Spencer and Acuna really shine.  It unfolds like a movie, going from cut-scene to cut-scene.  People feel that Sam's speech outs him as a liberal, and he's dubbed "Captain Socialist."  After he helps finally stamp out HYDRA's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., he's summarily shown the door, stripped of the support of the U.S. government.  He's on his own, and he decides to set up a hotline for people to report injustices.  Again, Spencer and Acuna go with cut-scenes to brilliant effect.  They give us two pages of people complaining about their noisy neighbors or incandescent lightbulbs.  It's an amazing send-up of where we are as a society in America, and it serves to reinforce why Sam felt the way that he did.

In fact, throughout the story, Spencer reminds us that Sam comes with a different perspective than Steve.  Spence alludes to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, and it makes sense that an African-American Captain America would see inequality that Steve Rogers might not see.  As Spencer has Sam say, he has strongly held opinions in these matters, and Spencer makes you realize why he had to act on them.

As such, he assembles D-Man and Misty Knight as his support team and gets to work.  To be clear, Spencer doesn't answer the obvious questions about these two characters.  Isn't D-Man dead?  Isn't Misty a traitor?  We're left wonder if it's some sort of "Secret Wars" ret-con or a story that Spencer just hasn't told yet.  But, either way, they're great supporting characters.  When Sam wants to help a Mexican-American grandmother from Arizona to her migrant-smuggling grandson, Misty asks if he really wants to immediately weigh into the immigration debate.  It's a sign that neither Sam nor Spencer plans on being shy when it comes to using the current political climate in America for inspiration.  Sam asks his minister brother for help with funding and then he heads to Arizona to see what he can do.

We learn that the grandson helps Mexicans crossing the border by leaving food and water for them, and the grandmother fears that his absence might be related to the Sons of Serpents' presence in the area.  Sam confronts some Serpent members as they try to stop a group of migrants, and Spencer gives us one of the most hilariously verbose bad guys in recent memory.  (Seriously, whoever the guy leading this group is, please, please, let us see more of him.  When Sam accuses them of arriving in a pick-up truck and the Son chastises him for stereotyping them?  OMG, hilarious.  After all, we learn that they arrived in a mini-van.)

It's the end that sets up the revelation of the most important aspect of this status quo:  Steve arrives to arrest Sam.  Initially, Maria Hill had alluded to Sam working for someone whose name wasn't allowed to be mentioned on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, but Spencer makes it clear that it's not Steve.  (It also makes you wonder where Ian is.)  I'm intrigued how Spencer handles this next sequence.  He runs the risk of portraying Steve as a right-wing racist if he goes too far in complaining about Sam going political.  It's going to be a delicate dance for Spencer, but I'm confident that he's got the skills to handle it.

Honestly, I can't wait to see where we go from here.  Remender's run on "Captain America" was amazing, reinvigorating not just Cap but his entire supporting cast.  I can't wait to see how Spencer handles this dispute between Cap and Sam.  But, as a pretty unabashed liberal, I'm also excited to see a Captain America fighting for my values.  If Spencer's good, though, he'll make me regret that feeling, as Sam realizes that the world is a more complicated place than he (and I) thought.

***** (five of five stars)

Civil War #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Soule wraps up this series beautifully.  Seriously.  As endings go, it's pretty damn perfect.

Jennifer manages to punch a hole in the Skrull's compound, allowing Tony to restart his communications system (because he can now transmit a signal) and call a suit of armor to come get him.  Jennifer goes after Veranke while Tony beelines for Steve.  As I mentioned last issue, I wasn't entirely sure how Tony was going to convince Steve to believe him that the Skrulls were "responsible."  But, Soule solves that problem in exactly the way any good author should solve it:  he shows and doesn't tell.  Tony uses his sonic blasters to reveal that his deputy, Bucky, was a Skrull, proving his point to Steve.  (I'm pretty sure that he got this information from Jennifer's quick look into the Skrulls' files.)  Still somewhat disbelieving, Steve allows Emma to share Tony's thoughts with him, showing Veranke's super-villain exposition from last issue.  (It's still the only weak point of this series.)

However, Tony worries that it's still too late, since it'll be next to impossible not only to rally the troops on both sides to work in concert against the Skrulls but to prevent them from shape-changing and fleeing.  Steve suggests the Bellcurve bomb -- dun dun DUN! -- and he gets Logan-Hulk to throw it into the Divide.  (On that, I had no idea that Logan was the Hulk.  Did we see that happen, or did it happen before the series?  I feel like Soule thought that I knew that, but it was definitely a "WTF?" moment for me.)  However, the bomb is damaged, and Steve and Tony go to detonate it themselves. Seeking some form of penance, they also decide to attract the heroes into the Divide with them:  the bomb explodes, killing Steve and Tony and removing the powers of Earth's superheroes.  Later, Peter and Jennifer talk on the Divide, showing that the two sides are cautiously working together.  Jennifer asks Peter if he thinks that Steve and Tony purposefully took away their powers.  He responds that he doesn't know, but he doesn't want to fight about it.

