Sunday, July 31, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The July 20 Marvel Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Darth Vader #22-#23:  I had to re-read issue #21 to make sure that I hadn't lost the thread of the larger story, but I think that I eventually got there.  Put together, these issues reveal that Cylo has been playing a long game.  We still don't know (as far as I can tell) why he betrayed the Empire, but we have a better sense of how he did it.  Gillen reveals that Voidgazer used her time working with General Tagge to install a series of protocols on his flagship, the Executor.  After Vader delivers a killing blow, she puts the protocols into effect:  they shut down the controls and then release a gas that knocks all staff unconscious.  Cylo and Morit are then able to board the Executor and turn it into their new flagship.  She also sends the ship where she and Vader were fighting (Cylo's previous flagship) on a collision course into the Executor, hoping it would kill him.  It (obviously) doesn't; instead, it simply gives Vader a ride to the Executor...and Cylo.  Vader cuts the engines, and Cylo orders an eager Morit not to engage Vader as he goes to fix them.  But, Vader finds Morit and -- in a thrilling series of panels that Delgado's colors make amazing -- dispatches him by sending him hurtling to the nearby gas giant.  In so doing, Vader finally dispatches all of Cylo's potential rivals for his position and now makes his way to Cylo.  But, Cylo confirms what we by now know:  he created Vader.  In so doing, he also installed programming that no one ever disabled allowing him control over Vader's technology.  He shuts down the machines that keep Vader moving, commenting as he does that it answers his question whether Vader is really more machine than man.  My guess is that this theory will be tested next issue.  Again, it's a complicated story that requires some careful reading, but the payoff is worth it in the end, particularly for this insight into Vader's untold history.

Star Wars #21:  Of all the characters that Aaron has created for this series, you can tell that Kreel is his favorite.  He's thought through his back story, and he has a clear sense of how it guides Kreel's actions and beliefs in the present.  As such, he's a great character, and I was thrilled to see him return here.  In fact, Aaron does more with Kreel and his SCAR Squad in just this one issue than Soule has managed to do with Poe Dameron and Black Squadron in his title.  (I'm guessing that Soule is dealing with a lot more "notes" from the story team.)  At any rate, we learn that Kreel was raised on a planet where fighting in the pits was compulsory for anyone not rich enough to get an exemption, explaining why he was chosen to infiltrate Grakkus' arena.  Eventually, the Empire arrived to take over his planet, freeing the fighters and giving them jobs.  It explains Kreel's view of the Rebels as terrorists sowing chaos, since, to his mind, freedom comes with law and order.  It's really hard to argue with his position, and it's a testament to Aaron's storytelling skills that he's able to so convincingly present Kreel's position.  (In fact, I found it the most convincing of all the attempts by writers over the last 40 years to make the Empire less monolithically evil than it's portrayed to be in the original trilogy.)  As the new leader of SCAR, Kreel is responsible for taking out these terrorists; along the way, he also has to win the trust of his squad.  He might not win it in this issue, but he sure as hell impresses them when he pulls out his lightsaber to deliver the coup de grâce to the Rebels.  Along those lines, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Molina's excellent work here.  The last page -- of the Squad standing over the sole Rebel survivor, from the Rebel's perspective -- is chilling.  I could honestly read an entire series about Kreel and his team, and I hope Marvel is going in that direction.  If not, hopefully we'll see a lot more of them.

Uncanny X-Men #10:  Honestly, I still have no idea what the deal with Warren is.  We do get an answer to my question from last issue:  the Death Flight responded to Archangel's arrival; he didn't bring a separate one with him.  For reasons that are unclear to me, though, Archangel doesn't respond to Psylocke's request for assistance; he and Death Flight just start indiscriminately killing the townspeople.  Eventually Warren realizes that he has to merge with Archangel to give him a human grounding (so he's not just a predator drone, as Psylocke calls him).  But, I still have no idea who this version of Warren is.  Is it the Warren from "Wolverine and the X-Men?"  Moreover, Bunn seems to dismiss the idea that Magneto wanted to kill Psylocke (at least indirectly); Fantomex and Mystique are simply his own X-Force, there to help him take down Genocide and Clan Akkaba.  Was Fantomex just fronting when he told Psylocke that Magneto wanted her eliminated?  In other words, the storyline related to "Apocalypse Wars" is a confusing mess.  It's only Sabretooth's offer to allow Monet to feed on him, to satisfy Emplate (after he embeds himself in her), that really saves this arc, despite the fact that this Morlock sub-plot was a distraction in the first place.

Also Read:  Spider-Man #6

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The July 13 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All-New X-Men #11:  From a character perspective, Hopeless does a great job here with Evan.  He shows his anguish in a way that reminds us that he's a teenager:  he's not thinking through the ramifications of his actions as he seeks to save En Sabah Nur from his future.  When Hank is forced to return them home lest they do more damage, Evan is despondent, his chance at redemption lost.  That said, from a plot perspective, Hopeless leaves so much on the table here that I have to assume we'll revisit this story one day.  First, Hank trades a story of the future with the Mystic to get back the Mask of Horus, though we don't learn what story Hank tells him.  Does Hank give the Mystic information that helps him mold En Sabah Nur into Apocalypse?  Does he do it intentionally, given his belief he and Evan shouldn't change the past?  Second, Hank tells Evan that the Mask showed him something on their journey to the present, but Evan refuses to hear what it is.  It's presumably more important than the winning lottery numbers, so I'm assuming that we'll hear what it is one day.  Finally, Hopeless more or less leaves us hanging when it comes to En Sabah Nur himself.  His father pledges to basically brutalize him until he becomes a man.  However, Hopeless did such a good job of showing us En Sabah Nur's decency that it's hard to believe that his father could ever be so successful.  How does En Sabah Nur finally break?  We really need another arc (or mini-series) to close this circle.

Civil War II #3:  I don't have much to say except that I'm Team Tony all the way here.  As Tony himself says to Carol, we're basically at the point where she could justify murdering everyone with powers, because Ulysses could, at some point, predict them going off the deep end.  Bendis also makes Tony's position compatible with his position in the original "Civil War:"  he believes that they need to be protecting people, but that also means protecting each other.  Moreover, Bendis did a great job keeping the denouement of this issue a surprise.  I was really expecting Carol to force Ulysses' vision of a rampaging Hulk to come true.  When Hawkeye does what he did here, I was as confused as the characters, adding to the drama.  I legitimately can't wait to see where we go from here.

Detective Comics #936:  We get a surprising amount of answers here, given that I assumed we'd spend at least a year not knowing the identity of the organization hunting the team.  Tynion gets right to it, though:  it's called the Colony, Kate's dad is at least one of its leaders (if not the leader), and he's been training her explicitly for the purpose of joining him.  He claims that it's an altruistic organization fighting global threats that Batman has ignored due to his singular focus on Gotham.  They've got a target in Gotham, and they had to take down Batman since he'd likely try to stop them from eliminating it.  That shadiness -- in addition to the years of lying -- leads Kate (and the reader) to conclude that they're probably not as altruistic as Kate's dad is pretending they are.  Kate and the team escape, and we're really cruising for a bruising now.  For me, the great part is that Tynion shows that he's playing for keeps here.  The revelation that Kate's dad has betrayed her isn't something that a future author is just going to be able to ignore.  Plus, Tynion digs into Kate herself; this story is about addressing her own self-doubts.  He brilliantly uses Renée to reveal these doubts, as she notes that Kate seems all business to most people but the few people that know her well know that she needs direction.  But, without Batman to lead, she's going to have to trust herself and her teammates.  We're three issues into this relaunch, but it already feels like this team has been together for years.  Team Belfry all the way, man.

New Avengers #13:  You know, I'm really happy I hung in here.  With the focus shifting to Bobby and Sam, I feel like we're getting the old band together again.  They even have a secret "mutual friend" on the island!  I was a little surprised when I learned that Sam is married with a kid, but a little Internet research reveals that it happened during the time period where the Avengers jumped eight months into the future.  (If I'm not mistaken, we're now 16 months from that original point, since we're eight months after "Secret Wars."  Maybe?  Or is it the same eight months?  Whatever.)  Also, I'm starting to feel invested in the other characters, particularly Songbird.  She really compliments Bobby, and I have to wonder, after all this time, if he hasn't met his match (other than Sam, obviously).  When you add in there the Maker and a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as enemies, every issue is really a series of unpredictable events.  It was a slow, uneven start, but Ewing is finding his footing here.  Score one for an event keeping me engaged in a series (he says, shocked).

