Monday, February 29, 2016

Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of all Gaiman's "Golden Age" stories, the two stories that appear in this issue are my favorites.

It's probably because they're the stories where the protagonists -- an exhausted spy and devirgined teenager -- seem the most real. At the very least, they're in the most "real" situations.  After all, previous stories in this book involved a guy climbing the enormous pyramid that Miracleman built seeking him to grant a wish and babies genetically engineered to be superhuman.  But, here, the spy realizes that she doesn't want to be part of the game anymore and the teenager recounts his past to his lover.  The spy eventually learns from the ghost of Evelyn Cream that all spies were segregated in their own world -- called the City -- because the Miraclepeople couldn't get them to adapt to the new "happy" world.  The teenager tells his lover that he had been sent to his aunt's house outside London during the attack; Kid Miracleman killed all his friends (and presumably mother).  You can tell that his relationship with this woman -- established through Miraclewoman's program -- gives him the first hint of life that he's felt in a while.

These stories are so effective because Gaiman's builds to the connection to Miracleman; for a while, they just seem like "normal" people, since they seem to exist in the pre-Miracleman world.  For the first time, I think, it allows the reader to put himself in the character's shoes.  It's hard to imagine what it would be like ascending Olympus, but it's easier to put yourself in bed with a lover feeling confessional.  As the introductory comments to the second story say, we worry about the bomb, but we don't worry about Superman taking over the world.  Gaiman uses this issue to show us why it would be so shocking if it actually happened.

**** (four of five stars)

Extraordinary X-Men #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Lemire is really on a roll here.

First, he makes it clear that the X-Men's situation is d-i-r-e.  Forge tells Storm that he needs at least a week to get the shield that he's creating for X-Haven operational, but they clearly don't have a week as the demons of Limbo pour into the grounds.  As a result, Storm spends most of the issue screaming at him to move faster while trying to marshal her meager forces against the horde.  In better news for Storm, Bobby reveals that he's created and stored a snowman army called the Cold Locker in the basement of X-Haven.  (Honestly, it's possibly the most amazing moment of the "All-New, All-Different" era.)  However, he's quickly pushed to his limits in sending them against the demons, prompting Storm to start yelling at him, too.  Meanwhile, she recruits Anole and Glob Herman, to their awe and delight, to get X-Haven's refugees to safety.  She finally gets a break when the girl that Magik rescued from India last issue appears to be able to control demons.  However, it barely helps stem the tide.  Thankfully, Jean has convinced Logan to join the X-Men with her, promising that she'll let him know if he's imminently going to lose control.  With their arrival, the X-Men start a renewed push against the demons.

In reality, though, this issue really isn't about the demons.  They're just the MacGuffin.  It's really about the X-Men's personalities and relationships, and it's where Lemire really, really shines.

First, Lemire creates a great dynamic between young Jean and old Logan.  It could obviously be super-weird, and it is, in its own way.  But, it also somehow gets past the tired narrative of Logan's unrequited love for Jean.  I loved Jean screaming at Logan to pull himself together.  It felt real, in the sense that it wasn't just for dramatic effect.  Logan had just hit a sore spot, telling her that the Universe always corrects itself:  he's destined to kill the X-Men, and she's destined to die.  It's why he refuses to join the X-Men.  As a result, she promptly tells him to go &%*^ himself.  She insists that she has control over her life, and she tells him that he's a coward to hide behind destiny and fate.  It's an impassioned speech, and Lemire really sells it, because he makes the emotions behind it so clear.  Logan also clearly buys it, too, since he agrees to help.

Moreover, Storm is amazing here.  I mean, she's the best that I think that I've ever seen her.  She can't afford to give Bobby and Forge any quarter as she pushes them to the brink of their abilities.  They want credit from her for trying, and she want them to move faster.  She's all, "DO YOU NOT SEE THE DEMON HORDE?"  I loved (loved!) Forge asking her if she remembers when they were in love and she'd talk sweetly to him.  Her response that it was an increasingly distant memory was just amazing.  Most authors barely give Storm a personality, taking the Ice Queen approach with her.  But, in just two issues, Lemire gives us the best Storm that we've seen in ages (if ever).  She's a tough general who knows what she needs to do to protect her soldiers and get the best from them.  She's also privately struggling with the overwhelming odds that she faces; in fact, she finds herself seeing hallucinations of Professor X exhorting her to perform in the same way that she's demanding of her teammates.  (At least, we assume that it's a hallucination...)  But, she's also a real person as the moments of humor that we rarely see from her shows us.  For the first time in a long time, we finally get a fully rounded Storm that reminds us why she's one of the most loved and feared X-Men of all time.  To me, my X-Men, indeed.

Finally, we also learn that Scott died attacking the Inhumans.  I will say that it's probably time for us to actually get the story about Scott.  I mean, we still haven't even learned what the hell he was doing in "Secret Wars" #1, where he had some sort of control of Cerebro eggs or something.  It's starting to get old.  But, the Scott issue is clearly a Marvel one, not a Lemire one.  Lemire himself has delivered one of the best issues of the X-Men that I've read in ages, and I can't wait to see where this series goes once he settles into his stride.

**** (four of five stars)

All-New, All-Different Avengers #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Waid slowly but surely assembles the team here and, as an added bonus, the reason that the team comes together almost totally makes sense!  (We'll get to the exception in a minute.)

Cap awakens to Miles webbing up his wounds, but Miles frets that he can't help Tony.  Thankfully, the Vision's systems are still connected to Avengers Tower's, so he arrives and frees Tony from his armor.  (It apparently flash-melted around him.)  Mr. Gryphon, the new owner of the Tower, arrives to complain about the property damage; coincidentally (not), Miles informs Tony that he heard another voice with Warbringer (the Chitauri from last issue), but can't remember anything about it.  Meanwhile, Nova hightails it to New York from school once he sees on his phone that Warbringer is rampaging through Jersey City.  Hilariously, Nova is worried both that Warbringer wants revenge on Nova for dumping him into a sun and that he's going to encounter Ms. Marvel.  For her part, Kamala confronts Warbringer at the Liberty Science Center, where he's stealing one of the three items that he needs to conquer Earth.  Kamala and Nova argue over the collateral damage, but the rest of the team arrives in pursuit of Warbringer.