I like this issue so much because it really delves into the psychology of the events.  For example, on several occasions, Tony refuses to blame the Skrull for the war.  He recognizes that they might've fanned the flames of the conflict, but he and Steve kept the war going because they were heroes made kings:  they couldn't lose.  Steve is more quick to blame the Skrulls, and it fits with his personality:  he can't admit that he could've been the bad guy all along.  (Tony faced that reality years ago.)  Steve only starts to come to that realization at the end, and even then it's overshadowed by his disbelief that it was the Skrulls all along.  But, it's not just Steve and Tony that Soule puts on the couch.  We learn that MJ chose the Iron because she thought that it was better for their daughter; Peter chose the Blue to avoid getting thrown into Stark's jails.  But, Peter implies to Jennifer that those decisions might have had more to do with their relationship (and the problems in it) and that the forced choice might've been a convenient excuse.  Again, it shows a subtlety that we just rarely see in comics:  the "villain" isn't necessarily the one that causes the problem; sometimes, it's just the way that the hero frames the problem, usually in a way that suits him/her.  Seriously, where else do you get that sort of insight?

When you combine the characterization, plotting, and scripting with Yu's pencils, it's just a great package.  This series and "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows" are definitely the top two "Secret Wars" tie-in series for me.  In fact, even if you're not reading "Secret Wars," you should pick up this mini-series.  It stands on its own as a great story.  (Can Soule and Yu come work on "Amazing Spider-Man" when Slott is done?  Please?)

***** (five of five stars)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A-Force #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series has been inconsistent at times, but Bennett, Wilson, and Medina deliver a rather fun romp here at the end.

We're treated to several pages of the women of Arcadia fighting the zombies that pour through the breach in the Shield that Loki created last issue.  The good news is that it's a real tour de force of art and characterization.  Rather than using generic battle banter, Bennett and Wilson really doing a great job making sure that every witty comment sounds like it should vis-√†-vis the person making it.  I really loved the Black Widow wearily telling Jubilee and X-23 (I think), "Yes, yes, you'll all be incredibly useful at trivia night," as the two of them compared notes on zombie movies.  Moreover, Medina does a spectacular job of making the action easily followable and the characters still identifiable, even after pages and pages of fighting.

My only complaint is the ending, and not just because it involves the deus ex machina of ??? (now called Singularity) sacrificing herself to destroy the zombies.  It's that I don't understand how that saves Arcadia.  After all, she didn't destroy all the zombies.  We also know that the entire Shield is broken since Grimm left to find Doom (as seen in "Secret Wars" #6 and "Siege" #4).  As such, Arcadia's position is a lot more precarious than the upbeat ending here implies it to be, since it's not like the hole in the Shield has been (or even can be) plugged.

But, it is what it is.  The fact that we know that this team reconstitutes in the "real" world after "Secret Wars" ends already had limited the impact of the sacrifices that we see here.  It hasn't been my favorite tie-in series, but it definitely picked up steam as it went.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League of America #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hitch has shown an impressive amount of restraint in not rushing this story.  Batman could've just solved the "problem" last issue, and he'd be wrapping up the arc here.  But, instead, Hitch gets to realize the potential that comes with waiting, as we see Batman frustrated over his failure to find the flaw in Rao's plan.  It's remarkably fun to watch, since Bruce is seething at this point.

Moreover, when the answer comes, it isn't overly complicated mumbo-jumbo.  Hitch really lays out the science in a clear manner.  First, Bruce has a doctor conduct a series of tests on a "blessed" villain, and they learn that Rao's prophets are rewriting humanity's genetic code to make us happy once we're blessed.  Separately, Clark gives Victor and his father some of his blood to examine, and they discover that Kryptonians have unnatural markers in their genetic code.  What's the point of these markers?  It's Hal that learns the answer, in the past: Rao uses the prophets' lifeforce to prolong his own life.  Presumably, he needed people so dedicated to him that they won't mind sacrificing a part of themselves to support him.  With the pieces falling in place, Hitch delivers the best final panel of an issue that I've seen for a while, with Rao appearing in the Fortress of Solitude and ominously telling Clark that it would've been easier if he had just believed.  Indeed.

Again, it's a solid story.  My only real question is how Victor's father, Silas, knew that the protein markers that Rao inserted into the Kryptonian genetic code in the past weren't natural.  After all, it happened a long time ago, and it's not like Silas had access to pre-marked Kryptonian genetic code for comparison.  But, I can live with that short cut.  After all, eventually, they'd realize that the new markers in humanity's code matched the ones in the Kryptonian code, calling suspicion on them anyway.

I had wondered why DC decided to launch another series about the Justice League.  But, to be honest, I'm digging it.  With the main title again focused on yet another war with Darkseid, it's nice just to read a straight-forward Justice League story.  This series is becoming the "Detective Comics" to the "Justice League's" "Batman," and it's a welcome development, in my book.

*** (three of five stars)

Earth 2: Society #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Unfortunately, I have to say I'm done now.

I've complained in previous reviews that I'm pretty confused about the overarching story that Wilson is (allegedly) telling.  But, the last straw for me is really that Wilson seems to be changing everyone's characterization willy-nilly to fit this (still-unclear) story.

Most egregiously, Flash is shown as a spoiled brat and reluctant hero.  I would be OK if Wilson were telling a story where Flash couldn't handle the pressure anymore.  After all, we learn that he spent 30 days in constant motion, helping to move supplies around New Earth 2 to build the cities after planetfall.  But, Wilson isn't telling that story.  Instead, he shows Flash as reluctant to help.  It's the exact opposite of the Jay Garrick that we saw in the first series.  That Jay was often the only one still trying to win when the odds seemed overwhelming to everyone else.  To make matters worse, Wilson has Flash just suddenly change this characterization, deciding to redeem himself and save a crashing Overwatch-One with no explanation for why he had the change of heart.