Nightwing:  Rebirth #1:  Seeley somehow manages to wrap up every loose end from "Grayson" in a coherent narrative that unfolds naturally.  The frame of the story has Dick on the hunt for a device that can disable the bomb that the Court of Owl put in Damian's brain at the end of "Robin War."  Although Tiger isn't able to help him, Midnighter is, providing him with such a device.  To warm up an unaware Damian, Dick brings him to the arcade to play his favorite video game ("Cheese Vikings").  Seeing the two of them together made me long for the days when they were a team, since their banter is so naturally good.  As always, Dick brings out the best in Damian as a character (moving him beyond his often one-dimensional portrayal):  when Dick tells him about the bombs, Damian demands more ice cream and video games, acting almost as a normal kid.  With the bomb eventually defused, Dick is now freed from the Court of Owls.  However, we learn that he's actually beholden to the Parliament of Owls, a more global group.  (I had no idea they were two different entities, and I can't tell if we're learning that for the first time here or if we've known about it for a while.) At any rate, Lincoln March is crowing over his success in securing Dick to the Parliament, but he's seemingly killed by a Talon, expositing that they really want more direct access to Nightwing.  They're going to get it, too, because Dick takes up the Nightwing persona again at the end of this issue specifically to take down the Parliament.  As thrilled as I am with Seeley tying up all these loose ends, it was really Dick's brotherly time with Damian that I enjoyed the most.  I hope that we see him frequently in the coming series.

Also Read:  Bloodshot Reborn #15; Dungeons & Dragons:  Shadows of the Vampire #3

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The July 6 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #15:  This issue is better than the last few installments, since Slott puts aside the ridiculous fight between Iron Man and Spider-Man and focuses on Regent.  Mary Jane putting on the Iron Spider costume is a great moment, and it reminds me how much I miss MJ in these pages.  Unfortunately, Slott doubles-down on the current hostility between her and Peter.  Although they have a nice moment at one point during the battle, Peter doesn't invite MJ to the party that he throws for his family and friends to apologize for his absence over the previous few months.  (He's inspired to throw said party after realizing how important family is from Regent.  I'm not sure that's the lesson that I'd draw from Regent, but there you go.)  Putting aside the MJ situation, I also have to say that I don't understand why we're pretending that Peter can somehow be Spider-Man, run Parker Industries, and have a personal life.  He shouldn't "apologize" for his absence so much as accept that his status quo makes it difficult to spend time with his loved ones.  If he did that, Slott would be telling a story that a lot of readers could find relatable.  But, Slott seems to think that Peter should be trying to balance all those things, so I guess we're stuck with Peter's inevitable failure to do that.  At any rate, Aunt May's mysterious cough from last issue has jumped to Jay, and he collapses here in dramatic fashion.  I'm really trying to care, but I can't say that I do, to be honest.

Batman #2:  King doesn't reveal too much here.  Batman helps Gotham and Gotham Girl stop a rampaging Solomon Grundy, a mysterious man warns Gordon about the "Monster Men" coming to Gotham before killing himself, and Bruce decides to bring in Gotham and Gotham Girl on the case.  King still plays his cards close to the chest when it comes to the two new heroes' origins as well as any possible connection between the Monster Men and Kobra (the terrorist organization from last issue).  But, I'm perfectly happy to wait since we'll clearly get that information at some point.  The best part of this issue is the interactions between Alfred and Bruce.  After literally years now of Bruce dying, Alfred mourning, and the cycle beginning anew, we're finally returning to a somewhat normal relationship between them.  In fact, when I saw Bruce dancing with a socialite in this issue -- after Alfred forced him to make an appearance at the fund raiser he was (purportedly) hosting -- I knew that we were finally returning to our pre-"Final Crisis" roots.  They're at their most banterific in front of Duke, and it begins to make Duke feel like part of the family.  In other words, I'm really happy with the direction that King is taking and hope to see more of this old-school feel.

Spider-Man 2099 #12:  I've been waiting for this issue since Miguel came to the present, and it reminds us that no one can tell a long story like Peter David.  First, if I'm following the clues correctly, the story is as follows in the next few sentences.  As we know, Kweeg followed Miguel to the present after Miguel's first jaunt to the future brought him to a world that the Maestro ran.  After Miguel and Captain America tried to stop Kweeg, Aisa managed to help him escape.  In this issue, we learn that Aisa -- and thus the Fist -- is actually working for Tyler Stone, meaning that he has somehow arrived in the present.  In the future where Miguel is now, Venture (as we know him) approaches the Sinister Six; under orders from Stone (in the present), he will bring them to the present.  Once they arrive, the Fist will remove their memories of Stone, and they'll then work for him.  It seems that they are the ones that destroy New York, creating the timeline that Miguel has encountered in these last few issues.  In other words, we get a lot of answers in this issue.

But, we still have a lot of questions.  First and foremost, we have the question of how, when, and why Stone came to the present.  Although the former 2099 timeline is fuzzy (more on that in a minute), Stone still seemed to be in charge of Alchemax in the "new" Miguel timeline that David has been using in this run.  (By "new," I mean the timeline that David introduced starting in issue #1 of series #2.  I'll call that the "standard" timeline.  The "former" timeline is the one that we saw in series #1.)  As such, why would Tyler want to change the past to change the future when he was already in control?  After all, the Sinister Six run Nueva York, not him.  Do they report to Alchemax, which he still runs?  We don't know.  Second, if I'm connecting the dots correctly, it seems that Venture was never from the standard or former 2099 timeline:  he's always been a displaced person from the Maestro timeline (as a result of him following Miguel into our present).  It would be nice, though not necessary, for David to confirm that.

Returning to the timeline issue, we do get more clarity on how the standard timeline differs from the former one.  Here, we learn that Father Jennifer, and not Gabe, was likely the Green Goblin in the standard timeline.  Based on my previous guess, we could be in issue #43 of series #1, with some notable deviations (like Tyler Stone not being confined to a wheelchair, as he was once he was shot in issue #34).  But, we definitely can't be past issue #44, because Gabe reveals that he's the Green Goblin in issue #45.  Beyond this continuity issue, I'd be interested in exploring why Father Jennifer took up the Goblin persona, something David doesn't clarify here.  Given that Dr. Octopus kills her in the end of this issue, it seems unlikely that we're going to get that answer until Miguel returns to the future.  But, David seems to have put us on the road to some answers.  Although I've enjoyed the road getting us to this point, I'm excited that the end might be in sight.

Star Wars:  Poe Dameron #4:  Soule probably kept some people on the fence about this series on board for another issue or two with this issue.  Using a post-mission celebration as the vehicle, he finally delves into the lives of Black Squadron.  I think I mentioned in a previous review that I only realized that "Snap" is the teenage protagonist from "Aftermath" after reading a comment in the letters page, and I still find it a little jarring to see him as an adult here.  That said, it's even more jarring to see him suddenly beginning a relationship with one of his colleagues, after he blurted out his love for her last issue.  Soule really seems to be rushing the season here, and I wonder how many issues Marvel really has planned for this series.  We also learn more about Jess as she talks to her tech about the new engines that they installed on her fighter.  However, Soule also more or less immediately identifies the tech as the First Order mole that put the tracker on Poe's fighter, since we go from him asking Jess for more information about the next mission to Poe talking to BB-8 about said mole.  It's these awkward moments -- Snap's sudden sexiness, the tech's obvious spying -- that weigh down this series.  On the plus side, Soule injects some energy into the series by making it clear that we're in a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" kind of story, when Poe unexpectedly finds Terex at the next location on his hunt for Lor San Tekka.  We still don't know why Terex wants to find Tekka (or how he found his way to the prison holding Grakkus), but it'll be fun to watch him toy with Poe over the next few issues.

Tokyo Ghost #8:  Remender has created such a compelling and fascinating world in "Tokyo Ghost" that it's hard to appreciate all of it at the same time.  He brilliantly predicts where our ambivalent approach to environmental degradation and Internet addiction will get us as a society.  But, at the end of the day, he's also telling a relationship story, and it's this story that takes center stage here.  He's done an amazing job of getting us to care about Debbie and Teddy as individuals and as a couple.  But, it's in this issue where this affection that we feel for them makes us realize that maybe they really are too codependent.  Instead of their love helping them defeat the enemy, it prevents them from doing so here.  They're too tied into each other to see straight.  Teddy doesn't get to free himself from his addiction, because he has to rely on Debbie to inspire him to do so.  Debbie can't fully be the Tokyo Ghost and avenge Tokyo, because she becomes distracted by Teddy's self-imposed plight.  You begin to realize that this series should end with them departing separately to fight their demons and become the people that they're meant to be.  It's a sad realization, but the obvious one.  It's particularly remarkable, because it's rare in comics for love not to save the day.  But, it's that fact that makes this series so special.

Also Read:  Civil War:  X-Men #2; Justice League:  Rebirth #1; Spidey #8; Star Wars:  Han Solo #2

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 29 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Black Panther #3:  Man, T'Challa just can't catch a break.  On one hand, he finally tracks down Tetu, but he seems to have become one with at least some part of Wakanda, displaying control over trees and the like.  Continuing on that theme, Shuri is encouraged in the afterlife to remember that Wakanda was great before it had vibranium.  Coates definitely seems to be telling a story where all the characters involved will need to get in touch with the Wakanda that was and use that connection to try to defeat each other.  Meanwhile, the Midnight Angels have realized that they need to form their own army of the women who they save to stop the White Gorilla Army.  Will T'Challa and Tetu take out each other, leaving Aneka and Ayo to step into the void?  Will Shuri return to find Wakanda destroyed by civil war?  I guess we'll see.

