Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Extraordinary X-Men #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, every time I enjoy a comic and check out the cover to see who wrote it, I see Lemire's name.  I must be reading every series that he's writing at this point.  Keep up the great work, Jeff!

We get a lot of information here about what happened during the eight months since "Secret Wars" ended:  Scott is (supposedly) dead, Old Man Logan somehow got transported to the present, and Jean and Hank dated for a while, but it didn't last because she felt that it was like kissing her brother.  But, increasingly, I'm less interested in these eight months because the present situation is so much more interesting:  X-Haven is located in Limbo, Mr. Sinister has taken up residence in the sewers under Manhattan, Old Man Logan carries the guilt from getting tricked into killing all the X-Men in the future, and Nightcrawler has gone missing (except for his tail).  It's a lot to process.

The good news is that Lemire doesn't treat this issue as essentially a long list of status updates.  He manages to dig into some emotions along the way.  Jeanie kisses a guy she likes at a party, but he's revealed to be a mutantphobe when Jean has to save an Inhuman from getting bashed.  (Three guys were beating him because they thought that he was a mutant that might contaminate them with M-Pox.  To make matters worse for Jeanie, the Inhuman that she saved flees from her for basically the same reason.)  Alone in the alley, Ramos shows Jean staring at the mini-Cerebro that Storm gave her, though she ultimately decides to try to track down Logan.  Logan himself isn't doing so well, pushing away Storm and Bobby, though not telling them why he doesn't want to be near them.  Plus, until the last panel, he thinks that he's talking to Jean's ghost, not Jean (or, at least, a version of Jean).  It's probably not a good sign when you're so blasé about your crazy.  Finally, Storm is completely overwhelmed, realizing that her facade of confidence is breaking under the realization that the Dream is likely dead.  The only light moments in this issue come from Illyana's gentle teasing of Peter, but even that disappears when they're unexpectedly confronted by Sinister.

In other words, same X-day, same X-drama.  It's good to know some things don't change.

*** (three of five stars)

Captain America: Sam Wilson #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I had no idea Dr. Malus had been symbiote-d!  It was an awesome reveal, though.  I felt just like Sam:  "WTF?"

Overall, this issue is a joy.  Spencer's Malus is a revelation.  He's clearly sending up the mad-scientist trope, and it's a thrill to read.  Malus demanding that Cap call him "Dr." Malus because he spent four extra years in "mad-scientist school?"  Hilarious.  Complaining that his previous accommodations in an abandoned warehouse were too clichéd?  Awesome.  Plus, Spencer doesn't leave all the good lines for Malus.  Misty's response to Sam turning into Cap-Wolf is amazing:  the stream of werewolf-related jokes, taking a video of Sam scratching and sending it to the Avengers telling them that he has fleas, etc.  It's all just too good.  I also loved Sam's irritability, particularly his anger as he's losing consciousness and realizing that Malus is going to turn him into Cap-Wolf.  It's not an anger based on the fear that he's going to become a werewolf.  No, no.  It's an anger based on the ignominy of it all.  He treats it as a fate worse than death, and maybe he's not wrong, given Misty's reaction.

Even better, we have a great reveal at the end:  the Serpent Society returns!  They're capitalists now, calling themselves "Serpent Solutions."  Spencer reveals that Malus was working on his hybrid process for them, as part of research for a cosmetics corporation to develop a product that allows the user to morph himself into whatever look he wants.  It's remarkably clever (and, frankly, believable).  Given the deft political and social commentary that we've already seen in this series, I can't wait to see how Spencer uses the Serpent Soci...Solutions.  (The name and weaponry of the Sons of the Serpents also makes more sense.)  Between them and the the Zodiac returning in "Amazing Spider-Man," my 1980s heart is full of love.

I have just one quibble here.  I had thought, in the last issue, that the Sons of the Serpents guy had grabbed Joaquin, the grandson of the woman who called Sam in the first place.  However, we learn here that the grandson was one of the victims; the guy who the militiaman grabbed (and who worked with the Serpents) was a different guy.  (He was actually leading the migrants to the Sons, not to safety.)  Spencer probably could've made that clearer, even if he just had someone call him by his name ("Frank!") when he appeared in the first issue.

But, obviously, overall, I loved this issue.  Spencer reminds us that reading comics can actually be fun while also exciting and intriguing. Who knew?

**** (four of five stars)

Black Knight #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I have to admit that I was the most excited about this title's debut of all the "All-New, All-Different" series.

Bob Harras' "The Gatherers Saga" during his "Avengers" run was possibly the most exciting -- and frustrating -- storyline of my youth.  I keep meaning to re-read it, because my memories of it are clouded by my adolescent impatience for him to get to the point.  After all, it took him 32 issues to reveal (spoiler alert!) that Proctor was an alternate version of Dane driven mad by his love for Sersi.  Even with that frustration, I still knew that I was reading something special.  During an era where the "Avengers" had no "famous" member other than Captain America, Harras made us care about this team, particularly through Dane and Sersi's ill-fated romance.

After Dane followed Sersi into an alternate Universe (for reasons that I can't quite remember) in 1994, he sort of fell off the map.  He joined Ultraforce and then Heroes for Hire for brief stints.  After 1998, he had only the occasional guest appearance until he got a gig in 2008 in "Captain Britain and MI13."  (Thank you, Comic Book Database!).  He left that series the next year, and he returned to guest appearances...until now.  (Do you like how I'm referring to him like he's a sitcom actor?)  In other words, it's a big deal that Marvel is removing Dane from moth balls, as it seems to be doing with other characters like him, and giving him a shot at the big time again.

Tieri starts the issue with a compressed but detailed review of Dane's origins (the fact that he comes from a long line of Black Knights) before throwing us immediately into his new status quo.  He's apparently taken over a corner of Weirdworld (I'm still not sure what that is) and dubbed it New Avalon.  He faces a number of threats to his leadership, including the absconded son of the King that he deposed and a rival group called the Order of the Serpents.  (They are actually serpents.)  Although I'm not sure that I'm a fan of Pizzari's art, I'll admit that he does a great job of showing how, well, weird Weirdworld is.  It's full of disintegrating snake-men, fire-breathing trolls, and large-jawed mosquitoes.  Weird, indeed.

Believing this weirdness is key, because it helps us understand how isolated Dane feels.  He's sending out his men to find relics from our world (they're apparently scattered around Weirdworld) and surrounds himself with them to remind him of home.  It raises obvious questions about why he's on Weirdworld and why he can't go home.  Tieri is playing his cards close to his chest so far on both questions.  However, we get some clues in a conversation that Dane has with a vision of his ancestor, Sir Percy.  Percy asserts (and Dane doesn't necessarily deny) that Dane is succumbing to the power of the Blade.

Supporting Percy's point, Tieri takes us into a flashback, where Dane decapitates the former King of New Avalon, Zaltin Tar, to take his throne.  Plus, you could argue that Dane talking to the vision of Percy itself calls into question how he's doing mentally.  As such, we're led to assume that he can't return home because he knows that he's losing the battle against the Blade, though, again, Tieri hasn't confirmed that yet.  It's just clear that he himself has decided that he can't go home, not anyone else.  Making matters more interesting, he also has his men keeping an eye on the arrival of "invaders" that he's expecting.  Eventually, they're revealed to be the Unity Squad.  When they arrive, Dane announces that they won't drag him home alive.

In other words, we have a lot of questions here, including how Dane found himself leading the rebellion against Zaltin Tar in the first place.  But, Tieri does a solid job of securing the basics here, sketching out the realities of Dane's new life, including establishing a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy supporting cast.  Along the way, Tieri manages to find Dane's sense of humor, something that Harras also made clear during his run on "Avengers."  But, given how few people have written Dane on a consistent basis and how long that it has been since that last happened, Tieri really has a clean slate in terms of defining Dane's personality.  The good news is that, so far, I like where Tieri's going with him.  Between that and the intriguing questions that he raises here, I'm happy to say that this first issue easily met my high expectations.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tokyo Ghost #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Remender lays out a world here that makes you want to quit coffee, swear off booze, and cancel your Netflix subscription.  Consider yourself forewarned!