Moreover, we learn that Jimmy Olsen is the Big Bad, the man behind Anarky.  He's decided that he's a god and, for some reason, he stole the Source Vault and wants to activate it.  Again, I could see how Jimmy get here, given that he's come to possess so much power (via his merger with the Mother Box) in such a little time.  It makes sense that he might lose touch with reality.  But, Wilson doesn't actually show us this evolution; Jimmy is just the bad guy now and we're supposed to go with it.

Even Wilson's characterization of Batman is odd.  He's arrogant and judgmental, which would totally if he were still Thomas Wayne.  But, he's not.  He's Dick Grayson.  It's almost like Wilson forgot that.

In other words, I hung in there through "Earth 2:  World's End" and "Convergence" because I had hopes that this series would return to letting us get to know the characters.  I longed for the great first few issues of "Earth 2," where we were introduced to them.  But, everything went off the rails with the Darkseid War and we never really returned.  Wilson's scattered storytelling and bizarre characterizations makes these new issues difficult to read, let alone enjoy.  In fact, I'm only giving this issue two stars for Jimenez's art and Sachez's beautiful colors, particularly on the Batsuit.

[Sigh.]  Good-bye, New Earth 2.  Hopefully we'll have a reason to visit later.

** (two of five stars)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Batman and Robin Eternal #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I'm happy to say that Seeley does a great job here.  Not surprisingly, he's got down Dick's voice beautifully, and it really shows.

The highlight of the issue for me was Dick expressing surprise at the number of teenage superheroes in Gotham, climaxing with him asking if they were handing out costumes in cereal boxes when he meets Spoiler.  It goes exactly to the heart of what I think we all want this story to be:  Dick as the leader of the Robins, in all their official and unofficial iterations.  In other words, in the wake of the loss of Bruce, Dick is stepping into his role as head of the family.  (Stephanie essentially demands that he do so in this issue, complaining about the "robot" chasing them around the city in the wake of Batman's death.  She also keeps referring to him as "sexy Batman," which cracks up my shit.)

At the moment, Dick is more interested in just making sure that the people on Mother's list are still alive.  He arrived at Harper's apartment just in time to see Cassandra kick the Orphan's ass, and he's relieved when Tim arrives to help, since it means that he's also alive.  (Tim has apparently planted monitors in the girls' apartment, saying that the Orphan's attack justifies him keeping a particularly creepy eye on them.  It certainly fits with this more arrogant and ethically challenged version of Tim that we have in the DCnU.)  They then contact Jason, who's holding Cassandra at gunpoint.  I love this moment, since it really gives some rare credit to Jason.  Cassandra has so far been portrayed as an unstoppable fighting machine, but Jason has apparently managed to subdue her.

Speaking of Cass, she still hasn't spoken, though they know her name since the Orphan helpfully mentioned it in front of Harper.  Adding to the mystery, Dick and Stephanie smell fear gas in the apartment, and it appears to be part of the Orphan's costume.  (Its smell prompts Dick to remember his first exposure to the gas, while chasing Crane that first time.  His fear?  That he's not good enough for Batman.)

My only complaint -- and it's a very small one -- is that the Orphan wears his (and it seems to be a him) motivations a little too clearly on his sleeve.  He taunts Harper over her brother fleeing, asking if he's gone to get help or abandoning her like all families do.  Harsh, dude.  Harsh.

Otherwise, it's pitch perfect.  Although they're teenagers, they're all still remarkably competent, as Harper proves when she manages -- in her beaten state -- to grab her gun and electrify the fire escape just as the Orphan touches it.  I love the idea of Dick acknowledging this wealth of talent and assembling all of them into an unstoppable army.  In the meantime, I'm also loving the banter and relationships between them.  Seeley could give me 52 issues of them all at a house-warming party, and I'd be here with bells on every issue.

**** (four of five stars)

Batman #45 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All right, let's just jump into it, because we have a lot of ground to cover.

I honestly couldn't remember how Gordon got himself in the situation that starts this issue, tangling with a group of Mr. Bloom's mutated henchman.  (I do vaguely recall the sharks.)  In fact, I also couldn't remember how Gordon got on Bloom's trail in the first place, until Dylan reminds us that he sent him down the alley.  (I hadn't originally realized that he's Peter Duggio's cousin from issue #44.)  But, how does Gordon even know about Bloom?  I couldn't remember.  After all, last issue was about Bruce discovering Mr. Bloom, not Gordon.  I'm going to have to read my back issues.

At any rate, Gordon is saved when Dylan reveals that he's given the Batsuit a limited form of artificial intelligence, enabling it to save a target.  In this situation, the target is Jim, and it does its job admirably.  (I can't wait for the arc where the Batsuit goes rogue.)  Jim later apologizes to Geri about himself going rogue, since, if I do remember correctly, Julia helped him turn off her ability to track the suit after the Powers That Be ordered him not to go after Bloom.  Geri then takes him on a tour of her "evil base."  (She's joking.  Maybe.)  She reveals that her company has created its own collider in an attempt to develop new elements.  She talks about the goal of finding an "island of stability," a hypothesized group of elements in the 200s that don't suffer from the same instability as the ones in the 120s.  So far, they've succeeded in creating a super-heavy element:  Batmanium 206.  (Hence the name of this arc, "Superheavy.")  Powers never explains what she wants to do with these elements (and the name of the arc implies that it's relevant somehow.)  Instead, she tells Jim that she wants him to resign at a "presentation" that she's holding that evening.  (Apparently Jim's absence in previous issues meant that he missed the gala where she was going to present him with Batmanium.)  She promises that he can help her pick the next Batman.