Bloodshot Reborn #13-#14:  Wow.  It initially seemed weird to me that Lemire chose to send us into the future in the "Analog Man" when we had so many mysteries on the table after those first two arcs ("Colorado" and "The Hunt").  But, the revelation that it was all a dream created by Project Rising Spirit after they kidnapped him and Magic was mindblowing.  It shows just how in command of this story Lemire is.  I loved him using Livewire as Ray's savior, even if we don't actually encounter her here.  In the past, she was smart enough to implant a virus in him that would help him fight Project Rising Spirit's programming if they ever tried to get their hands on him.  The revelation that his search for the "Man in the Tower" was the metaphor for his fight against the programming was jut awesome.  His problem is that he still awakens to find himself in the "care" of Project Rising Spirit on something called Bloodshot Island.  After a disorienting run through the jungle, he encounters several other Bloodshots, one each from previous wars (Gulf War, Vietnam, etc.).  But, we don't really get a lot of insight into that, because Project Deathmate appears.  She's some sort of robot, seemingly the next generation of Bloodshots, and we learn that they're all essentially playing the "Dangerous Game" every day:  the Bloodshots flee into the jungle, Deathmate kills them, Project Rising Spirit heals them, and then they start all over again the next day.  Lemire makes sure that we understand how awful it is, as Vietnam (as he's known) says that he's been doing the same thing for five years.  I had barely recovered from the shock at the end of issue #13, so Lemire is really getting us into Bloodshot's mindset of confusion and disorientation.  Lemire also does a great job of making the odds against Ray clear:  Project Rising Spirit seems so in charge, and it's hard to see Ray escaping, particularly if the other Bloodshots haven't.  Needless to say, I'm excited about next issue.

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #2:  Spencer goes down the route that I expected him to take, revealing that Kobik sought out the Skull after her "birth" and he used her to create Steve's "new" past as a loyal servant of HYDRA.  Spencer even goes one better, showing that "Avengers Standoff" was all part of the Skull's larger plan.  In so doing, he actually improves on that event, explaining some of its weaker moments (even though it was already a pretty solid event).  I know a lot of people were upset after the first issue, but I feel pretty comfortable now.  I'm hoping that Spencer doesn't make the mistake that Slott did with Spider-Ock, drawing out the story longer than he should.  But, I could see Spencer going with a year-long arc similar to what Remender did with Dimension Z.  If he does that successfully, we really will be in a golden age of "Captain America."

Captain Marvel #6:  This issue is fairly important to the overall story that we're seeing unfold in "Civil War II," because it sheds some light on why Carol takes the position that she's taken in this event.  First, the Alpha Flight Board -- led, of course, by Henry Gyrich -- calls her on the carpet for the last-minute save that she and Alpha Flight managed against the Satori (as far as they know).  Gyrich compares it unfavorably to the Avengers' commanding defeat of the Celestial with limited damage.  Carol alludes to the Inhumans' ability to predict the future in explaining the Avengers' success, though doesn't directly mention Ulysses.  The Board orders her to collaborate with the Inhumans, and she decides to do so after she fails to prevent Dr. Minerva from killing a group of townspeople with one of her experiments.  (She overlooks the fact that she saved everyone else in the town, though Minerva did manage to escape.)  The Gages show us that Carol's decision to employ Ulysses is grounded firmly in these losses.  That said, I still don't agree with her.  She's playing a little fast and loose with the truth at times in her conversation with the Board, and she's really only paying lip-service to Tony's worry that they're putting way too much faith in Ulysses.  It's clearly all going to end in tears.

Dark Knight III:  The Master Race #5:  Azzarello (because if Miller isn't even pretending he's writing it, let's just call a spade a spade) is almost too clever here.  Bruce manages to take down the Kandorians by seeding the clouds with synthetic kryptonite, weakening them to the point that the mob that gathered to demand his head on a platter (per Quar's request) turns on them.  Again, it's clever.  But, it's so clever that it becomes almost self-evident.  Of course Bruce had synthetic kryptonite lying around the Batcave.  As a result, it's anti-climactic, making you wonder what Azzarello even has left to tell in the next issue.  (Oh, yeah, Bruce also resurrects Supes.  He's doing fine.  Thanks for asking.)

Extraordinary X-Men #11:  We're at the endgame here, as Kurt and Storm face Apocalypse while the rest of the team fights the Horsemen.  The interesting part is that Kurt has gone totally over the edge.  Moon Knight (one of the Horsemen) even comments on it, telling him that he's almost as crazy as Marc Spector was.  Lemire shows us how true that is when Kurt kills Moon Knight.  Surprisingly, Storm doesn't comment on that.  Is it because it's the future, so it's not really killing people?  Lemire doesn't say.  It isn't until Kurt kills Apocalypse in a rage over him destroying the embryos that Storm sees fit to comment, but then only because Omega World begins to collapse without Apocalypse supporting it.  Beyond Kurt and Storm's sudden comfort with murder, the most interesting part of this issue for me is that the heroes lose:  Apocalypse does destroy the embryos.  It makes sense from a narrative perspective, since I think it would've been a little difficult to suddenly have the X-Men raising 600 babies.  But, it's rare that we see the heroes lose, and I'm intrigued to see how Lemire handles the fallout from that, assuming they all survive.

Grayson Annual #3:  For a one-and-done story (actually, four-and-done story), this annual is really required reading for any fan of "Grayson."  It examines the four aspects of Dick:  charmer, savior, gymnast, and superhero.  In so doing, we really do get a deep insight into his character, particularly the way that he's viewed by other folks in the DCnU.  During "One More Day," Reed Richards commented to Dr. Strange and Iron Man that Peter Parker was really the best of them, and I often think that Dick fills that role in the DCnU.  Some people want to be him, everyone else wants to be with him.  This issue reminds us why everyone feels that way.  (Aterici even gives a nod to the fact that his teenage self often found himself in bondage, and Constantine appropriately gets to be the one that enjoys his adult self in that pose.  It's a sight to see.)  I'll be sad to see "Grayson" go.  It was born from the eye-rolling premise of Dick's secret identity getting exposed to the world, but Seeley and King took that premise and ran with it, creating one of the most original and solid DCnU series.  By the time Dick inevitably got back his secret identity, it actually felt sort of irrelevant.  We learned that Dick can be a hero under any circumstances.  I'm just happy he's still here, regardless of what we call him.

Spider-Man #5:  As I've mentioned before, this series is the first time that I'm following Miles Morales.  As such, I don't really know much about his supporting cast.  That becomes particularly relevant in this issue, because I'm not sure if the revelation that his father was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is news just to me or if it's news to everyone.  Either way, Jefferson is now in some form of cahoots with Maria Hill without Miles' knowledge, and, in my experience, nothing good comes from being in some form of cahoots with Hill.  I wonder what Jefferson has promised in exchange for S.H.I.E.L.D. protecting Miles.  That said, he's not wrong that Miles needs the help:  it's only through S.H.I.E.L.D. wiping all record of him from all databases that prevents the Black Cat and Hammerhead from learning his identity.  Moving onto Miles, his use of a souped up venom blast to take out everyone is one of the cooler moments I've seen in comics in a while.  I was right proud of him, as I was when he later confronted the Black Cat with nary a hint of fear.  Pichelli does a really outstanding job of conveying this grit in his confrontation with Felicia:  even she saw the anger in him and knew that it wasn't time for a fight.  This entire sequence reminds us how brave and driven Miles is.  It's a good thing that he is, because he's now also got Jennifer Jones on his tail, after his grandmother hires her to figure out his coming and goings.  He's going to need all his cleverness and smarts to stay one step ahead of the now legions of people after him.

Uncanny X-Men #9:  Bunn has really lost me here, to be honest.  I get that Genocide is using his Angel's wings to create a "death flight" of Angels.  Angel comments how he agreed to submit to having his wings removed because he could feel the evil in them, so I'm assuming that his feather wings will become the metallic ones when placed on the members of Death Flight.  I still don't understand what plans Magneto has for Psylocke, but I assume that we'll get there.  But, the part that has me the most confused is Archangel's arrival.  First, he arrives with an entire squad of Archangels.  How did that happen?  He has his own Death Flight?  But, also, I don't get why the inhabitants of the town -- all seemingly mesmerized as servants of Clan Akkaba -- are so excited about his arrival.  They have their own Angel.  Why do they need an Archangel, too?  In other words, I am seriously confused. 

