Thursday, December 31, 2015

Batman and Robin Eternal #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is well executed, though I didn't get through it without a few raised eyebrows.

First, I was surprised to learn that Hypnos could not only hide the user's identity, but actually hypnotize someone, as Dick does here to Tim's parents.  I'm pretty sure that we haven't seen it used that way in "Grayson," though I wouldn't swear to that.  But, it certainly makes sense that Hypnos could do that (it's in the name, after all), so I'm not complaining.

The more interesting revelation, at least to me, is that Tim has created an entirely new identity for his parents.  Their name -- and his name -- isn't "Drake."  I vaguely remember something along those lines from the early days of "Teen Titans" in the "New 52!" but Tim's history has become such a mess after the reboot that it's hard to follow.  Tim is suitably pissed at Dick for tracking down his parents.  (He discovers that Dick did so when Poppy follows Dick to the house and attacks.  The interruption broke Tim's mother's hypnosis and allowed her to activate the security system.)  Dick says that he had little choice:  he previously could respect Tim's wish to keep so much of his life secret, but he can't afford that luxury now that any of one of them could be a sleeper agent for Mother.  That said, Orlando implies that Dick might be right to be suspicious:  Tim's dad refers to Tim as having "arrived," instead of being born.  Combined with Tim answering a call from Mother last issue, Snyder and Tynion certainly seem to be setting up the revelation that Tim is one of Mother's bio-engineered children.

The other main event is Cass leading Bluebird to a church where Orphan is hiding.  (In a flashback, we see Orphan meeting with Scarecrow there years earlier.)  Cass did so not to turn in Bluebird but seemingly to get her to help take out Orphan?  Maybe?  Her motives for bringing Bluebird there are really unclear to me, since Cass couldn't believe that just she and a wounded Harper could've stopped him.  Perhaps the most interesting part of this sequence is the fact that Orphan makes a comment about not caring if he kills his children (referring to Cass), drawing a parallel between him and Batman.  Snyder and Tynion seem to be putting him out there as Batman through the glass, darkly at this stage.

All in all, it's another solid issue.  It's not as thrilling as some of the other issues, in part because Orlando isn't the most emotional of scripters.  His style perfectly suits "Midnighter," but it works less well here, when the whole point of this issue is the confrontation between Dick and Tim.  But, everything makes sense and nothing occurs randomly, so I'm cool.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Given the aforementioned 80+ issue backlog of comics that I have at the moment, I'm going to suspend my usually obsessively detailed reviews of "Spider-Man 2099" and just go with a normal review.  Let's get to it!

Miguel awakens in a hospital room, and Peter informs him that he's been there for three days.  Tempest's mother, Cecilia, walks into the room just at that moment and tells Miguel that Tempest is dead and that it's all his fault.  After she leaves, Peter tells him that it actually had nothing to do with Miguel or, as he feared, Spider-Man:  the attack was one of three seemingly random attacks that happened at the same time in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.  (The New York one left 23 people dead.) 

Before I get into more details, I'll say that I don't buy that Tempest is dead.  David reminds us here that she wasn't particularly close to her mother, and Cecilia herself tells Miguel that she had plans for Tempest that Tempest abandoned when she met Miguel.  It seems to me like she'd be perfectly happy to lie to Miguel and say that Tempest was dead if it meant that she'd get the control over her daughter that she seems to want.  Plus, Miguel declines Lyla's suggestion that he visit Tempest's grave, implying that maybe he would've learned it didn't exist if he had visited it.

Anyway, Tempest is a story for another time.  At this point, Miguel decides to go all avenging angel, and it's a pretty great sequence of events.  He returns to the scene of the crime, where Lyla is able to reconstruct events like we're playing "Batman:  Arkham Knight."  Miguel learns that the car was driven by a robot, and he has Lyla download the schematics to his computer at Alchemax.  As he's studying them there, his assistant Raul enters and recognizes them as the designs of Dr. Cronos.  (Apparently, they're conveniently distinctive.)  Raul exposits that Cronos taught Victor Von Doom until "Von Doom kind of blew himself up."  He later experienced some health problems and subsequently disappeared from sight.  Raul tracks down an address for him, and Miguel straps on the new suit that Peter designed for him to confront him.  (The suit itself is a marvel.  It helps accentuate all his powers and builds off his previous suit's attributes, like giving him boots with thrusters that help him launch into gliding easier.)  Miguel breaks into the warehouse where Cronos lives and discovers that he's become a not-too-happy cyborg.