Meanwhile, Duke breaks into Dylan's laboratory since no one would bother to page him.  (#microaggression)  Duke shows him the Bloom seed that he swiped from Bruce, and Dylan encourages him to be careful.  He notes that Peter was his cousin, and we learned that his burned ear (which figures prominently here) comes from some gang members that almost killed him when he himself looked for Bloom.  Duke encourages him to help, offering him a Robin badge.  It's a nice moment, but I'm still curious how Duke learned about Bloom.  Snyder hasn't made that clear yet.

Later, at the "presentation," Jim is trying to decide if he's going to resign when Mr. Bloom attacks.  Jim is able to save Geri as Bloom's blimp crashes into the building.  (This scene is pretty awesome, as Jim uses his now voice-activated connection to the suit's artificial intelligence to tell it to duck as he leaps for Geri.  I also love that he continues to call it "rookie."  I feel like Snyder is really getting down Jim's voice.)

Overall, it's a solid issue, but I'm starting to wonder if Snyder doesn't have one too many irons in the fire at this point.  Despite being five issues into this arc, we really don't have a clear sense of anyone's motivations.  Why don't Geri and the Powers That Be want Gordon going after Bloom?  Moreover, why fire Gordon for this one infraction?  Does Powers really sincerely believe that she'd be able to find anyone as good to replace Jim?  Again, how does Duke know about Bloom and why does he want to go after him?  Why would Bloom -- who's spent so much time in the shadows -- suddenly attack now, in such a public way?  I'm not saying that Snyder has to lay all his cards on the table, like confirming that Geri is secretly the Big Bad.  Some of these mysteries are integral to this new status quo, and I get that it's going to be a while before we get them answered.  But, in terms of this very specific Mr. Bloom story, it's getting to be long in the tooth for us to be pretty much in the dark.

*** (three of five stars)

Star Wars #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly?  This issue is one of the best that I've ever read.  It has everything.  Banter.  Hilarity.  Mystery.  Tension.  Let's get started.

First, I really wouldn't have predicted that Chewbacca and Threepio could be fodder for a great buddy comedy, but Aaron definitely proves me wrong here.  It's these scenes that really make the issue.  Threepio actually exhibits something that we've never previously seen from him:  sarcasm (with a hint of menace).  He and Chewbacca confront a series of individuals on Nar Shadda as they try to track down Luke.  In each case, he "translates" Chewbacca's threats for the victim.  Given Threepio's dry delivery, it's often the set-up that provides the comedy, and Immonen handles his part perfectly.  For example, he gives us the brilliant moment of Threepio speaking to Chewie over the shoulders of the clueless droids confronting him.  ("These droids seem to be nothing more than common criminals.  Trust me, I am as shocked as you are.")  We're then treated to the dawning sense of realization on the droid's faces as they turn their attention to the person that Threepio is unexpectedly addressing.  Not surprisingly, the droids give up Grakkus' name, and Threepio repeats their act in a bar as they try to find Grakkus' location.  "If we have been misinformed I do apologize.  The droids who gave us that information were rather...inoperable at the time."  Hilarious.  It's so effective because Aaron continues to get down Threepio's voice perfectly; you can hear Anthony Daniels saying the words.  It's this unexpected twist -- his ability to translate Chewbacca's implied violence into a politely worded but not subtle threat -- that brings us an entirely new insight into Threepio.

Then, we have Luke.  He's brought face-to-face here with someone named the Gamemaster, the person that Grakkus hires to make sure that combatants are sufficiently skilled to put on a good show in his arena.  The Gamemaster is actually an unexpectedly sympathetic figure here.  He tells Luke that the Jedi Temple on Coruscant no longer exists (it's now the Imperial Palace) and that his only hope to learn the Jedi's teachings is to survive long enough to get a look at the holocrons.  Moreover, Grakkus has probably all the lightsabers in existence, but they're one-by-one dying since no one knows how to fix them.  It's another reminder to Luke of the stakes at play.  It's all pretty effective, as inspirational speaking goes.  Plus, I think that we may learn here how Luke got his lightsaber training.  The Gamemaster makes quick work of him, and I could see Luke starting to learn some basics from him, probably the only person alive at the time that understands how to use a lightsaber.  I hope we wind up learning more about him, because Aaron implies that there's more to him than meets the eye (and not just because he's hooded).  Is a former Jedi?  I hope we'll see.

Finally, we have the equally amazing Leia-and-the-Solos story.  No, we still don't get to the bottom of Sana and Han's "wedding."  But, Sana manages to jump to light speed and evade the Empire.  When they're safe, Leia learns that Luke is in trouble and trades Sana Han to convince her to fly them to Nar Shadda.  This sequence is amazing not only for Leia literally using Han as a bargaining chip (seriously, she just effectively hands him to Sana), but it makes it clear that we're heading in the direction of everyone converging on one position.  It's unexpected and exciting.  Plus, it also reminds us of the affection that they've all clearly developed for each other at this point.  Han is particularly troubled that Luke went to Nar Shadda, like an older brother complaining that he can't take his eye off his little brother without him getting into trouble.

