Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Detective Comics #48 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Tomasi's gift has always been his great sense of characterization and his uncanny ability to convey that characterization through dialogue.  He's perfectly matched on this issue with Pasarin, Ryan, and Sotomayor; they do an excellent job getting across specific moods that highlight why the characters do what they do.  In other words, it's a solid team effort from start to finish.

The story is fairly simple.  We begin with Jim standing on a rooftop and (somewhat creepily, to be honest) watching Gothamites going about their lives in their apartments.  It's a good reminder that the Joker isn't murdering everyone in Gotham at all times.  Jim watches a father tuck in his daughter, and he calls Babs.  She's taking down some purse-snatchers as Batgirl, and then he follows the sound of a gunshot as Batman, and it results in a legitimately funny conversation where she pretends to be at the movies and he pretends to be grabbing some pizza.  It's a nice way to start the issue.  Unfortunately for Jim, it doesn't stay nice.

At the source of the gunshot, he stumbles upon the body of what appears to be a Revolutionary War re-enactor, and it's here where the artists really shine.  One of the hardest things to convey in comics is sound. To do so, the artists use words straight from the 1960s Batman TV show extremely effectively here:  we hear the gunshot that hits Jim in the back of the head as he's examining the body, we hear him crash into a bunch of garbage cans, we hear him panting as he calls the Bat-blimp for support.  All the while, we also get the sense of claustrophobia that comes with the fact that it all happens in an alley in the pouring rain.  It just really pulls you into the story, one of those moments where you feel like you're there.

Later, Jim meets Harvey in the morgue, and we learn that the victim was a decorated fireman.  Jim catches the fact that his thigh bone has been surgically removed, but, other than that, they've got no leads.  (Harvey comments that the medical examiner would've missed that, so they should probably think about getting a new one.)  Meanwhile, the perpetrator returns to his base of operations in an abandoned cemetery.  He strips off the Revolutionary War outfit that he'd been wearing, and he hangs the mask on a peg next to dozens of other masks.  He then approaches a guy that he has chained to a chair and proceeds to shave off his beard while muttering what sounds like quotes from the Federalist Papers.  Later, we discover his next victim (presumably the bearded man) dressed as an astronaut attached to the spire on top of Wayne Tower.

Tomasi and the artists make you feel like he's an extreme version of Calendar Man, except one obsessed with American iconography not dates.  A crazed history teacher?  I guess we'll see.  In the meantime, it's the type of story that I love seeing in "Detective Comics," a mystery that passes for typical in Gotham.  With the excellent characterization and palpable mood, the creators really catch your attention from the first page and never let it go.  It's a good reminder that you don't need the "Darkseid War" or "Secret Wars" to tell a good superhero story.  

*** (three of five stars)

New Avengers #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Either I'm missing something or Ewing is being way too subtle when it comes to conclusions that we're supposed to be drawing here.

Last issue, M'Ryn the Magus -- the elder of the group of Kree/Skrull hybrids that selected Teddy as its king -- forbade his daughter, Mur-G'Nn and the group's champion, Lan-Zarr, from hunting down Teddy.  As such, I was somewhat confused when they did exactly that.  In this issue, Ewing makes it clear that M'Ryn did give those orders, but it wasn't him -- Moridun did, after he possess M'Ryn (as we also saw last issue).  However, unless I missed a page last issue, we never actually saw a Moridun-possessed M'Ryn issue those orders; I'm merely inferring them from Mur-G'Nn's comments here.  Needless to say, it feels like a fairly significant oversight, given how important that it is to the overall plot.

In terms of the rest of the developments, I can't say that they're necessarily any clearer.  M'Ryn uses a moment of distraction to inject himself into Billy, who's unaware that he did so.  However, his decision to rename himself Demiurge is supposed to show us that Moridun is already negatively affecting him.  (Billy renamed himself because he was apparently offending the Wiccan community, according to one of his teammates.)  Ewing weirdly chooses comedy to convey this (somewhat serious) situation, including an interaction between Teddy and Billy where Teddy says that he feels like he's being hit over the head by something obvious and Billy refers to an itch in the back of his brain.

To make matters odder, Lan-Zarr decides to allow Teddy to simply leave with Excelsior, the space version of Excalibur, even after all the trouble that he endured to recruit him.  He basically wishes him well and hopes that he'll realize his destiny to lead his people one day.  (Of course, we also learned in this issue that only seven of his people exist.  Actually, three of them, including M'Ryn, appear to die, so I guess we've got only four of them now.)  I get that Lan-Zarr can't exactly force Teddy to stay with him, but I'm not really sure what conclusions that we're supposed to draw about Teddy at this point.  He simply abandons his people (even if it's just four of them) and his purported destiny to live on Earth?  He doesn't even ask additional questions?  Also, Lann-Zarr and the other three hybrids can't just move to Earth to be with their king?  It just seems too easily resolved.

I've mentioned that I'm not really feeling this series, and I think I've had enough.  I'm going to hang in here until "Avengers Standoff" concludes, but, if it doesn't improve, even Billy and Teddy can't save this title for me, unfortunately.

** (two of five stars)

Extraordinary X-Men #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I just wrote about how Spencer is telling a quintessential Captain America story in "Captain America:  Sam Wilson," and it's great to say that Lemire is doing the same thing here.

First, just as Spencer is getting the voice of the characters down perfectly in his series, Lemire is doing the same on this book.  He gives us a number of interactions that sound the way that they're supposed to sound:  Logan and Ororo, Bobby and Ororo, Illyana and Peter.  As I think I've said previously, the focus on the characters and their relationships with each other reminds me of some of the strongest eras of the X-Men, like the Australia or San Francisco years.  At the end of the day, we're here to see a group of friends face their challenges together (not just punch out bad guys), and Lemire totally gets that.  Moreover, we've got some new interactions that ensure that this series isn't static, focused simply on old relationships.  Anole and Bobby are particularly adorable, with Anole idolizing Bobby and wanting to talk to him about "stuff" and Bobby reminding him that they have to kill demons first.  Moreover, Lemire continues to play with the dynamic between Jean and Logan, with Bobby himself voicing the reader's concern that anything beyond a father/daughter dynamic would be creepy.

Beyond the characterization, this issue also has a stellar plot.  Forge eventually gets his shield up and running; with X-Haven secure, the X-Men can now focus on their missing teammates.  Meanwhile, the readers know that said teammates are in a dire situation.  Sinister is trying to splice together Inhuman and mutant DNA to save mutantkind from the Terrigen Mists.  (Colossus wonders aloud about Sinister's motivation, since it's clearly not altruistic, but we're not there yet.)  Unfortunately, as we see here, the subjects tend to die, but Sinister hopes that Illyana is made of sterner stuff.  Thankfully, the X-Men arrive before he can test that hypothesis, and their fight with Sinister's new Marauders is over almost before it began.  (The best part was Bobby sending Logan on his ice-slide to free Peter from his bonds.  Snowball special!)  The X-Men free Illyana, but they're also confronted with a Nightcrawler that seems to have lost his mind, rambling about Heaven in a way that doesn't make much sense.  However, Sinister has one more trick up his sleeve:  allegedly his only successful splicing has been Cyclops, who he releases here.