Everything flows pretty logically here, so I don't have too much to say.  The only obvious question I have is why Cronos would just be sitting around an empty warehouse if robots that he designed were part of a coordinated terrorist attack.  Even if he didn't do it, presumably the FBI would've taken him into custody to ask him a few questions.  After all, the events of this issue take place only three days, and not three weeks, after the attacks.  That said, David usually has explanations for these sorts of questions, so we'll see where we go.  David's also stoking other fires here, like Captain America apparently existing as a separate consciousness inside Roberta and Mac Gargan and Tiberius Stone planning on using Alchemax research to create the perfect torturers for their new "Lock-Up" facility.  It all feels suitably dark and epic for this title.

*** (three of five stars)

New Avengers #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I love Al Ewing, but, seriously, I'm having a hard time seeing me sticking with this title past issue #3.

The good news is that Ewing does an impressive job of making the story that seemed impossible to understand last issue clear in this one.  The Maker suspects that this Universe is a new one and is searching for proof that other Universes existed before this one.  He's doing so by excavating old souls and somehow triangulating them to find older ones.  His hope is that he'll be able to map the previous Universes in this way.  Sure, we learn this through not one, but two, super-villain speeches.  It's normally the sort of thing that bothers me, but, frankly, Ewing manages to sell it here, since the Maker seems exactly like the type of megalomaniacal lunatic given to such speeches.  Moreover, it gives us a hint that seems to counter my sense that the inhabitants of this new Universe (heh) remembered the old one(s).  If they do, they don't remember the events of "Secret Wars."  That said, though, Maria Hill referred to incursions in "Captain America:  Sam Wilson" #2, so I'm not sure how people think that the incursions resolved themselves.  After all, at some point, someone has to realize that this Universe has two Reed Richards, don't they?

All that said, the bad news is that the Maker's plan raises all sorts of questions that Ewing doesn't answer.  First, I didn't quite get why the Maker decided not only to map old souls, but to weaponize this process by turning present souls into crystals and replacing the bearer's head with them.  (Again admirably, he somehow manages to sell the process itself, through a pretty great "SCIENCE!" sequence involving the A.I.M. scientists.)  Second, we may know more about the Maker's goals, but we know virtually nothing about the Avengers'.  Ewing implies that 'Berto might have nefarious goals, even if he manages to pass Dum Dum's inspection in this issue.  Moreover, we don't know why the other team members actually joined the team.  Why would two young gay guys decide to strand themselves from their family and friends off the coast of California?  We have no idea.

Sure, I'll give credit where credit is due and say that Ewing pulls off three explanatory sequences without them seeming excessively expository.  But, I would've preferred a simpler adventuring hook that didn't require such effort, freeing up the space to let us get to know the team a little better.  I know it's only the second issue, but, with as many new comics as Marvel is throwing at us at this point, it's not exactly a seller's market, in terms of individual creative teams getting to keep readers for long.  I'm hoping everyone has, like, dinner together or something next issue so we can start to get a sense of the feeling that Ewing has planned for this book.

** (two of five stars)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Captain America: Sam Wilson #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I wouldn't believe that it was possible to tell a story so seamlessly in the past, immediate past, and present, but Spencer essentially puts on a clinic here in doing exactly that.

We learn that Cap and Sam's schism came as a result of a whistle-blower dubbed "the Whisperer."  S/he released a tranche of classified information to the public to expose the "Kobik Program," S.H.I.E.L.D.'s plan to re-assemble a Cosmic Cube.  Maria Hill defends the decision publicly -- using the recent incursions experiences as justification -- but both Sam and Steve oppose it.  (On the incursions, it seems that people may really retain their memories of Battleworld if they remember incursions.  Maybe?  It's still unclear.  This issue is probably the first one where I obviously felt like the story that the author was trying to tell was at least partially compromised by the delay in wrapping up "Secret Wars.")

Anyway, Sam and Steve don't disagree over Kobik:  they disagree over Maria's subsequent witch hunt to find the Whisperer.  Steve believes that the Whisperer needs to be held accountable, in no small part because some of the other information that he released put agents' lives in danger.  Sam believes that Steve has an overly rosy view of the justice system, particularly given that he thinks that the Whisperer will be given the same form of justice that he got when he had to account for his actions during "Civil War."  (#whiteprivilege)  Sam heads off S.H.I.E.L.D. at the path as they attempt to take in the Whisperer, allowing him/her to escape.  It obviously explains the tension with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Steve that Sam now experiences.

But, it doesn't end there.  The Whisperer repays the favor by leaking the information about HYDRA to Sam, setting up the battle that we saw in the first issue.  We learn that Sam got immunity for his actions in that fight, and it explains why Steve is unable to arrest him in this issue.  Before Sam and Steve can resolve their stand-off, one of the Sons of the Serpents grabs the grandson of the woman who called Sam's hotline last issue and uses a short-range teleporter to escape.  Sam is understandably suspicious about how such a low-tech group got access to such technology.  Use his link to birds, he tracks down the duo and discovers that they're working together:  they round up young men crossing the border and ship them to Dr. Malus in New York.  Cue the Armadillo, one of Malus' creations who's still mad at Sam for not delivering on a previous promise to help cure him.  (I have no memory of this promise, but I'm just going to go with it.)  Sam manages to escape and heads to New York to take out Malus.