It's all just masterful.  Aaron is really succeeding in the most important aspect of this series:  we're not just here to fill in the blanks.  Sure, it's exciting to see Luke get his first real training in combat with a lightsaber and wondering how far this training will go.  But, it's also about the story itself, of Chewie and Threepio trying to track down Luke and Han and Leia immediately redirecting to help rescue him.  Again, it's getting to be less and less about fleshing out some details of the original trilogy and more about the feeling that you're watching an entirely new trilogy every time you read these issues.  I just can't rave enough about the work that Aaron and Immonen are doing here.

***** (five of five stars)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Shattered Empire #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Rucka pulls off a well played dodge here.  Rather than picking up the story where we left it last issue -- with Han realizing that they have a long way to go to defeat the Empire -- Rucka instead focuses on Shara's contributions to the Alliance's ongoing attempts to liberate cities and planets.  Shara helps free Cawa City here, and her squadron leader expresses concern that she's pushing herself too hard.  (Her husband Kes is apparently on the "Pathfinder" mission with Han.)  He sends her to escort Leia to Naboo, where she convinces the Queen to help rebuild the Alliance.  It's supposed to be an easy job, for both of them, really.

The twist is that the Emperor has put into motion a series of contingency plans upon his death.  Earlier, an entity called "the Messenger" arrives for an Imperial officer named Captain Duvat.  (The Messenger wears a helmet that plays the video of the Emperor giving Duvat his orders once he confirms Duvat's identity through blood.  It's pretty freaking cool.)  The Emperor orders Duvat to scour Naboo, fulling his long-standing threat to do so.  (Leia had earlier narrated that the Emperor had never actually pulled the trigger because he liked watching the Nabooans live in fear of him doing so eventually.)  Duvat deploys devices to disrupt Naboo's climate, and Leia and Shara are on planet when they do so.  So much for easy.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation here is that the Empire's propaganda arm is in full swing, pretending the Emperor is still alive.  When one of Duvat's subordinates mentions that the Emperor is dead, Duvat reminds him that repeating "rebel propaganda" is treason.  Given that "Star Wars:  The Force Awakens" appears to confirm that the Alliance never fully displaced the Empire, you can see Rucka building the blocks of that failure here.  Now, I'd love to know what Han is doing.

*** (three of five stars)

Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's hard to know where to start here.  The reason for that uncertainty should become clear as I try to summarize this issue.

A Qys named Mors is serving as a modern-day Hades, running an underworld beneath Miracleman's temple full of people that he's "resurrected."  To be clear, they're not fully resurrected:  they appear to consist of the person's memories implanted into a robot version of their old body.  However, it's not clear how Mors managed to save these memories or how he decides on the person to resurrect.  For a reason that becomes clear later in the issue, he resurrects Emil Gargunza here.  Mors assigns the sixth version (of the 18 versions that exist) of Andy Warhol (yup) to be friends with Gargunza, and the two of them spend most of the issue discussing their plight.

Warhol is particularly concerned over whether he has a soul and the fact that Miracleman's outlawing of money means that he can't assess his worth.  For his part, Gargunza is perturbed that their robot bodies are not allowed to leave the Underworld; in fact, Gargunza himself is restricted simply to the courtyard.  Randomly, Winter appears for a visit, because she wants to meet her grandfather.  In the end, Gargunza creates a portable sustaining field to try to escape, but Mors deactivates him instead.  We learn that this version of Gargunza was one of several that Mors created and that each time he engages in some reprogramming of Gargunza's mind.  His goal is to see if he can get Gargunza's "unique" mind to aid the "survival of others" and not just himself.

I can't say that I didn't like this issue, but I'm also not necessarily a fan.  If you stop caring about the series' larger plot, you can just enjoy as it really flirts with genius as an experimental piece of work.  Buckingham is particularly amazing here, clearly inspired by Warhol to tell this story in a way befitting his presence.  At some point, Gaiman will likely return to a traditional narrative, so I'm trying to enjoy these quirky detours on the way there.  The danger, though, is that I haven't found myself emotionally connecting with any of the characters that we've seen featured in these issues.  (I come the closest to Warhol here, particularly as he despairs when he realizes Gargunza didn't love him.)  If we go too long without caring about the character-of-the-month, I could see losing interest quickly.

*** (three of five stars)

Darth Vader #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The plots, as they say, thicken.

First, Aphra finds the mortician that worked on Padme's body, and we learn why she's taken a sudden interest in him:  she uses Triple-Zero to get him to admit that Padme had a son.  Apparently the holographic images of her body made her appear that she was still pregnant, but Aphra knows that the son survived (since Vader knows that he did from Boba Fett).  Going into the search with that information, she gets the confirmation that she needs.  The interesting part is that the mortician expresses complete loyalty to Padme here and, as such, doesn't totally betray her:  he doesn't confirm that Padme delivered twins.  It's a reminder that Vader doesn't actually discover this information until "Return of the Jedi," and Gillen does, yet again, a perfect job of using this series to give us even more insight into the movies.  (I always wondered how Vader knew that Luke was his son, but didn't know that Leia was his daughter.)