Again, Lemire just tells a marvelous story and leaves us wanting more.  One of the Marauders expresses her belief that Sinister really just wants to help mutants, and Storm assures her that he doesn't.  Storm asks her to join them, but the woman refuses, saying that she saw what Scott did.  The mystery of his actions seem to be at the top of the agenda for next issue, and Lemire builds excitement for that by showing the disgust that this young mutant has for the X-Men because of his actions.  Seriously, I simply can't wait.

***** (five of five stars)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Captain America: Sam Wilson #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is just about perfect, from Spencer's amazing sense of characterization to the scope of Serpent Solutions' plans.  It's a quintessential Captain America story.

The issue opens with Viper delivering a monologue to a board room about how they're the ones that give Americans what they want:  "more, more, more" for less.  He acknowledges that the public likes to demonize them, but he tells them that they're actually heroes for doing the dirty work.  In fact, Serpent Solutions' entire pitch is that they'll take the really dirty work off their hands.  At this point, the Senior Vice President for Public Relations and Communications expresses his outrage, reminding the room that Viper is a criminal. When no one seems to care, he resigns, only for King Cobra to kill him on the board-room table before he can leave the room.  It's hard to explain how perfect this entire sequence is.  Spencer captures exactly the narrative that Wall Street believes of the financial crisis, with Viper stressing that it wasn't their fault that people bought houses that they couldn't afford or maxed out their credit cards.  In fact, Viper is so convincing that you start believing his pitch yourself.  I forgot that I was reading a comic-book character delivering this monologue:  the entire scene really jumped off the page.

Meanwhile, at Cap HQ, the Whisperer is discussing the video of this incident with Sam (who's still stuck as Cap-Wolf).  He confirms that the Serpent Society has turned themselves into Foxconn, but warns Sam to be careful in opposing them, since Wall Street really runs America.  Cap visits a doctor friend of Misty's, and she assures him that the effects of Malus' experiment are fading.  However, they aren't fading for Joaquin.  After Baron Blood bit Redwing, he's been vampiric, though we learn that vampirism has fewer negative side-effects for birds than it does for humans.  (Whew.)  But, Malus created Joaquin from Redwing, so he inherited some these side effects, including regenerative abilities.  As such, any treatment will fail, since he'll just grow back whatever the surgery removed.  Sam is worried about Joaquin's mental state, but we learn that he's coping better than expected, partially because he realized that he can fly.  (In a hilarious sequence, Misty is trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to return to bed so he can rest, so she opens fire on him, muttering to herself that she didn't have kids for a reason.  For reals, Mist.)

Later, Sam visits Diamondback, and we learn that she's now a stripper.  Honestly, this entire conversation was riveting and, again, I forgot that I was reading a comic book, Spencer writes it so well.  Rachel describes how the world doesn't really need that many good-guy mercenaries, so, after B.A.D. Girls disbanded, she was little more than a woman without a high-school degree in a bad economy.  Since a lot of people don't need a woman that can throw diamond-tipped daggers really well, she did what she knew.  They discuss Viper, and she warns Sam to be careful:  she heard that he had returned from Hell without his soul and reminds him that he's going to be more dangerous on his own turf.  (He was previously in advertising.)  Sam tries to get Rachel to join him (and leave stripping), but their conversation is interrupted when three members of Serpent Solutions attack.  (Earlier, Viper learned on the golf course that one of his clients wasn't signing a contract because of his Captain America "problem," and he pledged to address it.)  One of them stabs Rachel since she's rusty, and an enraged Cap-Wolf goes wild.  He rushes to Rachel's side, only to have her stab him in a betrayal that I legitimately didn't see coming, telling him that she's doing what she needs to do to survive.  He awakens tied to a chair in the Serpent Solutions boardroom. Dun-dun-DUN!

Honestly, this issue was thrilling to read, from the amazing characterization to the well conceived and executed plot.  It's one of the best Cap stories that I've ever read, and I can't wait to see where Spencer takes us.

***** (five of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We don't necessarily make much progress here, because Tynion has to wrap up the loose ends in the past and the present before we can move to the next phase of the story.

In the present, it's clear that we've learned everything that we're going to learn about Cassandra and Orphan (at least for now), so it's really a matter of escaping the bomb that Mother set under the Nursery.  Thankfully, Dick has some pent-up anger at Batman, so he's sufficiently motivated to take down Orphan; his eye-scan allows the team to access a jet hidden in a hanger.  In their escape, Cassandra and Harper have a nice moment, where Harper stresses to her that she understands that Mother and Orphan made her kill and that she doesn't think that she's a monster.  I'll admit that I can't quite remember why Cassandra would specifically worry that Harper would think that, since I don't think that Harper knew about the blood on Cassandra's hands when they were last together, in Prague.  But, I think Tynion might be implying that Cassandra would worry that anyone would eventually see her as a monster once they learned more about her, so it works.  Tynion also has Harper lose her shit over their impending death, a reminder that she's still a newbie when it comes to death traps and Bond villains.

In the past, Scarecrow convinces Batman to send Robin to diffuse a bomb so that they can talk alone.  He confirms that Mother hired him to develop her trauma toxin, but he's appalled by the scope of her plans:  she wants to use it on the entire world, turning every child into one of her children.  He surrenders to Batman, since he knows that Mother will have him killed once he delivers the toxin.  But, Batman reveals that he needs Scarecrow to return to Mother and provide the psychological background on him -- as crafted by him -- that Mother wants.  Scarecrow balks, but he's left with few options.

As we move to the next phase of the story, it's time for us to start getting more information about Mother.  First, we still really know nothing about her motives. Last issue, we saw that she was kinder to her children than I expected her to be, but we still don't know what drivers her to make them "better."  (Crane tells Batman here that she's insane, which is obviously saying a lot, given the source.)  But, we also need some insight into her resources.  Even if Crane's toxin worked on every child in the world, how exactly does she propose to train them?  Is she going to take over a small country and use it as a Nursery?  She appears to have an unlimited amount of funds, and we really need to know where she got them.

I'm giving this issue three stars, as I did last issue, but I'll admit that they're weak threes.  The art has been inconsistent in both issues; better art might've strengthened the scores.  That said, I'm not giving this issue two stars mainly because Tynion does a solid job on the dialogue, and he and Snyder are still advancing the plot logically.  But, we're halfway through this story at this point, and both Batman and Mother's motivations (and, in fact, actions) remain a mystery.  We need to address that soon, before this series starts feeling like its predecessor, where the characters are doing things simply to stall so DC can sell more issues.