Again, Spencer really does an amazing amount of stuff in just two issues.  Normally, I'd figure that such an arc would've been four or five issues long.  Instead, Spencer manages to bridge the gap between the last time that we saw Sam and Steve and the present.  He fully updates Sam's status quo, injects it with a tension that makes you think, and still delivers a pretty solid story as a framing device.  It's also amazingly fun, putting Sam out there in the public and using humor to skewer the poisonous political environment of today.  Spencer has a great ear for Sam's world-weary thoughts, and it's a treat to watch him move through this issue:  you can practically hear him sighing.  In other words, it's pretty damn good work for just two issues.

**** (four of five stars)

House of M #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This series has veered between comical and serious tones from the start, but Hopeless falls fully on the side of comedy here.  After all, if he went with a serious approach, it seems unlikely that Magneto would spare Pietro, as he dose here.  (That said, Magneto doesn't go totally soft here, using his powers -- once Billy returned them to him -- to off Namor.)  Instead, Magneto's time without power actually teaches him some empathy.  He not only experiences fear (even though he won't admit it) when facing down mutants whose powers could quickly annihilate him, but he also comes to realize that the allegiance his troops have for him is situational, given that they don't actually recognize his de-powered self.  These lessons combine to give a limited form of amnesty to the human resistance, a sort of Scrooge-ian rebirth, if you will.  Hopeless leaves some mystery here by not clarifying the nature of Billy's sudden ability to heal Magneto, seemingly pinning it on Wanda's sub-consciously helping him.  (In reality, it seems pretty clear that it's because Hopeless needed to delay Magneto regaining his powers for the climax.)  I find myself wondering what this series would've been like without the slapstick moments, but I still enjoyed it overall.  After all, it can't be doom and gloom all the time.

*** (three of five stars)

Book of Death #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I was really excited about this issue, but I have to admit that I'm disappointed.  Venditti leaves a lot on the table here.

First, the story resolves itself in the most obvious way possible:  Tama defeats the Corrupted One while Gilad saves David.  Tama is apparently able to defeat Darque because he's weaker than he should be.  According to the original plan, David would defeat Tama and then Darque would take David's power, giving Darque the powers of two Geomancers.  But, David rebelled, so Darque had to step up the time frame, stealing David's powers to fight Tama.  In the end, David surrenders his power to Tama and even gets to live happily ever after with his mother (even though I was pretty sure that she died in the first issue).  Gilad is allegedly allowed to die a true death, and the Corrupted One is destroyed forever.  It's all a little pat, but I'll admit that it still all flows logically event to event.

My disappointment comes from the fact that Venditti doesn't shed light on the larger issues that this series raised within the Valiant Universe.  We never learn anything about the Corrupted One.  The Book of Geomancers implies that he's an eternal figure, and I'll admit that I have problems at this point differentiating him from the Immortal Enemy from "The Valiant."  They seem to have the same modus operandi:  destroy the Geomancer and bring about a Dark Age.  Moreover, we have no idea how Tama even comes to existence in the future.  In this issue, we learn that Darque crossed into the land of the dead after he successfully killed off every living creature on Earth.  But, if he killed everything, how did Tama get conceived?  Did the Earth give birth to her?

To make matters worse, the story is undermined by weirdly distracting bold lettering.  (I'll never under-appreciate a letterer again.)  We also get an art shift at the end that serves as the same distraction that it always does.  It all just feels rushed.  I get that Valiant probably prides itself on not devolving into the chaos that Marvel has with "Secret Wars," with a constantly delayed release schedule and a surprise extra issue.  But, I would've been happy to wait two weeks if it meant getting a more polished product.

"The Valiant" was an amazing event that got me hooked on the Valiant Universe, whereas this event, unfortunately, felt like an event just for event's sake.  We have enough of those types of events from the Big Two that Valiant should probably think carefully about going down this road again if it wants to hold onto the "different" crown.

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Grayson #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Even though I was able to follow the details of this issue, I'm still not sure how they fit in the overall "X-Files"-esque narrative that King and Seeley are crafting here.

We start with a monster-of-the-week story, as Dick and Agent-1 have to ensure that Tiger Shark doesn't steal a priceless rug that the father of one of Saint Hadrian's students is shipping home.  (Agent-1 tries to take a dig at Dick by asking if he's upset that they're essentially playing body guards for the one percent, but Dick reminds him that he owned a circus and knows that sometimes you have to do a private show for the "blue bloods" to pay the bills.  It's always nice when King and Seeley take the chance to remind us that Dick's past -- in all its forms -- hasn't been erased.  DC has been playing so fast and loose with continuity that such reminders are definitely welcome.)

