Monday, May 30, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The Rest of January 20 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Tokyo Ghost #5:  Talk about a cliffhanger.  With Teddy gone and Led Dent fully in charge (and under the influence of Davey Trauma), it seemed like Debbie was going to inject herself with the formula that Kazumi used to control the emp field.  In so doing, she would've been able to prevent Davey Trauma from taking advantage of the downed field to destroy the Garden.  However, the issue ends with the Garden destroyed, and we're not given a clear answer on how that happened.  Before injecting herself, Debbie had realized that she would never be able to be with Teddy again if she became the embodiment of the emp field.  As such, the question is whether she decided that she couldn't live without Teddy and let the detonation happen.  I guess we'll see.

Also Read:  Captain Marvel #1; Ms. Marvel #3; New Avengers #5; Pathfinder:  Hollow Mountain #3; Star Wars #14

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Note from Management

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I found myself confronted the other week with the undeniable truth that I had a 130-issue backlog and even less time than normal to get through it.  As such, we implemented some extraordinary measures around here.  I stopped reviewing every issue, threw stars out the window, and limited my reviews to a few sentences.  I'll post those reviews here in the next few days, with the hope of getting through the backlog by the end of next week.  After that, I'm going to try to learn my lesson and not necessarily review every issue I get, to make sure that I don't slip behind so much in the future.  If you're still reading, thanks for hanging in there!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Still-Not-Even-Remotely-New Comics!: The DC and Independent Comics from January 20 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #47:  As Barbara herself frets in this issue, Stewart and Fletcher are covering previously tread ground as she again struggles with her memory.  If I'm following the crumbs that they've left us correctly, a Bloom-like figure is affecting her memory through her dreams.

But, the problem is that, based on what we've seen, he's not just affecting her memory; it seems like he's affecting reality itself.  For example, Barbara tells Luke in this issue that she refuses to build the negahedron because she can't be sure that she's got the schematics right from memory.  That night, Not-Bloom restructures her memory to make it seem like she had agreed to build it.  But, his plan only works if he changed reality, not her memory:  he'd have to have gotten her retroactively to agree to build it.  After all, if he just changed her memory, she'd still have said no to Luke.  If she showed up the next day believing that she had said yes, he'd clearly know that something was wrong.  In fact, Not-Bloom would've also had to have changed her feelings as well:  otherwise, she could've woken up the next morning, remembered that she agreed to build it, dismissed that decision as odd, and again decided not to build it.  In another example, we now know that she tipped off the cops to the gang-banger whose mother she met a few issues ago.  But, it was pretty clear that Babs had no intention of calling the cops when she met the woman.  As such, her memory is correct:  she didn't call the cops.  For her to have called the cops, Not-Bloom would have to have gotten her retroactively to call the cops (after she decided not to do so) and then made her forget that she did so.

In other words, it's a mess.  Thrown into the mix, we've also got Babs' friend Greg rifling through her underwear drawer.  He arrived after Babs started having memory problems, so I'm hoping that he's not Not-Bloom (because it's too obvious), but, the way this series is going, I wouldn't be surprised.  I have a few other nitpicks from this issue -- like Spoiler knowing that Corporal Punishment has "electric muscles" in their fight with her at the GCPD -- but it doesn't seem worth it to mention.  This series is already sinking, so I don't need to add weight to it.

[On a side note, this issue seems to hint where "Batman" is going in the next few issues.  First, we see the "Batman Army" that Geri Powers seems to activate in issue #48 (but we don't actually see), and Gordon for the first time complains about a corrupt Powers using the GCPD as her own army.] 

* (one of five stars)

Batman and Robin Eternal #16:  I should love this issue.  The story is everything that I've ever wanted.  St. Dumas uses the Ichthys virus that the Order created for Mother to force Red Hood to re-live his worst fear:  his death at the hands of the Joker.  This time, though, Ichthys gives him the chance to change the outcome; the catch is that he'll succumb to the virus -- and become a mindless assassin for Mother -- if he wins.  We learn that Ichthys works by making the subject lose all fear -- and, thus, his humanity -- if he defeats his worst fear through strength.  Tim is somehow able (in a way that the authors don't explain) to infiltrate Jason's nightmare and convince him that he's not a psychopath:  he's always been a hero, a Robin.  Believing him, Jason allows the Joker kill him again to prove it.  When he awakens from the nightmare, he tells Tim that he hasn't been OK for a long time, but he thinks that he might be on that path now.  The issue ends with Jason observing that Bruce thought that he was building an army of child soldiers as Mother was, but they decided to become a family instead.  It's their weapon against Mother, and it's a brilliant observation on the part of Snyder and Tynion.  (It does take away the agency from Bruce for creating that family, a position that I hope Snyder and Tynion correct by the end of the series).  We're left feeling like it's the moment, where Jason definitely returns to the Bat-family.  It's the one that I though we had at the end of "Death of the Family," but later came undone when Bruce ruined it in his drive to resurrect Damian.  The only reason that I didn't love this issue is that something in the execution is wrong.  I've always found Lanzing and Kelly's scripts lacking in heart, doing little more than conveying information and not emotion.  This issue is another example of that.  Moreover, the use of three artists means that we don't get the consistent facial expressions and body language that we need to really feel these moments -- everyone has oddly frozen smiles or blank faces.  I'm going to try not to imagine what Tomasi and Capullo could've done with this story and just be happy that we may be seeing Jason's continuing (and possible final) return.