*** (three of five stars)

Justice League #47 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Things aren't particularly looking good for the League at this point.

On the "win" side of the ledger, Diana manages to lasso Superman, reminding him that he's Clark Kent (meaning a good guy) and helping him to regain control of his faculties.  Bruce and Hal arrive, after Bruce sensed Superman's rampage.  Bruce warns him that his control is only temporary; moreover, his new powers are breaking down his body on a cellular level.  (You know it's bad when I've still got this part on the "win" side.)

On the "loss" side, Barda creates a distraction to allow Cyborg, Power Ring, and Scot to break into Belle Rive.  But, Cyborg ignores Jessica when she tells him that she thinks that it's a bad idea to break out Superwoman, since her ring seems to want them to do it.  Volthoom (the spirit in the ring) announces that it's time to put "our" plan into action, so he takes control of Jessica.  Cyborg tries to hack into the ring, as he previously did, to stop him, but Volthoom uses it as a chance to download Grid into Cyborg's body.  Grid takes out an unsuspecting Barda and Scot, but Owlman arrives to warn his former teammates that they have to work with the Justice League to defeat the Anti-Monitor.

This story has been going on so long that I honestly forget how many issues it's been.  We still know very little about the Anti-Monitor, with Ultraman in this issue merely telling Scot that his goal is to kill everyone.  (You could see where we could use some more specificity.)  But, Johns successfully conveys the sense that we're starting to get somewhere.  Beyond the obvious progress in the main plot -- with the League and the Syndicate on the verge of joining forces -- he also advances some of the other stories out there, with Grail announcing to her mother that she's found a "secret" in the Anti-Life Equation and Mobius returning to get back his chair.  Finally, it all seems to be coming to a head, and I find myself actually something close to excited.  It's a good sign, after how long it's been getting here.

*** (three of five stars)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Batman and Robin Eternal #13 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue focuses almost exclusively on Cassandra, in the past and the present, giving us the information that we need to understand her.

In the past, we get a quick but thorough tour through her nightmarish childhood, as we see her yearn to connect with the other children at the Nursery.  As we've seen, Mother has demanded that she be segregated from "her" children, so Cassandra is forced to watch them from the sidelines.  The Sculptor shows her some sympathy, but even she has a line:  when Cassandra hugs her -- replicating the affection that she's seen Mother showing to the other children -- the Sculptor recoils and tells her that she's made to be something different. Years later, Batman assures her that she's a hero, because she rejected exactly these attempts to make her into a monster.  (It's also the conversation where he tells her to go to Dick with the thumb-drive if he doesn't survive the fight with the Joker.)

In the present, Cassandra has traveled to the Nursery, revealed to be located in the heart of a Russian diamond mine declared off-limits after it leaked toxic gas.  She confronts Orphan there, but he reveals that he's already killed all the children; their bodies are lying in an open pit.  This part is confusing, because it seems to contradict previous information.  For example, I thought that the Nursery was in Prague.  After all, isn't Mother shutting down that operation to start a new one, since Dick compromised it through his actions?  Are there other Nurseries out there, or were there only ever these two?  It's pretty unclear.

We can say somewhat definitively that Mother does seem to be killing off all her children, with the goal of starting a new phase.  One of the robot nannies that Cassandra encounters in the Nursery refers to the children coming home, so it also seems like Mother has somehow managed to get all her children to return to the Nursery to kill them.  (That really ups the ante, since it implies that the bodies lying in the pit aren't just the kids that were already at the Nursery.)  Dick and Harper arrive to save Cassandra, and Mother appears on the monitors to announce that she's detonating a nuclear weapon under the Nursery.  She originally wanted to take out everyone at the same time, but, even though Jason and Tim aren't there, she decides that it's too good of an opportunity to miss.  (Orphan is somewhat surprised that he's included in that culling.)

This issue isn't particularly strong, since Tynion takes a number of short-cuts to get us to the end.  After all, Dick and Harper magically arrive to save Cassandra, even though we're never told how they found her.  But, Tynion does get across the horror of Cassandra's childhood effectively.  Even though we haven't seen the moment where she rebels against Orphan (and the person that he wants her to become), we see here that she never really accepted his programming in the first place.  The weakest part of this issue is probably the sequence where Orphan is insisting that he's not a monster, that he's trying to make her something better, as Mother did for him.  We don't know enough of Orphan's own history to know why he's such a zealot, but this moment of emotion (or what passes for it for him) seems disingenuous.  Does he really think that Cassandra is going to buy that?  After all, he makes these statements as she's covered in the blood of the other children after he dropped her in the pit.  In other words, it seems a stretch.

It's pretty clear that Snyder and Tynion are moving us to the next phase of this series as Mother starts to put her plan into action.  We now know what we need to know about Cassandra and Orphan (for the time being):  it's time to see what Mother has up her sleeve.

*** (three of five stars)

Darth Vader #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We're in part 4 of the "Vader Down" event, but the momentum unfortunately stalls a bit in this issue.

It's not to say that stuff doesn't happen.  Luke, Han, and Chewie find themselves face-to-face with Black Krrsantan as he presumably seeks to claim the bounty on Luke.  However, Han sends Luke to save Leia after they hear her on the comlink ordering all fighters to her position, intending to sacrifice herself to take out Vader.  To complicate matters further, Commander Karbin arrives on the scene, ordering his troops to find Luke.  At this stage, his goals aren't completely clear (other than getting to Luke).  For example, he takes out a Y-Wing on arrival, even though he seems to be helping Vader in doing so.  (The Y-Wing was part of the group going to bomb Leia's location.)  However, Karbin later claims that Vader's fate isn't relevant to him, since if he dies or survives Karbin wins.  (I'm not really sure how he thinks that he's got that sort of advantage on a guy like Vader, but we'll see.)

But, the issue as a whole lacks the emotional punch that you'd expect at this stage.  Gillen doesn't really have the time to focus on Luke's attempt to get to Leia in time to save her, so it doesn't feel as desperate as you'd expect it to feel.  (It's almost like he's seen "Empire Strikes Back" and knows that Leia survives.)  Similarly, Leia's confrontation with Vader is incredibly brief:  she just threatens him and flees.  It's not a terrible issue, but it definitely feels like Gillen is stalling for time to make it to six issues.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, I have to say, this issue is one of the best drawn ones that I've ever read.  Seriously.  I've never been Camuncoli's biggest fan, generally preferring Ramos to him during the era when they were switching responsibilities on the title.  But, his style just keeps improving to my eye.  For me, a great example of this talent is the shot where the Zodiac is standing in front of an Egyptian statue at the British Museum:  Scorpio is in the front, pointing the Zodiac Key and ordering his "colleagues" into battle.  Camuncoli brings a great perspective to this "shot," conveying a cinematic sensibility that we see throughout the issue.