As Debbie realizes that she has finally found the place where she belongs, Teddy struggles with the legacy of his years connected to the Internet.  He initially rejects Kazumi's (the Gardener's) description of the Garden, where everyone lives in harmony with nature and each other.  But, Remender cleverly uses Teddy's skepticism to call into question whether the Garden really is the Utopia that it appears to be.  Kazumi heals Debbie's arm at the start of the issue, and Teddy doesn't buy into Debbie's wonderment, postulating (possibly correctly) that she has access to technology that the emp field doesn't restrict.  However, slowly but surely, he becomes the man that he was meant to be, had he not become Led Dent.

The problem for him is that he now has to deal with the emotions that he buried for all those years as well as the fact that he's now as weak as he was when he decided to become Dent in the first place.  Moreover, one of the other refugees, Mash, recognizes him as Constable Dent, and it's pretty clear that it was Dent who amputated his leg.  (I'm guessing anesthesia wasn't involved.)  Mash's need for vengeance not only makes it clear that Teddy isn't going to be able to leave Dent easily in his past, but also, again, that the Garden might not be the Utopia that we're led to believe.

As a result, Remender is actually, for the first time, making it clear that it might not be as easy as unplugging to save our souls.  We might be too far gone.  Maybe we really are where we should be as humans.  Maybe our greed and lust and pride has brought us to the only society we could ever have, and it really is just fantasy to think that it could be different.  The fact that I'm even thinking these thoughts while worrying about Teddy shows how brilliant this story is on so many different levels.

**** (four of five stars)

Bloodshot Reborn #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Boy, I did not see that coming.

Hoyt actually proves himself useful here, realizing that the bus that Other-Bloodshot used to kill the teenage Bloodshot in issue #6 ran by the motel where Ray was staying.  Festival reminds him that they've ruled out Ray as the killer, and Hoyt tells her that Ray isn't their suspect.  Meanwhile, Magic manages to kill the guy that I thought was Other-Bloodshot, accidentally taking on the nanites.  Ray uses the power of love to pull out the nanites, though Lemire makes us worry that the terrible ending that Ray previewed for us a few issues ago was here, as he was going to have to kill Magic to claim the nanites.  Instead, Lemire actually doubles down on hope here, as Ray once again becomes Bloodshot but Magic loves him anyway.  (Ray's clearly going to pay for this heart-warming moment.)  Meanwhile, Other-Bloodshot is revealed to be Toby, the grandson of the motel owner:  we see him on the last page, with Bloodsquirt standing over him.  Bloodsquirt becoming real!

As I said, I totally didn't see the ending coming.  Along the way, Lemire does a great job building up the tensions:  for a moment there in the middle, you really have no idea what's happening or where we're going.  It's an exciting issue, to say the least.

**** (four of five stars)


Batman and Robin Eternal #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ooo, it's getting good!  Let's get started.

First, we've got Dick with Cass and Harper in Prague.  They've identified the prima ballerina at the ballet as the next target on Mother's list, so Dick sends in Cass and Harper to keep an eye on her while he tries to follow Orphan's signal.  (Since almost everyone on Cass' list is dead, Dick assumes that they're cleaning house.)  Meanwhile, an angry Tim has recruited Jason to help him follow a similar signal, one reminiscent of the interference that he couldn't penetrate the night of the attack on Beacon Tower.  Along the way, Jason hilariously tries to get Tim to talk about his fight with Dick.  It's clear that Jason really does want to know how satisfying it is to punch Dick ("Punching Dick Grayson is kinda my dream date"), but he's also trying to get Tim to talk about how he feels.  (Look at Jason, going all Dr. Phil.)  Jason IDs some black-market pros to question in the bar where he's brought Tim, though I'm not quite sure why they think that they'll know anything about Mother.  Meanwhile, Dick realizes that it's all been a trap:  the Orphan signal was faked to lure him to the theater, and Mother activates the ballerina (along with seemingly all the dancers on the stage) to take on Cass and Harper.  More importantly, Mother makes her first appearance, telling Dick that it's good to see him again. 

Beyond the increasingly intriguing plot, this issue really sings due to its characterization.  I love that Dick already knows Harper well enough that he gives her his tuxedo from when he and Bruce were in Prague to wear to the ballet, since he knows that a dress isn't really her style.  But, a dress is Cass' style, so Harper steals one for her, and we get to watch as she enjoys for the first time getting to feel like a normal girl.  Plus, Valentine gets that the ballet would be particularly meaningful to Cass, given her ability to read movement like language.  Meanwhile, Jason's talk with Tim at the bar -- where he reminds Tim that he understands what it's like to be the Robin that no one trusts -- is touching, in part because of its bro-i-ness.  Jason isn't exactly the type of guy that handles emotions well, but he makes the connection that he needs to make with Tim.  Even the NPCs get great treatment, with the director of the ballet -- the adoptive mother of the ballerina -- conveying sorrow before activating the girl, wishing that Mother would wait.  (It's pretty clear that Mother gave the woman the girl.)

My only nit-picky point is that Harper comments that Orphan lost a foot; but, he actually lost a hand, in issue #5.  But, given the beating he gave Harper around that time, maybe she was just too concussed to remember.  #noprize

I think it's the first issue that I've read of Valentine's, but she can stay as long as she wants.  I can't say that I was as thrilled with Martinez's fairly generic pencils, but, overall, it was an exciting issue, particular since I didn't see the trap coming.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Uncanny Avengers #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is seriously great.

First, Duggan does just a spectacular job of conveying the chaos that Rogue and her team face.  The plants are slowly taking over people, killing them once their roots dig too deep into them.  Snyapse tries to help, but the plants actually change the victims' body chemistry so that her powers (which seem to allow her to manipulate our bio-electricity) don't seem to work.  Rogue makes a comment about her inability to solve the problem, and Synapse responds violently too her, underlining their tension.  Meanwhile, Rogue and Deadpool are still trying to fight off the Cujos that attacked them last issue.  Johnny bails to go to M.I.T. to see if the students there can help identify and solve the problem and Quicksilver disappears.  Rogue laments the fact that they wouldn't have treated Steve that way.  Finally, we learn that the Shredded Man is essentially an eco-terrorist that wants humanity to return to nature, though Stegman makes him suitably threatening-looking that you don't dismiss him as a rejected "Captain Planet and the Planeteers" villain.

But, then it gets even crazier and more exciting.  After the Shredded Man seemingly kills Quicksilver, Duggan throws us into 2087.  We learn that the Shredded Man's attacks were successful:  Boston is destroyed and quarantined, but the only survivors on Earth are a handful of Inhumans.  We get this information from a mysterious man with a metal arm, talking to a living tattoo on that arm that he calls Belle.  Belle wonders if the destruction had anything to do with the M-Pox, but he and Belle conclude that it didn't:  the man thinks it unlikely that the Kree would've transformed Earth but then not claim it, and Belle observes that the remaining Inhumans don't seem to understand what happened either.  If we hadn't already guessed, the man is revealed to be Cable, and he decides to return to 2016 to help.

In other words, it's the perfect Avengers story.  We've got conflicting egos, interpersonal drama, and potential apocalypses.  I love reading stories where the heroes fail to prevent a catastrophe, so I totally dug Duggan unexpectedly throwing us into a future to reveal that the present day Unity Squad had failed.  Moreover, it's interesting that no one ever seems to have developed a cure for the M-Pox:  Belle can merely synthesize the treatment that the mutants already seem to have in the present.  Overall, I just couldn't be happier with where we seem to be going.

***** (five of five stars)

The Ultimates #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ewing does a great job of laying out the raison d'être for this team right at the start, letting us know that their goal is to solve problems on the cosmic scale before they become problems on the Earth scale.  He also starts by showing us that he's not thinking small:  although we're led to believe that Blue Marvel and Captain Marvel are going to try to kill Galactus, they're actually there to help him solve his hunger.