But, we quickly move onto the larger story.  Dick has set Tim on discovering Agent-Zero's identity and, not surprisingly, Tim does so in pretty short order.  The problem is that King and Seeley do a lot of waving their hands in front of the blackboard to make it work.  I had to re-read last issue to remember that Dick and the team managed to hack into Hypnos, allowing Dick to see Luka Netz's face when she spoke with him at the end of the issue.  The fact that they were able to hack into Hypnos based on a sub-agent's access to the database was problematic enough, but that's a problem for last issue.  The problem for this issue is that Tim admits that Netz has no records, so it's unclear how he was even able to identify her in the first place.  It's not like she had a Facebook account.  Then, King and Seeley take another step closer to the unbelievable as we learn that Netz has been following Batman and Dick for years:  using an image-searching program, Tim discovers that she's in the background of every photo ever taken of the Dynamic Duo in action.  Dick isn't too surprised by that, since her goal (and Spyral's) was to discover their identities. But, King and Seeley go even one step further.  Tim put out an alert to discover when someone searched for those images and learns that Netz has been scrubbing them from the Internet.  (He confusingly calls her "Ms. Howard" here, though I have no idea why.)  It leads him to discover her location outside Berlin.

As I said, my initial problem with this sequence is Tim being way too successful, way too quickly in tracking down Netz.  But, I also can't believe that Bruce himself wouldn't have discovered Netz in the background.  As Tim acknowledges, only a limited number of photos exist of the Dynamic Duo in action, and it seems like the type of thing that Bruce would scour.  In other words, Tim discovering her identity so quickly raises the question of why other people haven't done so, undermining exactly the story that King and Seeley are trying to tell, of Agent-Zero as a shadowy agent with unclear goals.  (Is she even technically working for Spyral?)  The best part of this sequence is the banter between Dick and Tim ("sweet humble brag, brah"), even if Seeley seems to conflate Jason and Tim a bit.

Once we move past the hand-waving explanations, the issue gets markedly better.  Tim encourages Dick to use his "charms" on Helena, in the hopes that she'll reveal everything she knows about Agent-Zero.  (If you need a reminder of Dick's "charms," just see the first page of this issue, where he's stripped naked and inspected by Dr. Netz while Helena watches.  Vapors, I had.)  Dick reminds Tim that Helena's "cool," so his charms don't work on her.  But, he tells Tim that his charms do work on someone:  cue Midnighter!  Dick gets Midnighter to send an agent of the God Garden into Netz's Berlin complex, raising Spyral's awareness and getting Dick and Agent-1 sent there to intercept.  (The God Garden is on Helena's enemies list.)  It's a great play and a reminder that Dick might not be the detective that Tim is, but it doesn't mean that he ain't bright.

Again, I'm not sure where we're going here with the overall story.  All the pieces connected logically, but I still don't have a good sense of the puzzle.  We have problems that creep up occasionally, like the "Ms. Howard" comment, that make me feel like I'm missing an issue or something.  Then, we still have the Agent-8/Agent-1/Dr. Netz angle; Helena thinks that Spyral's enemy is Checkmate, and we're supposed to believe that it's Dr. Netz, but maybe it's Luka?  I get that it's spy games, so we're supposed to be confused.  But, I feel like the water level is rising and we have to get some answers before we start treading water for too long.  In other words, an answer (or two) that reduces the number of open mysteries that we have to track would go a long way at this point.

** (two of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


In this issue, we not only learn that some of the Gala guests were also on Mother's target list, but that they were actually the sleeper agents that Mother activated to attack Bruce.  Thankfully, the "We Are Robin" crew was there dressed as staff members and jumps into action to help Dick protect Bruce.  (Apparently they were following Bruce for his protection, though Orlando doesn't tell us what motivated them to do so.  After all, in "Batman," Bruce's relationship with Duke is described as strained.  Maybe it's clearer if you're reading "We Are Robin?")  Batgirl also arrives and the extended group makes short work of the attackers.  Duke challenges Dick, and Dick reveals that he was the original Robin.  He promises to have a longer conversation with Duke (though I'm not sure Duke feels one is necessary), but then goes to talk to Babs.  He apologizes for his behavior in "Batgirl" #45 and asks her to watch Bruce given "events."  Babs essentially rolls her eyes at him at the idea that his behavior would prevent her from helping, so I'm glad to see that we're good on that front.

We learn that Dick is concerned that the Robins' names are on the same list as the sleeper agents (now confirmed to be the "designer human beings" that Mother creates).  His concern seems validated by the fact that Tim gets a call from Mother at the end of the issue.  Dick is already suspicious of Tim for his failure to break through the "data moat" that Mother erected around Beacon Tower, particularly because the Tower was built with Wayne Tech.  As such, it's not surprising here that he goes dark and and heads to the Drake household.