The bad news is that the plot is virtually incoherent.  Peter realizes that Zodiac set up the fake bases around the world because it merely wanted S.H.I.E.L.D. to train its satellites on them.  Apparently, Zodiac could then piggy-back onto the satellites to create a scan of the entire planet, something only S.H.I.E.L.D. has the power to do.  Again, this part just made no sense to me.  With the later revelation that Scorpio was searching for some sort of cup hidden in the Rosetta Stone, I don't understand how this "scan" would've revealed that.  What type of "scan" was it?  Thermal?  How could any scan find a cup?  At any rate, Peter identifies London as the place where the Zodiac stopped searching, and he scrambles everyone there in the hope that they're not too late.

(Along the way, I should add, Mockingbird randomly punches Spidey for pulling them off the mission to help Aunt May last issue, even though she also tells him that it was the right thing to do.  Yeah, I don't get it either.)

In London, Peter and S.H.I.E.L.D. are discussing how long it'll take them to get access to London's CCTV system to track the Zodiac when suddenly the group's hit on the British Museum comes full screen.  As Nick scrambles the team, Peter asks Sanjani and Anna Maria how they got that information, and they inform him that PI's nanotech "somehow" got released into London's CCTV system and interacted with it.  Peter is furious, but Torch convinces him to focus on the mission.  He also warns him that he's burning the candle at both ends, something that I was hoping would become the theme of this series.

Everyone converges on the British Museum, where Scorpio is using the Key to track down the item that he wants to steal.  (When a security guard frets about the damage, Peter again offers to use his money to fix everything.  The guard has to remind him that he can't replace priceless artifacts...because apparently Peter is an idiot)  Scorpio finally arrives at the Rosetta Stone and cuts it open to find something that looks like the Holy Grail, though Slott doesn't explain what it is in this issue.  His goal achieved, Scorpio activates the same poisonous hollow teeth in the remaining Zodiac members that he used to kill Leo, and Peter goes to save them (letting Scorpio escape).

Later, Peter returns to PI and fires Sanjani for insubordination.  Of course, he can't actually do that, because they're partners.  Peter announces that he's buying her shares, though, again, I'm not sure how he can do that if she doesn't want to sell them.  Sanjani tries to explain all that to him, but he just screams at her, and she leaves, because women are supposed to accept what men say when men scream.  (Seriously, between the way that he speaks to Sanjani here and his treatment of the Human Torch in issue #2, I really, really don't like this Peter.)  Also, did I mention that Sanjani insists that it wasn't her that released the nanobots?  Can I just tell you how tired I am of this dance?  I mean, seriously, the one time that Sanjani allegedly didn't do something is the one time that Peter actually takes action against her?  Ugh.  Let's just keep going.

The issue ends with Nick Fury and Peter giving a press conference, where Nick announces that Zodiac has been dismantled.  Again, this part makes no sense to me.  If we've learned nothing, we've learned that Scorpio controls Zodiac.  In fact, the Zodiac members may actually just be clones of him.  As such, how does stopping his minions equate to dismantling Zodiac?  Also, did they manage to retrieve Peter's WebWare?  Aren't there still Zodiac scientists out there somewhere trying to hack into it?  Or, were they all stopped when S.H.I.E.L.D. invaded the bases?  Given how important that plot has been for the last five issues, it would've been nice to get some clarity on that.  Later, Peter has a holographic conversation with PI's chief shareholder, Mr. Jacobs, someone that I scarcely remember from the first issue.  But, Slott shows the reader that he's (of course) Scorpio as he tells Peter that he has big plans for PI.

Honestly, I just don't know what to say here.  I know that Slott is excited about telling these global stories, but they're just not making sense.  I can't even really put together the threads of the last few issues to form a coherent narrative.  Originally, Peter and S.H.I.E.L.D. were after the Zodiac because they stole some of Parker Industries' most secure servers and, seizing on an opportunity, Peter's WebWare device.  Why did they do that?  I still don't know.  Did Scorpio intend to use the servers to run the scan somehow, but he couldn't crack into them, so he had to go with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s satellites?  Or, did he know that Spider-Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. would come after them, so he used it as a way to force a situation where he could access the satellites?  It seems a stretch, even for a guy with psychics on his team.  Plus, we learn in this issue that he could've likely broken into the servers on his own given that he's the chief shareholder of the company.  It's all just terribly sloppy.  The server and WebWare part of the story seem to have nothing to do with Scorpio's actual goal of getting a scan of the planet.  To make matters worse, we're nowhere near an answer to these questions.  Slott is starting a new arc next issue, so we're just left with Scorpio sitting in his apartment, talking to Peter, with the Grail sitting in his Zodiac room (something that we can see because he's nonchalantly left open the door to it while he's talking to Peter).

Honestly, I'd give this issue one star if not for Camuncoli's art.  Slott has to focus on the basics in this next arc, because this sprawling mess of a first arc has me hoping that we ditch this whole "worldwide" shtick soon.  It's probably not how he wants me to feel, but there we go.

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bloodshot Reborn #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Ray's re-origin story, if you will, comes to a close here, and it goes pretty much how I expected it to go.

Ray tracks down Toby in the woods, and Bloodsquirt and Kay encourage him to kill Ray.  Ray has a deep well of sympathy for Toby, given that the nanites are really just fueling Toby's rage over the fact that his parents abandoned him.  Ray manages to save him,  paradoxically, by breaking his neck:  he allows the nanites to heal Toby to the point where he's still weak but can survive and then takes back the nanites at that moment.  Once she's turned over her injured partner to the paramedics, Festival follows Ray into the woods, with Magic on her heels.  Ray convinces Festival to blame the people that Toby killed on him, giving Toby a chance at a real life.  But, he also asks Festival to let him flee, since he has a similar chance in Magic, particularly after she helps him chase away Bloodsquirt and Kay.  Festival grants both requests.  In the epilogue, they drive to the location of the house where Ray's file says that he used to live, though it's unclear what connection it has to him, other than being the Garrison residence.  Is it his parents' house?  Is it his wife's house?  Is it a kid's house?  Ray decides to burn his file without reading it, realizing that he knows who he is:  he's Bloodshot, because some has to be.

Ray's acceptance of his role as Bloodshot isn't necessarily a surprise; the fact that he does so from a place of relative peace is.  The problem for Ray, of course, is that said peace comes pretty much exclusively from Magic's love.  She's the difference, and it means that he has something valuable to lose; in his line of work, I can't imagine that's a good thing.  But, for now, he has a reason to see the silver lining in his situation, and I hope that he can enjoy it for a while.