Moreover, it seems that Ewing is going to be the one to explore what Secret Wars meant from a cosmological stand-point.  Blue Marvel begins the issue by expositing how he's spent most of his life trying to get a molecule called neutronium to exist in our reality.  It's apparently the "superposition of matter and antimatter in total harmony," but it hasn't been able to exist in "normal space" because its atoms fell into an unstable structure of sevens.  Suddenly, it now has a structure of eight, and Blue Marvel wonders if it's because of "Secret Wars," the event that everyone is apparently struggling to remember.  He thinks that it may actually mean that we're on the eighth iteration of the Omniverse.  Meanwhile, Ms. America and Spectrum (a.k.a. Monica Rambeau) are seeking an item that exists across realities, though we don't know why.  But, it implies that multiple realities still exist after "Secret Wars," again raising all sorts of questions about the status quo that the series is (eventually) going to establish.

The good news is that Ewing isn't ignoring the interpersonal dynamics in favor of ambitious plotting.  In fact, they promise to be just as exciting.  Given the arrogance that both Black Panther and Blue Marvel show here, it's pretty clear that they're not exactly going to see eye-to-eye all the time.  Moreover, Monica is impressed but also concerned about the amount of power that America wields:  you're left wondering if she's going to be a mentor or enforcer.  Meanwhile, Carol is all operations, the hammer that needs to drop to get the job done.  It all works more smoothly than Ewing's "New Avengers," a team that has a similar mission but with a mess of team dynamics.  I'm definitely more engaged in this series all ready than I am in that one (even though I care more about the characters there), so it's a good sign that Ewing is on the right track here.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is mostly an extended fight sequence between Dr. Chronos and Miguel, and it's a joy to watch Sliney really let loose.  He's at his most impressive when he manages to convey the grandeur of Chronos, somehow getting across the immense scale of both his character and his fight with Miguel.  (Chronos appears to be at least two storeys tall when their fight bursts from the warehouse into the streets.)  David and Sliney make it clear throughout the fight that Miguel is outmatched by Chronos, but he manages to stay in the game mainly due to his boiling rage.  In the end, he outsmarts Chronos by using a hologram to make him think that he's dead and then proceeds to beat him to a pulp.  He pretty easily gets Chronos to confess that he's working for a group called the Fist, but the Fist (presumably it's them) manages to kill Chronos remotely before he can give Miguel any more information.  Meanwhile, as expected, we see Tempest's mom visit her comatose body, though it's unclear if she's still pregnant.  In other words, we don't really learn anything knew, but it's fun to watch Miguel vent his rage for the first time in a while.  It's a reminder that he's not Peter's Spider-Man.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Spider-Gwen #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't know how Latour and Rodriguez keep doing it, but every issue of this series just keeps getting better and better.

I think the answer is that they work off each other in ways that few authors and artists do.  You occasionally get two people at the top of their individual games working together to deliver amazing issues, like Geoff Johns and Jim Lee did on the early "Justice League" issues.  But, their work didn't necessarily play off each other.  Latour and Rodriguez are more like Snyder and Jock on "Detective Comics," where their efforts combine to create a unique feel.  Whereas Snyder and Jock transformed Gotham City into a living character (and a central one, at that), Latour and Rodriguez have infused this series with a unmistakably defined pop sensibility.  (It reminds me of the graphic design of Gillen and McKelvie's "Young Avengers.")  They show the consistency of this vision in this issue, drawing inspiration from the first "Spider-Gwen" #1.  This time, they use this Sunday comic-strip panel that they used for Gwen's origin in that issue to give us the origin of this Universe's Captain America.  It keeps on combining the narrative and the visual in a consistent way, making you feel like you're part of something awesome.

But, they just don't rest on their laurels.  Gwen comments that Cap is her dad's favorite hero, and it reminds us that we may be seeing her for the first time, but she's a known figure in Gwen's Universe.  It's what makes their interaction so special here, as Gwen grapples with encountering someone so outside her league.  But, it also makes what Gwen does here so brave.  We learn that some nefarious organization called S.I.L.K. created the Lizards, with Dr. Connors' help, that attacked her at the end of last issue.  Cap is sure that Connors created them, but Gwen tells her the real story -- the one that she's kept secret:  Peter did.  When Cap wants to retreat, Gwen continues fighting, telling Cap that she can't let these Lizards be Peter's legacy.  Cap is suitably inspired, and, together, they take down Dr. Connors and his Lizards.  Cap even lets Gwen escape and explains to DeWolff that Connors is the copy-cat and that Peter was the real Lizard.

Latour makes sure that the implication of this revelation -- depending on where DeWolff goes with it -- isn't lost on us.  Outside the sewers, this issue shows Captain Stacy trying to convince Ben Parker that he doesn't really want to know who killed Peter.  I'll be honest, I can't remember if Gwen has actually told her dad that Peter was the Lizard.  But, even if she didn't, it's pretty clear that he's smart enough to put together the facts on his own.  Shifting from that ominous conversation, the issue ends on a happy note, with Gwen giving the Bodega Bandit a new Bandito in the form of the helpful rat from last issue.

Honestly, this issue is nothing but heart.  Sure, it's filled with the requisite Spider-Humor:  Gwen trying to get Cap to crack a smile over her terrible puns is legitimately LOL funny.  But, it's Gwen inspiring Cap, Cap helping Gwen, George talking to Ben, the Bandit getting a new Bandito:  these interactions remind us why this series is so special.  It accomplishes that rare feat in comics, where you forget that you're reading about fictional characters and feel like you're watching a reality TV show.  I can't think of a higher compliment than that.

***** (five of five stars)

Darth Vader #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gillen goes a different direction than I expected in this issue, and I can't say that I'm particularly thrilled with it.

In passing last issue, the Ante informed Vader and Thanoth that the "Plasma Devils" were on the "Thanteen Substrata on Anthan One."  We learn in this issue that the "Devils" are a squad of Rebel pilots.  Vader distracts Thanoth from chasing Aphra by getting him to agree to go after the Devils, an allegedly more serious target.  The surprising (and, frankly, difficult to believe) part is that Thanoth agrees to completely abandon his actual mission -- tracking down the thief -- to help Vader capture the Devils -- something no one ever told him to do.  General Tagge is ultimately pleased, if only because the Devils would've likely moved bases had Vader and Thanoth continued to pursue Aphra and allowed someone else to go after the Devils.  (I'm not 100 percent sure I buy that, but hence my problems with this issue.)  An additional bonus for Vader is that it makes the weird fake Jedi twins look bad, since they were the ones actually tasked with tracking down the Devils.  In even better news for Vader, the fake Jedi Mon Calamari, Karbin, hasn't yet located "the boy," prompting the scorn of one of Tagge's flunkies.

The story ends with Thanoth weirdly grateful to Vader, since Vader confirmed that it was his idea to go after the Devils when Tagge seemed annoyed.  (Thanoth noted that the Empire doesn't exactly create an environment where people defend each other.)  We also learn that Thanoth hasn't been spying on Vader:  it's been Karbin, revealed to have something up his sleeve for Vader on Vrogas Vas.  It's an odd bait-and-switch.  Gillen has put a lot of effort into showing Thanoth as a capable foil to Vader, but he essentially abandons that approach here:  Vader easily manipulates him, and Thanoth isn't ruthless enough to spy on him.  Instead, Karbin emerges as the secret threat.  In a similar vein, Vader unexpectedly lets Aphra off the hook, apparently because he's suddenly come to appreciate competence.  Sure he has...

Again, I can't say that I'm particularly thrilled with these developments.  The unexpected shift from Thanoth to Karbin as a threat doesn't feel organic; it feels more like a move intended specifically for us to feel surprised.  Instead, I'm left wondering why we spent three issues on the inquiry into the theft of the Son-Tuul Pride, if Vader was going to escape so easily.  Is Thanoth still going to try to find Aphra?  Or, is the Empire just going to put a warrant on her head and call it a day?  It all feels really anti-climactic, given how much time we've spent on this plot so far.