Also Read:  All-New, All-Different Avengers #11; Spider-Gwen Annual #1; Uncanny X-Men #9

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 22 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Captain America:  Sam Wilson #10-11:  Americops!  U.S.Agent!  The '90s are back, and they couldn't be better!  Spencer does a great job tying the philosophical debate at the heart of "Civil War II" into the ongoing story of this series.  A mysterious billionaire has created a private law-enforcement army called Americops and used political connections to make sure that law enforcement is forced to cooperate with them.  Unfortunately, they have a nasty habit of going after minorities.  Against this backdrop, Tony convinces Sam that Ulysses' unconscious biases may be influencing his predictions, meaning that following these predictions is no better than the profiling that the Americops are doing.  As if that's not complicated enough, Rage is leading a group of angry neighbors against a squad of Americops, and Sam feels it necessary to intervene.  Did I mention that he also had to deliver Rhodey's eulogy?  I really think no one in the Marvel Universe has worse days than Sam Wilson, but I'm also not entirely sure anyone could handle them as well as Sam Wilson.

Uncanny Avengers #10:  While the rest of the authors in the Marvel Universe are seemingly preoccupied with telling their own part of the "Civil War II" story, Duggan is returning to the Avengers' roots with this story.  The idea of a victorious Ultron taking over Hank's body to get his final revenge on the Avengers is so good that I'm surprised that we're just seeing it now, almost 50 years after he appeared on the scene.  Duggan has Cap bring in Jan to determine whether Hanktron is Hank or Ultron, something she does in part after Hanktron misses a "Ghostbusters" reference.  (Deadpool correctly views that as an unforgivable sin.)  But, it gets weird at the end.  Although Cap seems to believe Jan that Hanktron is really Ultron, he refuses to let Deadpool kill him because Avengers don't kill.  I lived through "Operation: Galactic Storm," so I get the importance of this conversation.  But, if Cap really believes Jan, then Ultron is a robot, then he can be destroyed.  Haven't we done so countless times without Cap raising an eyebrow?  I wonder if Duggan is implying that Cap is holding out hope that they can resurrect Hank?  I guess we'll see.  At any rate, it's a top-notch story.  Duggan infuses it with real emotion, from Janet feeling shaken by her interview, if you will, of Hanktron to Johnny Storm asking Cable if he knows if Reed and Sue ever return to Earth.  (He doesn't.)  I've often found internal epics (epics that stay within a series) to be better than cross-over ones, such as Busiek's "Kang War."  Based on this start, I'm hoping we're going to see something similar here.

Also Read:  Detective Comics #935; Justice League #52; Mighty Thor #8; Ms. Marvel #8

Monday, July 18, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 15 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #1:  I'm probably supposed to have a lot to say about this issue, but I don't.  Some nutjob from a terrorist group that uses a cobra as a symbol gets his hands on an RPG and shoots a plane.  Alfred and Duke help Bruce propel himself onto the plane.  He just so happens to have a spare set of engines with him, so he's able to redirect it (as if he's riding a horse) from crashing into Kane Plaza to crashing into the Gulf of Blackgate.  He expects to die (again) in the crash, but he doesn't, thanks to the timely intervention of Gotham and Gotham Girl.  If you've been following the hoopla surrounding "Rebirth," you know that they're mysterious new heroes set to challenge Bruce's belief that Gotham is his city.  But, because of said hoopla, their appearance on the scene is pretty anti-climactic.  Sure, we know nothing about them now, but we'll learn all we need to know -- likely in nauseating detail -- over the course of the next few issues.  The only real mystery here is that a shadowy figure killed the terrorist that fired the RPG and then uttered the phrase, to no one in particular, "Observe the clock, Batman."  Creepy.

Civil War II #2:  Again, I don't really have much to say here, but this time it's because Bendis so perfectly anticipates what I expected to happen after the events of last issue:  Tony kidnaps Ulysses, the Inhumans want revenge for the affront, and Carol asks for a shot at bringing in Tony before the Inhumans go to war.  Along the way, Carol and Tony have possibly the best banter ever.  (Really.  I usually hate Bendis' banter, but this banter is top-notch.)  Now we just have to see if the Hulk kills everyone next issue.

Civil War II:  Amazing Spider-Man #2:  Gage does here what the best tie-in issues do, using the premise of "Civil War II" to advance a character's ongoing storyline.  In this issue, Peter may create a self-fulfilling prophecy, when Ulysses' prediction that Clayton Cole will again take up his Clash identity drives Peter to push Clayton into doing just that.  Peter realizes his mistake, but it might be too late, as Clayton puts in a rush order on his Clash costume with the Tinkerer.  Although ostensibly Peter's fault, Gage isn't totally easy on Cole:  after all, he was secretly building his Clash uniform again.  Gage also gives us some great insights into Harry along the way, as he warns Peter that it's hard to put aside the limelight that the costume brings.  My guess is that this experience with Cole is going to put Peter firmly on Tony's side, believing that the unintended consequences of acting on Ulysses' visions aren't worth it.  But, it's really the characterization that makes this issue, and it makes me wish that someone would finally pry "Amazing Spider-Man" from Slott's hands and give it to Gage.  (This issue actually came out July 13, but I read it by accident, mistaking it for "Civil War II:  X-Men" #1.  Just like Ulysses, you're seeing into the future!)

The Dark Knight Returns:  The Last Crusade #1:  Azzarello and Romita tell a pretty straight-forward story in this one-shot.  For most of it, it's about Bruce having to face the fact that he's at the limit of what his body can take.  It's not just the pain, but that opponents like Killer Croc are starting to get the drop on him.  He's forced to acknowledge that he's getting closer and closer to the moment where he'll fatally slip, allowing an opponent to kill him.  They have a great sequence here where Croc is really close to doing just that, prompting two reactions in Bruce.  First, he's surprised, because he figured that the end would come with him being outsmarted, not beaten.  (It's an interesting insight into his thinking, because it reminds us that he sees himself as a detective and not a brawler.)  But, he also shows real fear at the possibility of Croc eating him, something that we don't usually see in him.  After this sequence, Bruce may still be fighting the idea of retirement, but he also seems resigned to it.  His concern is that Jason Todd is too violent, though Alfred walks him through the ridiculousness of that position, poking holes in his argument by using his own behavior at Jason's age against him.  It's here where the story goes off the rails a bit.  Instead of a retirement story, we learn that this issue is really a reimagining of "A Death in the Family," as Jason goes to take on the recently escaped Joker to prove that he's ready (after overhearing Alfred and Bruce's conversation).  Of course, he isn't ready, and the issue ends with the Joker's goons beating on him and the Joker excited about the torture that he's going to inflict on him.  It's not that it's a bad reimagining of this scenario, but it is a rushed one.  The entire sequence feels tacked onto the end like the creators hadn't originally planned to go this route but the editors made them do it.  It's still worth a read, but you're not going to be able to help feeling like you're missing a few pages.

Moon Knight #1-#4:  I knew that Lemire, Smallwood, and Bellaire had me in the scene from issue #4 where Khonshu appears to Marc in a bathroom stall while he's at the urinal.  Everything about this scene is so great:  Lemire putting the characters there, Smallwood making it so realistic, and Bellaire creating a great atmosphere.  My only previous exposure to Moon Knight came as a loyal reader of "West Coast Avengers" in the '80s.  I was always intrigued by him, but he had back story in the way that Spider-Woman had back story.  In other words, it was complicated.  I had flagged this series as a possible pull, but it wasn't until "Black Knight" and "Red Wolf" got canceled that I felt that I had some time for it.  I'm glad that I took the plunge.  The creators are telling a wonderfully original story, and, after four issues, I honestly can't say what reality is and isn't.  Is Marc insane?  Is he sane?  Maybe he's both?  I was disappointed when Lemire's "All-New Hawkeye" got canceled, but reading this series makes me feel like I got a reprieve.  I highly recommend it.

Spider-Gwen #9:  This issue is extremely difficult to follow if you (like me) didn't read every part of the "Spider-Women" event.  First, Gwen has apparently lost her powers; she has a "power-up" device that she can use to temporarily become Spider-Woman, but once the device's charges are exhausted she's done.  Second, a picture of her shaking hands with Captain America has been released, apparently making the public re-assess their view of Spider-Woman.  (I was surprised by this development, since I feel like this picture was taken quite a long time ago.  Why is everyone just reacting to it now?)  Moreover, Captain Stacy has done his part in helping the public change its mind about Gwen, releasing a video on YouTube that details why the police and the public rushed to judgement on her guilt.  (Again, I don't think that this event happened in this title, but it's possible that it did in one of the "Spider-Women" issues.  That said, we might be seeing it for the first time here.)  At any rate, this last development is the catalyst for the events of this issue, as Frank Castle decides to present his case to the District Attorney.  He in turn tells Castle that he's not touching it given the now positive view that the public has of Spider-Woman.  Frank doesn't handle that well, stalking Gwen and confronting her in front of her friends when he stops a robbery at the hot dog place.  In a rage, Gwen powers up and attacks him in front of her friends, later fleeing.  Latour does a great job of showing how overwhelmed Gwen is:  she previously lamented the fact that she didn't get a choice in getting her powers, but now that she has one it's too much to handle.  But, this message is undermined by the confusion that I felt since I really had absolutely no idea what was happening for most of the issue, since I didn't read "Spider-Women."  Hopefully it'll be easier to follow next issue, because I refuse to be forced to read an event retroactively that I didn't want to read in the first place.