Nova is reluctant to acknowledge that he knows Warbringer, for fear that they'll blame him for his rampage.  Miles (unknowingly) saves Nova for having to reveal that by saying that he was the Chitauri from last issue.  He relays what he overheard, that Warbringer is trying to collect the three pieces of this mysterious artifact.  He also tells the team that Warbringer survives by killing people and stealing their mass, but I honestly don't remember that from last issue.  (I also don't remember the Chitauri calling himself Warbringer, but I assume that he did and that it's not an example of pet peeve #1.). Anyway, the team arrives at the PATH station where Warbringer is trying to collect victims and engages him.  In the exception to the "totally makes sense" way that the team came together, Thor arrives on the scene with no explanation.  She hurls Mjolnir at Warbringer, but Mr. Unicorn (clearly Loki) teleports it past Warbringer, allowing it to bust a water main and endanger the Avengers!

Once Waid explains how Thor got on the scene, we're going to be good to go in considering this team assembled.  My only complaint is that Kamala and Sam's fighting was cute last issue, but I can tell that it's going to get old quickly.  I'd really rather it be everyone but them, letting Miles play the starry-eyed newbie.  But, if Waid could tone down their angst a bit, it might be OK.  At the very least, it's nice to see a recognizable team of Avengers in action again.

*** (three of five stars)

All-New X-Men #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this issue is great.

Hopeless tells two different stories that converge at the end.  The first story is a happy and hopeful tale (so, given that it's the X-Men, you know that it can't last).  The original X-Men have hit the road to enjoy their lives in the present, and Hopeless does a great job of imagining how a group of self-sufficient teenagers would go about doing exactly that.  Angel and Wolverine are skiing in Colorado, Bobby is putting on ice displays in Austin (similar to the "Winter Carnival" issue that Marvel included at the end of "Uncanny X-Men" #600), and Hank has taken Evan and Idie to Florida.  They all seem legitimately happy.  (Even Laura!)

But, not surprisingly, Scott has gone on his own.  Hank is worried about him, but Warren reminds him that he has to give Scott space, since Scott needs time to process (i.e., fret over things) before he can get past them.  Moreover, it's not like his problem isn't a doozy:  he's trying to find his way in a world with the face of a guy that raced for the title, as Warren says, of "world's most hated mutant."

Given that it's Scott, it's not like he's in a bunker somewhere.  He's in Chicago tracking a group that calls themselves the Ghosts of Cyclops.  They present themselves as pro-Cyclops revolutionaries, but they really just use their powers to scare people into fleeing a scene and then rob that place blind.  Scott has predicted their next strike, and he impresses a girl that he just met by taking down a few of the Ghosts without using his optic blasts.  But, Hopeless reminds us why Scott struggles to be happy:  the girl reveals that she's a mutantphobe and then wonders why the Ghosts would want to look like someone as hated as Cyclops.  (They wear Xs on their faces, like Scott's most recent mask.)  As Scott says in his narration, the future sucks.

One of the Ghosts drops his wallet, and Scott tracks him to a local college, where two of the Ghosts recognize him.  A battle ensues, and Scott uses his optic blasts for the first time in months.  It activates the Cerebro that Hank built to track him and sets up the best reveal of the issue:  Hank's van isn't only bigger inside than outside (as we previously saw), but it's also powered by a Pringles-loving Bamf named Pickles.  I'm here for at least five issues just for that alone!  Anyway, the kids converge on Scott's position, and the Ghosts have a fight on their hands.

This issue evokes the best memories that I have of the "New Mutants."  Hopeless makes the Ghosts feel like a legitimate threat and already gives them clear personalities and power sets by the end of this issue.  But, they're also inexperienced teenagers, so they're an appropriate foil for the gang.  They already seem to be the group's version of the Hellions.

Moreover, Scott's narration really sets the context of this issue well.  He believed in Xavier's message to them as kids, that society would come to respect them if they held themselves to a high standard of behavior.  But, society is filled with hate and noise in the present, and the Internet helps spread that hate and noise all the more quickly.  It's clear that Scott finds himself overwhelmed by it.  Beyond some throw-away lines, we've never really spent too much time contemplating how hard it must be for the kids to fit into present-day society.  Hopeless obviously aims to change that, making it clear that Scott is struggling to do so.  After all, he comes face-to-face with the reality that the Dream that he was able to believe existed in the past might really be dead in the present.

In other words, it's a really great start.

***** (five of five stars)

Robin War #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

King tells a really well paced story here, taking his time to let the story unfurl on its own power.

We start with one of the teenage Robin imitators gloating over the fact that he's managed to disarm a guy in the process of holding up a liquor store.  When a cop appears on the scene, "Robin" tries to get the cop to see him as an ally.  The cop hesitates (since, after all, "Robin" is holding a gun), allowing the would-be thief time to steal his gun.  "Robin" panics and opens fire, killing the cop and the thief.

In the ensuing outrage, the City Council, under the leadership of Councilwoman Noctua, passes a law banning Robins and the wearing of any Robin-related paraphernalia.  This initiative results in a jack-booted crackdown, forcing Duke and his cohorts go to ground.  Noctua is revealed to be working on behalf of the Court of Owls, giving them the war that they apparently want (more on that later) so that she can become a member.  (She's apparently the daughter of a prostitute, and the Court is balking at giving her membership.  But, she has realized that they're the real power in Gotham, so she'll stop at nothing to get it.)  Duke gathers the Robins at one of Gotham's many abandoned warehouses and tells the anonymous perpetrator of the shooting that he has to reveal himself so that the Robins can win back their reputation.

At that moment, Damian arrives, telling the Robins to disperse.  It goes as well as you'd think it would go.  Damian takes on the Robins, and Noctua sends Batman to diffuse the situation.  (King really shines at this part of the story.  Noctua isn't portrayed as an overwhelmingly evil figure.  Jim complains about getting sent into the fray, since he disagrees with her "Robin Law."  But, she says that she wants him to do so specifically because he'd be gentle, since her other options wouldn't be as understanding.)  Damian is infuriated by the appearance of this new Batman, and he makes short work of Jim.  (During the fight, he hilariously talks about what Batman and Robin really mean.  Let's just say, he's clearly not impressed by the idea that it's currently a guy in a robot suit and a bunch of untrained kids.)  Jason and Tim arrive on the scene to try to calm down Damian, and they call in Dick to help handle the situation, hoping (likely correctly) that the other Robins will respond to him.