** (two of five stars)

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Let's just dive right into it, just like Waid does.  (Seriously, I can't believe I'm reading Waid on an "Avengers" title.  Fangasm!)

The issue starts with Cap saving a family in a car knocked off a bridge, but he's then confronted by a worse threat when he lands:  a group of Girl Scouts wanting him to buy cookies and people recording him as he decides which Scout to choose.  Thankfully, Tony Stark happened to be in the traffic jam that caused the accident in the first place.  Sam calls to him to get money to buy cookies from all the Scouts.  Unfortunately, Tony doesn't have cash on him.  (Of course, he doesn't.)  So, Sam uses him as a distraction by getting him to take photos with the troop.  If you're not reading "Captain America:  Sam Wilson" (and you should be), Sam explains that this episode is just another example of people trying to find a racial motivation in every decision that he makes.  (The people on the bridge were waiting to see if he chose the African-American Scout.)  I loved that Waid showed that he's paying attention to the Avengers' solo books with this segment.  In the last ten or 15 years, the various "Avengers" authors might've paid attention to costume or power changes, but we rarely got such a clear nod to the events happening in the Avengers' lives outside the team.  It hearkens to the stories of the 1980s and 1990s, and I'm already a happy camper.

Along those lines, we learn that Tony has been forced to sell Avengers Tower, after Stark Industries suffered during his six months in space.  It makes Sam realize that the Avengers don't really exist right now, since no one really believes that it's Sunspot's "New Avengers" and Steve's team is technically the Unity Squad.  Meanwhile, someone that might be Loki has bought Avengers Tower, and he's on hand when a Chitauri warrior arrives through a portal to get vengeance on Nova for defeating him in an earlier battle.  (Thanks, editor's note!)  Maybe-Loki informs him that he could instead conquer the Earth by assembling a powerful weapon that a previous Chitauri warrior split it into three pieces and hid on Earth.  As he makes this comment, Maybe-Loki realizes that Miles Morales (or "Trademark-Infringement Kid," as Tony calls him) is eavesdropping, since he had noticed the energy flash when the Chitauri warrior arrived.  He hurls Miles from the building, catching Sam and Tony's attention.  The three enter the building to take on the alien, but he manages to render them unconscious with one blast.  He the announces that Earth will belong to him by sunset.

The strength of this story is the relationships between the characters, exactly what I'd expect from Waid.  He makes it clear that Sam and Tony have known each other for a long time, giving them a playfully antagonistic relationship that I can totally see forming the heart of the team and the fun that this series will be.  It's also one that we apparently will see replicated with Ms. Marvel and Nova, based on the adorable back-up story where they first meet.  Seriously, I don't like Sam, but I have never felt more transported to my awkward adolescence than reading the two of them trying to act cool around the other one.  The constant anxiety that you're screwing up the conversation, the eventual resorting to dramatic actions to compensate for said awkwardness, the overwhelming need to connect with the other person:  Waid should consider writing young-adult novels, he gets teenagers' voices so well. Moreover, Miles easily slips into a junior-but-respected position here; you can tell that Tony is going to take a shine to him.

In other words, we're not necessarily assembled at this point, but we're on the road there, and I am really exited to get to that moment.  If Waid has made me even like Nova, he's going to do great things with the Avengers.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, January 22, 2016

All-New Hawkeye #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Lemire jumps right into it here, showing us Clint and Kate fighting in the present and the future.  In doing so, he really shows how great he is at writing emotions and relationships.

Each fight has an entirely different tenor from the other one.  In the first one, Kate asserts her independence from Clint.  He's disappointed because he thinks everything is going great, but Lemire makes it clear that he only sees it that way because their partnership revolves entirely about him.  He sees Kate as his only functional relationship, and she's tired of worrying about him, because they're not actually in a relationship and because it seems to be a one-way street.  It's heart-breakingly real.  Twenty years into the future, the roles are essentially reversed.  Clint is a recluse, but Kate approaches him to right a wrong from their past:  the Project:  Communion kids have killed 30,000 people in China (even though the public blames the Mandarin for it).  Unlike the first fight, Lemire doesn't make Kate's motives as clear here.  It's pretty obvious that she could've handled the mission by herself, since she's not only sitting on her own Batcave (the "Nest) and support staff (the "Hawkeyes"), but also enjoys a close relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D.  Is she trying to use the mission to draw out Clint?  She doesn't really seem like she cares that much to risk the operational insecurity that comes with bringing him into the mission.   But, we'll have to wait and see.

At any rate, it's a solid re-start.  Lemire doesn't go with a flashy reboot, like Slott did in "Amazing Spider-Man."  But, he also doesn't leave us confused about how we got to this point, as he has in "New Avengers."  We know exactly where we are and where we're going, and he assures us that this book remains about the Hawkeyes (and Pizza Dog).  For now, it's all I needed.

*** (three of five stars)

Thors #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of all the "Secret Wars" tie-in series, this one has been the one most centered around one main character, namely Ultimate Thor.  Most of the other series are connected to previous events and, as a result, feature sprawling casts.  (Even "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows" focused on the nuclear Parker family instead of just Peter.)  But, "Thors" has really been Lief's story.

That story comes to a fitting end here, as Lief confirms that it was Rune Thor that murdered the Janes and Donalds as well as Beta Ray Bill.  We learn that he did so to hide the truth that Doom isn't god.  The interesting twist that Aaron puts on this revelation is that Runey didn't try to hide the truth from some sense of allegiance to Doom:  he merely enjoyed wielding the power of Thor.

We learn that these events were set into motion when he found a Jane Foster helping a group of refugees crossing a border.  He saw the fear in her eyes that she knew the truth, so he killed her and began killing every Jane that he found.  My only complaint with this revelation -- one that I generally buy -- is that Aaron doesn't explain why the Janes (and, apparently, the Donalds) see the truth any better than anyone else does.  What makes the Janes special in this regard?  Is it because the "prime" Thor is a Jane?  It's an important piece of the puzzle to be missing, since the entire plot really revolves around that question.

However, Runey's grasp on the situation deteriorates since, as we saw in "Secret Wars" #7, our Thor convinces the other Thors of the truth, that Doom isn't god.  Although we get the more extended sequence showing this conversation that I identified as lacking in my review of that issue, it still feels a bit rushed.  The Thors just allow themselves to believe Thor.  An answer could be that they're able to see more clearly because Doom's power is fading; for example, we see Runey lose his grip on his hammer because his faith in Doom (as opposed to Asgard) makes him unworthy.  But, I don't know why Doom's power would be fading.  We don't see anything in "Secret Wars" #7 to imply that it is.  Maybe it's in issue #8?

Despite the issue's flaws and loose ends, I still enjoyed this series.  Aaron did possibly the best job of all the "Secret Wars" authors of creating a fun supporting cast, and I still find myself hoping to see a "C.S.I. - Thor" series in the future.  As I said in a previous review, it's one of the series -- like "Amazing Spider-Man:  Renew Your Vows" or "Civil War" -- that made me wish some areas of the "Secret Wars" Universe would continue.  That's saying a lot, since usually, at this point in an event, I'm just hoping it all ends soon.

*** (three of five stars)

Squadron Sinister #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

When the end comes, it comes quickly.

Nighthawk makes short work of an unsuspecting Hyperion, between the argonite gun and Dr. Spectrum's Power Prism.  But, Guggenheim doesn't give Nighthawk a moment to enjoy his newfound position at the top of the hill.  He immediately has to confront the means that he used to this end.  Sandman encourages Starbrand to seize on the instability that Nighthawk created and liberate Utopolis, and Nighthawk is engaged in battle with him when the Thors arrive to take him to Doom.  Valeria isn't able to prove conclusively that Nighthawk killed the Thor (he did), but Warrior Woman turns state's evidence on him, allowing them to convict him of the charge of discord.  He's banished to the other side of the Shield.  Meanwhile, the average citizens of Utopolis resist the Starbrands' attempt to annex them "for their own good," tired of the instability that came with the fall of the Squadron.