This issue is solid, but I'd say that I find Orlando's banter to feel much more forced than Seeley's.  Snyder and Tynion definitely deepen the threat here, though it'll take me a while before I know if I buy them.  For example, it's unclear if Tim is working for Mother and, if he is, if he knows that he is.  Although Dick blames him for not breaking through the data moat to help him during the fight, we saw Tim actively trying to talk to Dick.  So, either Tim was trying and couldn't succeed to break the moat or Mother was somehow inhibiting his normal talent with computers.  It didn't seem like he was consciously undermining Dick.  It goes to the fact that the most interesting revelation is probably that the "designer human beings" are more numerous than we thought and possibly unaware of their status as such.  But, if Dick is suspicious of Tim, shouldn't he also be suspicious of himself?  Aren't they all sleeper agents if some of them are?  I guess we'll see.

*** (three of five stars)

Batgirl #45 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, squee!

I was nervous reading this issue.  Seriously.  I kept having to stop myself from rushing to the end to see what happened.  But, I wasn't nervous because I was afraid that Barbara would be killed or Luke would be injured.  It wasn't like when the Mirage crashed Betty Brant's wedding in "Amazing Spider-Man" #156.  This issue is about people that also happen to be superheroes and the relationships between them.

Everyone is totally on their game here as Stewart and Fletcher tell a long overdue story about Babs and Dick.  Dick crashes Alysia's wedding, engaging in childish antics (stealing the ring and forcing Babs to chase him across the rooftops) to get Babs' attention.  He then delivers a really moving speech about how Barbara is "home" to him.  But, as he tries to kiss her, Babs lays down the law.  She (thankfully) tells Dick that he left her.  He forced her to mourn for him when he faked his death, and he has to own that.  Moreover, it would've been one thing if he had taken her to coffee to have this conversation; instead, he ruins her day, taking her from her best friend's wedding and jeopardizing her relationship with Luke.  (The authors give us an adorable moment where Babs tells Dick that she's with Luke, and Luke and she then have a sotto voce conversation about that assertion.)

But, Stewart and Fletcher aren't too hard on Dick:  sure, he's an asshole here, but they remind us why he's an asshole.  After all, he's there because he's lost, alone in a battle that Batman asked him to fight and that he no longer knows if he should be fighting.  He's blinded to Babs as anything other than the woman he wants her to be, but he also comes to that realization when Babs brings him to it.  Our last sight of Dick is him sadly watching Babs dance with Luke, but it's clear that said sadness comes from the fact that he knows that he's really lost her.

I love Barbara and Dick as a couple, and I'd be lying if I didn't find myself hoping for the day that they're together.  But, the whole point of this relaunch is Babs building her own life.  The good news is that life -- and the people in it -- is on full display here.  Alysia, Frankie, Dinah, Luke:  they're all part of it.  Dick isn't.  They shouldn't be together now, and I'm proud of Babs for acknowledging that.  (Plus, um, Luke isn't exactly a consolation prize.  He is 100% catch.)

Again, it's an issue about relationships, the type of issue that I wish we got to see more often.  It's successful not only because of Stewart and Fletcher's insightful takes on these characters, but also Tarr's amazing art.  She conveys the emotions of the characters so beautifully that it's hard to imagine anyone else drawing this issue.  (That cover is amazing.)

In other words, I love everything about this issue.

***** (five of five stars)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Shattered Empire #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

My first thought, as Shara bluffs her way into an imperial research base by using an assumed identity, is that I was surprised that no one recognized the real Commander Beck.  I thought about someone trying to impersonate me to get into the doors at work; someone at the front desk would recognize that his voice didn't sound like mine.  But, Rucka is right there with me - the commandant in charge of the base not only knows Beck but knows that she's missing an eye.  However, he let Shara and Luke into the base because he wants to know what we want to know:  why are they there?

Previously, Artoo found Shara after her lieutenant informed her that he had submitted her resignation papers for her, after he learned that her husband, Kes, had submitted his papers.  Shara is torn about leaving the Rebellion, so, when Artoo leads her to Luke, she's happy to serve as his pilot and go on one more mission.  Eventually, we do discover why they're at the Imperial base:  the Emperor was keeping the remains of the tree that grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant there.  Luke and Shara grab the remnants and fight their way to freedom, and Checchetto does a great job of showing the various facets of Luke's powers, from acrobatics to combat, along the way. 

