Saturday, April 30, 2016

Batman and Robin Eternal #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Snyder and Tynion get right to the point here, using Scarecrow's conversation with Mother in the past and Jason and Tim's raid on Gnosis, "the Secret City of St. Dumas," to reveal the next stage of Mother's plans.

It's been a while since we last saw Jason and Tim, so I had trouble remembering how they discovered the existence of Gnosis.  But, given that they discovered everything relating to Mother during their raid on Santa Prisca, I'll buy the fact that they uncovered the Order of St. Dumas' secret headquarters.  Tim bluffs his way into the city by pretending to have knocked out Jason as an offering to join the Order.  Azrael is skeptical, but St. Dumas (the latest in a long line of them) sees Tim as his savior:  he orders him and Azrael to fight to the death, punishment for Azrael's failure at Santa Prisca.  If Azrael wins, he redeems himself and remains Azrael; if Tim wins, he takes over the role.  Of course, it's all a fake.  Jason escapes his confinement and makes his way through the complex, finally finding a guy to interrogate about something called "Ichthys."

In the past, Orphan encourages Mother to cut loose Scarecrow, since the Order is in the process of upgrading his fear gas into the Ichthys Formula.  Mother ignores him, ordering Crane to Cairo and Orphan to prepare "the child."  Elsewhere in Prague, Bruce receives Mother's instructions and takes Dick to Cairo, allegedly to chase Crane.  In the present, Tim plays his hand:  he engages an emp blast, disabling most of the Order's advanced technology.  He tells Dumas that they're there to learn more about the Order's connections to Mother, particularly Project Ichthys.  However, Tim is surprised to learn that Dumas is one step ahead of him.  He reveals that he retains some control over technology, disabling Tim with an electric shock and announcing that he's going to kill him and Azrael.  He also announces that Jason has already been exposed to the Ichthys Formula, and we see him starting to relive his death at the hands of the Joker.

This issue is mostly plot, but Lanzing and Kelly do a solid job of moving us through it in a way that feels mostly natural, even when Dumas begins his super-villain monologue.  (We even get a great wise-ass remark from Jason.  He confidently asserts his ability to break free from the pit where the Dumasian troops put him.  When they put an iron seal on top of it, he quips, "Alright, that's trickier.")  Moreover, the authors open the door to Azrael joining the good guys, as he hears Dumas dismiss him as a failure and pledge to kill him.  But, it's the fact that all the other existing threads are coming together -- Jason and Tim's story in the present, and Bruce and Dick's story in the past -- that makes me anxious for next issue.

*** (three of five stars)

Star Wars #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Now, it's starting to get interesting.

First, Aaron nicely answers the question that has been nagging me for a while, namely how Luke came to Vrogas Vas in the first place.  I was pretty sure that he knew a Jedi Temple existed there, but then it seemed, when "Vader Down" began, like he just happened to be there with a Rebel fleet.  But, no, he confirms in this issue that he knew that it was there, but he didn't know how to find it.  Whew.  Seriously, I thought that I had made up the whole thing.  I'm glad to get that addressed.

Moreover, it turns out the Jedi Temple isn't some dusty collection of statues.  Ben's voice warns Luke that he's not ready to be there, and you have to wonder if it has something to do with the images that he saw a few issues ago.  The place even affects Vader, as he hears quotes from his life.  It's an unfortunate time for Vader to get misty-eyed about the past, though, because he's in a fight to the death with Karbin.  Speaking of Karbin, it's his arrival on the scene earlier in the issue that lets Leia escape from Vader.  Karbin conveniently narrates his plan for Vader, informing us that he intends to kill him and take credit for his destruction of the Rebel base.  (Honestly, it seems like a pretty modest goal.  Couldn't he have just destroyed the base himself, given all the effort that he's expended to get to this point?)  He also sends his troops after Luke, presumably planning to capture him and present him as an added gift to the Emperor.  Luke manages to evade them (thanks to some help from Triple-Zero and Beetee, since they're trying to save him for Vader), but eventually gets caught.  (Of course he does.)  However, it's unclear if it's Vader or Karbin's troops that nab him.

Meanwhile, Chewie and Han fight Black Krrsantan, to little effect.  The issue ends as Threepio is trying to hail Leia, noting that the team's situation "would seem to be rather grim indeed."  Leia's a little busy at the moment, though, since she's got a gun pointed at a distracted Vader.  Next issue should be a hoot!

*** (three of five stars)


Thompson did what I hoped that he'd do here, focus less on re-telling Peter's origin story and more on telling stories that fall in the gaps of previous stories, like Slott did with "Amazing Spider-Man:  Learning to Crawl."  Peter is already familiar with Sandman here, so Thompson is able to step aside and let Bradshaw go to town.  And "go to town" he does:  this issue is beautiful in every way.  I wasn't really a huge fan of his run on "Wolverine and the X-Men," but I'm increasingly convince that he was born to draw "Spidey."  Thompson guides us through the fight via Peter's inner monologue, and I have to admit that I recognize the chatty, nerdy Peter here more than I do the arrogant, distracted Peter in the main title.  It might be a win by default, but it's a win nonetheless.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue isn't really all that heavy on plot, but it is a rollicking good time.  Spidey and Cap take the fight to Kweeg (a.k.a. Venture), and it's as awesome as I hoped that it would be.