*** (three of five stars)

Robin: Son of Batman #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)


The Robins face the "elite" Talons on the rooftop, and Damian brings down the Cage to stop them.  In the skirmish, the other Robins overhear the Talons talking about hatching tonight specifically for the "Gray Son" ceremony, and Riko realizes that she had previously seen an elite Talon at Gotham Academy.  The Robins head there to stop the other elite Talons from hatching (since the ones that they defeated helpfully mentioned that the others were hatching that evening), and Batman provides a hand after following them there.  Previously, Damian disappeared after taking down the Cage, and a mysterious figure from the Court of Owls ordered Noctua to get Batman to do...something, though I'm pretty sure that it wasn't getting him to follow the kids to take down the Talons.  Did Noctua or Jim go rogue?  Meanwhile, Dick makes his way through the labyrinth of the Court of Owls to Lincoln March, who tells him that he did originally intend to turn him into the "Gray Son" that night.  However, Damian offered himself as the "Gray Son," so Lincoln is now free to kill Dick.  Dun-dun-dun, I guess.

This issue is pretty dull, particularly given Fawkes emotionless script, which leaves the characters basically just describing what they're doing.  (How many times can Jason or Tim say that they have to fight tactically?)  The "Robin War" really does seem like it was just a device to get Dick to Gotham, so it feels weird to have the entire premise of this cross-over event -- the "war" itself -- be a McGuffin.  I guess we'll see if we're missing anything more interesting in the conclusion.

** (two of five stars)

Justice League of America #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is Hickmanesque, in that it feels like Hitch removed 20 percent of the dialogue to make it feel more mysterious.

Hitch splits his focus on four different stories, and the result is that we don't really get much progress in any of them.  Aquaman attempts to stop Rao's disciples from completing some sort of alignment of signals with Themyscira, but the Atlanteans prevent him from doing so, having fallen under Rao's spell.  He eventually breaks free, afraid that the Raoans are going to try to destroy Atlantis; instead, they transport him to Olympus.  Once there, he tries to bring Diana up to speed, but the Raoans detonate themselves before he can, destroying Olympus (and leaving the fates of Aquaman and Wonder Woman unclear).  Meanwhile, Rao beats Superman to a pulp in the Arctic, and the Flash awakens at Infinity headquarters in 1961.  Vincent again babbles about the Stones, but we learn more about them from Rao in the past:  he tells Hal that the 24 Stones give him his ability to absorb the life energies of his disciples.  Past Rao and Hal arrive at the Citadel of Argo for peace negotiations with Rao's entourage, but just the two of them enter the Citadel:  Hal is shocked to discover the Infinity headquarters within the Citadel.

(You'll notice that this issue is an example of pet peeve #1, because Batman appears nowhere in it, despite the cover implying the opposite, that he's the only member of the League left standing.)

Again, I really have no clue where we are.  As I mentioned, Hitch makes it clear that the disciples are trying to align some sort of signals, but we don't know why they're doing so.  We also know nothing about the Stones (Rao simply tells Hal that they were a "gift") or what Vincent and his allies are trying to do.  This story is a bit long in the tooth for us to be as unclear as we are.

** (two of five stars)

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Miller and Azzarello kick it up a notch here, building slowly but surely to the epic last scene.

We start with Yindel trying to crack Carrie after she's sat silently in prison for 27 days, desperate to learn more about Bruce's fate.  Eventually, Carrie "confesses" that Bruce died.  She tells Yindel that he barely survived a fight with an enemy and eventually even the machines couldn't keep him alive.  As she's being transferred to Blackgate, she activates the Batmobile through a series of whistles.  (It appears that she had pre-positioned it along the route.)  The Batmobile crashes into her transport vehicle, allowing Carrie to escape and grasp onto its undercarriage.  The Batmobile makes its way through police lines and eventually returns her to the Cave and, not necessarily surprisingly, Bruce.

But, it's the Atom story that sets up where we're find ourselves at the end of the issue.  Ray is working off the notes of a Kandorian scientist as he tries to find a way to enlarge the Kandorians.  The man's son, Bhal, thanks him for his efforts.  Later, Ray puts into action his plan; it involves enlarging 1,000 Kandorians at a time via specifically constructed platforms.  In the first effort, he's stunned to discover a few dozen Kandorians standing among the bodies of many dozens of dead Kandorians.  Bhal introduces his father, Quar, the leader of a cult that the Kandorians had apparently rejected.  He irreversibly shrinks Ray as Ray realizes his mistake, and Bhal smooshes him under his shoe.  Then, Quar destroys Kandor as punishment for not accepting him.

Meanwhile, in this issue's small-issue insert, Diana has called Lara to Themyscira to practice her sword skills, but Lara rejects the lesson by having the sword smash on her indestructible skin.  She tells Diana that she's not an Amazonian, but a Kryptonian, and leaves.  Given a conversation that she had with Bhal while he was currying favor with Ray, she appears to be in cahoots with him.  Given her sense of superiority, it seems that she's ready to follow Quar as he takes over Earth.  The master race, indeed.

At this stage, we have two essentially separate stories:  we've got the Gotham one and the Kandor one.  It seems likely that they'll merge next issue, as Bruce realizes that he has to confront the threat of Quar.  I'm intrigued to see how that presents itself.  Although I knew that enlarging Kandor was a threat, Miller and Azzarello still allow the threat to present itself naturally.  I was still surprised by the two-page splash page of dead Kandorians and the revelation that it's a cult that could spell doom for Earth.  It makes me excited to see what other surprises Miller and Azzarello have up their sleeve.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Whoa.  Just whoa.

Let's start from the beginning.  As we saw last issue, Dick has entered the Sculptor's mind, and she takes him on a tour of the place.  She shows him Mother, with a young Orphan, murdering her parents.  The Sculptor tells Dick that Mother saw David as Adam and she as Eve in her pursuit to create Eden.  (Creepy.)  It raises some questions that the authors don't answer here, namely how Mother got her hands on David and why she went after him in the first place.  After all, the Sculptor tells us that Mother somehow knew about her telepathic powers.  What attracted her to David?  The Sculptor also confirms (not surprisingly) that he's a sociopath, enjoying inflicting the trauma on children that the Sculptor later molds.  For her part, the Sculptor accepts the role that she played in cultivating this trauma.  But, she stresses to Dick that she did it because she felt that she was the only one who could help the children, minimizing the trauma and then rushing them out the door of the Nursery for a chance at a regular life.  For his part, Dick believes her, and he begins to lobby her to help him fight Mother.