Ttans:  Rebirth #1:  I cannot explain how excited I am to be part of the Titans.  I'm not a long-time DC Comics reader, so I missed the Titans era in the '80s.  I imagine that it would be like someone who didn't read Marvel Comics getting excited about reading "Avengers" if they brought the original team together again.  You get a chance to be a part of something that mattered.  I loved Dan Abnett during his work with Andy Lanning, and he's just as good here as he was then.  He hits all the right emotional notes, and I choked up a bit as the Titans remembered Wally and Wally exulted in feeling their love for him.  As he himself says, he's lost a lot, and you can feel his commitment not to have it happen again.  The Titans feel the same way, horrified that they forgot Wally and angry at the idea that someone made them forget him.  Moreover, Abnett directs us to the "Titans Hunt" mini-series, since it seems to serve as a prequel to "Rebirth:"  apparently, someone named Mister Twister was responsible for the Titans not remembering each other (at least as far as they know).  At any rate, this title seems like it's going to be front-and-center as we figure out the mechanics of the "Rebirth," and I'm really excited to be on board.

Uncanny X-Men #8:  Bunn really loses me here, to be honest.  First, we have Fantomex and Psylocke at each other's throats over some betrayal that I don't understand because I didn't read "Uncanny X-Force."  (For all the ranting that Fantomex does here about Besty's betrayal, you'd think that he could've actually mentioned what it was.)  Then, we learn that Fantomex is there at Magento's invitation, allegedly to kill Betsy, though we're given no idea why he would want to do so or why he would choose then and there to do it.  Finally, we learn that Clan Akkaba wants Betsy there to summon the Archangel drone, though we don't know why.  After all, they cut off Warren's wing:  why would they just another Warren with wings?   If you were a long-time reader of "Uncanny X-Force," this issue might make more sense to you.  For me, I spent most of it wishing the Wikipedia entry on Fantomex was more current.

Also Read:  Amazing Spider-Man #14; Archangel #1-#2; Civil War II:  X-Men #1; Dungeons & Dragons:  Shadows of the Vampire #2; Spidey #7; Star Wars #20; Star Wars:  Han Solo #1

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 8 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Civil War II:  Amazing Spider-Man #1:  Gage really uses the premise of this mini-series to the fullest, as Spider-Man takes around Ulysses to try to get his measure.  Once Spidey decides that he can trust him, Gage uses that bond to explore other implication of Ulysses' premonitions.  For example, Pete realizes that Ulysses could guide Parker Industries' research into more fruitful areas, allowing them to abandon dead ends more quickly.  It makes you realize how valuable Ulysses could be and why people (and not just superheroes) would fight over him.  After all, Pete would use him in Parker Industries' medical and security divisions to save lives, but other people might not be so scrupulous.  However, Ulysses complicates matters when he predicts that Clayton Cole will once again become Clash and fight Spidey.  It reminds us just of how much of a chaos agent Ulysses is.  I could see the fight becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and Peter realizing that Tony is right, that acting on Ulysses' premonitions is a bad idea.  As interesting as that story is, though, it pales in comparison to the issue's main highlight:  Peter in his boxers accidentally getting into bed with a naked Johnny Storm.  Excuse me as I go re-read that page again...

Detective Comics #934:  For most of the "New 52!," "Detective Comics" has focused on more traditional Batman stories, the type of stories that you'd see collected in "Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told," Volume 9.  While Scott Snyder was telling marquee stories in "Batman," Layman and then Buccalleto and Manapul told stories that rightly focused on Bruce's work as a detective.  I frequently enjoyed them much more than I did Snyder's work on "Batman."  For me, they have been one of the high points of the "New 52!," focusing on characters rather than concepts.  That said, I'm excited by the new direction that Tynion starts here.  He essentially creates a formal Bat-family, as Bruce and Batwoman prepare to train the next generation.  Although he pushes the boundaries of this conceit at times, it never actually feels forced.  Someone is monitoring the vigilantes of Gotham through drones with technology ten years beyond what the military has, and Batman asks Batwoman to take the younger heroes of Gotham -- Orphan, Red Robin, and Spoiler -- under her wing to make sure that they're ready for the coming conflict.  It promises all sort of fun moments between Bruce and Kate, since Tynion makes it clear that she might be the only person capable of not taking his bullshit.  Oddly, Clayface is thrown into the mix, though Tynion doesn't explain why the mysterious threat would have identified him as a vigilante or why Bruce suddenly decides that he's redeemable.  I feel like I missed a mini-series or something.  But, it's a fairly minor complaint, given how strong the rest of the book is.  I highly recommend this one, if not for this issue itself, but for where we seem to be going.

Star Wars:  Poe Dameron #3:  The good news is that Soule continues to do a great job showing Poe as someone who would be a great date.  Like, you probably wouldn't take him home to meet Mom, but you'd wake up the next morning hungover with him next to you and not be all that upset about it.  His charm is real, people.  The bad news is that I still have no idea what happens here.  The egg that we've seen in previous issue hatches, revealing a cross between Dr. Manhattan and Mothra.  It turns hostile, threatening to kill the Crèche members...until a less blue version of it appears and fights it.  I think that this other Mothra was also in the egg with blue Mothra, but Noto doesn't really make that clear.  Anyway, they have a fight while the First Order agent just talks and talks and talks.  Really.  He's barely phased by the blue Mothra versus other Mothra battle; even the roof collapsing onto everyone doesn't stop his exposition.  In future issues, I think Soule would be better served focusing on Poe and less time on other characters.  After all, this series isn't entitled "Annoying First Order Assholes and the Black Squadron Heroes Who Fight Them, with Special Guest Appearances by Poe Dameron."  (Maybe it should be, though.)  After all, I read Chuck Wendig's "Aftermath" novel, and I didn't even realize that "Snap" is the teenager from that story until Soule mentioned it in the letters page.  We just don't really have the space to focus on all these characters, given that we expect our time spent on Poe.  Give us what we want, Marvel!

Also Read:  All-New X-Men #10; Darth Vader #21; New Avengers #12

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The June 1 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All-New, All-Different Avengers #10:  I normally wouldn't comment on this issue, since it's pretty straight-forward (and fun).  But, I have to put out there my hope that the Avengers looking for a Nova, traveling through a dimensional door, and finding themselves face-to-face with Annihilus means that Richard Rider can't be far away.  A guy can hope, can't he?

Amazing Spider-Man #13:  I could enjoy what Slott was trying to do here.  After all, Tony Stark is an asshole.  It makes sense that Peter might have previously idolized Tony for achieving all that he has with his genius.  But, with Peter now having done something similar, you could understand how he'd have a different perspective on Tony.  That story would actually show some interesting character growth.  But, Slott ruins my willingness to meet him halfway because he also makes Peter an asshole.  In this issue, his misogyny is again front-and-center, as he screams at Tony for stealing "Parker's girl" during their obligatory superhero fight.  Really?  When your misogyny appalls Tony Stark, it's time to reassess your outlook.  Moreover, Slott is using way too many shortcuts to get us from Point A to Point B.  Harry tells Betty Brant that things are so bad between Mary Jane and Peter that the old gang can't have lunch together, even though we've never even remotely been presented with an explanation for why things are so bad.  (If it's because she's working for Tony Stark, then Peter really is a misogynistic asshole.)  I could continue, but I don't want to continue.  I'm officially reading this series from a sense of obligation to the character.  'Nuff said.

Batman:  Rebirth #1:  Not a lot happens in this issue, to be honest.  Lucius helps Bruce regain his fortune, miraculously removing the Wayne family funds from the government lien on...something.  Wayne Enterprises?  Honestly, I can't even remember how Batman went bankrupt.  It almost seems like a sequel to the movie trilogy rather than the comics.  I know that Geri Powers purchased the remains of Wayne Enterprises after the events of "Endgame," but I still have no idea why they had to be sold.  Is it just because Bruce died?  Why would that reduce the value of the company to the point where Powers could buy it for pennies?  Moreover, why would that result in a lien?  Wouldn't that be resolved with Powers buying the assets, presumably through some sort of bankruptcy proceeding?  But, King and Snyder acknowledge this lack of clarity, with Bruce himself noting to Lucius how often he goes bankrupt and how often Lucius has to save him.  By the way, this conversation happens as a shirtless and sweaty Bruce does gymnastics on top of Wayne Towers, so I won't complain all that much.  Suffice it to say, it more reminds us that this aspect of the post-"Endgame" story was never really all that clear in the first place.  But, now noted, we can move onto other matters.  The only other development is Bruce recruiting Duke to work with him, though not as Robin.  At this point, that difference seems mostly linguistic and sartorial:  Bruce invites Duke to live in the mansion with him while they search for a cure for his parents, and Duke helps him ruin Calendar Man's plan to unleash deadly spores on Gotham.  The costume might be black and yellow and he might not be called Robin, but, if it tweets like a Robin, it's probably a Robin.  But, I like Duke, so, again, I'm not complaining.  Just like "DC Universe Rebirth" #1, I feel like this issue is misnamed, since Batman isn't really reborn at all.  But, we'll see where we go.