Along the way, we do get some pieces of new information.  Cap takes Spidey to her apartment so that she can change into her uniform, and she confirms that Roberta only thinks that her family is with her in the present:  they're really in 2099.  We also learn that Roberta recognized Miguel in the split-second before he put on his costume last issue, because she had been one of his test subjects years ago.  (Apparently he hit on her.  Shocker.)  This revelation raises the question, which Miguel does Roberta think that she's encountering?  The Miguel of "Secret Wars 2099" was very different from the Miguel (or, should I say, Miguels) from the original "Spider-Man 2099" continuity.  (I'm still not really sure what we're supposed to think about continuity in the wake of "Secret Wars."  Has "Secret Wars 2099" replaced "Spider-Man 2099?"  I'm not sure I care about the answer, to be honest.)  Moving onto other mysteries, Miguel is baffled by the fact that Kweeg hasn't disappeared after an hour in the present, since he disappears every time that he spends an hour in the future.  But, the duo doesn't really have more time to share stories.  They manage to prevent Kweeg from destroying too much of Times Square, though he's ultimately rescued by a woman named Aisa from the Fist.  She asks him to join their team, with the goal of destroying the United States.  (I'm guessing that it may be the Fist that serves as the anomaly that erased Miguel's 2099, but we'll see.)

All that said, this issue is really about the fighting.  David infuses it with fun through Spidey and Cap's easy banter, most of it based around Miguel being an arrogant and somewhat sexist prat.  But, it also allows Sliney to showcase his talents.  He gives Cap wings (an homage to the present-day Cap, Sam Wilson) and, combined with Miguel's new rocket-boots, it gives us some great acrobatics that remind me of the first series, where Miguel spent not an insignificant amount of time gliding through the air.  Oh, the good ol' days.

*** (three of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Slott is so desperate to create a tone here -- though I'm still not quite sure what tone it is -- that I'm again left hardly recognizing Peter Parker.

First, Slott is trying way too hard to turn Peter into Iron Man.  We open the issue with one of his female employees feeding him dumplings on the rooftop of Parker Industries in Shanghai.  Seriously.  It's hard to say that anything about this scene -- including Peter's casual misogyny when he assumes that Min's mother, not her father, made the dumplings -- feels like Peter.  In fact, even Slott trying to highlight his misogyny is awkward, showing how much he's trying to force the story where it doesn't go naturally.  I'm still not sure why he wants to force it there, but it's clear that he does.

Second, the focus on China is starting to feel less like a way to demonstrate Peter's newly global reach and more like "Transformers:  Age of Extinction" and its pandering to a billion-person market.  I could live with that if the characters didn't feel like they were stock characters from 1970s kung-fu films.  First, we've got idealistic but dangerous Phillip Chang, Parker Industries' "lead researcher in the field of renewable energy."  He totally nonchalantly tells Peter and his investor, Mr. Qinghao, that he believes in an eco-friendly China "whatever the cost."  Dun-dun-DUN!  No, he's not going to be a bad guy at all.  Then, we've got stern and xenophobic Dr. Wu, decrying the foreigners "snooping" around Parker Industries (from the first issue) and calling in the cops without Peter's permission.  When Peter tells Wu that S.H.I.E.L.D. was on the case, Wu informs Peter that he doesn't get to make that call.  Um, I think that he does, actually?  If he doesn't, I'm not sure what "Chief Executive Officer" means anymore.  Moreover, if Peter doesn't get to make the call, it doesn't mean that Wu does.  Wu later bitches out Peter when he pulls Wu off his own research to study a patch that Mr. Negative put on a construction worker to control him.  (We'll get to that part.)  For a guy living in a quasi-totalitarian society, he doesn't really seem to get how hierarchies work.

But, it's the Mr. Negative story that serves as the actual focus of the issue.  Cloak and Dagger are still under the effects of his possession, though I can't quite remember when that happened.  ("Spider-Island?")  They break into the ship transporting him to China, though he's in his Mr. Li persona at the time.  (I still wish that Marvel would decide if Li does, or doesn't, know that he's Mr. Negative.)  Apparently, Mr. Negative has lost his powers, though again I have no idea when or how that happened.  (Seriously, an editor's note might have been useful here.)  Dagger injects Li with a drug called "shade" that Mr. Negative developed to mimic those powers, and it turns him back into Mr. Negative.  At the end of the issue, Cloak and Dagger then break into PI and use Cloak's portal to allow Mr. Negative to take possession of Peter.  It certainly doesn't bode well.