In walking Dick through Mother's methods, the Sculptor divides the children into two groups.  First, you've got the sleeper agents (like, it seems, Tim).  As the Sculptor says, they're doctors and lawyers and the like; Dick could never reach them.  To win, he has to stop Mother directly, but the Sculptor urges him to save the other group of children first:  the kids still in the Nursery.  They're not yet Mother's children, so they're vulnerable.  The Sculptor tells Dick that she's helping him because she wants to protect them, though she refuses to return with him, for reasons that she doesn't elaborate.  (It's implied that it would just be too traumatic, and she's trying to make her break.)

At this stage, though, we still don't know why Mother has developed this "new approach" that makes the trauma and the manipulation unnecessary.  (We learned last issue that she's using Crane's fear gas to do so.)  If the Sculptor has now been made redundant, as she says that she has been, then has Orphan been made so as well?  For an already unstable guy, it's probably not a good sigh of things to come.

But, this issue's big moment is when the Sculptor finally takes Dick to Batman's conversation with Mother.  When Mother confronts him with evidence that Dick revealed Bruce's secret identity to her by going after Crane on his own, Bruce agrees that Dick isn't the partner that he hoped that he would be. Dick is suitably rattled, particularly when Bruce demands that he be the one to kill the parents of the candidate that Mother has identified to replace him.  As the reader, it's easy to assume that Bruce is just playing along with Mother to get more information.  But, given the ending of the first issue, we also know (or, at least, think we know) that Bruce really does kill the candidate's parents.  As such, it lends some weight here to the idea that he actually does what he says that he's going to do here.  That said, Snyder and Tynion are going to have to explain why he agreed to kill so readily for us to buy it.  As Dick says, not killing is rule one.  Why does he abandon it?

*** (three of five stars)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ms. Marvel #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue really is just remarkably clever.

Kamala essentially goes urban spelunking in the Hope Yard Development Office, and she discovers a glowing purple drink in a dorm fridge.  She swipes a batch to bring to Bruno for testing, but she has to evade some live-fire security drones to escape.  After convincing Bruno to run the tests the next day, she fails to sneak past her mother.  She wants her to stop being Ms. Marvel until the outrage over her alleged support of Hope Yards ebbs.  (Earlier, we saw a number of protests against Ms. Marvel.)

The next day, Kamala's brother (I think) asks her to chaperone him when meeting a girl, provoking her dismay that everyone has a significant other except her.  (That said, when the girl, Tyesha, makes a "Dune" reference, Kamala is totally on board with her.)  They meet Tyesha as she's getting hassled by a yuppie hipster that works for Hope Yards.  He claims that he's keeping the neighborhood "safe."  However, Kamala runs into a classmate that moved into Hope Yards, and he has creepy glowing purple eyes and raves about the company.  Despite her mother's wishes, she realizes that she's got to do something.

She calls Bruno, and he confirms that the goop has nanobots in it.  Some goons bust into the lab to get him, and he tries to leave a clue for Kamala by telling her that Mike has the "key to [his] heart."  Kamala then sees a bunch of moving trucks from Hope Yards and engages themAnother yuppie hipster climbs onto the roof of one of the trucks and opens fire on her.  He eventually knocks her unconscious, and she awakens to Dr. Faustus revealing that Hope Yards Development and Relocation Association is...HYDRA!  (Clever.)  Hilariously, HYDRA has realized that no one cares if you launder your plans for domination through the guise of a gentrification investment opportunity.  (Honestly, that shit right there is some brilliant satire.)  But, it all gets personal when Faustus reveals that he's turned Bruno into one of the yuppie hipsters!

Again, this series just continues to deliver.  I want to know pretty much everything about Kamala possible, and Wilson manages to keep the tone of the series light while still dealing with serious issues.  It's great stuff from start to finish.

*** (three of five stars)

Mighty Thor #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I can't say that this issue is particularly exciting.  It's beautiful, of course, as it always is under Dauterman and Wilson.  But, Aaron seems to be mostly stalling for time.

First, Laufey decides to "test" Loki to see if he can be a member of Malekith's Dark Council, but he's really just set a trap for him, hiding his best warriors along a trail that he tells him to walk.  (He views Loki as an abomination for preferring "mischief and trickery" even though, as Loki notes, he's only alive because of Malekith's "mischief and trickery.")  Loki easily walks through the test by somehow convincing the warriors to kill themselves, so Laufey consents to him joining the Council.  But, as it gathers in Alfheim to watch Malekith's war on the Light Elves, Laufey tells Malekith that neither Loki nor Thor will leave Alfheim alive.  (Honestly, I don't get why he just doesn't kill Loki if he hates him so much.  It just seems to be needless vamping.)

Speaking of the "War of the Elves," Thor arrives in Alfheim after Heimdall prevented Cul from killing her by sending her across the Rainbow Bridge.  This act provokes the ire of the Minister of "Justice" and wins Heimdall some time in prison.  (The best line of the issue is when he tells Cul that he figured that he'd better get a cell now before all the good ones are taken.)  Thor is full of inspiration for the Light Elves, even though Alfheim certainly seems lost.  (That said, I'm still not 100 percent sure why it was so easily defeated.  As far as I can tell, the only resource that the Dark Elves have that they didn't normally have are the Roxxon tanks.  It's not like we see legions of Frost Giants joining the fray.  It just seems that the Light Elves went down too quickly.  Didn't they prepare for this sort of eventuality?)  At any rate, before Thor can put her plan in motion, Loki arrives, wanting to talk.

Aaron plays off Loki's mischievous nature well here.  As a reader of "Loki:  Agent of Asgard," I'll admit that my assumption is still that we're dealing with new Loki, so he's got a bent toward the light over the dark.  Aaron knows that, so we're left with the impression that he may just be playing the Dark Council to help Thor save Alfheim.  But, then again, maybe not.  Again, I'll admit that I didn't find this issue all that engaging, though the plot doesn't detract from the art so much that I'd give it less than three stars.  That said, I'm hoping Aaron has something up his sleeve soon.

*** (three of five stars)

Darth Vader Annual #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Similar to the "Star Wars" Annual, this issue is the epitome of the type of story that we expect to see in Annuals.  Unrelated to the current arc of the series, we get more insight into the character than a traditional issue would allow.

On the planet of Shu-torun, an old king sends his youngest daughter, Trios, to escort Vader to a ball thrown in his honor.  Not surprisingly, Vader isn't exactly the dancing type, though Trios insists that he must appear to please the dukes that mine the resources that Vader is there to secure.  Vader really just wants to get to the king to deliver a box that will remind him how good of a friend -- and how deadly of an enemy -- the Empire is.  Not surprisingly, a group of assassins burst into the room, pretending to want to kill Vader and the king.  But, we quickly learn that the king is really behind the plot.  When Vader makes short work of the assassins, Trios leads him into another trap in a series of underground tunnels.  Vader is impressed by her willingness to sacrifice herself for her family, so he knocks her unconscious and carries her to the throne room (after, of course, escaping the trap).  There, she awakens before he can enter the room and tries to shoot him, but Vader cuts off his hand.  He opens the door to reveal that Triple-Zero and Beetee have already killed Trios' father and siblings.  She confesses to Vader that they wanted him killed because the dukes were rebelling against the taxes.  (It's not really much of a long game, to be honest.  Did they think that the Emperor would just let that stand?)  He presents her the gift -- a volleyball-sized rock that he says constitutes the remains of Alderaan -- and tells her that she may now rule Shu-torun, but that she should remember who she serves.