*** (three of five stars)

Dragon Age:  Magekiller #2:  When the Archon tells Marius and Tessa that their target is the four leaders of the Venatori, I realized that we were dealing with a time period before the Rift opened in "Dragon Age:  Insurrection."  I was -- and continue to be -- excited about this development, since the game itself never went into much detail about the Venatori.  They were simply the cult that helped Corypheus put his plans into motion, full stop.  To be honest, Rucka doesn't go into too much more detail about them here, either.  Marius and Tessa make quick work (if you consider three hits involving careful planning "quick") of the first three leaders, only to discover that the last one, Calpernia, is Marius' former lover.  Along the way, we begin piecing together Marius' past, learning that he was a slave that somehow earned his freedom.  I'm still confused why the first issue implied that Marius actually forgot his past, as opposed to wanting to forget it, but it seems likely that Rucka will delve into it further, particularly because we still need the scoop on his relationship with Calpernia.  All we know at this point is that Marius calls off the hit on her and that he and Tessa spend months fleeing the Archon's assassins for their betrayal.  Rucka then confirms the story's time frame on the last page when we see the Rift open above the pair, moments after they've dispatched the latest group of assassins.  At this point, I'm intrigued to see where Rucka takes us, because he's got so many options:  Marius' past as a slave, his relationship with Calpernia, the status of the Venatori now that three of its leaders have been killed, the opening of the Rift, etc.  Looking at that, it's actually probably too many options, but we'll see which ones Rucka tackles.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Batman #48 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I tried to be excited about this issue, given that Snyder is clearly building to the grand finale, but its extreme pathos so bogs down the story that I was just waiting for it to finish.

We have two different stories happening concurrently in this issue.  First and foremost, we have the conversation between Bruce and the Joker on the park bench.  It could've been great, but Snyder is so heavy-handed in hinting that the Joker may already remember his past that it becomes eyeroll-inducing.  In theory, the Joker is making a pitch for Bruce to use his position in society to save their spot by the lake so that it doesn't become infested by bugs that kill the fish, like it was in the past.  He urges Bruce to stay focused on small problems (like the bugs) now that he's a private citizen and not "huge, city-wide threats" like he did when he ran Wayne Enterprises.  However, Snyder strongly hints here that the Joker isn't really talking about the fish.  The Joker mentions that he, too, was injured in the Joker's attack on Gotham, but I'm pretty sure that Bruce didn't mention that he was injured during that attack.  (Are we supposed to believe that the Joker knows about it because the media covered Bruce being attacked?)  He also pulls a gun on Bruce to show how the lake gave him hope, preventing him from committing suicide (hence why he wants to save it).  But, it seems more like he's invoking Bruce's parents' murder.  The Joker is reminding him that he has a chance this time to put it behind him, since the gun doesn't provoke the same reaction that it did before he lost his memory.  These hints come together to imply that the Joker doesn't want to become the Joker again and he knows that he will have to do so if Bruce becomes Batman again.  But, then again, maybe he isn't.  Snyder is too clever by half in walking the line between the story and the meta-story, so I'm not really even sure what I'm supposed to think.  For example, we're not told why the Joker wouldn't want to be the Joker again, making it hard to understand his plea here.

The good news is that the second story is a lot easier to follow.  Bloom is rampaging through Gotham, having grown to a great height.  He reveals that he's hidden 1,000 seeds throughout the city to help citizens get the power that they need to fight the government.  He implies in his overly long speech that he was once a civil servant destined to be buried in a potter's field, so it sounds like his origin is going to be something along the lines of a forensic scientist that experienced an accident that gave him his powers.  (I'm going with "forensic scientist" since it had to be someone with the knowledge to make the seeds and the connection to Gordon that Bloom has mentioned on several occasions.)  However, it turns out the seeds really function as bombs, as we learn when one of the kids at Bruce's day-care injects one into her bloodstream and explodes.  Why Bloom is using the seeds to detonate people isn't clear, but I assume that we'll get there at some point.  At any rate, the death of the girl makes Bruce face reality, and he knocks down Alfred's door demanding to see his cave.

On the plus side, Snyder and Capullo do an excellent job of showing Bloom as a serious threat to Gotham.  He not only towers over the city as he marches through it, but it's not hard to draw a line to 1,000 other Blooms doing the same thing and the havoc that it would cause.  As such, it makes it easy to understand why Bruce decides that he has to face his past.  After all, he and Julie wouldn't have much of a future if Gotham is destroyed.  Earlier in the issue, when the Joker appealed for his help at the lake, Bruce shrugged his shoulders, wondering if anyone could really do anything that mattered.  It makes sense that seeing the little girl detonate herself would shake him from this position, making him realize that it's worth trying to make the world a better place.

On the negative side, this fairly solid story-telling position is undermined by just an incredible amount of monologuing.  Between the Joker and Bloom, this issue is essentially two extended monologues.  (In fact, Bloom is so Joker-esque, as a chaos agent, that you could essentially consider it one character speaking throughout the issue.)  Both speeches are needlessly repetitive, and I'm with Jim Gordon when he basically asks Bloom to kill him so that he doesn't have to listen to Bloom anymore.  It's probably not the reaction Snyder wanted, but there it is.

** (two of five stars)

Not-Even-Remotely-New Comics!: The Rest of January 13 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

If you're still reading this blog, you'll notice that I'm even more untimely than usual, slipping three full months behind schedule.  As such, I'm going to try to expedite the review process by summarizing most issues in combined posts.  If I have a lot to say about an issue in particular, I'll still go with a long-form post.  But, until I make my way through the backlog, I think less is more at this point.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4:  Yup, I'm definitely over this series.  The dialogue is so flat that it almost feels like Bendis is using a computer program to write it, combining random words to create sentences.  Moreover, everyone's power continues to fluctuate.  Whereas a cosmically powered Gamora remains unable to even land a punch on Hala, a normally powered Thing obliterates her simply by jumping on her, essentially repeating the events of issue #2.  It underlines that Bendis doesn't seem to have anything original to say here, banking on our affection for these characters keeping us returning each month.  Unfortunately, it's no longer enough for me.  Smell you later, Guardians. 