This series hasn't been my favorite, but I have to compliment Guggenheim on delivering at least a solid ending:  the story works as a morality tale on a few levels, he wraps up all loose ends, and the ending flows logically from previous events.  After all, Richmond's arrogance blinded him to the fact that he might've been able to climb to the top of the hill in Utopolis, but he still had to stay on the good side of Doom in the process.  It's really a darker companion piece to the "Korvac Saga," if you felt like that series was a little too optimistic.

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Infinity Gauntlet #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seriously, I just don't know what to say here.  This series went from the most promising of the "Secret War" tie-in series to the most disappointing.

Instead of focusing on Anwen and her family, Duggan spends most of his time focused on Thanos fighting with his future self.  Duggan uses the fight to try to explain what Thanos has been doing with the Time Gem:  apparently, the present Thanos is supposed to die so that he can send forward the gems that he's managed to collect to the future Thanos.  However, this Thanos refuses to do so, since he's managed to collect five of the six gems.  To be clear, I don't understand how the gems would magically appear at the side of the future Thanos, and I think that it makes no sense that the present Thanos would have to die in the first place.  Here, the future Thanos attempts to reason with the present Thanos by making it clear that he knew the location of the sixth gem but wouldn't reveal it.  However, why not just go to the past Thanos and tell him where all six gems are?  Why does the future Thanos have to be the one to collect them?  Why can't he even tell present Thanos?  Duggan never answers these questions.  I spent the entire issue wondering how the editor could've let slip this important of a plot point.  (That said, he also let slip two typos in one sentence on the intro page, so I guess that I've got my answer there.)

When the end does come, it's quick and makes no sense.  Thanos resolves his identity crisis, and  Anwen seems to surrender the Reality Gem to present Thanos.  However, it's actually a "Death Gem" that she somehow managed to make with her Reality Gem.  (Seriously, just go with me here.  It'll be over faster that way.)  We're then left to assume that she takes possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, because she's able to free her mother from where she would up trapped, in the Mind Gem.  But, then, the series just ends.  We have no idea what Anwen does with the Infinity Gauntlet or how this story ties into the larger "Secret Wars" plot.  Equally randomly, we never get a good sense of why Gamora, Groot, and Star-Lord are part of this series.  They serve a very secondary role here of distracting the giant bug so that Anwen and her family can escape to find the Reality Gem, but it's one that could've easily been occupied by a Red Shirt with little problem.

In other words, it's a mess.  These characters continued to be amazing, but Duggan basically benches them in the fourth quarter to focus on the JV squad (a.k.a. the Thanoses).  They deserved better than what they got here.  To make matters worse, I'm really not even sure what story Duggan thought that he was telling.  Was it about the Nova Corps?  Thanos?  A small family realizing that their love for each other can overcome all odds?  The importance of a loyal dog?  I have no idea.  I just have to hope Anwen and her family appear in the new Marvel Universe in a less rushed way, and we can all forget about the way they were treated here.

** (two of five stars)

Secret Wars #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, the wheels come off the bus a bit here.

Let's start with the parts that I followed.  It's revealed that Maximus is the Prophet and that the plan is for him to distract Doom with a frontal assault while the Reeds and Star-Lord sneak into Doomgard to "steal the most valuable thing that's left of the Multiverse."  (I'm assuming that it's Molecule Man, but we'll see.)  Meanwhile, Black Panther destroys part of the Shield and, as King of the Dead, convinces the zombies to follow him through the Siege Courageous.  (I had to re-read my review of last issue to remember that he and Namor conveniently found it on Strange's hidden island.)

However, we have all sorts of other developments that Hickman presents as faits accomplis despite the fact that I don't recall seeing them happen (in spite of the numerous tie-in series that I'm getting).  For example, Thor has somehow convinced the Thors that Doom isn't God, recruiting them -- in just one conversation -- to join the forces fighting Doom.  (I'm assuming that we might see the background to that conversation in "Thors" #4, also released this week.  If we don't, you'd think that they could've at least given us an editor's note explaining where we can get more information.  After all, it's a pretty significant development.)  Separately, Swan is seen as working with Doom, even though I don't have any idea when that happened.  Similarly, Captain Marvel is working with Sinister in his betrayal of the other generals, but I don't even know which Captain Marvel it is.  Ditto, Apocalypse:  he's alive and well here, despite the fact that he was very much dead at the end of "Age of Apocalypse."  Is it yet another Apocalypse?

Now, I'll admit that part of my problem was that I read this issue two months after I read issue #6.  As I mentioned earlier, I was initially outraged that I had no idea what Black Panther and Namor were doing...until I read my last review and realized that I had just forgotten.  But, a faulty memory doesn't explain all the moments where I found myself thinking, "Wait, when did that happen?"  In fact, I feel like we're still missing the moment, the moment where the heroes come together with a plan.  Sure, we see the Reeds talking amongst themselves, but, ever since Dr. Strange dispersed the heroes, we've got no sense of how they could possibly be working together.  We seem to have a lot of uncoordinated events, even though Hickman seems to want us to believe that they're actually coordinating with each other.  But, since we never see them standing in a dark, dreary room committing themselves to the cause, it lacks a certain impact.

Hopefully it was just an awkward transition period as we move to the battle royale.  But, either way, the Big Two really need to consider bringing back editor's notes, particularly to help guide us through these sprawling cross-over events.  This issue would've been a lot easier to follow with some narrative nudges.

** (two of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, now we're getting somewhere.

In a flashback, Bruce learns of the existence of Mother at a party, when a social peer, Maxwell, tells him that he bought his wife, Alicia, from the Czech Republic for $40 million.  (Yup.  You read that correctly.)  Mother apparently manufactured perfect brides from orphaned children.  Unbeknownst to Maxwell, she herself orphaned the children "so she [could] take them at their greatest moment of trauma and shape them into playthings for the rich and powerful."  Alicia herself was a girl from London named Gwyneth who saw her parents killed in front of her by a man in a white hood; she disappeared without a trace, later emerging as Alicia.  Unfortunately, Maxwell and Alicia are later killed after a man that seems to be Orphan observed Maxwell telling Bruce this secret.  Beyond just worrying about Mother, Bruce also worries that he's doing the same thing that she did to Dick.  In the present, Dick wonders aloud when Bruce excluded him when it came to Mother; the flashback implies that it was when Bruce worried that Dick himself would be able to make the connection between what Bruce did to him and what Mother was doing to her people.

This prolonged sequence flows beautifully and really advances what we know about Mother.  In fact, we get a glimpse of her for the first time here, as we see her and two other people standing over Gwyneth's body in a flashback.  The only unknown is how it connects to the implication that Bruce seemingly created Orphan, as we saw in issue #1.  Bruce seemed totally unaware of Mother here, but, if Orphan was the one that helped turn Gwyneth into Alicia, he was clearly already in action by that night.

The plot also thickens when it comes to Bruce's connection to Cass.  Dick and Jason discover the training center that Orphan hid under St. Elijah's, where Cass would've been the night that Bruce and Dick almost caught Scarecrow with Orphan (before he escaped to Prague).  Given that Dick knows that Bruce gave Cass the thumb drive, Dick wonders if Bruce knew that the training center was there that night.  Again, everything keeps returning to this question of when Bruce knew about Mother and her operation.  This issue implies that he was ignorant of them until that night when Maxwell told him about Alicia (a few days after the failed Scarecrow confrontation), but his potential connections to Cass and Orphan imply that he knew much sooner.

In the end, Dick decides to head to Prague.  In the past, he thought that he and Bruce went to Prague only to follow Scarecrow, but he now realizes that he needs to discover the case that Bruce really went there to investigate.  Moreover, Jason -- the voice of reason in this issue, as scary as that is -- encourages Dick to bring Cass and Harper.  Dick initially wants to leave them in the dark so that they can't get hurt, but Jason reminds him that it was Bruce cutting out Dick that got them into this mess in the first place.  (Earlier, he even lectured Dick about the need to trust each other, after his attempt to dig into Tim's background.  Our boy, Jason:  holding the family together.  I couldn't be prouder.  Of course, we know Red Robin is an agent of Mother, so he's technically wrong.  But, I don't care.)