Gillen really shows Vader in all his glory here.  His refusal to play nicely with the dukes is a reminder that the Emperor and he really do see fear and power as the only necessary requirements to keep people in line; you don't need to dance if you can just kill everyone.  In fact, Gillen is hinting at why that approach doesn't work when fear and power wane, foreshadowing their end.  But, Gillen is careful not to go too far in implying that Vader simply rules by an iron fist.  We can see how calculating and insightful he is when he sizes up Trios and realizes that she'll be an acceptable ally.  (Moreover, sending in Triple-Zero and Beetee shows that he anticipated the king's ploy.)  Moreover, I realized in reading this issue that neither Aaron nor Gillen have made any hints that Anakin -- the good inside Vader that Luke eventually rescues -- exists.  If anything, this issue reminds us just how cold and deadly Vader is.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #1.1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

The pitch for this issue in one sentence:  come for Bianchi finally drawing Spider-Man, stay for the creepy holiday story about zombies.

This issue is OK.  The main problem is that Molina's characterization is uneven.  At certain points, it feels like he's using Peter as his own mouthpiece (particularly the crack about Bloomberg) rather than channeling the thoughts of an established character.  He's also made Peter's temperament somewhat inconsistent:  one minute he's singing a holiday song while swinging through the city; the next minute, he's a New Yorker shouting on his phone to get an appointment with the mayor to complain about Christmas decorations appearing before Thanksgiving. To make matters worse, we've got a chief medical officer that seems afflicted with Tourette syndrome if not insanity.  Put all together, it's hard to say that it feels like a Spider-Man story.

But, I enjoyed seeing Bianchi's take on Spider-Man, so I won't complain too much.  I just wish that we'd drop this forced mini-series approach that Marvel is taking with these .1 issues so that I could decide on my own whether to get it.

*** (two of five stars)

All-New X-Men #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is depressing, emotional, fun, and hopeful all at the same time.  It's a pretty impressive feat.

The team arrives in Chicago to help Scott fend off the Ghosts of Cyclops.  They overpower them pretty quickly, so the Ghosts beat an exit.  However, Scott grabs one of them, called Thirst, and beats him with a bat until Hank and the police make him stop.  He and Thirst get taken to prison to "cool off" for the night.  With no other options, Bobby and Hank take Pickles to get pizza, since he needs to refuel to teleport them again.  (Hank is expecting a mob scene when Scott gets released the next day, since everyone around them during his arrest was recording it on their phones.  As such, he wants them to be able to move quickly.)  They leave Evan and Idie to take care of removing the "nerd wagon" from the library, a problem that Idie ingeniously solves by simply having it towed and sticking Hank with the bill.  Hank tries to talk to Bobby about how he's been doing, particularly with the whole gay thing, but Bobby refuses to talk about it.  Hank's attempted heart-to-heart gets interrupted when Pickles suddenly realizes that he's in a pizza shop and starts eating everything that he can find.  It leads to the most important lesson that the kids are likely to learn in this series:  bring pizza to Pickles, not Pickles to pizza.

Meanwhile, Scott loses his shit (again) when Thirst mistakes him for Cyclops' son.  He tells Thirst the truth and, although some people might find it unlikely that he'd confess to Thirst, it actually worked for me.  It felt exactly like conversations that teenagers are wont to have with each other at times, even if (actually, particularly if) they're from different walks of life.  In other words, it's that adolescent (not in a bad sense) search for understanding.  Meanwhile, the Ghosts have regrouped, and Hopeless does an amazing job of showing them as just normal kids.  They're not evil monsters; they're inspired by Cyclops' vision of pushing against the world just like our kids are inspired by Xavier's dream of living in harmony.  The Ghosts are also modern kids (as opposed to our gang), discussing how "X-fan" sites have talked about teenager doppelgängers of the original five X-Men appearing on the scene the previous year.  They decide to break out Thirst (after escaping a confrontation with Laura and Warren), though it remains to be seen if Scott agrees to go with them or not.

Again, I really marvel at the excellent job that Hopeless does getting everyone's emotional state exactly right.  He spends as much time on the "bad guys" as he does the "good guys," and it gives this issue its emotional heft.  As I've mentioned, it's reminiscent of the New Mutants vs. the Hellions, something that Hopeless even mentions in passing here.  The Hellions were never natural-born killers, but students under a professor with a different philosophy about how mutants should play their role in society.  The Ghost's "professor" is just inconveniently dead.  Honestly, I want to learn more about pretty much everyone here, a good sign that Hopeless shouldn't have any problem keeping me engaged in the coming issues.

**** (four of five stars)

Tokyo Ghost #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Somehow, it's even worse than I thought it would be.  Given the tone of this series so far, that's obviously saying a lot.

As expected, the one-eyed guy from last issue, Mash, comes after Debbie and Teddy for revenge.  We learn that he's not just some random guy that Constable Dent attacked:  he and his friends were the original gang that embarrassed Teddy on film and forced him into becoming Dent.  Debbie and Teddy go on the offensive, and, as we watch them fight, Mash recounts how Dent brutally murdered or maimed most of the gang when he eventually found them.  For example, he ripped off Mash's brother's arm, set it on fire, and used it to burn Mash's face.  (Creative.)  Throughout the fight, Mash tries to justify the gang's actions as kids as innocent fun.  In fact, he claims the high ground here, saying that he's trying to purge someone as violent as Dent from the Garden.  Thankfully, Teddy is having none of it, reminding Mash that he was also just a kid and that they beat him into a pulp in front of his girl and filmed it for fame and profit.  In his words, too fucking bad that he didn't like getting burnt with his brother's arm.

The fight ends as Mash faces Teddy in solo combat, with Mash claiming that he's the fist of judgment and Teddy saying that he's just engaged in petty revenge.  However, Kazumi arrives before Mash can deliver the killing blow, exiling him from the Garden for turning his back on his pledge of non-violence.  She attempts to heal Teddy, but Mash stabs her with his spear instead.  Enraged, Teddy kills him, just as the rest of the Garden's residents arrive.  They believe that Teddy has killed Kazumi, and Teddy flees as they fire arrows at him.  Debbie arrives on the scene, and everyone tells her that her man killed Kazumi.  However, Debbie tells them that they were ambushed, and Kazumi mutters her name.  Debbie has the crowd bring Kazumi to town; the fact that Kazumi's pet fox alights on her shoulder may imply that she'll be the one to succeed Kazumi.  Meanwhile, Teddy returns to their ship.  He decides to get one more fix to heal his wounds, and it activates the computers in the ship.  (I thought that it was still within the emp field, but maybe the field isn't as strong with Kazumi injured?)  Davey Trauma appears on the screen, telling Dent that he's late for work.