But, it's the end that brings this series to a perfect conclusion.  Luke hadn't expected there to be two trees, and he asks Shara to take one "home" with her to care for it.  With a suitably important final "mission," Shara is able to leave the service in a way that allows her to feel connected.  It's really the perfect solution.  Even if this series had a light enough tone to make a happy ending seem likely, it still comes in a way that doesn't feel forced.  For anyone that read "Star Wars:  Aftermath," this series actually feels like a companion piece, and I'd highly recommend it.

*** (three of five stars)

Darth Vader #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The title of this issue really should've been, "No More Mr. Nice Vader!"

Aphra makes an almost fatal mistake in this issue, throwing around the money that she made by ripping off the Son-Tuul Pride.  In doing so, she makes it clear to the Ante -- the crime lord that knows Luke's location -- that she was responsible for the hit.  After all, someone like the Ante would obviously question how she was able to outbid all the other important crime lords trying to get the identity of the boy that blew up the Death Star.  The fact that she gave him even more money than his asking price for this information, even jauntily telling him to "keep the change," certainly confirmed for him that she ripped off the Pride.  As such, when Thanoth storms the Ante's HQ asking for the identity of the perpetrator, she made herself a liability.  Vader had to kill her.  But, of course, he can't, since she tells him the one thing that would save her life:  she knows where the boy is.

There are a lot of great moments in this issue, and it's hard to chose which one I liked the most.  Is it Triple-Zero lamenting that he didn't get to kill the guy who cheated against him in holochess because the Storm Troopers arrived?  Is it Beetee randomly killing someone to spark a gun fight that led to the aforementioned cheater getting killed?  Is it Vader deflecting a blast to kill the Ante before he can reveal anything more than Aphra's identity?  Is it Vader ominously telling Thanoth that Aphra won't escape?  It's a very hard call.  But, the winner is probably the awkward moment between Aphra and Vader, after he tried to kill her and she played her trump card.  Gillen leaves a lot hanging in this moment.  Vader needs her alive to get Luke's location, but Aphra knows that the minute she gives it to him she'd dead.  Gillen irrevocably changed the dynamic between the two of them, and I can't wait to see where we go from here.

It will also be interesting to see what the characters learn from this episode.  I wonder if Aphra will realize that she was too rash.  All her brilliance does her little good if she's dead.  But, Vader also has something to learn here.  He knew that Thanoth was following the paper trail but did nothing to warn Aphra not to make herself more conspicuous than she needed to be in tracking down Luke.  On the heels of Vader's failure to save the Death Star, Gillen makes it clear that Vader is off his game here.  Is he over-confident?  Too emotionally involved?  It'll be interesting to see what Gillen wants us to believe.

**** (four of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Slott successfully keeps the momentum from last issue going, and I'm glad to say that it's a pretty great ride.

Peter and Hobie go on a banter-tastic trip under the sea to retrieve Peter's watch -- and its access to his personal data cache -- from the Zodiac.  (In an example of pet peeve #1, the intro page tells us that Webware is actually "a state-of-the-art wearable device that knows what users want before they do.")  It's a remarkably good time and, as I mentioned in my last review, I really hope that we keep seeing Hobie frequently.  (It seems likely that we will, since we learn in this issue that he's the Head of Security for Parker Industries.)

In the Zodiac's base, Cancer is trying to break the encryption, but he's going too slow:  Libra observes that it's already taken him 12 hours, and she's ready to have one of the thousands of other Zodiac members take a look.  (It seems Zodiac has truly gone global.  A few of the goons are chatting at some point in this issue, and one of them mumbles that he should've stayed with HYDRA.  They've apparently been recruiting.)  Unfortunately for Cancer's attempts to prove himself, Spidey and the Prowler arrive at that moment, and a fight ensues.  Libra gets the jump on Spidey, disabling him with fire and water blasts.  She notes that he's too trusting of Parker's technology, since his Spider-Sense probably could've helped him dodge the blast.  Moreover, she's already sent the Webware files to all the Zodiac bases so that the aforementioned thousands of members can get to work at decrypting it.  She then activates the self-destruct device, and everyone flees the base.  Hobie grabs Peter's watch (even though it's sort of a moot point), and Peter demands that they take the two guards that they knocked unconscious earlier in the episode with them, since "good guys never leave people behind."  This comment makes him think about Silver, and Hobie notices the change that comes over him.  They escape just as the base explodes.

Later, Slott reveals the cleverness that he displayed last issue:  apparently, it was all part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spidey's plan to take advantage of "Parker's fumble:"  they tracked Libra's transmission and now know where all the Zodiac bases are.  The plan is to disable them before Zodiac can crack the code, though Hobie seems skeptical.  Meanwhile, a mysterious figure approaches the Rhino (!) in Tahuexco, Guatemala.  He wants Aleksei to work for him, but a broken Rhino refuses.  However, the man reveals Oksana, telling the Rhino that "all things are possible" for him.  Needless to say, Aleksei is on board.