Civil War II #1:  Bendis has always done a solid job in these events in moving us quickly through the story without sacrificing characterization, and he does so again here.  The issue starts with a grand coalition of heroes defeating a dimensionally displaced Celestial Destroyer that the Inhumans had predicted posing a threat to the world.  Tony throws a party at Avengers Tower to celebrate the win, though he questions how the Inhumans had the information about the Celestial that they did.  (Also, doesn't Tony not own Avengers Tower anymore?  I though that's why the Avengers are currently based in a hanger in New Jersey.  Anyway...)  Medusa reveals Ulysses to a core group of the heroes, and Tony brings in Jean Grey to help them understand how his powers work.  It turns out Ulysses' mind can't be read, and Tony pretty much draws the line here.  As Carol and Rhodey celebrate the possibility of ending threats before they happen, Tony recalls that Ulysses only sees potential futures:  after all, his vision of the Celestial destroying the world didn't come to pass, because the heroes stopped it.  The issue remains unresolved, but Bendis brings us to the breaking point several weeks later.  Carol has lead a mission to stop Thanos from destroying Earth based on one of Ulysses' visions.  However, Thanos killed Rhodey and left She-Hulk comatose.  Tony arrives in the hospital room where Rhodey's body is held, and he blames Carol for Rhodey's death.  Carol asserts that Rhodey would've done it again, since, in the end, they did actually stop Thanos.  Jennifer awakens momentarily to tell Carol to fight for the future, though this position seems to contradict her sentiments from "Civil War II" #0.  She then appears to die.  Bendis does a great job of really conveying the rage and heartbreak that Tony feels, and you can tell that it's going to fuel this conflict.  I'm not often Team Tony, but I am here.  No one has rebutted his point that Ulysses only sees possible futures, and no one has even considered the fact that they might be creating a worse future by preventing a bad one.  Tony has learned this lesson the hard way, but Carol hasn't.  I get the sense that she will by the end of this event.

Spider-Man 2099 #11:  The problem that I'm going to have for the duration of this arc is that David does too good of a job reimagining the previous run of "Spider-Man 2099:"  it makes me wish that we could just stay here in this world and call the time-travel adventure complete.  I realized that Father Jennifer was the Goblin from the start (given her response to Miguel saying "Holy...Goblin"), and it made me yearn for us just to have these characters return to our lives.  When Kasey as Payback appears to save Miguel with the help of Gabe as Firelight, it was like my favorite band had reformed for a reunion tour.  Tempest, Miguel's co-workers at Parker Industries, the Fist:  they don't hold a candle to these old-school characters.  This issue is the best of the series because you can feel David and Sliney's excitement in letting their imaginations go wild.  Any one of the members of the Sinister Six would be an amazing villain; six of them -- particularly the six of them working together -- is too cool for school.  David could get to issue #50 just writing about Miguel's conflict with each one of them, and I wouldn't get bored.  (I loved Miguel complaining that this world wasn't the way it should be, and Venom sarcastically quipping that they should free him so he can fix it, bringing back "his" world.  Peter David, sending up time-travel stories, even as he writes one.  He's just too good.)  In other words, it doesn't matter that this 2099 is different, that Nueva York is run by the Sinister Six and not Alchemax, etc.  It only matters that these characters are back.  I hope they stay that way.

Friday, July 15, 2016

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Let's get right to it, shall we?

First, I give Johns props for addressing the elephant in the room that has dogged the "New 52!" for its entire existence, i.e., DC's insistence that no one got any younger.  Anyone reading a "Batman" comic knew that it just couldn't be true:  Commissioner Gordon was suddenly in his 40s, Bruce seemed to be Dick's age, Dick seemed to be Jason's age, and down the line.  (Re-reading my review of "Batman" #1, it's actually the first thing that I noticed.)  Here, Johns acknowledges what we, the reader, always knew:  we were missing a good decade in the DCnU.

Wally West -- our narrator -- informs us that a mystery villain stole this decade the minute that the Flashpoint happened.  It's a major revelation, because it changes the origin story of the "New 52!"  Previously, we believed that the DCnU was different because Barry Allen couldn't return the genie fully to its bottle after the events of "Flashpoint:"  he corrected a lot of the changes that his actions in the past caused, but he couldn't correct everything.  Here, we're told that it wasn't that Barry couldn't fix everything:  it was that someone actively prevented him from doing so.  (Barry raises an eyebrow to this assertion, pointedly asking Wally if he's sure that it isn't all Barry's fault.  I giggled.  I'm still not necessarily convinced either, but I'm willing to go with it.)

This drama of this issue comes from a time-displaced Wally fighting against the pull of the Speed Force as he tries to convey this information to someone in the DCnU.  Initially, he's trying to find his lost love, Linda Park, his usual lightning rod whenever he's lost in the Speed Force.  But, he can't locate her, so he appears before Batman and then Johnny Thunder.  But, they don't remember the DCU, so they don't remember him.  At this stage, he begins to lose control over his appearances in the DCnU, and he randomly witnesses Aquaman proposing to Mera.  The good (if convenient) news is that this reminder of love allows him to find Linda.  However, she also doesn't remember him, and he becomes lost in the Speed Force without her as his anchor.  He summons his strength to appear before Barry one last time, to thank him and tell him that he loves him.  As the Speed Force is ready to claim him, Barry grabs his arm, remembering him and thus saving him.  It's an emotional moment.  I teared up a bit, because I really thought that Johns was going to sacrifice Wally to make his point here.  I don't know Wally from Adam, but I know that a lot of long-time readers of DC Comics have been clamoring for his return for years.  I thought Johns was only going to give them closure, with his death:  I'm thrilled to see that he's returned, because it's going to make "Titans" all the better.

The interesting part is that this issue pretty much ends there.  I had figured that we'd have the DCU reassembled at the end of this issue, but, instead, the only real development is that Wally returns.  Moreover, Johns makes it clear that it's not going to be easy to solve the mystery, because Wally's memories of the DCU immediately begin to fade as he enters the DCnU, just as Flash's did at the end of "Flashpoint."  Johns reveals only to the reader that it appears to be Dr. Manhattan, from "Watchmen," that stole the decade, though even here Johns is coy:  we don't even directly see Manhattan, so we certainly aren't given any insight into his motives.  (Earlier, he appears to kill Pandora, whose absence I think I noted in a recent review.  But, we have no idea what connection Pandora had to him or why he had to kill her.)  The only hint that anyone in the DCnU has that he's involved is that Bruce is drawn to discover the Comedian's bloodstained smiley-face pin hidden in the Batcave.  But, we're given no more additional information, like how it got there or how Bruce suddenly knew that it was there.

Moreover, Johns intersperses hints of future plots in the DCnU throughout the issue, seemingly making it clear that the DCnU isn't going to suddenly end.  Bruce is monitoring the fact that two Jokers appear simultaneously and wondering how it connects to Mobius' chair telling him that three Jokers existed.  Saturn Girl (I think) has come to the present, though we don't know why.  The Atom has discovered the Microverse while exploring a "disruption deep within the temporal nanostructure of the time line," though it's unclear if this disruption is connected to Dr. Manhattan.  A cloaked figure called Mr. Oz tells a time-displaced Superman that he and the fallen Superman aren't the people that they think they are.  The two new costumed characters that we know will challenge Bruce in Gotham in the pages of "Batman" appear in the shadows.  Moreover, newer versions of old heroes appear:  a young Blue Beetle, a gay Aqualad, Jessica Cruz as a Green Lantern, a new Kid Flash.  But, we have no idea how any of these plots tie into the larger story.  How long does the DCnU have?  Will the answers to some of these questions be revealed after the DCU is presumably restored?  Johns plays his cards close to the vest on all these questions.

In other words, to use the cliché, this issue raises more questions than it answers.  The DC Universe isn't reborn in this issue; it just seems to start the process of getting reborn.  (It makes the relaunches of the series even more gimmicky than usual.)  If I had to guess, we're probably looking at some huge cross-over event next summer.  I don't necessarily mind that, though, since it gives Johns the time to get it right.  But, we're on shaky ground right now.  Readers of Marvel Comics had a similar experience this past year, where we knew "Secret Wars" was going to change the status quo, so it was hard to invest in the stories that creators were telling as the event neared.  A year is a long time to wait to see the hints in this issue revealed, so hopefully Johns will dole out more hints to keep us engaged as he goes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 25 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

In a programming note, I'm going to handle "DC Universe:  Rebirth" #1 in a separate post tomorrow.