At this point, King really kicks up the drama, just when you think that the story is ending.  The Robin from the liquor store admits to Duke that he committed the crime, revealing that he was inspired after Dick saved him when he was a kid.  Duke convinces him to turn himself into the police, and he agrees to do so.  But, before he can, Talon kills him, under orders from the Court.  Moreover, we learn that they planned this situation to attract Dick -- the "Gray Son" -- to Gotham.  King hasn't told us exactly what the Court is planning (and why it wants Dick in Gotham), but it's clearly nothing good for our guys!

*** (three of five stars)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Midnighter #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I love this issue, even though I'm not sure I follow all the superhero parts.

Prometheus is indeed revealed to be Matt and conveniently exposits his backstory for us.  He was the son of a modern-day version of Bonnie and Clyde and, when cops killed them in front of him, he swore that he'd fight against "justice."  (Throughout the amazing fight sequence that ACO delivers here, Prometheus frequently observes that Midnighter, as a "hero," uses the same tactics against his enemies that made them "enemies" in the eyes of "justice" in the first place.)  He uses his parents' resources to become the criminal version of Batman, traveling to Shamballa and getting something called the Cosmic Key.  He used the Key to steal the technology from the God Garden, and he now has not only those enhancements but the knowledge and skills of 30 of the world's best fighters.  He's also using the Holt-Griffin cells to neuter Midnighter's own enhancements. 

To up the ante, Prometheus reveals that he created the house that Midnighter thought was Matt's house from Midnighter's own memories.  (It's easy to let the emotional impact of this revelation get lost in the fight, but it really is compelling sad that Midnighter doesn't recognize his own childhood home.  It gives you a sense of what he's lost.)  Moreover, Prometheus uploaded Midnighter's origin file into his brain and destroyed the original file.  As such, when Midnighter has him on the ropes, Prometheus forces him to chose:  keep him alive and possibly access the file or kill him (as he "should" do as a "hero" to prevent him from harming anyone else) and lose his past.  In the end, he keeps him alive, and Prometheus flees.

I'm left with three questions and a complaint from this section.  First, Orlando never specifies why Prometheus chose Midnighter as his target.  Was he just a target of opportunity?  Did Matt just happen to be in that restaurant in issue #1 and realize that he could start his campaign against superheroes then and there?  Or, did he know that Midnighter specifically would be there and ensure that he was there to put his plan into action?  Second, I'm not exactly sure what Midnighter did at the end.  He punched Prometheus' head between his hands, and ACO shows a series of memory cards appear around them.  Did Midnighter somehow destroy those memories?  Or, since they mostly just show their shared history together, was it just showing that they're done as a couple (obviously)?  This question goes to my next question.  Why did Midnighter just leave Prometheus lying there to escape?  Even if he didn't kill him, he certainly would've wanted to strip out the God Garden technology to make him less dangerous, wouldn't he?  Even if the memories were lost, would he really want to leave a guy that hates "justice" running around the place with that power set?  Finally, my complaint here is that Midnighter really, really shouldn't have won this fight.  If he really had been turned into a regular human, Prometheus would've mopped the floor with him.  But, Midnighter is really never seen as not in control of the fight.  In fact, he makes short work of Prometheus.

But, the best part of this issue - the part that gets it the fourth star - is the soul-searching that Midnighter does after the fight.  He spends time with his friend Jason and confronts the fact that Matt fooled him.  This conundrum is made all the worse by the fact that he legitimately tried not fighting this time.  Was it just bad luck that the time that he tries to be normal he winds up dating a super-villain?  Midnighter tells Jason that he has to be able trust his (Midnighter's) judgement, but Jason tells him that he's facing the problem that all us normal people face:  can you ever really know someone?  Jason tells him not to feel like he has to be perfect, because he can't be.  (Jason also tells him that people play games in the real world, too; it just sucks that the games in his world mean that he almost gets stabbed in the heart.)  Midnighter continues his tour of self-discovery, chatting with Marina and leaving a (burnt) photo of himself as a teenager that he rescued from the wreckage of the house for Apollo.  (Intriguing.)  He wonders to Tony if it's worth getting out there again and what it means that, for once, he didn't see something coming.  But, then Jason texts him and invites him to go out and Orlando shows us that our guy is OK as he tells Tony, with a smile, that he'll never stop fighting.  It just seems that he's been able to redefine what "fighting" means.

**** (four of five stars)

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

I'm sorry to say, but this issue unfortunately reminds me a little too much of the old "Batman Eternal."  As you can probably tell, it's not a compliment.

- The authors are definitely phoning in the Jason and Tim story, in terms of jumping from Point A to Point C.  Last issue, Jason magically recognized a bunch of black-market dealers, even though it was unclear why he though that they would know anything about Mother's technology.  In this issue, Tim learns (presumably from these dealers) that the Order of St. Dumas has been selling technology on the black market and that it matches Mother's signal.  Moreover, some "angel of death" has been attacking dealers that dealt with the Order.  I think that we're supposed to draw the conclusion that Mother and the Order are working together and that they're now cleaning house, possibly because the Boy Wonders have stumbled upon the connection.  But, Lanzing and Kelly (whoever they are) don't make that connection clear, though I'm not sure if it's purposefully obfuscating or not.  Moreover, they hint that the Order trained Orphan and that he could be the aforementioned "angel of death."  Jason and Tim head to San Prisca, where the Order has built a church on the prison that used to reside there.  Not surprisingly, they encounter Bane, and they offer to team with him to take down the Order.

- Harper's interaction with Dick is extremely awkward here, as Lanzing and Kelly have her just blurt out her family history to try to convince Dick that she's not "lucky."  Dick is apparently surprised by this information, but he also doesn't hit her with his own reality, to make the point that he knows from personal experience that she's taking too many risks.  Moreover, Harper says that he didn't know because she doesn't share the information with jerks...even though she just did.  (Yeah, I don't know.)

- Snyder continues to embrace his approach of Bruce as incompetent, as Mother completely outmaneuvers him here.  We learn that he put a "device" on her that allowed him to crack into her network, though we're not told how exactly that worked.  But, Mother immediately discovered it and fed false information about Scarecrow into it, though we're not told how she started with a hunch that Bruce was Batman.  (After all, it's possible that Bruce Wayne on his own was tracking her.)  When Robin appeared at the safehouses that she pretended belonged to Scarecrow, it confirms for her that Bruce is Batman.  Here, it's his over-confidence that undoes him, even though Snyder has used a number of reasons over his run to explain his incompetence.  Mother accuses Bruce of wanting a new Robin and not a new wife; Bruce denies it and flees from her.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is just...meh.