* (one of five stars)

Mighty Thor #3:  I'm not really sure what Aaron was trying to do here.  This issue is essentially one incredibly long monologue from Loki, where he tries to convince Jane that he's turned over a new leaf and wants to become a Loki that could make Freya proud.  But, for a reason that Aaron never really explains, he's surrounded by previous incarnations of himself, and they all want what Loki has always wanted in the past:  a dead Thor.  Not surprisingly, they fail to defeat Jane, and we learn that all Loki really wanted was to die with Thor, as Roxxon's bombs rain upon Alfheim.  It's never an easy thing to try to determine what Loki's true motivations are, but I'm really at a loss here to determine what Aaron wants us to believe Loki was doing.  After all, he ends the issue with Loki watching Jane fall to Alfheim after saving it from the missiles, hoping that he didn't just witness the last moments of Thor.  But, a few minutes ago, didn't he say he was there to die with her?  Honestly, I have no idea.

** (two of five stars)

Red Wolf #2:  Edmonson does a pretty solid job of showing Red Wolf's disorientation over finding himself in the future without getting too melodramatic about it.  In fact, it's really just background to the issue's main story, namely the drug wars raging in Santa Rosa.  A drug-dealer named Bly has sent his snake-handling enforcer to scare everyone in town into getting in line, and it seems like the only thing between him and success are the honest sheriff and deputy that Red Wolf meets in this issue.  Edmonson keeps us guessing when it comes to how long Red Wolf is going to be in the future, instead encouraging us to focus on the "Breaking Bad' story that he's weaving here.  It's not necessarily the most enthralling story, but we'll see where we go from here.

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny Avengers #4:  Duggan surprises me here, getting me to care about Synapse in a way that I haven't previously.  It logically happens when she decides to take on her grandfather, dismissing his threat that he'd defeat the Avengers as something that she'd heard before.  In other words, Duggan shows us the moment that Synapse started believing that she was an Avenger, and it gives this series the heart that it's been missing.  Not surprisingly, it's Deadpool who brings the humor:  the moment depicted on the cover -- of Rogue throwing him at their enemies, declaring it the "Oddball Special" -- is probably the only moment of real camaraderie in this series so far.  Duggan also wraps up the story solidly:  Cable reveals that he developed a serum to remove the Inhumans' immunity to the plague, and he injects Synergy with it to force the Shredded Man to save her -- and, by extension, everyone else.  Unfortunately, Duggan doesn't reveal why Synergy killing the Shredded Man would've produced the world that we saw in Cable's future, as Cable insists would happen here.  It would've been nice to know, given that the entire premise of this arc was preventing that future.  Duggan also weirdly reveals that the team's "secret mission" is to hunt down the Red Skull and retrieve Xavier's brain.  I call it "weird" because it's revealed in an awkward and passing moment of dialogue between Cable and Cap, as Steve tries to get Cable to stay on the team.  It also makes me realize that I can't even remember how "AXIS" ended -- I was pretty sure the Red Skull died, didn't he?  So, although Duggan managed to stick a wobbly landing for this arc, I think that we still have work to do in getting this series where it needs to be.

** (two of five stars)

Darth Vader #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Favorite Quote:  "Leia!  I knew you'd never abandon us.  I mean, me."  "As if I could ever get rid of you this easily."  -- Han and Leia, with the banter

This event has been a bit uneven, veering from the hilariously chaotic to the confusingly vague.  But, Gillen sticks the landing, showing the emotional impact that it's had on the characters and, therefore, making it clear that it was definitely a "moment" in their lives.  In so doing, it also fleshes out some of the details about these lives that we've all craved.

For all her commitment as a commander in the issue -- where she told Han that she was willing to sacrifice Luke to take down Vader -- Leia is unable to do so as a soldier.  When Threepio describes the dire circumstances that her friends face, she passes up the opportunity to take out Vader, since she can't get pulled into his fight with Karbin:  she has other fights that she now has to win.  (Namely, she has to punch out Aphra as she's holding the guys hostage.)

In many ways, this issue is LaRocca's.  The pivotal moments all come by his hand.  He conveys the conflicting emotions that Leia feels as she contemplates taking out Vader but then finding her dead friends' corpses if she doesn't respond to Threepio's call for help.  He gets across Karbin's surprise to find himself in the middle of a trap himself, using a full page to show how small he is compared to Aphra's ship as it slams into him.  Finally, he makes clear the threat that Vader poses all on his own, standing on a rock outcropping, his cape whipping around him, and using the Force to take down the shuttle transporting Luke to Karbin's ship.

In the end, Vader is definitely the worse for the wear after this event.  Most direly, he's lost Aphra to the Rebels.  Although she did her best in this issue to try to win back his trust -- lest he think that she really did lead him into that Rebel fleet at the start of the event -- it's hard to see him ever trusting her after she spends some time answering the Rebels' questions about him.  That said, he has managed to defeat Karbin, striking off one more enemy from his list.  But, for a guy with a list as long as Vader's, does it really matter?

Meanwhile, Luke is similarly in a dark place.  Before this event began, he escaped Nar Shadda with only Ben's journal.  For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, he leaves Vrogas Vas believing that he'll never be able to return to explore the Temple.  (Seriously, he couldn't just return after the Empire's troops leave?)  But, Gillen also makes it clear why Ben was so concerned that Luke would find the Temple last issue:  the last scene -- of Vader watching Luke depart on the Falcon -- makes it clear that Luke would've learned the truth about his father.  I have to agree with Ben, that he wasn't ready to learn that.  But, it also means that Luke has lost more answers about his -- and the Jedis' -- past than he even knows.