Amazing Spider-Man #1.5:  Lately, I've been trying to be less...cranky on this blog.  I feel comfortable discussing aspects of issues that I don't like, but I regret some posts in the past where I made my dislike extend to the author, particularly with Matt Fraction on "Fear Itself" and Jason Latour on "Winter Soldier" and "Wolverine and the X-Men."  After all, I learned my lesson:  I came to love both of them during their respective runs on "Hawkeye" (at least in the early issues) and "Spider-Gwen."  (I stand by my dislike of Chuck Austen, though.)  As a result, I'll try not to get personal here.  I think I understand what Molina is trying to do with this mini-series, but he's really, really not getting there in terms of the execution.  Each issue I find increasingly incomprehensible.  With this issue, you have the same terribly forced jokes and unexpected emotional fluctuations that we've had all series.  But, now, we add even more truly absurd moments, like when one of the Santerians asks a de-aged and naked Anselmo if he's Jennifer Lopez.  His colleague asserts that he's obsessed with Jennifer Lopez, but I don't even see how it's supposed to be funny.  Does he think that Jennifer Lopez is a man?  Is that why he would confuse a man (particularly a naked one) with her?  I could continue, but I think the ridiculousness of this moment explains my point.  This story has been a mess from the start, and I'm surprised that the editorial staff didn't take a firmer hand at some point.

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #1:  Let's start with the good. Spencer does a phenomenal job showing the Red Skull's gift when it comes to rhetoric.  Over the course of a speech that he delivers to a packed room, he brilliantly pivots from the right to the left of the political spectrum, finding scapegoats wherever he can to illustrate his point.  He plays upon the fear that certain people feel in seeing migrants and refugees "invading" their homeland and decries the failure of politicians to stop it.  (Clearly, only he can stop it.)  He shifts left to observe that the bankers are taking advantage of this paralysis as they feast on the "carcass" of America.  It's important to understand this genius to understand why people buy the vision of hope, in Steve's words, that the Skull is selling.  If you do, you understand why they're willing to join HYDRA and sacrifice their lives for the cause.  Moreover, Spencer doesn't let the Skull's leadership of HYDRA go unchallenged, as Baron Zemo pledges to take back control.  Spencer has a great read on Zemo, particularly how his delusions of grandeur fly in the face of reality.  At least the Skull often comes close to achieving his goals.  Spencer reminds us that Zemo rarely does:  only three D-Listers heed his call to form a new Masters of Evil.  But, it would certainly be fun to watch Zemo try to dethrone the Skull as the head of HYDRA, just as it would be fascinating to see what the Skull could do in that role (assuming Zemo never actually succeeds).  Spencer could spend at least 25 issues just playing with these two plots.

Unfortunately, let's now get to the bad.  Spencer isn't going to focus on those two plots.  This issue is really about the fact that HYDRA recruited Steve's mother when he was a kid and that he's been a sleeper agent all this time.  To be fair, Spencer doesn't actually say that.  We're left to draw our own conclusions about the developments that we see here.  For example, Elisa Sinclair, the woman that courts Sarah Rogers in the past, simply gives her a flyer; we don't actually see Sarah join HYDRA.  (One of the many ridiculous aspects of this plot is that any sane person would see the creepy ass HYDRA logo and question Sinclair's assertion that they're a "community organization.")  Moreover, Steve simply says "Hail HYDRA" at the end of the issue.  I mean, he does say it after pushing Jack Flag from Zemo's plane, because Flag saw Selvig alive there.  It's pretty safe to say that he's probably not just on some sort of secret Avengers mission.  As such, we're left to assume that Steve is a HYDRA agent, presumably implementing the vision of Zemo's father (since he's pretty clearly not working with Zemo, Jr. here).  We also don't know why Flag seeing Selvig was a problem in the first place.  Finally, Spencer and his collaborators set up their back door by hinting that something is amiss in the past.  Saíz and Caramanga use coloring and lettering to imply that Elisa is somehow apart from her surroundings, and her seemingly prescient comments about Steve throughout the issue could imply some form of time travel.

The problem is that it all seems unnecessarily complicated.  I get that Spencer is trying to make a splash, but this one is a bridge too far, to be honest.  You could never connect all the off-panel dots that you would need to connect to sell anyone on the idea that Rogers has been a HYDRA sleeper agent for decades.  Moreover, these sort of storylines just don't work, as Dan Slott learned on "Superior Spider-Man."  You can keep them going for a while, but, at the end of the day, no one believes the central component, that Otto was going to be Spidey forever or, in this case, that Steve is going to be a HYDRA agent forever.  It's a lot of effort to get us to engage in a story that everyone just believes will eventually be ret-conned.  As such, it's hard to really embrace what Spencer is doing here, because experience tells me that it won't last long.

Captain Marvel #5:  When DeConnick initially took Carol off-planet, I was concerned, because it meant leaving behind her amazing supporting cast.  But, as Fazekas and Butters conclude their first arc, I have to say that it's now hard to see Carol anywhere else but the stars.  After all, the authors have given Carol a new amazing supporting cast, fleshing out the relationships just as well as DeConnick did in her run with her cast.  I could see future issues of this series focusing more on the Alpha Flight members than Carol herself.  That said, I did have to read the Marvel Wikia entry on the Eridani to figure out why "Garcia" sabotaged the negotiations.  (It eventually makes sense:  she's part of the slave class, and a renewed contract to haul waste from the space station means more hardship for the slaves.)  I feel like it's mostly a writing-for-the-trade problem, since it would probably have been easier to follow this sub-plot if you had read all the issues at once.  But, it's really a minor complaint.  This first arc has me pretty excited about where we're going.

Grayson #20:  For the fact that Lanzing and Kelly had to jump on this horse mid-stream, I think that they did a solid job wrapping up the loose ends as well as they could.  In particular, they make it clear that King was playing a long game from the start.  Dick offers his body to Dedalus in exchange for Helena, and, as expected, Dedalus uses Somnus to wipe clean all files and memories involving Dick.  To the world at large, he never existed.  (Dedalus does it so no one can track him in said body.)  But, Dick's years of training under Batman allow him to fight Dedalus in his own mind.  He destroys him, and he's able to awaken a new man, with the events of "Forever Evil" behind him.  Moreover, Helena reveals that she put an exception list into Somnus when she was trapped in Dedalus' mind, allowing people like Barbara and Bruce to still remember him.  Although it's certainly a ret-con of "Forever Evil," it doesn't feel cheap.  King -- and then Lanzing and Kelly -- mapped out every step to get us to this point; it feels like the logical conclusion to this series.  That said, some mysteries remain on the table.  We never learned (as far as I can tell) why Dr. Netz was using Agent 8 to kill Spyral agents.  Tiger assassinates Agent 8 here, so it seems unlikely that we'll learn the truth (or what she told him back in issue #11).  He also reveals that he's left Checkmate for Spyral, though Lanzing and Kelly don't tell us why.  But, to be fair, those are pretty minor loose ends, given how complicated this story has been.  After all, Dick ends his spy days in this issue, presumably returning to his role as a superhero; the loose ends related to the spy game are no longer his (or our) concern.

Justice League #50:  At some point, the "Darkseid War" started feeling more like a history lesson than an exciting event.  I acknowledge that it was perhaps the most ambitious attempt within the "New 52!" to update the DC Universe, tackling the histories of the Anti-Monitor, Darkseid, and the New Gods all at once.  Although Johns did his best to throw some emotions in there -- mainly through Diana's narration -- I found that I enjoyed these issues more when I stopping thinking about them as an emotion-provoking story and more as a non-fiction narrative.  That said, it was still confusing.  At some point between issue #42 and #46, I started to conflate Metron with Mobius.  (As you can imagine, I've been pretty confused for the last five issues.)  Wikipedia informs me that Metron succeeded Mobius -- the Anti-Monitor -- as the possessor of the chair, though it's unclear to me when we learned that.  (I'm also not sure why Mobius gave up the chair in the first place.  Presumably when he became the Anti-Monitor after the chair led him to discover the Anti-Life Equation?)  This confusion contributes to the sense that Johns has been writing-for-the-trade, since I'm pretty sure everything would make more sense if I read all these issues in one sitting.  It's also exactly this broad scope that makes the task of concluding the story so challenging.  Johns mostly sticks the landing, though it feels a little like Apollo 13 crashing into the ocean:  everyone's just happy to be on the ground.

