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

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