*** (three of five stars)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ultimates #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, this issue is boring.  In fact, it's the issue where I decided that I just can't do it with this series anymore.  I've still got an issue or two in my pile, so I'll post about those issues when I get to them.  But, otherwise, I'm done.  In this issue, Monica casually tells Carol that she thinks that she's actually naturally made of light, that her human form is actually the construct.  Upping the power sweepstakes, America punches a path outside the known Universe for the team, suffering nothing more serious than a nosebleed.  The premise of why they go to the edge of the Universe is interesting:  the Black Panther and Blue Marvel want to examine the damage that the heroes of Earth have done to the timestream.  But, this premise just can't compensate for the fact that Ewing is doing little to make me feel emotionally invested in these characters, even ones that I've followed for years, like America, Carol, and Monica.  When everyone is a god, noting is interesting.

** (two of five stars)

Spider-Gwen #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I literally got chills on the last page of this issue.  latour4ever

I've been one of the legion of people to praise Latour for breaking the mold when it comes to telling an alternate-universe story.  He does so by going beyond the usual shtick of turning a good guy into a bad guy (or vice versa).  Instead, he approaches the difference with more nuance, like having Matt Murdock be the Kingpin's consigliere or turning Frank Castle into a crusading detective.  Instead of just turning the setting into opposite world, as many authors of these sorts of stories usually do, he pushes his characters along a line of behavior and morality.  The result is a recognizable but different character.  Frank is still crazy, but as a law-and-order type of guy.  Matt is still crafty, but as the epitome-of-evil type of guy.  In these cases, this difference makes you understand the original character's personality even better than you previously did.

The proof of this thesis that he's not just randomly inverting people comes in the scene in this issue where Gwen, Harry, and Peter are playing "Dungeons & Dragons."  Such geektastic pursuits didn't exist in the 1960s when Stan Lee first wrote "Amazing Spider-Man;" the only way to show that Peter was a nerd was to have him studying all the time.  Latour takes advantage of the ability to update the story in a totally believable way:  of course, Peter would be a Dungeon Master.  Similarly, Gwen Stacy was an interesting character back in the day because she wasn't just a pretty blond girl created to serve as Peter's "reward;"  she had hidden depths that made her a much more three-dimensional character.  Again, Lee didn't get to explore those depths to the extent that Latour can here, by having Gwen be the drummer in a band or playing "Dungeons & Dragons."  It shows how everyone is moved along the aforementioned line and not just to the opposite side of the circle.  As a result, everything feels more real.

It's Harry's slide along this line that's the most interesting and relevant part of the story.  In this issue, Peter has taken the nickname that bullies at school gave Harry -- the Green Goblin, as we saw last issue -- and turned it into a player character.  Honestly, it's AMAZING.  "Pumpkin bomb +3?"  Nerdgasm extraordinaire.  But, Latour's cleverness isn't just taking the name "Green Goblin" and applying it to such a beautiful package:  nerd culture, Harry's nickname, his alter ego, etc.  It also sets up a fight between the three of them.  Peter's feelings are hurt when Harry rejects the character, and Gwen chastises Harry, telling him that Peter had worked hours on it.  Harry tells Gwen that he refuses to embrace that name, because he won't allow the bullies to beat down his spirit the way that they've done to Peter.  The argument gives context to the fight between Gwen and Harry -- or Spider-Woman and Green Goblin, more directly -- in this issue.  To Harry, Spider-Woman toyed with Peter as he died, and Harry was unable to stop it.  For all his bluster that he wasn't going to let anyone break him, he couldn't stop Spider-Woman from doing it to Peter.  He's angry for that, and he wants revenge.

During the fight, we learn the truth about Harry.  After Peter died, Harry tried to get his father and then S.H.I.E.L.D. to improve upon Peter's formula.  When they refused, Harry went to S.I.L.K., and they experimented on the wounded S.H.I.E.L.D. officers and Dr. Connors, as we saw in issue #2.  Latour makes it clear that Harry has stepped over a line, and he can't return.  Throughout the fight, Gwen contemplates something similar.  She realizes that she toyed with Peter when they fought and that she's doing the same thing now, with Harry.  It comes from her sense of powerlessness, and she realized that Peter felt powerless, too.  Peter tried to hurt people to make them pay for giving him this sense of powerlessness, turning him into a monster.  Gwen realizes that she needs to take the higher road to avoid a similar fate, but it's too late:  Harry has already upped the stakes.  He detonates a pumpkin bomb and then ingests more Lizard mutagen to finish off Gwen.  Gwen begs him to stop, but Harry insists that he's in control.  He sees himself as Peter's greatest idea come to life, and he takes off Gwen's mask as he gets ready to kill her.  He discovers that she's Gwen, and she drops a twenty-sided die that she's been carrying with her as she loses consciousness.  At that moment, Harry has a psychotic break, and the Green Goblin is truly born.

Honestly, the whole issue is just brilliant.  Beyond everything that I've already complimented, Latour does a spectacular job of conveying Gwen and Harry's emotions throughout their battle, reminding us that they're really just grieving teenagers trying to cope with powers that they can't control or understand.  While Gwen is realizing that she has to live with the responsibilities that come with her powers, Harry is going the other direction, seeing the power as a means to get whatever end he wants.  Again, it's different, but recognizable.  I can't wait to see where Latour goes with it.