Honestly, six issues into this series and I'm a happy camper.  In the first series, the plot holes were obvious by the end of the first issue, and the situation only deteriorated from there.  Here, we have a legitimate mystery on our hands, one that Snyder and Tynion are doing a great job of advancing slowly so that we can wrap our minds around it.  In the meantime, Seeley and Tynion (in this issue) have given us some great moments of characterization, making the family feel like a family again for the first time in a long time.  Plus, we're getting to see Bruce in action as a detective, an unexpected bonus given his present state.  At the start, I found myself happy just because this series didn't suck like "Batman Eternal" did.  Now, I find myself happy because we could be reading one of the best and most epic Batman stories of all time.

**** (four of five stars)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Batman #46 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, Snyder lost me a bit here.

At this point, we really only have two solid clues about Bloom's identity.  First, he was able to control the Bat-blimp last issue and Rookie (a.k.a. the Bat-suit) in this one.  It certainly narrows down the number of candidates, though it doesn't necessarily mean that we'll wind up recognizing him:  after all, he could be some rando working for Powers Industries.  Second, we also learn that he knows all the people in the room at the event that he (quite literally) crashed.  Again, it could just mean that he worked for Powers Industries as a security guard, but Snyder certainly hints at something larger, implying that he's one of the favored sons of Gotham.  I want to say that Bloom is James, Jr., because it seems that he's targeting Gordon specifically.  Jim was originally turned onto the Devil Pigs as connected to Bloom in issue #42 because its leader was one of his former collars.  In fact, he realizes that several of the people that died from Bloom's seeds were all his collars.  Plus, James, Jr. is smart enough to hack into Powers' systems.  But, I'm really just guessing here.

If these clues are the solid ones, you can tell how weak the intangible ones are.  First, he never reveals here why Bloom decided to reveal himself now or why he chose to do so by attacking the party.  Bloom saunters around the party thanking all the do-gooders of Gotham for their work, but Gordon manages to interrupt him before he does anything else.  Second, Snyder seems to be implying a larger connection between some of the locations where Bloom has been active, but it's still unclear why this connection would matter.  We've got the alley that Dylan IDed for the "old" Batman in issue #44 as connected to Bloom.  Then, in this issue, the team is able to track Bloom to old "Blossom Row," a pathway that used to divide wealthy and poor Gotham.  (Wealthy adults apparently would walk along the Row and buy the handicrafts that poor children sold.)  In other words, we've got a bunch of alleyways and a bunch of wealthy do-gooders, but how they're connected (and if they're connected) is unclear.  Finally, we have Duke continuing to pursue Bloom, though I'm still not sure why.  Dylan implies that he's doing it because Duke's missing parents saved Bruce Wayne during Zero Year, but why does Duke worry that Bloom is after Bruce?  He hasn't shown any specific interest in him so far.  Duke eventually breaks into the Iceberg Lounge to go through the Penguin's papers and seems to discover Bloom's identity in them.  I guess that it makes sense that the Penguin would've been able to get that information, but it still feels overly convenient.  Moreover, we don't even know why Duke is looking for them in the first place.

Then, we have the parts that aren't just unclear, but actually don't make sense.  Julia saves Jim by activating the Bat-signal.  The explanation is as follows:  "Seeing as the Bat-signal uses an electro magnet to hold the robo-suit and Bloom's seeds are electro magnetic.  Find the right frequency and he's potted."  Um, OK.  First, since when did the Bat-signal need to "hold" the robo-suit?  I don't even know what that means.  Are they storing the suit on the Bat-signal?  Why would they ever do that?  Second, why would Bloom's seeds be electro-magnetic (other than the obvious reason that Snyder needed them to be for this trick to work)?  This whole part made no sense.

On the plus side, we get an extended sequence of a naked Bruce Wayne, so I shouldn't complain too much.  (Does anyone else think that it's portentous that Julie Madison is covered in tattoos, particularly an owl one?  It's unlikely that doesn't mean something.)  But, overall, the missed and random connections left me feeling like I'm reading Craigslist, not a "Batman" comic.  (Ba-dum-DUM!)  We need to get somewhere soon-ish, because we're heading into a "Court of the Owls" neighborhood here.

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #600 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis has two pretty significant tasks here.  First, he has to wrap up any loose ends remaining from his 2.5 year run on the X-Men title.  At the same time, he has at least has to hint at the reality that the X-Men face after "Secret Wars."  As usual with Bendis (at least in terms of his run on the X-Men), he manages to make his way quickly to the ending here in a way that doesn't feel rushed, since he takes the time to hit the right emotional notes along the way.

The "Secret Wars" task is perhaps the hardest, because it's actually difficult to tell when this issue takes place.  (He's been pretty clear in tweets that Marvel's timing issues with "Secret Wars" is a major source of frustration.)  My guess is that it's post-"Secret Wars," though we still don't know how exactly we can tell the pre-"Secret Wars" world from the post-event one (other than perhaps the absence of the Fantastic Four).  It's pretty clear that "Extraordinary X-Men" #1 happens in the post-"Secret Wars" era, and three events here set up the status quo that we saw in that issue.  At the very least, then, if this story happen pre-"Secret Wars," it means that the status quo at the end of this issue sticks in the post-"Secret Wars" era.  (Jesus, I need a drink just writing those sentences.)

First, Hank leaves the X-Men after Storm stages an intervention that he mistakes (or doesn't, really) for a trial.  In "Extraordinary X-Men" #1, we learn that Hank finds himself with the Inhumans, researching the impact that the Terrigen Mists have on the mutant population.  Second, Illyana and Peter reconcile.  She lets him know that she's been studying under Dr. Strange and regrets that she didn't learn to control her powers sooner.  He simply decides to love her.  Was it a bit easy and simplistic?  Yes.  But, frankly, Peter's love for Illyana has always been a bit easy and simplistic.  The only time that it wasn't was during the "Dark Peter" phase in the wake of "Avengers vs. X-Men."  It was that Peter that threatened to kill Illyana (in "Uncanny X-Men" #18).  Bendis makes it pretty clear here that both Illyana and Peter have grown since then.  Even if the moment is rushed, he makes a pretty compelling case that this reconciliation would've happened eventually.  He just shortened the timeframe.  Finally, Jean comes to grips with being in the present by telling the team that she needs a break.  If they're going to be in the present forever, then she wants them to live their lives here.  It sets up her presence at E.S.U. in "Extraordinary X-Men" #1.  Although the larger mysteries about the Terrigen Mists and Scott's fate remain, Bendis gets the characters where they need to be for "Extraordinary X-Men" #1 to make sense.

With the requisite deck-clearing accomplished, Bendis is able to focus on the story that you can tell that he really wants to tell:  Bobby coming out of the closet.  Now, the media spoiled Bobby's coming out for me, so I wasn't as shocked as I could've been.  (That said, it wasn't all that shocking, given that we knew that his younger self was gay.)  But, Bendis handles it exactly as I'd want him to handle it.  Most importantly, Bobby admits that he's gay (yay!).  As a teenager, he just desperately wanted a part of him that wasn't hated and persecuted, so he pushed off the moment of reckoning.  Weeks became years, and he suddenly found himself trapped.  (Bendis does a much better job of having Bobby explain it than I do here, so you really should just read the issue.)