Hala threatens the team, but the Thing manages to knock her unconscious with one punch.  (Seriously.  He also yells, "It's clobberin' time."  Go figure.)  Drax decides that he's going to keep Hala's axe as a souvenir, but he somehow activates its power, awakening Hala.  (Smooth, Drax.)  She then uses the axe to unleash a blast the size of a few city blocks, knocking out everyone.  (You have to wonder why she didn't do that in the first place, instead of monologuing about how the Guardians were going to pay for the destruction of Hala).  Finally, she takes Peter captive and promises to destroy both his worlds, Earth and Spartax.

I didn't really feel this issue, but it's pretty understandable why I didn't.  First, Bendis never really consistently treats Hala the same way in term of the threat that she poses to the team.  On one hand, she's powerful enough to kick Gamora's ass, as we saw at the end of last issue; on the other hand, Ben knocks her unconscious with one punch.  Plus, Bendis doesn't really have time to focus on the Guardians here; they're mostly reduced to a few lines since Hala spends seven of the 13 pages monologuing.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We only get thirteen actual pages of action here, thanks to six two-page splash pages.  It's like Bendis had the intern write the dialogue (or, more accurately, monologue) and the artists had to vamp.  Don't get me wrong; Schiti does beautiful work here; it's why I gave the issue two stars.  But, the Guardians only speak to each other on four pages; it's hard not to see this issue as filler.

** (two of five stars)

Darth Vader #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue doesn't really advance the ball too much, though it doest set the stage for future fireworks.

Gillen picks up the story immediately where "Vader Down" #1 ended.  Han leaves Leia in a huff after she refuses to help find Luke, while Vader (not surprisingly) makes short work of the Rebel troops that are trying to capture (or kill) him.  Aphra stumbles upon Luke and disguises Triple-Zero as Threepio to capture him, hoping to win back Vader's trust (still afraid that he thinks that she purposefully sent him into a trap).

Really, that's it.  In fact, the issue raises more questions than it should, given how little happens.  Luke seems legitimately surprised to find the ruins of the Jedi temple, even though I was pretty sure that he knew that it was on Vrogas Vas and he got himself attached to the Rebel base there to find it.  (I mentioned my confusion over this issue in my review of "Vader Down" #1.  I guess that he really didn't know after all, even though I swore that he did.)  Also, we have a weird moment here where Luke sees a light and dark image in the distance:  he's convinced that it's Ben and his father, Anakin.  But, how would he know that it was Anakin?  He's never seen an image of him, as far as I know.  Are we supposed to believe that he "feels" it?  Gillen isn't clear, but hopefully we'll get more details later.

** (two of five stars)

Hail Hydra #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, Remender ends his time on "Captain America" grimly.

The good news -- as long as it lasts -- is that Ellie has managed to gain control over the symbiote that possessed her last issue.  As a result, she's able to save Ian after he decided to leap to his death to prevent Leopold from getting access to the healing technology in his suit.  Reunited, they flee the HYDRA Avengers (composed of villains from Remender's run, including Dr. Mindbubble and the Iron Nail).  Along the way, Ian tries to convince Ellie to flee to Earth-616 with him, but Ellie resists surrendering.  This discussion happens against the backdrop of a flashback, where we see Ian having a similar conversation with Steve.  Ian asserts that Steve's approach to fighting evil -- of imprisoning, rather than executing, villains -- is just a series of lateral moves that failed to accomplish anything.  It's not exactly a warm father/son moment.

At some point, Ellie and Ian get trapped in a mindbubble, and this experience allows Ian to come to realize that Steve's way prevented Earth-616 from falling to HYDRA, as this Earth had done.  But, it doesn't solve his existential crisis, highlighted in his original conversation with Steve and the mindbubble one:  even if Steve's methods are suited to Earth-616, maybe Ian's methods means that he belongs in Dimension Z.  Ian and Ellie escape the mindbubble and they manage to get to the Infinity Elevator.  Ian hits the button for Earth-616, but one of Iron Strucker's shots fatally wounds Ellie.  Ian laments that they failed, though Ellie says that they succeeded because they tried.  An enormous explosion ensues, one that Strucker insists his blast couldn't have caused.  The Avengers search through the wreckage, but don't find anything, with Leopold declaring that they were "gone, as if they never existed."  Then, the final panel simply reads "Futility."

Seriously, it's dark.  It's unclear if Ian survived, and I'll be really sad if he didn't.  I think he's really the legacy of Remender's time on "Captain America," analogous to Brubaker's Bucky.  I'd be devastated to see him go.  But, I'm pretty sure that we haven't seen him yet in "Captain America:  Sam Wilson" or elsewhere in the new Marvel Universe.  He clearly hit the "616" button in the Infinity Elevator, and Remender implies that this action represents him making the choice that he belonged there.  But, it's unclear what Remender meant by ending the issue with the word, "futility."  Does it mean that Ian's efforts are futile, like he alleged that his father's were?  I hope that it doesn't, but I'm hard pressed to see what else they could be.

Putting aside Ian's fate, Remender does complete his journey to becoming a hero here (or at least seems to do so).  In "All-New Captain America," Sam struggled with Ian's willingness to kill (as he seemed to have done to Batroc), and Remender implies that the new Ian will have learned the value of taking the high road after his time on this HYDRA Earth.  I guess that we have to wait to see if he survived that lesson.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Justice League of America #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

DC interrupts the Rao story for Kindt to give us a stand-alone issue featuring the Martian Manhunter.  It's pretty clear that it's setting up a later story, probably the one that follows the Rao one, as well as J'onn's own series.

A psychic vampire called the UnNamed killed off members of a Japanese cult that believed that Martians walked amongst us as evil politicians, bankers, etc.  His goal was simply to attract J'onn, though Kindt doesn't give him any real reason to do so.  The UnNamed claims that it was merely (and conveniently) to taunt J'onn.  He reads J'onn's mind and implies that he's not the last Martian, but instead a creature "built" for destruction.  J'onn eventually destroys him, though we're clearly going to have to wait for a few issues to discover what the UnNamed meant about J'onn's origins.