Although the Mr. Negative parts of this issue were fine, again, the Peter parts are just awful.  Slott needs to stop trying to turn him into an international playboy and let him run Parker Industries in a way consistent with his personality, a personality that probably doesn't result in rooftop dumpling-feedings.  Seriously, you can actually run a company without acting like a douchebag, even though Slott doesn't apparently believe that to be true.  It also wouldn't hurt if he stopped changing Peter's supporting cast every issue.  In other words, after six issues, it's time to settle down a bit here.

** (two of five stars)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #6 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Gaiman brings his short-story anthology to a close in this issue, as all the characters that we've previously seen in this "book" arrive in London for the Carnival that concludes five days of mourning from the victims of the Battle of London.  Meanwhile, at some similar point, Dicky Dauntless is resurrected.  Young Miracleman lives!

I recognized some of the anthology characters immediately, like the mother of Mist or the guy that climbed Olympus to get his daughter healed.  I'm pretty sure that the guy selling t-shirts was the one who lost his virginity last issue, but it took Gaiman's note at the end of the issue to remind about the existence of windmill guy.  At any rate, we watch them on their individual journeys through Carnival, and Gaiman reminds us that some diversity exists in the opinions of the people of this new world.  (It's not all a "Brave New World" Utopia.)  Mist's mother spends five days in the Killing Fields, and she refuses to put aside her grief, as you're supposed to do for Carnival.  Conversely, the father that climbed Olympus finds relief, realizing that his grief has turned into regret that his daughter isn't there to share in the moment.  Others, like the teen selling t-shirts, show little emotion of any sort:  he's just there to capitalize (literally) on the moment.  (I have to say, I loved the random Captain Britain cameo:  I totally gasped.)  If I had to try to identify a thread that runs through these stories, I'd say that Gaiman is showing us that, nine years after Johnny Bates destroyed London, people have come to grips with the fact that the world that they knew is gone.

It's the ending of the "Retrieval" back-up story that sets the stage for where we're going.  If you've spent the last few issues wondering, "Hey, if Miracleman can do all this amazing stuff, why can't he resurrect Young Miracleman?", you get your answer here.  The problem is that this story only make sense if you read Gaiman's script at the end of this issue.  Initially, I thought that the deformed corpse and the other guy in a similar uniform were random bus drivers.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out their connection to Dicky Dauntless.  It's only in reading the script that we learn that the deformed corpse was Dicky Dauntless.  (I don't get why he's deformed in his delivery-boy uniform.  Wouldn't the atomic explosion have destroyed his Miracleman body, not his "normal" body?)   Miracleman has instructed the aliens to clone Dicky from his corpse.  For reasons that I still don't understand, they're able to create both a normal body -- the other "bus driver" -- and a Miracleman body for him.  In the end, it's not essential that you follow all the gory details since you can't miss the end result:  Young Miracleman is resurrected.  But, given how easy it was to miss those details, I have to wonder what else I'm missing.

At this stage, I think the most burning question is why Miracleman resurrects Dicky now, nine years after the events in London.  Have they been working on it the whole time?  If not, is there a reason that he waited?  I'm intrigued to see how Dicky handles his return to the present, particularly since he's getting the full Captain America experience here. 

** (two of five stars)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Midnighter #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I like Orlando, but, at some point, we've got to stop treating each issue as a jumping-on point for new readers.  I mean, how many times can Midnighter tell us that he has a fight computer in his brain?  (He does it twice in this issue, in case you're wondering.)

Part of the reason why everything in this issue feels repetitive is that Midnighter is apparently the subject of a documentary film that a guy named Robert is making.  It gives Orlando an excuse to have Midnighter not only re-hash his origin story, but also to summarize his fight with Prometheus last issue. (Of note, he definitively claims that he destroyed the file in Prometheus' brain and that he killed him.)  Robert is, of course, almost immediately in love with Midnighter, but duty calls.  (I can't remember how exactly, but we'll leave it at that.)

We're introduced to a guy named Mindawe:  he has the power to create chimeras and communicate with animals through his connection to the Red.  However, a group called the Sportsman's Ambition has synthesized his abilities, without the telepathy.  It means that they can create monsters for "sportsmen" to hunt, but the animals are confused and in pain.  Midnighter helps Mindawe take down the group, and he's almost immediately onto his next mission.  He's contacted by Helena to join forces with Spyral to go after the Perdition Pistol, one of the first items that he recovered after he left the Garden.

The good news about this issue is that the new artist may not have ACO's sense of flow, but he does a great job providing more details to the characters' features (a contrast to ACO's generally sparse line-work).  The bad news is again that the story is just too sparse.  Beyond spending too much time rehashing Midnighter's origin, Orlando also jumps from plot point to plot point with little time spent on characterization.  If we had less time on the origin and not introduced Helena into next issue, Mindawe might've felt less like an afterthought.  But, he does, and it's a weaker issue for it.

** (two of five stars)