Moreover, the audit of Vader's finances continues.  I still can't say that it's exciting, but Gillen uses a cool code-breaking sequence to again underscore Thanoth's talents and Vader's grudging respect for him.  Assuming that the device that we see hovering over Vader's shoulder at the end of the issue is a surveillance drone, then it appears that Thanoth knows exactly what Vader did.  I still don't see how it's going to result in anything interesting, since we know the outcome.  But, Gillen does a better job this issue of adding tension to this plot, showing Vader actually getting something like nervous as the noose tightens around his neck.  (Earlier, Thanoth came even closer to discovering who bought the explosives used on the Star Destroyer).

The issue closes with Vader sending Aphra after the rebel pilot that destroyed the Death Star.  He tells her that another imperial agent has been tasked with this responsibility, but he wants them to find him first.  I don't remember seeing anything about someone else on Luke's trail, so I'm not sure how Vader got this information.  But, it's interesting to watch Vader come step-by-step closer to finding Luke.  You have to wonder if they're going to have another confrontation, like they did in "Star Wars" #2.  I guess we'll see!

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Avengers #0 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is marginally better than "All-New, All-Different Marvel Point One" #1, but it's not exactly like that's high praise.

To start, it succeeds where "...Point One" failed because the framing device at least makes sense.  We learn that the Squadron Supreme has bought a company called Oracle, Inc. and plans on using its resources to fund its operations.  However, it's not the Squadron Supreme that we expect.  It's comprised of heroes from different Earths that used to be part of their Earth's Squadron.  The fact that they remember their previous Earths seems to confirm the hint in "...Point One" that, at the very least, the people not from Earth-616 remember their previous lives.  (It's unclear to me if people from Earth-616 recognize any difference between the post-"Secret Wars" Earth and the previous one.)  Moreover, the Multiverse does still seem to exist, since Captain Marvel faces a mysterious entity from another Universe and America Chavez retains her ability to kick holes between Universes.  ("...Point One had also implied the existence of the Multiverse, per Maestro's comments about the Collector's Universe being different from his Universe.)

Beyond that, I don't have too much positive to say.  Although the framing device might make more sense, it's overly mysterious for its own good.  The Squadron apparently views itself as the protector of this Earth that it's adopted, but also views the Avengers as possible rivals.  In fact, the issue unfolds as the new Nightwing spies on the various Avengers teams (with no explanation for how he able to monitor moments like Captain Marvel taking out the entity in space, for example).  As excited as I am to see a revitalized Avengers line (after dropping the main "Avengers" titles that Hickman wrote), this issue does little to excite me.  It actually did the opposite of that.  I immediately decided not to subscribe to "Squadron Supreme," as I had intended to do, given that it is a different team than the one that I thought that I was getting.  I also can't say that I'm all that enthused about "New Avengers," despite its roster containing Hawkeye, Hulkling, Sunspot, and Wiccan.  The premise of Sunspot taking over A.I.M., dubbing it "Avengers Idea Mechanics," and running it in international waters (a.k.a. a reborn Avengers Island) seems like one that will get difficult to keep fresh by issue #15.  It seems to exist merely to serve as a foil to W.H.I.S.P.E.R., the organization that the Ultimate version of Reed Richards is running and constituted from the A.I.M. scientists that Roberto forced into hiding or imprisoned.  I guess we'll learn more soon.

The best of the bunch seems to be "Uncanny Avengers," at least in terms of stories for this issue.  We learn that the Terrigen Mists are possibly killing X-Men, explaining why it seems that they're going to be enemies post-"Secret World."  Rogue is brought low here, and Deadpool has to spring a sample of the Mists so that the Avengers can save her life.  We're not told how or why the Mists impact mutants or why the sample can help save Rogue, but it seems like those details will be addressed in "Uncanny Avengers."  Steve Rogers tells Deadpool that they've been keeping the affliction quiet to avoid fanning flames of conflict, so you can see how the title is likely to start with those flames burning higher.

But, again, for the $5.99 price tag, I expected to get something a little better than the issue that I got here.  Sure, it saved me from subscribing to "Squadron Supreme," but it's hard to argue that Marvel wanted that outcome.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #1 (AGAIN) (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of all the comics that I read, Slott has the dubious "honor" of delivering the first issue of the post-"Secret Wars" status quo.  It's a doozy.  It's hard to know where to begin, so let's just dive into it.

First, he skillfully manages to avoid the obvious problem:  "Secret Wars" hasn't actually ended yet.  (Details, details.)  He does so by focusing almost entirely on Peter.  Sure, Mockingbird and Nick Fury make appearances.  But, beyond learning that Parker Industries is designing tech for S.H.I.E.L.D., we don't really see anything new in terms of Peter's relationships with other characters.  It's not like we learn that Anna Maria is running HYDRA.  It's all about Peter.  Moreover, rather than showing us changes that "Secret Wars" inspired in Peter's life, Slott focuses on changes that happened in the eight-month gap since "Secret Wars" (eventually) ended.