When I started this issue, I was just afraid that Teddy would be expelled from the Garden when he was forced to defend himself from Mash.  When Kazumi blamed Mash, I was elated.  I should've known better.  Now, we get to the crux of the matter:  Davey Trauma and Flak have been manipulating events to bring Dent to consciousness within the emp field.  Again, we still don't know how they did it.  In fact, again, it's unclear if the emp field is even active at all.  Did they manipulate Mash and his buddies into attacking Teddy as a distraction to give Mash time to kill Kazumi?  Was it always the plan?  I guess we'll see, though I'm scared of the answer.

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dragon Age: Magekiller #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I should start by noting that this series is set in Tevinter.  If you've played "Dragon Age:  Inquisition - Trespasser," then you know that it previews that "Dragon Age 4" will be set there.  As such, it seems like this series could be a prelude to that game (assuming that BioWare is actually making it).  Color me excited.

In terms of the series itself, Rucka tells an incredibly well paced story in this issue.  We're immediately introduced to Marius and Tessa, two contract killers that go after mages exclusively.  Marius is the strong, silent type (I encourage Carnero to keep drawing him shirtless...) who believes that he was born to hunt mages.  We learn that bit of information from Tessa, since she's the one that does most of the talking.  (Canero isn't mute, but he's clearly reticent to speak.  It's OK, Marius.  Just be pretty.)

To complicate matters, Marius appears to have something of a past, one (of course) shrouded in mystery.  When a servant named Flavius approaches him on behalf of a Tevinter Magister, he immediately refuses the contract, since he doesn't deal with the Imperium.  Flavius suggests that it's because Tevinter made him what he is, but Marius tells Tessa that he doesn't actually know where he's from.  (Dun-DUN-dun!)  Flavius convinces Marius to take the job by saying that the target is sacrificing children in a temple outside Minrathous, the Imperium's capital.  (So, he's the strong, silent type with a heart of gold.  Well played, Rucka.  Well played.)  But, it's a trap:  Flavius lured them there to meet the Imperium's ruler, Archon Radonis, who has his own list of targets in mind for the pair.

If you're not a "Dragon Age" fan but enjoy fantasy RPGs, I can easily recommend this series so far.  Rucka makes it accessible to basically anyone, though it'll have more meaning to you if you are a "Dragon Age" fan.  Rucka somehow manages to replicate the feel of the game, and it's a wonder to behold.  I continue to hold out hope that we're going to get a "Dragon Age" ongoing series one day, but, in the meantime, this entry into its series of mini-series seems to be worth the wait.

*** (three of five stars)

We Are Robin #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, this issue is pretty damn cool.  While Dick and Jim ransack Noctua's apartment, discovering her obsession with the Court of Owls, the Talons force Jason and Tim to face each other in a fight to the death, to discover the new "Gray Son."  (Does that mean that they're not interested in Dick?)  However, Jason and Tim maneuver their fight so that Jason can hurl Tim in the air.  Damian sees what they're doing and calls for the imprisoned Robins to hold out their hands, allowing Tim to essentially climb up the suspended cages to reach the control tower.  He opens the cages and frees the Robins, and they collectively make short work of the Talons.  They then flee to the rooftop, with Duke wondering during their flight if he's as skilled -- and crazy -- as he needs to be to become one of the "varsity" Robins.  He may get his chance to learn, since a group of much more lethal Talons are on the roof pledging to kill them all.

*** (three of five stars)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Justice League #46 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I can't say that this issue is all that exciting, but Johns does do a solid job of showing us the aftermath of Darkseid's (alleged) death.

Unexpectedly, we don't get the battle royale between the remaining members of the Justice League and the Apokoliptans.  Why, you ask?  It's because Big Barda arrives on the scene to save Mr. Miracle, making short work of Kanto and then Kalibak.  We learn that she and Scot are on their honeymoon, and Scot worries that her presence will draw the attention of the Furies.  (Barda is apparently wanted for betraying the "Black Oath" and marrying Scot.)  Barda doesn't really care and passionately kisses Scot.  This moment provokes the best moment of the issue, as Diana and Steve both avert their eyes at this display of love.  Barda makes a peace offering to Lashina, one of the Furies, telling her that she won't come after Granny Goodness if she doesn't come after them.  Lashina refuses the offering, though, again, Barda isn't really all that upset by it.

Since Batman and the Green Lantern have fallen off the grid in their search for dirt on the Anti-Monitor, Diana suggests that the League should go talk to the remaining members of the Crime Syndicate, given their previous experience with the Anti-Monitor.  (I actually forgot that the Anti-Monitor is still out there and that the League knows little about him.)  Steve says that Superwoman and Ultraman are such highly classified prisoners that even the League can't reach them, so Scot takes the team to break into Belle Rive.  Diana remains behind to find the missing members of the League, and Steve stays with her.  He tells her that she seems worried, and she admits that she is.  Johns continues to use them as his emotional anchor, as Steve begins to confess his love to Diana, fearing that they won't survive the coming days (and inspired by watching Barda and Scot as lovers and partners on the battlefield).  Perhaps proving his point, Superman arrives and grabs Steve, forcing Diana to defend him.

The biggest question mark over this issue has to do with Mobius and Grail.  We have a brief scene where Mobius interacts with someone in Shazam's fortress.  This person -- an imagine in a mirror -- observes that Mobius intends to trade the safety of the universe for his soul.  She's ready to explain what happens if he returns to his chair, but Mobius breaks the mirror before she can.  Meanwhile, Grail and her mother discover the Anti-Life Equation, and Grail implies that Mobius has "separated" from it.  Grail reclaims it, becoming the Goddess of Anti-Life.  To be honest, I'm still not really clear what happens in either scene.  These two sequences -- with Mobius and then Grail -- seem linked, but I can't yet see what the link is (beyond the Anti-Life Equation, but even then I'm guessing).  The only thing that we know that Mobius has "separated from" is his chair, so it seems to imply that the Equation is linked to the chair?  Maybe?  I guess we'll see.

Overall, though, it's a solid issue.  Again, I can't say that  I'm really all that excited about this story, particularly since we've had so many Darkseid stories lately (particularly if you include "Earth 2").  But, Johns is clearly building to something, so we'll see where we go.

*** (three of five stars)