First, let's start with the positive:  the death of Superwoman is amazing, a testament to Fabok's skill.  We learn that the father of her child is Alexander Luthor from Earth 3 and that he inherited his father's ability to steal other people's powers.  After killing Superwoman, Grail uses the baby to re-absorb the powers that some of the League members received when Darkseid died, starting with Clark and Lex.  Eventually, her plan is revealed:  she uses an Amazon ritual that resurrects an enemy in a chosen host to bring back Darkseid in the form of Superwoman's son.  As part of the ritual, Darkseid (and his now re-accumulated powers) is completely under her control.  Moreover, she also controls the Anti-Life Equation after using the baby (Darkseid's host) to re-absorb the powers from Steve Trevor.  However, I'm still not clear what her plan was once she accomplished that goal.  She orders a now fully grown Darkseid to destroy the League.  Was that it?  Couldn't she do that herself?  Last issue, Grail talked about how the Anti-Life Equation could be used for something more than destruction.  What did she have in mind?  All her motives remain really unclear to me.  Eventually, her mother convinces her to destroy Darkseid, and she does.  (For some reason, she has to do it by firing her blast through her mother.  This part made no sense to me.)

In the end, we're left with a radically changed status quo for a lot of characters.  First, let's start with the Crime Syndicate.  Grail used the baby's powers to free the Black Racer from Flash, and he demands a death before he'll leave.  We're left to believe that it's Jessica who dies, after she asserts control over Volthoom long enough to save Flash.  But, it's actually Volthoom that died:  Jessica is resurrected as a Green Lantern now that she has conquered her fear.  Owlman and Grid seem to be the only Syndicate members to survive, after Owlman sits on the vacated chair (once Grail had the baby re-absorb the God of Wisdom powers from Bruce) and Grid uploads himself into it.  But, the final page of this issue has a mysterious blast incinerating Owlman.  Theoretically, I guess Grid could still be alive, the last possible member of the Syndicate, though it's just as possible that they're all now dead.

But, Jessica isn't the only League member with a changed reality.  Johns sets up a number of plot hooks for the remaining members, though I'm unsure whether we'll see them carry into "Rebirth."  We learn that Grail used Steve as her God of Anti-Life because of an Amazonian prophecy about the first man to step foot on Themyscira being some sort of "chosen one."  However, we learn from Bruce -- and a dying Myrina confirms to Diana -- that Steve wasn't the first man to step foot on Themyscira:  it was Diana's twin brother, Jason.  (Todd?)  Moreover, Bruce tells Hal that the chair didn't give him the Joker's name:  it informed him that there were three Jokers.  (Dun-dun-DUN!)  Finally, Victor's father confirms that Superman is dying from the power that he gained on Apokolips while Lex returns to Apokolips to liberate it.  Again, I'm not sure how these revelations are going to play into "Rebirth."  The issue essentially ends with Grail holding the baby after she faked their deaths.  She's reverted him from his Darkseid form to the baby form and pledges to raise him to the light, though his glowing eyes cast doubt about that happening.

In the end, I couldn't help but wonder:  is that it?  The League prevented the Anti-Monitor from destroying the Earth?  It's hard to remember what the threat was.  How did Darkseid get involved again?  As I said early, what did Grail want?  Again, I suspect that it would all make more sense if you read it in trade form, because, right now, I'm heading to the Wikipedia page to see if it makes more sense that my memory does.

Star Wars #19:  Whoa.  This issue is intense.  As expected, the "villain" that took over the prison is Eneb Ray, from "Star Wars" Annual #1.  Aaron adds a twist, though, because Ray is revealed to have a deformed face; he implies that it's somehow related to the Emperor's touch and that he's dying as a result of it.  I don't recall anything like that happening during Annual #1, but Aaron also implies that we don't know the full story when it comes to Ray.  Similarly, Aaron hints that Aphra and Sana were more than just partners in crime (literally), as Sana is all too eager to follow Ray's demands and kill Aphra in exchange for Luke and Solo's lives.  But, Leia is the star of the show.  We see her tactical side as she has Artoo implement a previously developed plan, releasing an emp blast that takes out the bombs that Ray planted on Han and Luke as well as his gun.  But, she's not just a tactician on the battlefield:  she eventually allows Aphra to escape.  It may seem odd that she would, but Leia seems to know that Aphra has nowhere to go, with Vader on her heels.  I'd guess that Leia is betting on Aphra, too, realizing that the Rebellion is her only option, but she knows that Aphra will only get there if it's on her own terms.  Although Ray insists that Leia isn't sufficiently ruthless to defeat the Empire (a position to which Aaron shows some sympathy, given Ray's experience), Aaron reminds us that she really is.  (She does win in the end, after all.)  Leia is in full control, even if dark days may still be ahead.

Also Read:  Batgirl #52; Extraordinary X-Men #10; Mighty Thor #7; Ms. Marvel #7; Red Wolf #6; Tokyo Ghost #7

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 18 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Civil War II #0:  Bendis is uncharacteristically to the point here, making it clear that the dividing issue for this "Civil War" is going to be whether heroes should prevent threats before they happen.  He introduces the issue with She-Hulk as she defends the former Jester.  The police entrapped him, using an uncover cop to get him to reminisce about the good ol' days.  Jennifer unsuccessfully makes the case that you can't convict someone for thinking about a crime; simply because the Jester was a super-villain in the past doesn't mean that he'll become one again in the future.  However, Captain Marvel and Maria Hill disagree.  I hope that someone will eventually explain how Maria Hill is even allowed to see the light of day after the events of "Avengers Standoff."  Bendis makes it clear that she hasn't learned a damn thing when she informs Jennifer that the Jester was killed in a prison fight. Jennifer is horrified that he died without even committing a crime, though Hill believes that it's probably for the better, since he'd likely end up returning to crime anyway (as they all do, to her mind).  Separately, Captain Marvel tells a visiting Doc Sampson that she's obsessed with trying to predict future threats so that she can stop them before they happen.  If you read "Free Comic Book Day:  Civil War II" #1, you know that the answer to her prayers comes in the form of a kid named Ulysses, an Inhuman with the ability to see the future.  We see his "birth" in this issue, as the Terrigen Mists transform him; Medusa brought him to Alpha Flight in the "FCBD" issue to see if they can help examine his predictive powers.  The conflict of the upcoming event seems likely to center around him, though I'm hoping that Bendis has something more up his sleeve than a rehash of "Minority Report."

Spider-Man #4:  I've never considered Bendis to be the most nuanced of writers, but damn if he doesn't somehow manage to have Miles and Ganke argue about race and size in a way that didn't make me roll my eyes.  Bendis really conveys the pain that Ganke feels over his weight, and I was disappointed in Miles that he couldn't at least validate that pain, even if he's not wrong in saying that he's still pretty sure that he's got a tougher road to hoe as a blatino kid.  When Ganke outs Miles to Goldballs, Miles is convinced that he did it from a place of anger, whereas Bendis lets us know that Ganke did it from a place of concern:  he wants Goldballs to become Miles confidant, since he worries that Miles is struggling to balance being a hero and a teenager.  But, Goldballs might not get a chance to have that chat with him, since Hammerhead captures Miles on behalf of the Black Cat at the end of the issue.  I still have no idea why the Cat has singled out Miles for her ire, but Bendis does a great job showing us what it must be like suddenly discovering that you're the target of heat-seeking missiles while swinging over Midtown.

Spidey #6:  I was skeptical of this series at the start, but, honestly, I think that it's my favorite one on the market right now.  Thompson has elevated writing a teenage superhero to an art form, as Peter struggles over asking Gwen to the Winter Formal.  Thankfully, the Vulture stole some blue prints from Stark Industries, so Peter gets to ask Iron Man for dating advice.  (Wouldn't you?)  I think the secret to Thompson's success is a real mastery of the smaller moments that convey characterization and tone.  He plays with the fact that Iron Man is still known as Tony's bodyguard in this era.  It's a thinly veiled secret, one that even Tony isn't all that committed to keeping, as seen in his conversation with Agent Coulson.  But, Tony marvels at the fact that Peter is a kid, and he treats him with those gloves, urging him to be careful but then taking him to fight Fin Fang Foom to take his mind off Gwen's rejection.  (It's probably why it's a good thing Tony isn't a parent.)  Again, despite the light tone of the series, Thompson's characters express a wider range of emotions and feelings than most other authors can manage.  It's my favorite Spidey-related series on the market right now, and we're in boom times.

Uncanny Avengers #9:  I didn't read "Avengers:  Rage of Ultron," so the references to Hank Pym sacrificing himself to defeat Ultron have been news to me.  (That said, I am happy to see graphic novels serve as part of continuity.  I'd love to see Marvel revive its graphic-novel line.  It was always so exciting in the '80s and '90s when a new one got issued.)  Duggan does a great job in not only filling in the details, but showing why a Pym-controlled Ultron could be a problem.  Duggan reminds us that Hank's pretty healthy ego already made him feel like he was above humanity, even before he merged with Ultron.  As such, it's clear why Steve is treating Hank as a threat, not an ally.  The entire story is kicked up a notch thanks to Larraz's pencils.  I'm not familiar with him, but I hope he stays on this title for a while.  He seems a perfect match for Duggan.