***** (five of five stars)

Extraordinary X-Men #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Lemire gets to the point pretty quickly here, though the catch -- that "Cyclops" is actually a clone that Sinister created from Scott's DNA -- is spoiled in a great example of pet peeve #1.

Once the X-Men realize that they're not dealing with Scott, the battle gets easier.  The clone begins to lose corporal coherence and Jean discovers that it isn't capable of actual thought, allowing the team to change its goal to destroying it humanely.  As the fight spills onto the street, it thrusts the X-Men into the open, seemingly for the first time in a while.  But, it also gives them the opportunity to show that they're the good guys.  Bobby frees an Inhuman trapped under a bus; when the kid says that he was afraid Bobby wouldn't help him because he was an Inhuman, Bobby tells him that he'd save him because he was an X-Man.  Meanwhile, Sinister comes to the conclusion that mutantkind is doomed, since the Inhuman DNA in the clone seems more dominant than the mutant DNA.  Eventually, the clone explodes.  Storm then addresses the crowd, telling them that they have nothing to fear from mutantkind; she reminds them that it's mutantkind, not humans, that are dying from the Terrigen Mists.  She offers all mutants and their families sanctuary at X-Haven, and pledges to help anyone in the world -- human, Inhuman, or mutant -- that needs it.  However, she also makes it clear that the X-Men will defend themselves (and mutantkind) if attacked.  The X-Men return home, where Anole tells them that all sorts of mutants have contacted them and Forge says that Maria Hill has offered S.H.I.E.L.D.'s help.  The issue closes with Jean convincing Logan to join the X-Men full-time.

All in all, it's a solid ending for this first arc.  I can't say that I was particularly moved by Storm's speech, but that has less to do with Lemire and more to do with the fact that we've seen countless X-Men leaders deliver a similar one over the last 30 or 40 years.  But, it does seem to put the legacy of "Secret Wars" firmly behind us:  the X-Men are no longer in hiding and scattered.  We finish this arc with them reassembled with a clear purpose, to save mutantkind.  It's a pretty good jumping-off point, even if we're still not clear on what Scott did.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Captain America: Sam Wilson #5 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First:  Misty signing the visitor's log to fight the Serpent Society is so far my favorite moment in comics this year.

Under Spencer's care, Viper has truly become a top-flight villain, an unrestrained apologist for the free market that sees the so-called "welfare state" as preventing America from achieving its promised glory. (His comments about the Clean Air Act killing the market for filtration devices and gas masks made me LOL.)  But, Spencer also shows that he's capable of heart here, as we get the full details on why Rachel eventually returned to the Society.  She had been engaged to Constrictor, who had also left the Society.  But, he got sick, and his lack of insurance prevented Rachel from getting him the help that he needed.  He dies, and Rachel loses everything.  She's forced into stripping again, but Viper visits her, telling her that they've turned her into a mouse when she used to be a serpent.  Renaud does an amazing job on this sequence, using nuanced facial expressions to show us Rachel's spirit getting broken step-by-step.

But, Spencer doesn't let this heart get in the way of political commentary:  after all, corporations convincing the working class that they shouldn't be restrained by government regulations to keep them safe or pay taxes to support the safety net that sustains them describes the civil war happening in the Republican Party right now.  (Spencer even brings this corporate spin to Donald Trump's wall, with Viper noting that he's got a line of friends in the construction industry that'd love to build it with some no-bid contracts.)

But, Sam eventually tells Viper to shove his ad-man pitch about getting people to feel fear and hate because it gets their blood pumping and convinces them to buy stuff.  Sam's comments gives Viper the sads, so he throws Sam out the window.  It's the moment where we get to the point of the issue:  the introduction of the new Falcon.  Redwing alerts Joaquin to Sam's plight, and he ditches D-Man (who's been acting as his nanny, essentially) and makes his way to the Serpent Solutions HQ.  He saves Sam (even if their landing isn't exactly soft), only to find himself with an injured Cap-Wolf facing down an angry Serpent Society.  Trial by fire, kid!

As much as I like the political commentary -- and I do -- I'm not sure if I could take another issue of Viper's monologues.  But, it looks like Spencer is going to wrap up this arc in the next issue, with the long-awaited battle royale.  Less talking, more fighting, here we come!

*** (three of five stars)

Black Knight #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

At this stage, we really need some sort of explanation for why Steve has such a mad-on for Dane, because, without it, Steve is starting to look seriously unhinged.  Hopefully we'll get it next issue, though I'm starting to have my doubts.

In this issue, Dane gathers a group of allies in the days before the Avengers arrive, and they agree to help him fend off their impending invasion.  (The frog people have apparently dealt with the Hulk previously, so their leader is able to verify Dane's assessment that they're a threat to their rule on Weirdworld.)  When the Avengers do arrive, Steve claims that they're just there for Dane.  But, the Apelantean (I know) leader says what we're all thinking:  why are the Avengers putting so much energy into tracking down Dane?

Sure, we learn in this issue that he's killed more people than Carnivore.  (We get this information from an expert on the Black Knights and the Ebony Blade who conveniently arrives on the scene of the crime with exposition.)  Dane is several steps ahead of the Avengers at this point, and he steals a Quinjet to fly to the Bermuda Triangle, where the Blade has told him to go (though not in so many words). The Avengers arrive, but they're too late:  a portal to Weirdworld opens, and Dane takes it.

We may now have the explanation (of a sort) behind Dane's new residency in Weirdworld, but I still don't understand why Cap cares so much about Dane escaping.  If Cap cared about Dane, it would be one thing.  But, Tieri makes it pretty clear that he's really just there to see justice served.  But, again, as I mentioned last issue, Steve is all sorts of comfortable with certain murderers, like Deadpool or his son Ian or Wolverine.  I think Tieri really has to try to reconcile why Steve is willing to go to such incredibly long lengths (literally) to bring Dane home before this arc ends, even if he does so by showing that Steve's really more interested in helping him.  It'd be a total lie, but I'm willing to buy it for convenience's sake.