The main difference is that Parker Industries is now firing on all cylinders.  I've always been a fan of Slott moving Peter more and more into a Tony Stark role, and he finally completes that transition here.  The multiple web cartridges with different types of webbing ("micro-coiled Z-metal!"), releasing gadgets as part of Parker Industries instead of Horizon Labs ("Webware from Parker Industries!"), a tricked-out Spider-Mobile that isn't embarrassing:  it's all here.  Moreover, Slott acknowledges and even embraces the comparison between Peter and Tony.  Spider-Man is now Peter's private bodyguard, and it prompts a reporter to ask if Peter is the "poor man's Tony Stark."  Peter focuses on the "poor" part of that phrase, noting that he capped his pay at the middle-management level.  He did so to compensate for the fact that his aggressive responsible business conduct commitment (green technologies, fair pay, etc.) will limit profits.  It's Slott's attempt to show that he doesn't intend to make Peter fully into Tony.  (He's not yet designing weapons systems.)

At this stage, the only problem I see with this approach is that Slott is making Peter almost too saintly.  I don't read "Superman" for a reason.  I get that Peter is committed to using his great power for responsibility, but he may also want to...I don't know...have sex again.  Instead, it's hard to see how he'd have time, between saving the world as Spider-Man and making it better through the "Uncle Ben Foundation."  He's almost stopped existing as a man.  He's got to have some foibles, other than possibly overconfidence in his ability to multitask.  (Slott is already setting up multitasking as his future downfall.) 

But, Slott is usually pretty good at anticipating these sorts of problems, so we'll see where he goes.  For the time being, Peter's saintliness has resulted in a not-happy Sajani, since she wants to dominate the world, not save it.  If Slott is going to turn Peter into Santa Claus, then he seems to know that Peter is going to have to pay for this generosity, to constantly struggle with the fact that he's limiting his power in an attempt to be the good guy.  After all, couldn't he just make the profit and donate his portion of it?  Wouldn't it be better to allow Parker Industries to act like other more-or-less ethical companies:  make money, donate some?  Probably not, but it's an interesting question for Slott to explore.

It's this argument with Sajani, though, that sets up his confrontation with her, telling her that he knows that she worked with the Black Cat and the Ghost to try to shape Parker Industries the way that she wants it.  It seems pretty clear that they're cruising for a bruising, particularly since Sajani doesn't deny working with the Zodiac when Peter asks her about it.  That said, building on the unbelievability of his multitasking, it seems a bit of a stretch that Peter had so much free time that he just randomly reviews security tapes.  He says that he actually reconstructed the security footage, so it seems like he had a hint that he should look for something.  But, who gave him the hint?  Or, just like we're supposed to believe he's a saint, we're supposed to buy that he's somehow become omnipotent?  Is he now God?

I haven't mentioned the Zodiac?  Right!  It says a lot that I haven't even gotten to the plot of the issue yet!  The issue begins with Mockingbird and Spidey chasing a pair of Leos through the streets of Shanghai, after they stole Parker Industries' secure servers.  The servers link up every private Webware (essentially iCloud) account in the world, and Peter and S.H.I.E.L.D. don't want it falling into Zodiac's hands.  (Have I mentioned that I effing love the Zodiac?  I have ever since their epic run in "West Coast Avengers."  I can't explain how excited that I am that they're the first "Big Bad" of this new run.)  Peter eventually uses his new Web-Shooter tools (like the aforementioned "micro-coiled Z metal") to stop the Leos and even delivers a LOL quip, calling one of the Leos "Lion-O."  (Heh.)  "Lion-O" attempts to commit suicide to keep the mission secret, but Peter foils the attempt with an antidote that he prepared to counteract the poison.  We learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spidey have been after the Zodiac "for months," and he got sick of seeing these guys kill themselves.  (Mockingbird teases him for his "no one dies" mantra, though we've learned that he's realized that it was an impossible bar.  He's now on "I save everyone I can.")

It's interesting to learn that they've been after the Zodiac for months, because they're so committed to getting inside Parker Industries' servers.  But, we still don't know why.  We don't get any closer to the truth when they attack Max's wedding to Hector in San Francisco, demanding that Peter surrender his personal Webware device given its "special privileges."  (It's the fact that Pisces knew that tidbit that led Peter to suspect that Sajani is working with them.)

First, let's talk about Horizon.  I'm thrilled that the Horizon people have returned.  As Peter himself acknowledges, it's another sign that the havoc that Otto wrecked on his life has ended.  This series has been worse for the wear without their presence, particularly Max's paternal influence on Peter.  It would be welcome for that relationship to resume; I'm as eager for that to happen as Peter is.  Peter buying back the Horizon name from Liz (if not it's intellectual property) and re-naming the "Parker Institute of Technology" as "Horizon University" was a lovely (if slightly unbelievable) touch.  (I also loved Max announcing that they were Horizon again because Pisces attacked them.)

Now, let's talk about the other development in this issue:  Hobie serving as Peter's Jim Rhodes.  We saw earlier in the issue that Hobie often acts as Spider-Man to make sure that Peter is seen beside him, and he jumps into action here as Spider-Man.  I loved all of it, particularly the fact that Hobie struggled to deliver the quips.  For a moment, I found myself even wondering if Slott was going to turn Hobie into Spider-Man.  It's exactly what Slott wanted me to think, because it meant that we're as surprised as Hobie is when Pisces almost kills him.  Suddenly, reality hits, and you realize that he doesn't have Peter's Spider-Sense.  Plus, as Peter notes, Hobie usually strikes from the shadows; he has no skills to engage in a frontal attack.  Peter realizes the trouble that Hobie faces, and it's why he surrenders the personal device after encrypting it.