Although this issue wasn't terrible, I'm not a huge fan of back-door pilots, particularly ones that interrupt the story of an ongoing arc.  But, if you're a fan of the Manhunter, I'd imagine that you're relieved that DC appears ready to finally decide what they're going to do with him.

*** (three of five stars)

Grayson #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seeley pretty much puts all the cards on the table here, giving us the history of Otto Netz, a.k.a. Doctor Dedalus, a.k.a. Agent Zero.

In a flashback, Netz narrates the story of his life to his younger daughters, Katarina (Luka) and Elisabeth (the current Dr. Netz).  He worked for the Nazis to create the perfect bio-engineered warriors.  After the war, "a union of frightened men" asked him to help destroy these "supermen," since they were overflowing from labs around the world.  He created Spyral to do so, and this modus operandi fits with the current organization's goal of discovering superheroes' secret identities to neutralize them.  (That said, we don't know if this "union" is still supporting Spyral's work or if Spyral is now working on its own.)

However, Otto came to grow bored with his success.  His experience supporting the Nazis made him realize that all wars come to an end, so he created Leviathan to keep the war going.  It was created to be the Grendel of our age, "anti-capitalist, anti-freedom, anti-god, anti-man."  It's an interesting description, because it certainly implies that Spyral -- at least to Netz's mind -- is a heroic organization, or a sort.  We haven't necessarily seen anything to disprove that, since you could certainly make an argument that superheroes cause more damage than they prevent.  At any rate, Spyral's Agent Zero became Leviathan's Doctor Dedalus.  Not surprisingly, Netz refers to the ouroborus as typifying the relationship between Spyral and Leviathan.  However, he eventually developed Alzheimer's disease and was thus forced to put into action a plan to secure his legacy.  He transferred his mind to a machine, becoming Spyder.  One of his daughters would eventually claim it, becoming Agent Zero, while the other one would become Leviathan.

Although this information is incredibly expository, Seeley makes it flow more or less organically.  He uses the conversation between Netz and his "daughters" to unspool the information, though, in reality, Dick is getting this information after using his Hypnos to get Ladytron to hack into Luka's system.  In fact, the main theme of this issue is less about Netz and more about Dick's resourcefulness.  When Tiger originally wanted Ladytron to create an emp blast to take out the cyber-spiders attacking the trio, Dick knocked him unconscious and hypnotized her instead, because he needed to make sure that the emp didn't erase the information in Luka's systems.  Once he gets that information, though, he also knew that Spyder would order Helena to use the nanobots in his system to kill him.  As such, he had Ladytron deploy the emp then to destroy them.  He's a clever guy, our Dick.

That said, I can't say that I really enjoyed Ladytron in this issue, since her banter felt terribly forced.  (Her comment about getting her C.E.T.R.A. - Cyborgs for the Ethical Treatment of Robot Animals - card revoked for killing the cyber-spiders was particularly awful.)  But, she serves the purpose that Seeley needs her to serve, and it gets me the answers that I wanted, so I guess I can live with her.

It's unclear where we go from here.  I'm still not sure if Luka or Dr. Netz is Leviathan, since they're still both theoretically working for Spyral.  It feels like Luka was the one to win Netz's brain, but, if so, doesn't she know that her sister is Leviathan?  Moreover, Dick tries to recruit Tiger into helping him take down Spyral, but I'm not sure what Dick learned in hacking Luka's systems that would convince him to do so.  Moreover, it's not like Tiger shares Dick's goal of securing superheroes' secret identities.  Was the information that he found that damning that he expects Tiger (and presumably Helena) to help him?  Is Spyral really Leviathan, under Luka or Dr. Netz's manipulations?  Spies, man.  They're an unclear lot.

*** (three of five stars)

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The good news?  You can immediately tell that Brian Azzarello is involved here.

I mean, immediately.  The cold opening involves a kid texting his friend that he's seen Batman, and it's the first sign that someone has managed to restrain Miller.  Their conversation is initially a little difficult to read (you have to sound out "Cn" to get "seen"), but you eventually get it.  It's essentially like "shock" in the Marvel 2099 Universe.  But, you can also tell that Miller would've taken it too far, somehow.  This entire sequence would've been impossible to understand, simply because Miller would've used the texting format as a license to be incomprehensible.

I'm glad to say that this erring on the side of comprehension continues throughout the issue.  The grand ideas are all there:  Carrie has replaced Bruce and appears on the scene attacking cops, Yindel is completely disillusioned as Commissioner, Superman has mysteriously been frozen, and Wonder Woman is ruling Themyscira while toting around the son that she had with Superman.  It's high concept.  But, the fact that I can explain the status quo as clearly as I did there is a testament to the fact that this series is a significant improvement over "The Dark Knight Strikes Again."

By making the broad outlines of the story already clear, it makes it that much more exciting trying to tease out the details.  Superman and Wonder Woman's daughter, Lara, visits the Fortress of Solitude, where he's encased in ice.  She wonders to herself "Why did you let the ants knock you from the sky?," and we're obviously left wondering how he got in this situation.  At the end of "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," Miller leaves his fate perhaps the most unclear.  He seems to have bought into Lara's exhortations that he stop seeing mankind as something to serve, but to rule.  Did Bruce have to put him on ice, literally?  Adding to the possibility that the main threat of this series will be the Kryptonians (possibly the master race of the title), Lara finds the bottled city of Kandor in the Fortress.  In a brilliantly packaged small "issue" inserted into the larger issue, Lara brings Kandor to the Atom to be enlarged.  What could Lara do with ten million full-sized Kryptonians?  I've got some ideas.  But, our biggest mystery is left for the Bat-family.  Carrie seems to be in a feral state when Yindel finds her attacking the cops.  When she asks her where Bruce is, she cryptically responds, "Bruce Wayne is dead."

The hard part about rating this issue is that it comes with so much history.  Is it amazing, because I want it to be amazing?  Is it exciting simply because it's not awful?  In the end, I gave it three stars because I'm actually happy that it's just solid.  It sets up the story, builds up the mystery, and sets a mood.  Kubert, Janson, and Anderson make it dark and moody when it needs to be, like when the texting kid runs through the rain-drenched streets, and colorful and grandiose when it needs to be, like when Diana defeats a rampaging monster threatening a local Themyscira tribe.  It takes a world that had seen its foundations undermined in the last outing and gives it the stability that it was missing.  As such, I'm happy to give it three stars, and I'm hoping to give later issues more.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Let's just jump right into it here, because we have a lot to cover.