The part that I liked best was that Bendis presents us the Bobby that we all know and love, but the one that the X-Men themselves are quick to forget.  Jean reads his mind and reveals that he's worried that taking 10 percent of the energy that he puts into the X-Men and putting it into making himself happy would make him selfish.  It's a reminder that Bobby, at the end of the day, is the last of the original X-Men standing.  He may play the joker and be dismissed as one, but, to even his own surprise, he's Professor X's legacy.  It's not Jean or Scott or Warren or Hank.  It's Bobby.  Jean makes the case to him that he'll finally be the person -- and X-Man -- that he was meant to be by being true to himself.  I hope someone really seizes on that, the idea that the part of Bobby that always failed to meet his potential was the part focused on keeping himself in the closet.  With Bobby free, I'm ready to see a whole new Iceman.  In this way, Bendis is addressing haters that say that outing Iceman is simply a politically correct diversification of the line.  He's telling us that we're finally getting the Bobby that we always knew that he could be; now, we just know why he was struggling to be that guy.

Given his importance to Bendis' run, Scott actually gets short-shrift here.  The issue ends with Scott gathering all the mutants on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC to prove that they can be united and not kill one another.  It's here where Bendis is rushed.  We're not told how Scott manages to track down every mutant and gather them in Washington so quickly.  It's implied that he created the mini-Cerebros (something we also see in "Extraordinary X-Men" #1), but we're not given any insight into how he did so.  (After all, Scott himself was never a technological genius.)  Moreover, it's clear that it's not this Scott-engineered event that results in humanity hating the X-Men, as we learned they do in (again) "Extraordinary X-Men" #1.  For how important "Dark Scott" (if you will) has been not just to Bendis' run, but to the X-Men line since "X-Men:  Schism," it's weird to see him reduced to organizing a publicity stunt.  In case you were looking for an update on Bendis' other creations, the students from the New Xavier Institute, you'll be disappointed.  They're given only a few panels of sparring with Iceman here; I guess it shows that they're so well integrated into the School that they're little more than background noise.

Overall, Bendis does what he needs to do here.  A lot of the questions that I had in "Extraordinary X-Men" #1 have been answered, and, if nothing else, I'm thrilled to see Bobby come out.  It might not be a mind-blowing final issue, but, frankly, we didn't need that from Bendis.  It's a reflection of his careful and steady stewardship of the line over these last 2.5 years.

As anyone who's read this blog for a while knows, I really disliked Bendis during his time on the "Avengers."  ("Dislike" is probably generous.)  As such, I was skeptical on him essentially taking over the X-Men.  I had picked up the X-Men again with "Messiah Complex" in 2007, and I was thrilled with the amount of character development that every author brought to the table since then.  We watched any number of characters -- Scott, Henry, Bobby, Kitty, Illyana, Peter -- evolve into different people than they had been.  It was full of steps forward and steps backwards, but it was a thrill to watch it happen organically.  These developments didn't come from events that suddenly "changed everything" only for everything to look exactly like it originally looked after a few issues.  Instead, the events were the vehicles to show these changes.  Scott wasn't corrupted by the Phoenix in "Avengers vs. X-Men;" the Phoenix was the vehicle to show his corruption.

As such, when Bendis came on board, he was responsible for keeping this streak going.  It might've been crazy to bring the original X-Men into the present, but he's really successfully used them as the catalyst for change that Henry hoped that they'd be, even if the results are different than he expected.  Slowly but surely, Bendis brought the X-Men back together.  Everyone didn't rush together to defeat a villain and decided that they all loved each other.  (I'm looking at you, "Inferno.")  It's been a delicate rapprochement that happened in phases and feels precarious.  But, it's the X-Men, and it's supposed to feel that way.  Bendis leaves us with the sense here that this eight-year story -- the Rise and Fall of Scott Summers -- has come to an end, and he sets the stage for the new story, even if he's not going to be the one to write it.  So long, Bendis, and thanks for all the fish.

*** (three of five stars)

Star Wars #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Favorite Quote:  "Not here.  And for the first time ever, I very much wish he was."  -- Threepio, responding to a bounty hunter's question about Han Solo's location (after said bounty hunter sucker-punched Chewie)

I decided to add a quote here, and will likely do so in subsequent reviews, because Aaron continues to deliver spectacular one-liners in this series.  This issue is full of them, so I chose the one that made me LOL.  Moreover, these quips aren't just great on their own; they're also great because you can hear the characters saying them.  They're the perfect examples of Aaron's ability to mimic the rhythm of the dialogue from the movies.  In that way, they also help to move along the story, because we all now that rhythm.  In this example, the bounty hunter again demands that Threepio tells him where Han Solo is.  By this point, you just know that the next scene is going to be Han doing exactly what he winds up doing here:  announcing his presence by shooing the bounty hunter and telling him to get his hands off Chewie.

But, again, it's not all scripting genius.  Aaron is no slouch in the plot department, and this issue just adds to the surprises.  While Luke is fighting for his life in the arena, we learn that the Gamemaster is actually an Imperial agent.  (We learned that Grakkus spared the Gamemaster's life because he couldn't bear to see the best slave to fight in his arena die, making Grakkus wonder if the Gamemaster has come to feel the same way about Luke.  Instead, it's more likely that the emotion that Grakkus was sensing from the Gamemaster was his anxiety over needing to radio in support.)  We also learn -- at long last -- that Han "married" Sana as part of a complicated revenge scheme.  (Apparently, some crime lord was double-crossing smugglers, and Han had to stage a wedding to cover the break-in designed to even up the score.  I can't wait for that one-shot.)  Han delivers this information to Leia through a closed door, a conversation made all the more awkward when he tries to explain that he and Sana never consummated the marriage.  Of course, again, the rhythm of this conversation foreshadows the outcome:  Leia isn't actually behind the door by the time Han gets frustrated and opens it.  With the Sana mystery solved, Han and Leia are able to head to Nar Shadda once they hear of Luke's predicament.

By the end of the issue, Aaron has maneuvered everyone onto Nar Shadda, setting the scene for a truly spectacular escape sequence as the Imperials are heading their way.  I can't wait for next issue!

**** (four of five stars)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gaiman continues telling stories of the post-"Destruction of London" world here, and I have to say that this one is probably the strongest of the bunch.  It's from the point-of-view of one of the mothers of Miracleman's babies, a program revealed a few issues ago as part of his and Miraclewoman's transformation of the world.  It's a sad story, since the protagonist, Rachel, had her daughter, Mist, in part to fill a void, but Mist -- as something more than human -- is unable to need Rachel the way that she needs her to need her.  (I know it's a lot of "needs" in that sentence, but I think I got them in the right sequence.)  As compelling of a story as it is, though, I continue to feel like it's time to get to the point.  Something has to happen at sometime, right?

*** (three of five stars)

Extraordinary X-Men #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We have two new status quos here that significantly complicate life for the mutants.

First, the Terrigen Mists are not only killing mutants, but sterilizing them.  I get the first part, but, honestly, the second part makes no sense to me.  As far as I've always understood it, the X-gene in the Marvel Universe works like magic in the Harry Potter one:  humans can give birth to mutants and vice versa.  You don't have to be a mutant to have a mutant.  As such, unless Lemire means "sterilizing" as simply wiping out the X-gene, I don't get why sterilizing current mutants means that no more mutants will be born.  Can't a human have one?  Also, I'll admit that the entire premise seems old hat:  we already went down this road after Wanda's "no more mutants" comment at the end of "Avengers Disassembled."  Are we really going down it again?

Second, we learn that Scott...did something to make everyone simply hate mutants.  We had a hint of an over-the-edge Scott in "Secret Wars" #1, but it's unclear if what he did happened in the eight month period that we didn't see before "Secret Wars" or if it happens after "Secret Wars" ended.  In fact, it's not even clear if they're talking about old Scott or young Scott.  (This paragraph alone makes my head hurt.)

At any rate, these two new realities have left Storm and Iceman scrambling to find and rescue mutants - both from the Mists and the humans -- and bring them to a sanctuary called X-Haven.  Meanwhile, the Beast is apparently with the Inhumans trying to find a cure.