All the more exciting, Peter asks Hobie to change into the Prowler, because they have 24 hours to track down the device before the Zodiac is likely to successfully hack it.  Slott really has down their banter, and not in a generic "hero/sidekick" way.  It's really their personalities playing off each other in a fun way.  It sounds like Hobie is going to serve as Peter's partner-in-crime, and I have to say that I'm possibly the most excited about that development.

In other words, True Believers, we have a mystery on our hands.  Why does the Zodiac so desperately want access to Webware?  I guess we'll see.  Slott also seems to bringing the issue with Sajani to a head, as she orders Anna Maria to move up the release of their nanotech program.  Is it so that she can leave Parker Industries with a successful project of her own?  Or, is it part of a grand scheme with the Zodiac? 

Finally, I'll say that the back-up stories aren't particularly note-worthy, except for the brilliant revelation that Regent exists and that he's running the new super-villain prison that neither Alchemax nor Parker Industries wound up building so he can use the villains' powers.  (I honestly can't remember why Alchemax didn't wind up building it.  I remember that Parker Industries' attempt was foiled by the Black Cat and Electro, but I can't remember what happened in "Spider-Man 2099" to foil Alchemax's efforts.)

As happy as I was with this issue, I'm sticking with three stars because of some of these lingering concerns over how "perfect" Peter is (e.g., capping himself at middle-management salary, knowing Sajani was scheming against him, etc.).  That said, though, I'm also pretty confident that Slott may have something up his sleeve, so we'll see where we go from here.  Given how difficult it is to pull off a first issue this ambitious, I do really applaud Slott for it.  If we can maybe ground the stories a little bit more realistically, we're looking at a really great run.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New, All-Different Marvel Point One #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Beyond carrying the most complicated title and numbering of any issue in the history of comic books, this issue itself is a confusing and jumbled mess.

In theory, this issue is supposed to shepherd us into the "All-New, All-Different" era of Marvel.  "Secret Wars" has ended (even though we're nowhere near that actually happening in reality) and, if I understand correctly from the solicitations, eight months have passed.  This issue is supposed to get us excited about this new status quo, but reads more like an extended preview of the "Contest of Champions" series.  (I really find it hard to believe that this series is going to last more than 15 issues, tops.)

It doesn't help that the issue starts awkwardly, with the unseen narrator setting the scene for us by intoning:  "hanging by a thread at the farthest edge of all that is, the broken shell of what was once God Doom's reality...the Battlerealm."  Now, we all pretty much knew that Doom wasn't going to win "Secret Wars."  As such, it's not really all that surprising that his "reality" has been reduced to two coliseums floating on the edge of reality.  The surprising part is that the narrator, eventually revealed as Maestro, remembers that era.  It's a reminder that we still have no idea what this new post-"Secret Wars" status quo actually is.  Maestro refers to the "Omniverse," implying that Marvel's Multiverse no longer exists.  However, even that assertion appears dubious, since Maestro's opponent in Battlerealm -- the Collector -- is apparently choosing his champions from "his" version of Earth.

This contest is the framing device for the issue:  we learn that Maestro has to select five champions to act on his behalf against the Collector's champions.  His first option is Carnage, and we're accordingly given an introduction to Gerry Conway's "Carnage" series.  Talk about a dud.  If you read my reviews of the "Spiral" story that ran through "Amazing Spider-Man," you'll know that I heart Conway.  But, he seems to have lost his way with words here, using a cumbersome and repetitive first-person narration that makes you think that Cletus Kasady is more a brain-damaged child than a symbiote-possessed sociopath.  (He spends the entire issue telling us that he's not lazy, insisting that he only sleeps a few hours a night since he spends so much time killing people.  Seriously.  That's it.)  We also have a "Rocket Raccoon & Groot" story that feels like the editors forget to include the ending.  (Did the shape-shifter control the minds of the trick-or-treaters, or were they also shapeshifters?  Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.)

On the plus side, the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." story is probably the best of the bunch, with Guggenheim really nailing the tension that makes for a good spy story.  That said, something about it still feels like it's meant to supplement the TV show; if you're not watching it, it doesn't feel like this story is for you.  Also, the "All-New Inhumans" story isn't bad, per se, but I refuse to indulge Marvel's attempts to force me to care about the Inhumans.

Finally, we're treated to the introduction of Soule's new sidekick for Daredevil.  The idea isn't bad, but the introduction is rushed, relying on excessive exposition and narration that weigh down the story.  The segment reads like the first few pages of "Daredevil" #1, and, if it is, I'm surprised that Soule didn't take his time in establishing the sidekick's past.  Instead, the kid might as well have turned to the reader, broken the fourth wall, and told us what we needed to know.  It would've been more intellectually honest that way.  Moreover, the political overtones -- the sidekick is an illegal Chinese immigrant -- make for a tricky dance, since Soule will always run the risk of falling too heavily on the side of liberal moralizing.  That already happens here, in no small part due to the rushed first-person narration.

In other words, take a pass on this one.  Unlike previous "Point One" issues, nothing here makes for required reading (or reading that you likely won't see in the titles themselves), particularly not at the $5.99 price tag.

* (one of five stars)