Also, the snake people seem ready to attack now that Steve has knocked Dane unconscious.  Maybe a team-up will forgive all sins?  Given how heavy on exposition these past three issues have been, it'd be fun to just spend an issue smashing stuff.

** (two of five stars)

Amazing Spider-Man #1.2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Honestly, this issue is embarrassingly awful.  It's like listening to your uncle tell groan-inducing jokes at Christmas while your grandmother rants about the way things were in her day and your nephew screams at you about Bernie Sanders.

It has become clear that the entire premise of this mini-series was for Molina to get a soapbox to complain about Raúl Castro.  (If I thought the Bloomberg crack last issue was bad, I realize now that Molina was just getting started.)  In fact, Molina is so over the top here in denouncing Castro that it starts to feel like one of those anti-drug issues from the 1980s.  Molina doesn't even really make an effort to explain why Spider-Man has to go to Cuba.  The Santerians simply tell him that the resurrected man from last issue went there after the Uncle Ben Foundation refused his request for treatment, and he returned angry.  They beg Spidey to go to find out what happened to Julio in Cuba, even though, as Spidey observes, they could simply ask Julio himself.  Apparently, people are keeping them from Julio, so Spidey has to go to Cuba.  Obviously, they can't go, because Raúl banned them.  Of course he did.  (I know, it's terrible.)  So, Spidey goes to Cuba, and he learns all about santería and terrible Raúl, and, OMG, I can't believe Marvel is letting Molina publish his pamphlet as a comic book.  Also, Uncle Ben returns.  Yup.

To make matters worse, Peter is a boarish and racist asshole throughout the issue.  In other words, his characterization is as awful as it was last issue.  Even Bianchi's beautiful artwork can't save this "mini-series."  How I loath you, Marvel Point One issues.

(zero of five stars)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

All-New, All-Different Avengers #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Waid wraps up this introductory arc nicely, though he leaves a number of loose ends on the table that I'm sure will return to bite the Avengers in the proverbial ass at some point.

We begin the issue with Thor resuscitating a drowned Nova, leading Vision to remark that knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an interesting skill for the God of Thunder to possess.  (Cap hilariously remarks, "Even in Asgard, people drawn, Vision.")  The gang regroups to follow Warbringer, as the other pieces of the artifact have now drawn him to the third and final piece.  Mr. Gryphon explains to Warbringer that the assembled item will allow him to open a gate to an "army of ravenous Chitauri marauders" eager to help him conquer Earth.  Gryphon tells Warbringer that his only request in return for this power is that he needs the pieces of the artifact once Warbringer opens the gate.  Gazing into said gate, Warbringer notices that the soldiers that he sees on the other side don't wear uniforms or bear weapons that he recognizes.  At that point, Gryphon disappears, and the Avengers attack.

Nova manages to buy the team some time by attacking Warbringer directly as they try to figure out a plan.  They decide to have Miles use his Spider-Speed to assemble the artifact, open the portal, and then destroy it immediately.  (I'm not 100% sure why he couldn't just destroy the pieces, but I think that it had to do with the fact that the portal had already manifested it.  He had to open it to destroy it...I think.)  Complicating matters, the item appears to be resurrecting the corpses in the graveyard where they stand.  (It's really Mr. Gryphon in the shadows, and he appears to want the corpses to grab the artifact from Miles.)  Miles does as he told (to Gryphon's fury) and the gate -- and Warbringer -- disappear.  The Avengers regroup, and they note that they still don't understand Warbringer's motives.  Thor observes that he spoke like a warlord with a vendetta and called Nova by name, but Vision provides Sam a save, noting that Warbringer has inevitably encountered other members of the space-faring Nova Corps.  Iron Man then observes that they all upped their games when fighting at each other's side so, as the sole remaining active original Avenger, he suggests that they become...the Avengers!

Elsewhere, Warbringer arrives on the other side of the portal (possibly thrown there by Sam).  He encounters some of the aforementioned soldiers and realizes that they're actually from the Chitauri's distant future.  Annoyed by his ravings, one of the soldiers kills him.  Meanwhile in the epilogue, Sam thanks Vision for the save...only to have Vision blackmail him, noting that Sam is in his debt.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue.  Waid makes it perfectly clear that Warbringer was just the tool for "Mr. Gryphon" to assemble the artifact, and the Avengers spoiled his plans.  That said, I'm still not entirely sure why Gryphon couldn't assemble it on his own or why he needed to use Chitauri from the future as bait, but I get the sense that we're going to get more information on Gryphon and his plans for the artifact soon.  Meanwhile, Waid leaves several hints throughout the issue -- the most obvious one being the blackmail attempt -- that Vision's "emotion-dectomy" might make him a threat to the team.  Sound familiar?

*** (three of five stars)

All-New X-Men #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Hopeless continues to do a great job getting into the kids' heads in this issue.  Despite the fact that we're dealing with a group of mutant teenagers who just broke into a police station, Hopeless makes their conversations feel totally natural, like they're arguing at the student union whether they should vote for Bernie or Hillary.

The Ghosts find themselves in a pickle when they discover that the cops have already circled the station by the time that they're ready to escape.  Hannah and "Juice," the two women on the team, argue that they're outmatched and need to surrender.  On the other hand, the guys fill out the spectrum of responses:  Sebastian is panicked, Jeremy (or Pillar) is aggressive (wanting to take the fight to the cops), and Thirst (or Austin) struggles in making a decision for the group.  Scott makes the astute -- if not terribly helpful at the moment -- comment that they just all need to lie on the floor of the station and wait for the cops to come, because mutants don't get a second chance to put down their weapons.  They are their weapons and the cops'll kill them on live TV.