As I said, this issue is fun while also advancing the larger plot.  Although the main story is pretty straightforward, Slott makes it clear that clouds are gathering.  Last issue, most of those problems seemed related to Peter's stewardship of Parker Industries, but, with the epilogue, Slott also makes it clear that Spidey doesn't exactly have a lack of enemies out there himself.

On the plus side, this issue also highlights the amazing work that Peter and his team have been doing at Parker Industries.  We've got the Spider-Tracers that he's selling to the public to keep track of keys and remotes.  (Apparently he's selling them for $49.99 despite them costing $16.23 to make, leading Hobie to comment on people calling him a crook.)  We've got the holographic plating for a car that he failed to sell to S.H.I.E.L.D. but allowed him and Hobie to disguise the Spider-Submarine as a humpback whale.  We also learn that Webware's firewalls are actually "nanotech computers that physically reconfigure the software and hardware."  Sajani wants to sell them as perfect cybersecurity devices that'll make a fortune, but Peter refuses, saying that they can only trust themselves with.  (Given that Sajani is the lead on nanotech, I assume that it's this project that she ordered Anna Maria to expedite last issue.  At the very least, it seems like to be the source of her final betrayal, if we get there, since it'll presumably let the  Zodiac to the Webware system.)

All in all, I definitely like where we're going.  It's like a second "Big Time!"  Given how much I liked that story arc, it bodes well for me liking this one.

*** (three of five stars)

On Being Even More Untimely than Usual

I named this blog "Untimely Comics" partly due to the fact that my reviews were always destined to be late.  I live overseas, often in places without English-language comic-book shops, so I get my comics through a combination of shipping arrangements (thanks, Midtown Comics!) and digital subscriptions (hello, Comixology!).  But, sometimes my inherent untimeliness is combined with a particularly busy period of my life, and I get seriously behind.  Like, October 21 behind.

I'm now powering through the backlog; I've managed to get to November 11.  Only 87 comics to go to be current!  I've got about 20 reviews in the can that I'll spread out a bit over the next few days, hopefully enabling me to resume a normal publishing schedule.  For those of you out there still reading, thanks!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Age of Apocalypse #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue should pretty much be taught in Comic Book University as an example of a rushed ending, where the author tries to cram in too many new ideas in the series' waning pages.

It started with some promise, as Nicieza seemed to be making a good-faith effort to answer some of the questions still hanging over this series.  The problem is that I'm not sure that he even accomplished that.  For example, Doug tells us that the X-Men saved him from Apocalypse to prove that he (Apocalypse) wanted everyone to die.  Really?  How does Doug know that?  I mean, I get that he "reads" even the words that people don't say, but I'm still not clear whose unsaid words led him to this conclusion.  Magneto's?  Even if he did read this sentiment from Magneto, why did Magneto suspect that Apocalypse had the virtual destruction of the mutant race in mind in the first place?  It wasn't like Magneto knew about the Legacy Virus in the beginning.  If I'm not mistaken, he was just as surprised as everyone else was to discover its existence, let alone that Apocalypse intended to release it to weed out the weakest mutants.

But, the failure to tie up the loose ends isn't the greatest problem with this issue.  We get a truly spectacular amount of new developments at the end that Nicieza has no time to explain.  We randomly learn that Burner is Adam X and that he knows that he's Alex and Scott's brother even if they don't.  Nicieza doesn't even go for the shock revelation at the end - Burner is fretting about his "secret identity" on the very first page and Nemesis calls him "Adam" on the very next page.  I'm guessing that a small number of people reading this issue remember the dropped plot of Adam X from the '90s, let alone waited anxiously all these years to see him finally revealed as the third Summers brother.  When the revelation comes - because Burner sacrifices himself to save his brothers' lives - it's so rushed that you barely notice it.  (Seriously, I guarantee numerous people were left wondering who the hell "Adam" was.)

Meanwhile, Emma suddenly decides to give herself a lobotomy to graft the portion of her brain that controls her telepathy onto Jean's brain, to compensate for the portion that Essex removed years earlier.  Yup.  It's her grand plan.  (Initially, she stole Dark Beast's memories before he died, so it seemed like she was going to use them to whip up a cure to the Legacy Virus.  But, Nicieza dropped that plot just like he did with the reason why the X-Men kidnapped Doug.)  Instead, Mr. Sinister arrives just in time to perform the lobotomy and transfer, and he apparently does a bang-up job because Emma is walking mere moments after he completes it.