Mother tells Dick that Bruce approached her to build a better Robin, and this revelation fits with the story that Snyder and Tynion have been telling so far.  (Of course, it doesn't mean that it's true.)  After all, we've seen that younger Dick's greatest fear -- the one that Scarecrow's gas revealed -- was that he wasn't good enough to be Robin.  But, Mother's taunting of Dick reveals something else, another theme of this series:  she believes that Cass and Harper will lose to her ballerinas, because she can't conceive that they'd be good enough to defeat them.  It implies -- slyly -- that Dick's nurturing may be better than Bruce's (and Mother's) militaristic way:  where both Bruce and Mother only saw failures, Dick saw strength.

To underline that point, of Mother seeing only weakness, Mother claims that Dick was hobbled by the loss of his parents rather than driven by it, like Bruce was.  But, again, we're left to ask if caring about people really is a weakness?  Underscoring her point, Dick leaves Mother, as she offers to show him which Robin she created for Bruce, to go help Cass and Harper.  It's something Bruce probably wouldn't have done, but increasingly Snyder and Tynion are telling us that it doesn't matter what Bruce would've done.  After all, Bruce's all-consuming focus on the mission -- the same type of focus that Mother has -- resulted in his current state, as an assistant at a day-care center.  Despite feeling rattled, Dick stays true to himself here.  He sacrifices getting an easy answer to help Cass and Harper and, when Cass bolts after she has an unexpected flashback, he tells Harper that they have to stick together.  Snyder and Tynion are reminding us that Dick is confident that they'll get where they need to be despite temporary setbacks.

(I will say here that Snyder and Tynion are somewhat oversimplifying Bruce's approach to his sidekicks.  Yes, Bruce would've likely left the girls to fend for themselves to go after Mother, but he would've done so because he was confident in their ability to handle the situation on their own.  In fact, he wouldn't have brought them with him if he didn't have that confidence in them.  I get where Snyder and Tynion are going with showing Bruce as less caring than Dick, drawing a contrast between their styles.  But, they need to be careful not to oversell it, turning Bruce into little more than the heartless leader of a squad of teenage mercenaries.)

One interesting twist here is that it does seem like Bruce initially met Mother backstage at the ballet in Prague, when he was theoretically looking for a wife.  It's possible that Batman met her earlier, but increasingly it seems like the meeting in this issue really was their first one.  As such, it seems more likely that Bruce created Cass in issue #1 than he did Orphan.  But, we'll see how that develops.

*** (three of five stars)

Vader Down #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Favorite Quote:  "Chewie, get her ready to fly."  "HHHRRRHHH"  "What's the mission?  Oh, nothing much, pal.  Just the usual."  "RRRRRHHH"  "Right.  Something stupid.  Something very, very stupid."  - Han and Chewie, as Han wonders about the price of friendship.

Aaron brings together a lot of different threads here, and I'll admit that it took me a while to put them together.

For example, the intro page says that Vader knows that Luke Skywalker, his son, destroyed the Death Star.  But, I wasn't sure if we knew that.  We've seen Boba Fett tell him that someone named Luke Skywalker existed (in issue #6) and we know that Vader knew that the pilot who destroyed the Death Star was strong with the Force.  However, I wasn't sure if he conclusively knew that those two people were the same person.  After all, at the end of "Star Wars" #12, he's still looking to get the name of the Force-strong kid from Kreel.  If he knew that they were the same person, why would he press for that?  But, in "Star Wars" #4, it's pretty clear that Boba Fett is hunting down the kid that destroyed the Death Star.  If Vader knows that the kid's name is Skywalker, then Vader definitely knows that his son destroyed the Death Star.  (That said, I'm not sure how Boba Fett knew that Luke was from Tatooine, but I've already spent enough time on back-issue research.)

Then, I realized that I've been confusing Nar Shadda (the Smuggler's Moon) for Vrogas Vas whenever it was mentioned in the "Darth Vader" series.  (I spent most of the issue wondering how the hell the Rebellion was able to hide a base on the Smuggler's Moon.  You would've thought that someone would've noticed the X-Wing squadrons practicing maneuvers!)  If Aphra sent Vader to Vrogas Vas and not Nar Shadda, then "Darth Vader" #11-#12 -- where Aphra learns of Luke's location -- happen after "Star Wars" #12.  Presumably, Vader went to Nar Shadda after getting word from Kreel (in "Star Wars" #11, where Kreel tells his handlers that they better move quickly if they want "the Jedi" alive), while he simultaneously had Aphra working on getting Luke's location separately.  After failing to capture Luke in "Star Wars" #12, he has the interaction with Aphra that we saw in "Darth Vader" #11-#12, sending him to Vrogas Vas.  It took some re-reading to piece together that sequence of events, but I think that it's correct.

With that established, I re-read the issue so that I could actually focus on the story that Aaron was telling and not how we got to this point.  I'm glad to say that the issue itself is amazing.  Aaron uses it to remind us what a force (heh) Vader is, just in case we've forgotten as a result of his humbling in the wake of the Death Star's destruction.  When he emerges from hyperspace above Vrogas Vas, he appears right in the middle of three squadrons of X-Wing fighters engaged in drills.  He makes short work of two of the squadrons, and the entire creative team is at the top of their game in displaying his talent.  Aaron uses the pilots' chatter over the comm-link to document their increasing surprise (and horror) as Vader takes out ship after ship.  The tone goes from confidence in their ability to disarm a solo pilot to shock at how quickly the squadrons are being destroyed.  Moreover, Deodata is amazing throughout this sequence.  As good as Immonen and LaRocca are on "Star Wars" and "Darth Vader," respectively, Deodata knows how to draw a space battle.  He's greatly helped by the colorist, Martin, who set the tone through everything from the eerie internal lighting of the Tie-Fighter to the blazing red engines of the X-Wings.  But, it's the scene of the bodies of the dead pilots and drones floating in space that have the most impact.  It's something that we've never seen in the movies and, seeing this splash page, you have to wonder if space in this far, far away galaxy is filled with nothing but bodies.  But, it serves its purpose, driving home how lethal Vader is and what the stakes really are.

Vader's onslaught comes to an end when Luke realizes that it's Vader flying the ship and ambushes him, sending both ships tumbling to the surface.  After seeing Vader's performance in space, the reader is left more worried for the company of Rebellion troops that converge on Vader's position than Vader himself.  Vader's comment -- that he's surrounded by dead men -- is probably accurate.