But, a decision is made for them when the X-Men arrive to help address the situation.  They take down the guys (because the women decline to get involved) and then they all turn themselves into the police.  But, Jeremy regains consciousness at the wrong time and threatens the cops.  They order them to stand down, and Austin gets edgy, threatening to drown everyone.  Hopeless really does a great job of escalating this situation:  Hannah and Juice are pleading for everyone to be calm, and you turn the page not really sure what you're going to see happen.

The answer is that Scott finds himself.  Hank had sent in Pickles with his visor, and Scott emerges from the shadows, deflecting with his optic blast a bullet shot at Thirst.  With everyone recording him on their phones, he says that mutant kids should get to make mistakes without immediately getting killed for it.  He says that he's tired of hiding and pledges to win back the name "Cyclops."  The issue ends with him thanking Hank for believing in him and the team riding into the sunset...unaware of a grim epilogue that seems to involve Toad pledging to kill Scott.

The joy of this issue is more the character study of Scott and the Ghosts than the superhero shenanigans.  Hopeless makes an emotional pitch for tolerance here, and Marvel seems to be positioning this Scott as the real Scott, given the death of the older one.  It's a clever way to go, to be honest.  When Scott went bad and proceeded to get worse, it was hard to see how he was believably going to be able to become a good guy again.  (The "believably" part is important.   I've always rolled my eyes every time someone like Magneto or Colossus suddenly stops finding themselves in the crosshairs of law enforcement, even though they were the most-wanted person on Earth in the previous issue.)  Now, I'll admit that I hope that we somehow get to see San Francisco Scott at some point in the future, because I actually liked him.  But, for the time being, this approach works, too.

**** (four of five stars)

All-New Hawkeye #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

One of the constants through the various iterations of this series is that everyone accepts without question that Clint and Kate don't have a romantic relationship.  Sure, they have their moments of sexual tension, but their relationship is mostly a refutation of the "When Harry Met Sally" premise that men and women can't be friends.

Clint is reminded of the importance of that relationship when he goes to visit Barney on the small island that he bought.  (Whether the "he" in that sentence is Barney or Clint is one of the on-going jokes of the issue.)  Barn has gained some weight and is enjoying retired life on the island.  He tells Clint that it feels good not to be running anymore, and Clint bristles when Barney implies that he's still running.  In the end, Barney gives him one last piece of advice.  He tells him that Kate has always been his best relationship because he didn't make the mistake of getting romantically involved with her.  He tells Clint that she's his anchor, and he encourages him to fix their relationship because he's frankly a mess.

But, Lemire also reminds us that it's important for Kate as well.  Kate sends home a nice guy that she met the previous night when he made the mistake of getting her coffee.  She calls America to tell her about it, and America tells her that she's starting to sound like the other Hawkeye.  Although America isn't Clint's biggest fan, it's clear that she also thinks that Kate is lost.  Lemire is implying here that Kate might bring Clint order, but he gives her direction.

These streams inform the future narrative that plays in the background, as Clint and Kate engage in a doomed mission to free the Project:  Communion kids from S.H.I.E.L.D.  As Kate holds the body of one of the kids (after Maria Hill shot her), she tells Clint that it's his fault, that they should've never left the kids.  But, this future fades as Clint approaches Kate in the present, telling her the same thing.  It took them awhile to find each other, but it looks like the Hawkeyes are the Hawkeyes again.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Wars #9 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite all odds, Hickman actually makes this story understandable, at least in terms of the big picture.

If I'm correctly putting the pieces together, Reed ultimately acknowledges that Doom did a good thing:  he saved the Multiverse from destruction.  But, Doom's failure was the fact that he couldn't see beyond what he could rule:  his goal was dominion, and it limited his imagination.  In their final confrontation, Doom accuses Reed of thinking that he's better than he is, and Reed tells him that he's wrong:  he's just always thought that Victor could be better than what he is.  Doom asks Reed if he believes that he could've done better with all this power, and Reed says even Doom knows that he could.  Doom agrees, and Owen, hearing this confession, switches sides.

In the ensuing explosion, T'Challa holds onto either the orange or yellow Infinity Gem and finds himself on Wakanda, realizing that the plan (whatever it actually was) worked.  He tells a group of his young citizens that Wakanda is going to lead humanity to the stars, announcing the formation of Alpha Flight.  (The fact that "Ultimates" actually debuted months ago somewhat spoils the impact.)  The only other moment connected to a future series features Miles:  as he and Peter are exiting the White Space, Owen thanks him for the hamburger that he gave him a few issues ago, telling him that he owes him one.  That favor is revealed to the resurrection of Miles' mother.

Unfortunately, if you're a fan of the Ultimate Universe, we don't get any more answers for you.  The title card informs us that the Earth that we see here is "the Prime Earth" of the Marvel Universe.  It seems entirely possible that Miles and the Maker are the only Ultimate Universe counterparts to survive "the End," since, if I'm not mistaken, they're the only ones who we've seen so far.  Notably, Miles' typeface has changed, from the Ultimate format of lower-caps to the Marvel format of all-caps.  I'm guessing that we're going to have to wait for his series to get any more information on this front.  After all, the Maker appeared in "New Avengers," but I'm still not entirely sure what his deal was.