All in all, Lemire does a pretty bang-up job getting this information to us quickly.  Illyana brings the information to Peter as he hides on their old farm in Russia, and Ororo and Bobby try to convince Jean to leave E.S.U. (where she's now studying) to join them.  Along the way, Ramos makes it all suitably epic.  It feels like we have a main X-Men series for the first time in a long time, and I really couldn't ask for more from this issue.  We still need some more clarity on these new status quos, but I'm willing to get Lemire some time to get there.  In the meantime, it's a solid start.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is all about family.

First, Scorpio leads the charge on S.H.I.E.L.D. to kill Leo, prompting Mockingbird and Nick, Jr. to wonder if he's Nick's Uncle Jake, the original Scorpio.  Moreover, Scorpio refers to the Zodiac as a family and reveals that he killed (and, in fact, disintegrated) Leo because "not one skin cell" or drop of blood could remain.  It seems to imply that they're all linked to each other biologically, like they're clones (or L.M.D.s).  Underlining that point, Taurus refers to Scorpio as "brother."  Then, we have the return of Harry Osborn, revealed to be running Parker Industries when Peter isn't there.  Harry's on the phone with Liz (trouble) when Johnny Storm and Pete walk into his office and reveals that he's changed his last name to Lyman (his mother's maiden name) to differentiate himself from his father.  We even have a bandaged up Norman lurking in the shadows here, providing arms for the dictator of the African nation of Nadua.

But, it's Johnny and Peter's relationship that's the primary focus of this issue, and I really don't know what to say.  The tension comes from Peter buying the Baxter Building and revealing it as the new HQ of Parker Industries.  Johnny is upset when he sees the announcement on TV at a bar and flies into a rage, barging into the building and demanding to see Peter.  However, Peter (as Spidey) does little to assuage Johnny's concerns that Peter has forgotten about him and the Fantastic Four.  Harry introduces himself as Peter's best friend, Mockingbird is one of the 26 people "in this dimension" that know Peter's identity, Peter turned Johnny's room into the Executive Washroom, and, worse of all, he built a new Spider-Mobile without Johnny.  Peter eventually brings Johnny in the front door to show him a statue of the Fantastic Four and tells him that he bought the place so that Alchemax and Roxxon couldn't, keeping it safe for when the Fantastic Four returns.

But, I don't really buy it.  Honestly, Peter is an asshole here.  It's pretty clear that he doesn't care at all about Johnny.  After all, the renovations of the Baxter Building had to take some time.  At no point during that process did he think to mention it to Johnny?  He has him discover it through a press conference?  When they were renovating, he never though, "Hey, maybe I could save Johnny's room from becoming the shitter?  It would help him know that I care."  He can give Harry Osborn, sorry, Layman yet another chance (as Harry himself mentions), but he can't even spare a moment (or a room) to make sure that his other (alleged) best friend would be OK with him buying the Baxter Building, given that he's lost his entire family?  I have a hard time believing that Peter's this big of an asshole, but Slott seems to be doubling down on it.

Sure, the Zodiac story is great.  In fact, I don't think Camuncoli has ever been better:  he actually makes the Zodiac look freaking cool.  But, I'm giving this issue two stars because I just can't buy Peter treating Johnny the way that he does here.  If Slott is telling it as part of a story of Peter getting overwhelmed by the pressure of his current success, I might retroactively be OK with it.  But, right now, it just feels mean.

** (two of five stars)

Midnighter #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ho boy.  Midnighter is not going to take this well.

Let's start at the beginning.  The issue opens with Midnighter fighting off the attack on Matt.  After he tackles him and removes him from the line of fine, Midnighter takes the fight to the helicopter where the gunmen are located.  (This entire fight sequence is amazing.  ACO uses small embedded panels to show Midnighter moving from Point A to Point B.  Usually, I find those panels distracting, but it really works here in showing how fast he's going and how fluid his movements are.)  The attackers are revealed to be a HYDRA-like group called Multiplex.  (Midnighter apparently faced them previously over the "Rohmer reactor," but I didn't really remember that.  I had to re-read issue #3 to remember that it was the device that transferred life essences into someone looking to prolong his life and that Multiplex is actually the DCnU's version of Jamie Madrox.)

After Midnighter takes out the attackers, Matt has to renovate his now-destroyed apartment.  As such, we get a sequence of them engaging in sexy time in different places around the world as the renovations happen.  It's sweet, particularly when Matt expresses a reluctance to return to reality and Midnighter cockily replies that he can kick its (reality's) ass.  Soon upon arriving in the new place, Matt gets a call and learns that some hoodlums roughed up his dad.  They immediately go to the idyllic suburb in Connecticut where Matt was raised, and Midnighter is disturbed by the fact that he can find no traces of evidence, even with his enhancements.  He baits some locals into attacking him, but he realizes that they know nothing.  As Matt expresses concern that Midnighter can't keep him safe, Midnighter realizes that he can't see the future just as they're attacked by some folks that commandeered a school bus.  He discovers that the attackers are robots, and he realizes that he's been fooled by "Holt-Griffin skin," a type of technology that blocks other technology.  He also realizes that Matt's dad is a plant, an "industrial homunculi."  After he destroys him, Midnighter tries to comfort a distraught Matt, only for "Matt" to stab him and reveal that he's Prometheus (something I only knew because the "Next Issue" box says simply, "Prometheus").

OK, we have a lot to discuss here.  First, we know so little about Matt that it's hard to be shocked by the revelation at the end.  In fact, I had to go searching through my back issues just to remember what we know about him.  I actually thought that he was an agent of a foreign government, but, re-reading issue #1, I was reminded that he was actually just a patron at the restaurant that the Modorans attacked searching for said agents.  Issue #3 says that he's a banker, though he doesn't seem to go to work that much.  But, it all goes to the point that he very well could have been Prometheus this entire time and we wouldn't have known any different.  Midnighter gets into a relationship with him so quickly that it's perfectly believable that Prometheus manipulated him from the start.  Second, I'm having a hard time making connections.  For example, is Multiplex linked to Prometheus?  The fact that I had to re-read so many issues just to understand this one certainly shows that Orlando is telling a deep story.  But, it also shows that we could probably use some more aggressive use of editor's notes to help us move through the issues more seamlessly.

The biggest question is obviously whether Prometheus has been Matt this entire time, or if Matt is...somewhere.  (Probably not Heaven, since he's a banker.)  But, we also need to know what beef Prometheus has with Midnighter, since it's not clear to me at this point.  Why did he have to lure Midnighter into his nest?  Why not a frontal assault?  Does it have something to do with the theft from the God Garden?  Everything's feeling a little jumbled, and I feel like we could really use some answers.  Clearly, Midnighter also wants the same answers, so the confusion works in terms of the narrative.  But, I'd like a little less confusion, a little more ass-kicking right now.


*** (three of five stars)

Detective Comics #46 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The only thing I really have to say about this issue is that it's the most touching story about a dying creature and his parents that you'll read all year.

Now, look, it's not perfect.  I totally rolled my eyes when Jim miraculously put together the story of the parents sacrificing themselves for food for the baby and the baby subsequently refusing to leave his mother's skeleton.  I continued to roll my eyes at the idea that the Justice League needed Jim to piece it together, given that Flash is a forensic scientist and Cyborg is...well, Cyborg.  In fact, I was rolling my eyes so much by the end that they hurt.  We're really supposed to believe that the Justice League had nothing better to do than track down "missing hikers?"  The landscape looked like it was Antarctica, so it's hard to believe that the place had a veritable parade of hikers streaming through it.  (In case you're wondering, after it ate its mother, the baby survived on the liquid found in human eyeballs.  As such, it had to kill the aforementioned hikers.  However, we also learn that this liquid only sustained it; Earth's atmosphere has been slowly killing it the entire time.)

All that said, I still go choked up a bit at the end, as Jim sings the dying baby a lullaby as it cradles its mother.  (Cyborg had brought the mother "alive" by super-imposing a hologram on her skeleton.  When the baby saw it, he let the Justice League go.)  It's probably the most off-beat issue of the year, but Tomasi really sells it at the end.  It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it reminds me how Tomasi is one of the best scripter of emotions out there.

*** (three of five stars)