But, the ending is really the killer.  Jean not only magically incinerates Nemesis and uses the cure that apparently existed in every cell in his body, but she also "cured" mutantkind by eliminating the mutant gene.  WTF?  Apparently Jean burnt out her mutant power while curing mutants of the Virus so I guess she decided that no one can have powers if she can't?  We're supposed to believe that Emma took a great risk even trusting Jean with the power, afraid that she was going to kill everyone in a burst of Phoenix rage.  As such, I think that we're supposed to be relieved when her "love" won the day.  But, didn't she basically do exactly what Emma feared?  She didn't ask anyone's permission to "cure" them - she just changed them.  Doug's narrative says that it gave them a chance to choose their own destiny, but it's the exact opposite of that - Jean took away that choice from them.

Anyway, I could continue, but I'll stop here.  I was possibly the most excited about this "Secret Wars" tie-in series, but it really wound up being the most disappointing.  In fact, it's the first time that I started feeling like we really need to wrap up this event, something that I'm sure Marvel didn't expect.

* (one of five stars)

Tokyo Ghost #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

After the narrative and artistic maelstrom that we got last issue, Remender and Murphy stick to a much more linear story in this one.  Although they're both still wonderfully imaginative in the process, the tighter focus gives us a clearer vision of the larger story that they're telling.

First, we get a pretty straight-forward hook:  the head of Flak Corp., Mr. Flak, wants Led and Debbie to go to Tokyo.  Apparently, Davey Trauma was part of some sort of super-secret Japanese experiment run by someone named Dr. Akata during "the Big Melt."  (Remender makes it pretty clear throughout the issue that climate change, and not some sort of nuclear catastrophe, caused the post-apocalyptic setting of the series - hence why Los Angeles is now a series of islands.Akata was ordered either to find a way to grow new farmlands or to create "weapons to help plunder resources from other nations."  Davey was part of the latter initiative, given his ability to interact with machines.  Flak got this information after torturing Davey; he also revealed that Tokyo is now a garden that has enough food and clean water to supply Los Angeles for decades.  As such, Flak sends in Led and Debbie, promising them this time to end their contracts if they succeed.  But, Debbie is willing to go with his plan, since it gets them to Tokyo, where she hopes they'll remain indefinitely.

Along the way, we get Led and Debbie's origin story.  Debbie made friends with Led after her father died, leaving her the only other unplugged person in Los Angeles.  Led (then Teddy) was a sensitive boy abandoned by his parents and fully embraced her anti-tech ethos.  They're all set to live happily ever after, until Teddy tries to chase off a gang that makes its fortune by taping the crimes that they commit.  They beat Teddy almost to death -- "all the while reading from a script" -- until Debbie used the moves that her father taught her to save him.  Teddy was humiliated when the video of her saving him became the second-most watched clip of the year.  (His teacher calls him a pussy as he and the rest of his class watch the video.)  To regain his honor, he joined the Constable program and became Led Dent.

In Tokyo, Led is trying to shake off his loss of access to the web, given the emp field that surrounds Tokyo.  Meanwhile, Debbie is ecstatic to be there, since she believes that they'll never return to Los Angeles.  Led wanders to a pond and pukes up some of the nanites that the Constable program injected into him to turn him into Led.  There, he encounters a samurai who immediately flees, and Led gives chase so that the samurai doesn't tell anyone that they're there.  However, he falls off a cliff en route (whereas the samurai manages essentially to float to the ground).  Debbie continues the chase, as the scenes of a totally overgrown Tokyo flash before us.  But, they find themselves face-to-face with a woman that seems in charge of Tokyo, calling them "weeds" in her garden.

Remender makes it clear that he's telling a story focused on the long game here.  First, we're going to be watching Teddy go through a fairly extreme version of detox, and it'll be interesting to see the commentary on modern society that Remender delivers in the process.  (Can we even live without our phones today?)  Second, Debbie and Teddy are supposed to basically conquer Japan:  it's not exactly a smash-and-grab mission. 

Moreover, even if the story is more linear than it was in the first issue, Remender and Murphy don't skimp on using their imagination to make the horrors of this future clear.  The conversation with Mr. Flak happens as he's graphically naked; equally graphically, we watch people frantically drink his bathwater after he exits the bath.  Given the connection to climate change that Remender draws in this issue, he's making it very clear the stakes involved, to his mind, in the current discussion.  When you consider where California is in the present, it seems hard to argue with him.

But, the four stars that I'm giving this issue isn't just because it gives us a better view into the amazingly clear vision that Remender and Murphy seem to share as they build this world.  It's also because they do a great job of getting us to care about the characters.  We got to know Debbie a little last issue, but Remender deepens the sense of isolation that she feels as he delves into her back story.  But, it's Teddy's fate that pulls the most at my heart strings, as it probably does for every other (formerly or presently) sensitive teenage boy out there.  He surrenders himself to become the man that everyone wants him to be, and Remender makes it clear that Tokyo may offer him some form of redemption.  However, the question is whether he actually wants it.

**** (four of five stars)