Meanwhile, on one of the rebel starships in space, Han and Leia have yet another hilarious conversation as Han tries to remind Leia that Vader has almost killed them every time that they've been near him and maybe, just maybe, they shouldn't be rushing to confront him.  But, Leia reveals that Vader's on Vrogas Vas, and Han recognizes that Luke is there.  Once gain, Luke pulls Han into his drama!  Meanwhile, Vader senses that Vrogas Vas was, in fact, the site of a Jedi temple.  (Here, I'm confused by how or if Luke knew that Vrogas Vas had a Jedi Temple.  He originally went to Nar Shadda to get someone to fly him to Coruscant to find its Jedi temple.  Did Grakkus tell him during their conversation in his hanger?  I'd go look, but I'm tired, so I'm just going to go with it here.)  This revelation ups the stakes significantly.  After the devastating loss of Grakkus' horde in "Star Wars" #12, Luke unexpectedly gains the possibility of learning more about the Jedi...if Vader doesn't kill him first.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Uncanny Avengers Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OMG, this issue is terrible.  It serves as a back-door pilot for the "Scarlet Witch" series, but it does the opposite of its goal, convincing me not to get that series.

Robinson uses the "lost tales of one of the other Captain Americas" approach to tell the story of four magicians trying to track down an escaped Nazi magician in 1947.  I know, it sounds pretty awesome, actually.  The problem is that Robinson still relies too much on exposition-heavy dialogue that makes getting through the issue a slog.  When you add in the Emerald Warlock's awful Irish accent and the Ghost Dancer terrible Jamaican patois, it was downright unpleasant.  The issue is also filled with awkward moments, like Dr. Voodoo somewhat oddly telling the Dancer that he misses his face (as if they were former lovers) and the Dancer randomly asking the Warlock if he even did it with Angela Harkness.

But, the writing isn't the only craftsmanship problem that weighs down the issue.  The art is also confusing at times.  For example, during a conversation between the Warlock and the Dancer, one of them mentions that he quit drinking; the Warlock appears to have said it, based on the conversation bubbles, but it actually seems like the Dancer is the one that meant it (since the Warlock is seen accepting the bottle of rum from the Dancer's wife).  It might seem like a small issue, but, combined with the difficult-to-read dialogue, it just exacerbated the sense that the issue was virtually unreadable.

Adding in the weird plot twist at the end of the issue, I just found myself angry that I spent $4.99 on this issue.

(zero of five stars)

Star Wars #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


*Ahem.*  Sorry.  #awkward

This issue is amazing.  As expected, the Imperials and our gang converge on the arena on Nar Shadda at the same time, leading to utter chaos.  The Gamemaster reveals himself as an Imperial spy to Grakkus, but Grakkus reminds us that he's not defenseless.  He sets off an emp field that not only disarms all blasters in the area of impact but also the restraining collar of the monster that Luke had been fighting.  It prompts a resourceful Artoo to collect some of the lightsabers hanging around Grakkus' reliquary, setting up possibly the best splash page ever, as Chewie, Han, and Leia (!) all wield lightsabers to fight their way to freedom.

But, as usual with excellent comics, this issue is all about characterization and relationships.

First, we continue to see the evolution of Han and Luke's friendship, through (as you'd imagine) the deepening of their banter.  If you watch the first movie, it's really not all that developed.  They're really not friends, like they are in the third movie.  But, here, you see that relationship starting to blossom.  I'm talking particularly about the scene where Luke apologizes to Han for dragging him into "more of [his] craziness" and Han hilariously replies that his trip couldn't have been any more crazy than Han's.  True dat.

Even better, though?  Even better?  Sana admits that she's not really Han's wife, but that she's after him because he took her cut!  Of course he did!  Scoundrel.  Then, she and Leia have a heart-to-heart conversation where she admits that she needs the money from Han for something, but stops herself before saying what it is.  Of course, since it's Leia, this conversation doesn't happen over a nice cup of tea, but as they're fleeing the arena, with the monster that Luke had been fighting rampaging in the background.

We also learn that the Gamemaster, a.k.a. Sergeant Kreel, has been an undercover Stormtrooper for the entire time that he was with Grakkus, sent to monitor him as he collected Jedi artifacts.  I hope that we see Kreel again.  He's not only easy on the eyes, but he's incredibly intriguing.  After all, he was so motivated by his love of the Empire that he willingly made himself a slave and fought his way to freedom, all to be a better-placed spy.  This guy has a story.

Finally, the issue has one of the most devastating final panels of all time.  Han had to have Chewie pull Luke from the arena since he wanted to return for the holocron and other items in Grakkus' collection.  In the end, he's left only with Ben's journal, the one item that Artoo was able to retrieve before they fled; he sits dejectedly with the journal in his hands on the Falcon.  We know that he's right to be dejected, after we saw Vader crush the holocron and congratulate Kreel for leading them to such a wealth of Jedi relics to destroy.  It really is a devastating loss, one that I have a hard time even processing.  Like Luke, I had figured that these items were the path to him discovering his heritage, if you will.  But, now, he's at square one.

Can I give an issue six of five stars?  Is that kosher?

***** (five of five stars)

New Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is...better?  I guess?  

The "incident" with the Maker is apparently already forgotten as this issue begins:  we start with a few parallel sequences showing us every-day life on the A.I.M. compound.  Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in space.  On some distant planet, two warriors from a race of Kree-Skrull hybrids try to convince their elder that his prophecy -- that a hybrid King will rise to take over both destroyed kingdoms -- has come to pass.  However, he insists that it hasn't and sends them from him.  We learn that he did so because he hasn't revealed the full extent of the prophecy to them:  on the day that they find their king, he will die.  Unfortunately for him, prophecies don't really work that way:  you can't just keep them from happening by not telling people about them.  (He should read some "Harry Potter.")  Moridun -- the demon that the Maker summoned from the previous Universe in the last issue -- reveals the catch in the prophecy to us when he arrives and kills the elder.

On Earth, the various group-hangs are interrupted by the arrival of a Kree-Skrull spaceship.  The two warriors have come for Teddy (apparently defying the elder's wishes) and teleport him and Wiccan to their home planet.  There, Teddy pulls a sword from a beam of light, revealing that he is indeed King.  Trouble, I assume, will ensue.