The good news is that Hickman does wrap up the major loose end, namely, how exactly Reed fixes everything.  Not surprisingly, Valeria provides the answer.  Earlier in the issue, when Owen told Reed that he was hungry, Reed responded that he imagined "an infinite number of missing mouths not being fed [would] do that."  It's our first hint that Victor hadn't really done everything that he could to resurrect the Multiverse.  After all, why would Owen be proverbially sitting on missing mouths?  According to Valeria, Owen is a "human repository of unlimited power."  Victor squandered that power by not using it to its potential; Reed is able to direct it better.  It's Franklin, a "universal shaper," that starts the process.  He creates the Universes and hands them to Reed, who uses Owen's power to make them reality.  Owen then splits off a part of himself to go with the new Universe (heh) as an anchor and, in the process, has begun making himself whole.

Honestly, it really does make sense.  I still have no idea how the physics of Battleworld worked, like how Apocalypse was killed in "Age of Apocalypse" but alive throughout the main series.  But, this set of physics does make sense to me.  Moreover, it shows us why Reed, Sue, and the Foundation are missing:  they're busy creating -- and then cataloguing and exploring -- these Universes.  The most poignant moment is when Reed and Sue discuss Ben and Johnny.  It's Reed who feels their loss here, but Susan reminds him that their acts aren't finished.  Speaking of last acts, Owen also seems to have bestowed a gift on Doom:  the issue with ends with Victor taking off his mask, revealing his healed face and a smile breaking across his lips.  It's a fitting nod to the original series, where Doom used his god-like powers to heal his own face.

Was this event perfect?  No.  Again, the lack of clarity of how the tie-in issues related to the main series eventually became the albatross around its neck.  But, in the end, Hickman does what this series was obviously created to do:  bring the Ultimate Universe to a close and send the Fantastic Four into the sunset.  It was a wise decision to expand it to a ninth issue, because Hickman and Ribic are able to take their time here; Ribic does amazing work showing T'Challa and Victor fighting in a variety of avatars.  In fact, it probably would've been better as 12 issues (like the original series).  Hickman would've had time to expand issues #6 and #7, doing a better job of showing how the revolt against Doom -- probably the most undercooked plot point -- came together.

But, it's water under the bridge.  Although this issue answers virtually none of the questions that we've had in the new round of series -- like what happened in those eight months -- it wasn't its job to do so.  We know how the Marvel Universe came to be reborn, and it's enough.  I'm giving this issue four stars not only because of the art but because Hickman manages to really save the concept of this series in a way that Fraction wasn't able to do in "Fear Itself" or Bendis in "Age of Ultron."  Now, hopefully, we can get the answers about the current Universe that we've been craving, particularly if anyone remembers the world before the End or Battleworld itself.  It's not much to ask, but we'll see if we get it.

**** (four of five stars)

Robin War #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I can't tell if the resolution of "Robin War" is clever or eye-roll inducing.

Damian reveals that he agreed to become the Gray Son to prevent the Court from releasing its squad of elite Talons on Gotham.  (Lincoln explains to Dick that these Talons aren't assassins, but beserkers, created to lay waste to Gotham in case the Court ever lost control of it.)  However, Duke isn't buying it.  He tells Damian that he recognizes that he's Bruce's son so he's doing what Bruce did:  he's not thinking of his family or responsibilities, just sacrificing everything to save Gotham.  (It results in possibly the best scripted moment of the series, with Damian telling Duke that he doesn't know him, and Duke responding, "Kid, I don't think you know you."  Truer words, Duke.)  Duke tells Damian that he'd do the same thing, sacrifice his family to suffer alone.  But, he reminds Damian that the difference between them is that he, Duke, isn't Robin.  Damian looks at the Robins fighting together -- the Robins that Duke reminds him that he inspired -- and realizes that he's not Batman:  he doesn't have to do it alone.

As Damian helps the Robins take down the elite Talons, Lincoln plays his final card:  they've sewn something into Damian's costume that can kill him.  Lincoln convinced the Court to release him to put into action exactly this plan:  convince Damian (or at least one of the Robins) to become the Gray Son in order to inspire Dick to take that responsibility off his shoulders.  Lincoln pledges to disassemble the elite Talons, repeal the Robin laws, and allow Damian to live:  all Dick has to do is join them.

We then flash-forward a few hours.  Dick informs the other Robins at the Batcave that Noctua is going to prison due to the information that he and Jim collected on her.  (The Powers That Be believe that she has gone crazy, because no one believes in the Court of Owls.)  Later that night, Damian approaches Duke to hang (even though he can't admit it), giving Damian possibly his first friend and showing us that he's accepted Duke's call to be a Robin (not the Batman).  Conversely, the issue ends with Dick taking the oath to become the Gray Son, turning his back on Robin and becoming more like Batman.

As I said, I'm conflicted about this conclusion.  One of the modus operandi of the Bat-family is that it's exactly this sort of trap that they see coming and have a plan to escape.  The fact that Dick is manipulated into becoming the Gray Son should mean that it's only part of his larger plan to defeat the Court.  King actually hints that it may be, based on Dick's conversation with the Robins in the Batcave.  It's similar to the coded messages that he left them in "Grayson" #12, when he rallied them to his side.  If King is telling that story, color me intrigues.  But, if Dick has embraced Bruce's solitary nature, as King seems to want us to believe, then maybe he doesn't have a plan.  That said, if he really has become the Gray Son, then consider my eyes rolling.  It's too quick and easy of a fall for a character like Dick Grayson.  It's not like Damian doesn't have many enemies all ready:  is he really that worried that the Court will kill him to submit to it?  Hopefully, he isn't, and the "to be continued in 'Grayson'" promise at the end of the issue will show us that it's all part of Dick's plan to take down the Court.  If it isn't, though, I'm not going to be a happy camper.

*** (three of five stars)