One of my challenges with this series is that Ewing hasn't really made it clear what tone he's using.  On one hand, it's jokey-jokey:  Teddy pulls the sword nonchalantly from the beam of light while one of the warriors is pontificating on why the ceremony is so important.  On the other hand, it's intrigue-focused:  Songbird informs 'Berto that she's found a transmitter on her, revealing that someone is spying on them.  Of course, it's possible for an issue to be both amusing and suspenseful:  that combination describes pretty much every issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" ever.  But, something about it just doesn't work here.  I'm happy that we're focused on Teddy and Wiccan, since I'm pretty much here for them.  But, once Ewing tells that story, I'm not sure if I'm still going to want to keep hanging.

** (two of five stars)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ms. Marvel #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I don't know how I didn't read "Ms. Marvel" in its first run.  I mean, I loved Kamala every time that I saw her in a guest appearance.  Plus, she's from Jersey City.  City of my birth!  But, I was invested in a lot of other comics at the time.  With the reboot of the Marvel Universe post-"Secret Wars," I was probably the most excited about the possibility of getting a good jumping-on point with Kamala.  (I hate myself for saying that, since it validates editors' views that continuity can serve as a disincentive for people to try out new characters.  But, for now, I'm just going not to analyze that too much.)

The good news is that I wasn't disappointed.  Wilson's Kamala is recognizable to everyone that is, or ever was, an overachieving teenager.  Sure, it's taken to an extreme, since she's trying to balance her superhero career in addition to her physics homework.  But, it's all the same emotional notes.  New readers learn that Kamala rejected her best friend, Bruno, when he confessed that he loved her just before "Secret Wars" began.  Now, Kamala is floored to discover that he's fallen in love with a girl named Mike.  He met her when Mike saved him from getting squashed by a falling bus, a consequence of Kamala's fight with a large frog (or, as she calls it, a "psycho amphibian").  She had barely been holding it together, but this revelation pushes her over the edge.

The problem for her is that she still doesn't have time to address it.  A real-estate company has taken over a block of Jersey City literally overnight, evicting a group of small-business owners to build the dreaded "multipurpose complex."  Kamala's particularly horrified when the use her image in their advertisements, causing residents to turn against Ms. Marvel.  But, Wilson makes matters all the more interesting by implying that someone might be screwing with time here as well.  After all, Kamala missed for six weeks that Bruno was dating Mike.  We originally think that she was just busy, but the developers managing to build an entire complex overnight raises some questions.  (It's also an amazing metaphor for gentrification that made me LOL.  Well played, Willow.  Well played.)

My favorite part of the issue, though, is how real Kamala is.  Wilson has her make a crack about Mike's weight, appalling Mike and Kamala herself.  Wilson clearly uses it to convey how rattled Kamala is, but it's not many authors that would allow her hero to have this sort of moment, particularly in a world where every hero has to have fully embraced all aspects of social justice and never judge anyone for anything ever.  Kamala is still at the end of the day a teenage girl, and I can't wait to learn more about her.

*** (three of five stars)

Mighty Thor #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron essentially ignores "Secret Wars" here, focusing on getting us current on the developments of the last eight months, since the event ended.

First, we discover that Malekith is killing elves in Alfheim when he sends their bodies crashing into Earth.  He even scrawls on the body of one of the dead elves that the War of the Realms has begun.  However, he's not so stupid as to sign his name to the bodies, so the Council of Worlds has to argue over whether the dark elves of Svartalfheim are actually responsible.  Odin has gone into seclusion in his castle (again), imprisoned Freya for treason, and set out Cul to search for the "false" Thor.  Odinson has disappeared somewhere in the galaxy, and no one can find him.  Loki has asserted that he's bad again by joining Malekith's "Dark Council," and we learn that Malekith sent the elven corpses to Earth to draw out Thor.  Meanwhile, Jane's time as Thor is killing her, since her body is purged of the chemotherapy (but not the cancer) every time she returns to her human form.

Although it's not the most enthralling issue that I've ever read, Aaron manages to convey the necessary information without it feeling too expository.  One challenge at this point is that Jane's narration here is a little bland.  Although she shows moments of fire, like when she recognizes Malekith's handiwork, I'm still not 100% sure of her concerns or motives.  Right now, she's just selfless Jane, and I hope that Aaron has her become more complicated than that.  Time will tell.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis uses the post-"Secret Wars" setting to shake up the Guardians' status quo significantly here:  Peter has left the team to become the King of Spartax, Kitty has taken on his role as Star-Lord, and Ben Grimm has joined the team. 

We'll start with the positive.  I like Bendis' spin on Ben, the idea that his membership in the Fantastic Four was really just a detour from how he wanted to spend his life, traveling space.  I had never thought about it that way, but it rings true, this idea that Ben's been given a second chance.  That said, it's not like the Fantastic Four spent all their time Earth-bound, either.  We also don't know what happened to the Fantastic Four (or, at least, Reed and Sue), but I assume that we'll get there at some point.

Beyond that, I'm not so sure about the direction that Bendis is taking here.  For example, we certainly feel Peter's pain as he sits through boring discussions about tax rates as the King of Spartax, but we're never told why he agreed to become King in the first place.  Did he think that it was going to be all hookers and blow all the time?  For a guy that values, well, hookers and blow, he had to know that he would have better access to them as a pirate than as a King.  It's the first issue, so Bendis clearly has time to flesh out Peter's characterization and motives.  But, it's not the only problem.  For example, Bendis doesn't tell us how the Guardians knew about the artifact that they stole from the Chitauri in this issue.  Bendis explains why they stole it (since anything that the Chitauri have and value is a bad thing for the good guys).  But, why did they steal that item?  If their logic is just take anything that they can move, why aren't they stealing, I don't know, the latrines?  The Chitauri presumably value them as well.  In fact, Bendis establishes that the Guardians didn't even know anything about the artifact that they stole, making it more difficult to understand how they knew to steal it!

In other words, all the developments in this issue feel like they're just meant to get us where Bendis leaves us, with the Guardians going to Peter since he's the only one they trust (even though they're mad at him) to determine what the artifact is.  However, we're not going to get that answer anytime soon, because Gamora comes crashing to the surface with Hala in pursuit.  Suddenly, it's 2015 again and we're in the Black Mirror epilogue.  [Sigh.]

** (two of five stars)